The high-stakes thriller “Paranoia” (directed by Robert Luketic) takes viewers deep behind the scenes of global success to a deadly world of greed and deception. The two most powerful tech billionaires in the world are Jock Goddard (played by Harrison Ford) and Nicolas Wyatt (played by Gary Oldman), who are bitter rivals with a complicated past who will stop at nothing to destroy each other. A business star on the rise named Adam Cassidy (played by Liam Hemsworth) is seduced by unlimited wealth and power falls between them, and Adam becomes trapped in the middle of the twists and turns of their life-and-death game of corporate espionage.
By the time Adam realizes his life is in danger, he is in far too deep and knows far too much for them to let him walk away. Amber Heard plays Adam’s love interest Emma Jennings, while Lucas Till plays a tech whiz named Kevin. Here is what Ford, Hemsworth, Heard, Till and Luketic said when they gathered for a “Paranoia” press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif.
How was it filming “Paranoia” in Philadelphia, the birthplace of much of the ideals of American freedoms? Did you get to go into the 4,000-bottle wine room at the Arbor Hill estate?
Luketic: I didn’t know about that! It’s one of the few rooms we didn’t know about.
Heard: With good cause.
Ford: I didn’t work in the place you were talking about. It was very impressive on screen, but I did have a very impressive home that Robert found for me, which I think informed my characterization. The places where you see the character, his office and his home are every important, so I cared a lot about that.
But the character I played was really created to help tell the story that we were telling and the shades of his nature and how they were presented were part of the drama. And it was a great opportunity for me. I really enjoyed being in the film, working with Robert and with Liam. It was a very good experience for me.
Hemsworth: Philadelphia was great. I’d never been there before. It’s really interesting. It’s like a smaller New York but it’s not as busy. It’s easier to shoot a film in. We had a great time there. It’s a good city.
I think what was good about this film is you get an insight into this day and age and how hard it is to keep things private, from your personal life to the Internet these days and how much information is able to be stolen so easily and so quickly. And that’s what this film gives you an insight into.
Liam and Amber, your characters in “Paranoia” talk about relationship qualities. What does that mean to you?
Heard: I think part of the reason why I like this character Emma is she is her own woman, she’s independent, she has a life outside of the relationship she ends up being a part of. And I tend to like that in characters: a strength, an independence, a quality that sets them apart from their male counterparts, which is not the easiest thing to do in this business, but when you can find a strong character and a director that does want to protect the integrity of all characters — female and male — then you have a good deal. That’s what I found in this one.
Hemsworth: Amber’s character in the film is extremely intelligent and a little scary. And I’d say she’s pretty close to that in real life. [Everyone laughs.]
Luketic: She was reading books I couldn’t even pronounce the titles on.
Hemsworth: She’d be on the set and she’d be reading these interesting book, but I would have conversations with Amber where she would just say things that I wouldn’t understand and make me feel just …
Heard: There were fashion magazines I would put inside.
Hemsworth: Yeah, right. It was all a front. She’s intelligent in real life. I’d say she’s almost as intelligent as the character. [He laughs.]
So much of “Paranoia” is about people’s relationship with technology. What is your own relationship with technology in real life?
Luketic: It’s a terrifying one. I was in Las Vegas yesterday, and I lost my iPhone. I dind’t have passcode on it. Yeah, this is a whole thing that’s going on right now. He says to the actors on the panel] That’s all right, you guys are all protected.
I've been an early adopter of technology since I was a kid. It's always been a part of my life, and it’s always been there. And this movie really spoke to me it was sort of something I've been thinking about since Twitter and Facebook and all this data gathering and data farming.
When I read the script, it was like “Oh my God, this is so timely.” We didn't realize how timely it was, given what's happening with [Edward] Snowden and all this information. I realize now how powerful [technology] is. And it’s interesting.
Heard: I don't think we've caught up with regards to mechanisms to protect information at the same rate as our ability to gather that information. We haven’t caught up with a way to protect it and harbor it nearly as quickly as we’ve learned to gather. I think that’s interesting.
I think it could not be more relevant to what's going on today with [Edward] Snowden and [Julian] Assange and the whole idea of personal privacy and liberty and how that conflicts or can conflict with a more omnipotent system of gathering and what that says about individual liberties and how it’s confronted with protection.
Luketic: There are no liberties anymore because everything we’ve ever written in an email is now in a database. It’s horrifying.
That's exactly what's so scary about it. Our personal liberties are always going to be in some conflict with our necessity to be protected — and those two can serve as enemies to one another, as we see what’s going on with Snowden. It’s an interesting question that’s relevant right now, I guess.
Ford: One of the things the film talks about which I think is to me the most interesting — because I'd always presumed there was no such thing as privacy — is that if you offer people something or create a perceived need or value in a service that you offer, people will forget about or they will want that newest wrinkle in technology and will give up freedoms and personal privacy in order to have it. That's the nature of marketing for this kind of device or devices.
Hemsworth: What I think is interesting too is one of the biggest threats these days is cyber-warfare and how dangerous that is. They talk about terrorist groups now hacking into power plants and all these things that are now run by computers. We're all so connected by the Internet and all this stuff. All of a sudden, we don't have these things in place to protect it. We've advanced our technology so quickly that we haven't thought about all the other repercussions with it.
Till: It’s probably better that I don’t speak. [Everyone laughs.]
For those of you who had a chance to work with Gary Oldman, what it was like to work with him? Harrison, your face-off with him in “Paranoia” was pretty extraordinary, so can you talk a little about that?
Ford: I worked with him, I guess it was about 20 years ago on “Air Force One,” and when I knew he was attached to this film, it was a big part of the draw. I enjoyed very much working with him in “Air Force One,” and I was looking forward to the opportunity to work with him again. He’s fun. You never know what’s he’s going to do, what’s he’s going to look like, who he’s going to be — and I enjoyed it.
Hemsworth: It was great to sit there and watch Harrison and Gary go head-to-head, particularly in those last few scenes when we were in the room together. In the scene, my character watches, and in real life I watched, and it was just very exciting. You don’t know what either of them is going to do.
Luketic: When these guys got together in that face-off scene, there was literally this tension in the air. It was very palpable, it was fantastic. Highlight of my career so far.
You used the line a couple times in “Paranoia”: “Competition breeds innovation.” Has that maybe applied to your own work, to your career. And for Liam, this is a decidedly very adult, different role for you. What did you love about getting to dig your toes into this guy?
Hemsworth: This is a completely different film than anything I’ve done before. I think what I initially related to was this kid has something that everyone can relate to. He’s trying to climb the ladder. He started at the bottom, and he’s been at the bottom for a while, and he’s kind of fed up with being there.
And he’s kind of at the point where he’s got big ideas and big hopes and they don’t get him anywhere really, and all of a sudden he’s caught in a position where he’s being told to do something that he wouldn’t normally do. He starts going down this road and he starts buying into the whole life, and the power, and he gets a taste for it. I’ve always liked thrillers like this, and I try to find characters that I think are going to challenge me. This is definitely one of those.
Ford: The character’s presumptions about competition creating innovation I think are appropriate to the story that we’re telling and the world that he lives in. But you asked me something about acting, as well. Acting’s not about competing, acting’s about co-operating. Acting is about collaboration, it’s about utility, your usefulness. Your capacity to add to the work that has already been done and will be done. You’re just part of a team. So I never feel competitive about acting.
In the beginning of “Paranoia,” Liam’s character says something like how it used to be that if you worked hard, you became successful. How do each of you see future generations of young kids coming up wanting to be successful? How has the value of hard work changed?
Luketic: For me there very much is a generation that as we say in the movie, was promised a lot of things. If you went to college, you’re going to get a great job. As we’ve seen with the economic down turn, and the greed of certain sectors of the corporate world, it’s not so. So we had to make sort of the lost generation.
There is a youth, there is a movement I think, that wants very much to offer a hope and promise, and I think the moral in our story is not to go to the dark side, because ultimately that kind of cutthroat ruthlessness is not going to service you on a spiritual level. Don’t do what those have done before you.
Hemsworth: In the end, Adam realizes that he has to get out with his wit, and with his intelligence, but also he has to do the right thing – and regardless of the consequences. I think you would like to hope that you work hard at something, you get somewhere. I guess that’s not always the case – but sticking to good morals and good values would be the key to it.
Till: Hard work always win, in the end. I’d kind of like to throw a reference about the movie, but I haven’t actually seen it, so I’m at a loss. But yeah, I’ll reiterate that hard work always wins.
“Paranoia” is more about ambition versus moral compass, rather than privacy. Can you speak to how that works?
Luketic: I think that it’s tough. I approach my work and what I do as a good person. I like people that are good, that have good intentions. I believe you can be successful without having to sacrifice that position. And that’s the sort of character that I was attracted to in this piece.
He does make very moral decisions; in fact, he betrays who he is. [He] essentially gives up everything that anchors him in, in the world, and has supported him in the world, to have this fantasy, this illusion, of what life on the other side of the river would be like. I found that it was an interesting dichotomy between all those things.
Heard: I don’t think that ambition and morality are mutually exclusive. I think it would be pedantic to assume that we have to choose between them, even in movies. We’re compelled by characters that have to face such decisions.
Luketic: And make mistakes that are not black-and-white, that are not perfect.
Heard: You would have to struggle for everything including your characters, they have to struggle as well. I don’t think that ambition or morality need to be mutually exclusive, or are.
Amber, your character is a strong female, determined, hard going, and just driven, and I really like that. What did you like about your character? Mr. Ford, you’re on that borderline of staying close to that technology but at the same time you need that younger generation to keep business going. What was that like?
Heard: I was drawn to Emma because she’s independent. She desires a future for herself that she, and only she is responsible for. I love that she’s trying to prove herself in a world that’s not necessarily set-up to accept her, or accept her easily. She’s going into a field that is still very much a male-dominated world and she’s doing so and relying on nothing but her own strength, her own wit, her own ability, to succeed. Nothing else. She’s not copping out in any way, and I liked that about her.
Strength, independence are always something that I’m drawn to in all my characters, no matter how different they are from one another – strength and a sense of independence, both in their character and in their position in the movie. Those are pretty much the standard things I look for. Plus, Robert has a long history of directing women who stand on their own two feet, no matter what their individual characters are. They are all women that are not determined by how the male characters around them perceive them. He has a history of protecting us as women, so I felt like I was in good hands.
Ford: For me, a character is made up of all those things that help tell a story. In my own experience, which helps me string it all together, this is a character who’s preceded in his appearance on screen by a body of information about him: who he is, what he is, how he’s behaved in the past. So I wanted my first appearance onscreen to complicate that. Robert was wonderfully collaborative about things like that. When I showed up with a shaved head, he was OK with that.
When I said I wanted to wear blue jeans and a T-shirt to my fancy house backyard party, he was OK with that. Those are the kind of things which I use to help describe a complicated character. The guy’s bad, bad to the bone, but there’s no fun in seeing that presented in that way, so I thought there were interesting opportunities in the construction of the script and the sophistication of the filmmakers that would allow me to create a character different then what I’ve played before.
Can you comment on how the final cut of “Paranoia” compared to what you originally envisioned?
Luketic: I’ve said this before, whenever I’m asked about this. For me, movie making, especially in this day in age and on the budget-level we worked on, is a process of compromise. What is up here [taps forehead], is expensive to put out. I always look at my movies and I see where the compromises are very magnified, and remember I’ve watched it a thousand times before I sat here in front of you. I read the book, I actually got the screenplay first, then I read the book
So in terms of the adaptation to screen process, the book was written in a time when we weren’t in this socioeconomic quandary that we’re in, and the technology wasn’t quite what it became, the monster that it became, so it was written in a different time. Part of the adaptation was about updating that, and I think we did a good job in that regards.
In terms of the scale of what I wanted, to be able to shoot in New York City and do all that kind of stuff, that’s always a filmmakers’ pain. That’s just part of life. I’m not one of those directors that gets unlimited resources to make things with. But given what we had, I’m so proud of what this cast did.
In “Paranoia,” you played with mobiles, electronics and computers. Harrison, your character built radios. Did you grow up as tech or electronic nerds, or did you build anything when you were a kid? Where did you draw inspiration for those scenes?
Hemsworth: When I found out that I was going to do this film, my character has a scene where he takes apart a number of phones and does numerous things to them. So I got some old phones and I took them apart, and [laughs] that’s about all I did. I took them apart, and couldn’t even put them back together. I couldn’t say that I’m as smart as Adam, in that way.
Ford: I grew up in the stone age.
Luketic: But you fly sophisticated jet aircraft.
Ford: That’s the one thing in which I have developed some capacity because that’s something I wanted. But, I don’t want to be a slave to electronic devices. I don’t want to be connected to my friends. I don’t want to send snapshots of my dog and cute pictures of my family life to my friends and family. I don’t want to be liked, by pushing a button. I use all of this technology to basically replace devices that I had in the past which worked just fine.
Heard: Like smoke signals.
Ford: I don’t really use it for very much. I like books. I don’t like to read things on the internet. Anyways, I don’t have much of a connection.
Till: Do you remember those AM radio kits you get when you’re a kid and you build your own AM radio? Well, I never actually built one. But I did get them as a gift, for like three Christmases in a row, and I hated them. It’s just like guitar, anything that takes too long. I always really had a grasp of technology but it takes too much time for me to spend as much time as I think Kevin does in the movie tweaking things. As far as that’s concerned, I don’t think I share that much with the character.
For more info: "Paranoia" website