David Ayer On the ‘Polarizing’ Fury and That Time He Was Thrown Under the Bus
David Ayer knows that, with ‘Fury,’ he’s made a polarizing movie. It’s fascinating when a director not only reads the reviews, but is openly talking about those reviews before a movie has even opened. Ayer is exaggerating when he says “the knives are out,” (‘Fury’ currently sits at 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and has its fair share of support to counter those that don’t like it – but Ayer is right when he calls it polarizing in the fact that the people who like it, really like it, and the same can be said for its detractors. ‘Fury’ sure does cause a reaction.
The style of ‘Fury’ – which shows us the daily life of a World War II tank crew, led by Brad Pitt’s Wardaddy -- makes a whole lot more sense after you meet Ayer in person. He, like the movie, is a no nonsense, in your face kind of guy. It’s hard to blame Ayer, after his first writing credit – which was basically to sharpen some dialogue in the Matthew McConaughey World War II submarine movie, ‘U-571’ – was, as he puts it, “thrown under the bus” amid controversy that a British historical moment was changed to an American achievement to appeal to domestic audiences.
Ayer also discusses some of the undertones of ‘Fury.’ Specifically, a middle act that includes an extended scene of Wardaddy and his crew eating a meal and addresses the interpretation that Wardaddy and Bible (Shia LaBeouf) have a relationship that may be more romantic than just professional.
'Fury' is very much Ayer's passion project, which is evident when I mention his last movie, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, 'Sabotage.'
‘Fury’ is very different than your last movie, ‘Sabotage.’
Why do you say that?
No, ‘Sabotage’ was a work for hire. It wasn’t my original idea or script or anything.
And ‘Fury’ is your baby.
This is my being. This is my labor of love.
That might confuse the average moviegoer.
Yeah, but you grow as a filmmaker. And the more money you have, guess what, it spends real fast.
Did you run out of money with ‘Fury’? It looks expensive.
It was expensive. But, we were really smart and really careful and stripped down physical production side. We shot it on a tight schedule; shot it fast. We were limited on ammo and I was smart about how we shot those bullets.
Literally. And when you see the scale and scope, it’s done in a way to really maximize everything that was there.
The last time you wrote a World War II movie, ‘U-571,’ you took some heat over Americanizing the movie. Does an experience like that affect the way you pay attention to details?
Well, it’s frustrating because with ‘U-571,’ I was one of three writers. It wasn’t my idea.
But your quotes are the ones that are out there.
Yeah, yeah. I was a 26-year-old kid who came in on a rewrite and was happy to get paid that much for a studio job.
Did you feel thrown under the bus?
Fuck yeah. Hell yes I was thrown under the bus! That was already in the script, I just did some dialogue work on it.
Then why were you out there giving quotes? Why not just say “I did a rewrite” and walk away?
Because I was stupid. That’s how you learn. I did a radio interview and then it got broadcast out there. It was a British radio interview.
And you told the truth that the studio wanted Americans to see the movie.
Exactly. I was “writer guy” back then, I was naïve as shit. And I ended up getting this spear in the chest over it. It was a real education and real-time media training, let’s call it that.
Was it a career threatening moment?
No, it was never that bad. But it just sucks because I fucking love the UK. I love the people over there, I love London and I love working there. The irony is there’s this perception in the UK that somehow I’m anti-British and it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s heartbreaking.
“Anti-British” seems like a stretch, all things considered.
Yeah, the British media is pretty hardcore, man. It’s a full contact sport over there.
Can an experience like that help on a movie like this?
Yeah, but no matter how right you try and get it, people are still going to come at it. You know, the knives are out. But, it’s the nature of working in public.
I don’t know if “the knives are out.” You also have a lot of support for this movie, too.
Do you like that it’s polarizing?
It confuses me. It confuses me because you realize there’s so much expectation and convention and genre convention – and I’m not satisfying anybody’s checklist on this movie except for my own.
Isn’t that the most important thing?
Yeah, that’s why I’m confused because we talk about how audiences want something different – this movie is fucking different. And it’s emotional and the action is good and it delivers … it’s like, gee, I’m sorry the characters don’t talk about where they grew up and their father issues and all the other psychobabble crap that you’re supposed to put in modern movies. That generation didn’t navel gaze like we do. Sorry it’s not mission-based about saving the planet from aliens, or something, but it’s slice of life.
There are people who don’t like it, but there are people who love it.
There are people who fucking love it. I made ‘End of Watch’ for cops; I made this for people in the military. People in the military get it – a lot of inside humor; lots of inside jokes. Situational stuff, they get it. They love it. I make movies for regular people…
Well, you’re selling yourself short because I don’t think the middle act of ‘Fury’ that takes place over lunch is meant for “regular people.” That’s a nuanced scene.
It’s everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner, man.
That’s not my Thanksgiving dinner.
C’mon, that’s dynamics on parade.
That’s an intense scene.
In the middle of all of this destruction of war, you have Brad’s character desperately seeking normalcy – desperate to have this normal moment. There’s so much going on. It’s so rich. Of everything we shot, it was one of the most difficult scenes. It really was … to create that kind of tension on screen takes a lot of work. It was a brutal experience.
There’s an interpretation of Brad Pitt’s character, Wardaddy, and Shia LeBeouf’s character, Bible, having a more serious relationship than just the father and mother figures of a unit. I’ve heard you be adamant that it’s a father-mother dynamic, but is someone completely wrong for thinking that?
It’s interesting. It’s funny, again, I think it’s the disconnect between the civilian world and the military world.
When Bible is bandaging War Daddy’s arm, it’s a very loving, nurturing scene.
But that’s-- you see that in the service. You see that on line units, you see that in the world of combat arms. You see that in a world where guys who laid down their lives for each other and that’s that thing: closer than brothers. The brotherhood and all that stuff. People don’t fucking get it unless they’ve lived it. So, for guys in the service, it’s like, “I know what that is.”
Personally, I think it’s a stretch, but not so far where it’s not worth exploring.
No, it’s fascinating it gets interpreted in that manner. It’s that thing, like, “Fuck, man, we’ve been together for three years, survived all this shit, it’s looking real bad, you’re hurt.” It’s just that honesty. It’s totally asexual – totally asexual. But it really is that closeness and the bonds of combat. Like I said, it’s the day in the life of a family and those emotions and those connections are deep.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.