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In Guns Akimbo, Daniel Radcliffe and Jason Lei Howden Imagine Having Guns Bolted to Your Hands

Guns Akimbo Daniel Radcliffe Jason Lei Howden


Jason Lei Howden’s Guns Akimbo imagines Daniel Radcliffe as an online troll who wakes up one day with guns bolted to his hands. It’s a provocation about someone who can’t help but provoke.

Guns Akimbo premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival  to an unsurprisingly split audience. Radcliffe plays Miles, who longs for an ex-girlfriend while working a dull job by day and picking fights on message boards at night. One morning he wakes up to find that two guns have been bolted to his hands and that he’s now part of a dark game in which players fight to the death as a global audience watches.

His opponent is a female terminator (Samara Weaving as Nix) and his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) has been kidnapped. Does he run or fight?

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Radcliffe and Lei Howden, the film’s writer-director, spoke with MovieMaker at TIFF about our human instincts and why we’re drawn to violence.

Katherine Brodsky, Moviemaker Magazine (MM): Your character is a bit of a troll and my friend who I saw the movie with said that I’m a troll, because when I go to TIFF parties I tend to make up fake identities and fun lies to mess with people. So we’re very much alike.

Daniel Radcliffe (DR): That’s probably a very good way of surviving a film festival.

MM: I guess I’m a real life troll, but your character was hiding behind a keyboard.

DR: It’s interesting because he does say [in the movie] that I’m “trolling the trolls.” Somebody asked me that question last night at the Q&A and I’ve never really seen him that way. I saw him as someone who just spends time in dark parts of the internet looking for a fight. And then I realized… that is a troll, isn’t it? What I just described. But a lot of it is in your perspective. I feel like there’s a kind of noble trolling. Sometimes people troll people on the internet, and it’s really funny and very good or inventive, when somebody does a really clever tweet on somebody who needs to be taken down. It’s based on your perspective of what you see as good and bad trolling.

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MM: Jason—you have a VFX background, right?

Jason Lei Howden (JLH): Yeah, I do. I think it’s good to know what you can do with the VFX and what should be done practically. I try and approach stuff from a practical point of view just because I like to have something tangible, and I try to avoid green screens as much as possible. But we spit through it…

DR: You know, very few films I do now or have done recently have a lot of time. Samara [Weaving] and I came out early and had some time in rehearsal as we realized the kind of scale of what we were doing. [We knew] that we’re just going to have to come in and make our choices very firmly in the first or second take and just dive in. I have to say, Samara—her gameness for just throwing herself into lots of crazy action and prosthetics—she’s a real trooper.

Guns Akimbo Daniel Radcliffe Jason Lei Howden

Image courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

MM: You had such a great costume in Guns Akimbo, Dan. 

DR: Best outfit I’ve ever worn. Getting to go to work and just wearing boxer shorts, a dressing gown and fluffy slippers is going to be hard to beat.

JLH: My wife Sarah was the costumer and those fluffy slippers came from like halfway across the world because we couldn’t find the right ones. I had this concept in my mind and she was like, “We have to compromise, we can’t find Tiger slippers, they have to be like… dragons.”

DR: I’m glad you held out.

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MM: I have pig slippers…?

DR: It wouldn’t be right for this movie.

MM: You’re so picky!

JLH: It was also right for this character because he’s in an urban jungle… he’s got the tiger slippers.

MM: Did you expect the response that you’ve received to Guns Akimbo?

DR: I mean… we’re the movie about a guy who has guns bolted onto his hands. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s the kind of thing where “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing.” I feel like this movie will find an audience of people that like really f—ing love it.

JLH: I feel like there’s different worlds of films. I go to a lot of genre festivals, and people are wearing t-shirts from an obscure movie about slugs made 30 years ago. They love it, and they buy the merch and the rooms are filled with horror toys. And then there’s people who just love Meryl Streep Oscar-winning movies. Not that it’s wrong, but we’re not a Meryl Streep action movie.

MM: I’d actually love to see Meryl Streep with two guns bolted to her hands.

DR: She’s in the festival, so maybe she’ll catch a screening and get in touch?

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MM: Speaking of guns for hands, did you go method and actually bolt them? How did they function on set?

DR: No. [laughs]. They were these really well-designed props. We had several different versions of them. Most of the time they were rubber or plastic, particularly because as soon as you have actual real guns, everything has to slow down for safety. If we were filming with them every time, this would have been a very long shoot.

MM: Did you play any pranks with them?

DR: On the first day of public filming I suddenly became aware that I’m on the street holding guns. That’s a very weird feeling I hadn’t actually thought through. So I was actually more trying to hide them under my arms and not frighten random passer-bys.

JLH: I’ve got a weird relationship with guns. I love action movies and video games, but I actually grew up as a country boy. My room was the gun room. My dad had lines of guns. But if I see someone with a real gun, I just instantly just feel 1,000 percent less safe. Even if it’s a cop or security guard, I just don’t want to be around them. I feel like there’s a place for them, and that place is not around me.

MM: This movie is obviously super hyper-violent, almost in a glamorous way.

DR: Would you see that part where everybody’s being gunned down in the yard and think, “I would love to be in the situation?” I don’t think most people would say that. I’m from England, Samara is from Australia, and Jason is from New Zealand. When I first read the script this didn’t occur to me. In recent months, I realized that’s going to be a thing because it’s going to get released in America. But I think I have a very different a relationship to guns in cinema. I think society informs art more than art informs society. And you can say it glamorizes violence because the film is beautifully shot, but at the same time I don’t think that Miles’ journey through the film is one of becoming great in any way. It’s actually one of having his life ruined by the attachment to these guns. He get guns bolted to him and then becomes locked in a war, becoming less and less of himself and more like this violent animal.

Guns Akimbo Daniel Radcliffe Jason Lei Howden

MM: Well, he does start out as a vegetarian, which is quite funny.

DR: All of that stuff is Jason.

JLH: Yeah, he’s pretty much me…

MM: Are you a vegetarian?

DR: He’s a vegetarian who’s an incredibly sweet pacifist who loves f—ing violent video games. The axis of these two things, which is why I think he’s made an awesome film.

MM: Why do you think people love shooter video games? The vast majority aren’t necessarily the kind of people who would ever want to kill anyone, or are violent…

JLH: Well, it’s that whole hunter instinct and [that’s how we] essentially express it. We’ve hunted for a lot of our natural history and I feel like there’s still some of that instinct and humanity. And we get that out by watching sports, competitive stuff, playing violent video games, watching movies, and then we can go and be normal human beings. I feel like there is an element of that, and I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that.

DR: Yeah, I’m definitely not of the mindset that video games or movies, contribute to that. I think there’s a lot of other things that can be dealt with before we get to film, or video games’ relationship to these things. There’s also a really sad fact about humanity that we enjoyed watching people suffer for most of our history as a species. From gladiator games to the public executions. The last hundred years has actually been us going, okay, maybe we should like, rein it in a bit. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that we can get better and want to watch that less. But I think it’s definitely an unfortunate undercurrent for most of human history.

JLH: My theory is that being able to watch something cathartically has helped us quell the blood-lust a little bit. And maybe sports in a way as well.

DR: There’s a theory that the games in the Coliseum was some form of catharsis because once you watch that happen, there was no part in wanting to go out and do something like that. I watch this movie and think, this is the worst f—ing day ever. I would not be thinking this was cool if I was in it.

MM: So what would you do if you woke up with these guns bolted to you?

DR: Oh man. That’s the thing. I don’t know what I would do differently. I would try and run away for a long time before I was ultimately confronted. I would probably do what happens in the film. MM

Guns Akimbo premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9th and is seeking distribution. All images courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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