A Sun Prairie resident was able to take a short walk on Friday and see the new Liam Neeson film he co-wrote make its Sun Prairie debut at Sun Prairie’s Marcus Palace Cinema.
“I’ve been living in Sun Prairie for the past few years, actually right behind the Marcus Palace Cinema. So it’s a great place to be for a filmmaker,” said Chris Charles, in a Jan. 15 interview. Charles co-wrote The Marksman with University of Wisconsin-Madison alum Danny Kravitz and three-time Academy Award nominee Robert Lorenz.
“In fact, later today I will be going, just walking across the street and attending the first showing of The Marksman with my wife and my family members,” Charles said. “It sounds more impressive to say this, but we’re sold out, but it’s not quite as impressive when you know that there’s only 20 of us.”
The journey to make The Marksman began back about two years before the Green Bay Packers made their last Super Bowl appearance.
“I met my writing partner, Danny Kravitz, at Columbia College, Chicago, while taking a screenwriting class he was teaching. And, I had a story I wrote in that class that he really enjoyed. And he said to me, ‘if you ever decide to make this movie, give me a call. I’d love to be a part of that.’ A few years later, I called him and I reminded him of that. Danny was true to his word, and we wrote our first screenplay together,” Charles said. “It was an intergenerational coming of age road movie that spoke to some themes that we both enjoy of redemption, suffering loss and healing.
“And for our second script, we wanted to do something completely different, but touch on some of those same themes. That was in 2009,” Charles recalled.
“At the time, I was reading a lot about the conflicts taking place on our southern border,” Charles said. “I pitched an idea, a rough idea, to Danny that took place in that region. And he initially hated it, but we worked on it together and came up with some great characters and a way to incorporate some of those themes that we both enjoy. And that led to our second screenplay, which eventually became The Marksman.”
The Marksman stars Liam Neeson, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, and Teresa Ruiz, and features Neeson as a rancher on the Arizona border who becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing drug cartel assassins.
But the process to get from concept to final screenplay was a long one, according to Charles.
“Fortunately, we had a very tenacious producer who saw potential in an early draft and stuck with the project through thick and thin — Tai Duncan at Zero Gravity Management. And Tai got it into the hands of top Hollywood directors and actors eventually getting it to Robert Lorenz who was Clint Eastwood’s long time producing partner,” Charles said.
“And Rob loved the script. He signed on as the third writer and to direct,” Charles said. “And it was an absolute privilege to work with him.
“He produced some of the most iconic films over the last 20 years or so, including Gran Torino and Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper — some of my personal favorites that inspired me to become a filmmaker,” Charles said of Lorenz. “So to be able to collaborate with someone like Rob was just a dream come true.”
But the dreaming didn’t stop there.
“Our producer, Ty, had done a movie with Liam called Honest Thief, and he was always on our short list of sort of dream choices,” Charles said, referring to the lead actor in the film. “And once Rob signed onto the project, he actually submitted the script to Liam. Rob met with him and had dinner and pitched Liam his vision for the project. And, Liam was on board after that meeting. And that’s how we got the green light and went into production.”
Charles said the decision to release The Marksman in January was based on how well Neeson’s Taken movies, and others, had historically performed in January.
“We’re really grateful for Liam Neeson who saw potential in this script and signed on and really was the key to getting the project to move forward,” Charles said. “We had the pleasure of meeting Liam and talking to him at length about the story. He is just an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and well-read man who showed up on set, knowing exactly what to do and gave us a terrific performance.”
Those expecting The Marksman to be an action-packed Neeson romp might be surprised.
“We’re really excited for people to see the film. I think a lot of folks will be expecting sort of the standard, Liam-flavored thriller, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that at its core, the movie is much deeper,” Charles said. “It’s a very human story about two unlikely people helping each other, and an old man learning to open his heart again, to give a young boy a chance at life.”
Charles said a lot of people familiar with Neeson’s most recent work don’t know Neeson’s range as an actor.
“That’s one of the things that was so exciting about having Liam sign on to the film was we just knew his dramatic chops — dating back to films like Schindler’s List and many others over the years,” Charles said.
“It was more recently in his career that Liam got into the action thriller genre, but he’s an incredibly gifted actor,” Charles said. “One thing he told my partner Danny and I on set — that every line of dialogue he speaks, he likes it to seem as though that’s the first time those words have ever been spoken. He just approaches everything with a level of seriousness that just made me very inspired to be able to witness that craft.”
Although Winnick, from the series Vikings, also appears in the film as Neeson’s step-daughter, the biggest surprise film performance Charles said was Jacob Perez, who is cast as the young boy in the film.
“Jacob had never done a feature film. This was his first feature,” Charles said. “He had done a couple of shorts and a web series. In talking to his family, I don’t think he was even entirely sure of the level of fame with Liam. They kind of wanted him to just show up on set and use his imagination and play, and be true to the moment.
“Watching him on set producing real tears for multiple takes during emotional scenes and creating this chemistry with an A-lister like Liam Neeson, it was very impressive,” Charles said. “And we’re very lucky as I’m sure you know . . . it’s hard to find good child actors. So we’re really thrilled that we found Jacob, because the movie really is all about the chemistry between those two characters.”
Charles is a partner in Throughline Films (not involved with The Marksman), a production and sales company that produced the documentary We Are Columbine about the survivors of the Columbine High School shooting 20 years later (currently available on Hulu) and currently working on The Cleaner, with Cheers TV series star Shelley Long, Lynda Carter from the TV series Wonder Woman and Luke Wilson, among other actors.
Although Charles is currently a Sun Prairie resident, his wife and he will be moving just down Reiner Road next year to take up residence in the City of Madison. But he is a fan of Sun Prairie. “It’s a great town. We’ve grown very fond of it,” Charles said of Sun Prairie.
“We’re moving to Madison as I said, but we’re basically in the same area because we’re just a couple of miles down the street and we’re happy to be here,” Charles said. “It’s been a great place for us — not quite the hustle and bustle of Chicago, but Madison is a world-class town.”