Snitch director Ric Roman Waugh is about as primed to become a big action movie director as anyone. We sat down with the helmer of the Dwayne Johnson actioner, teased in this Snitch trailer, and got the exclusive inside scoop as to how he went from the child of a stunt man legend to tackling the vocation himself and then evolving into a Hollywood director behind our era’s biggest action star.
Movie Fanatic: You grew up on film sets with your parents as stunt legends. Was there ever any other idea you would do anything else?
Ric Roman Waugh: It was the world I knew. My father just passed away and he was one of the biggest legends in the stunt business. I grew up on sets. I was a baby on the set of Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood. My father was the original Spider-Man on the TV series. What was interesting was I never saw myself writing and directing, I always thought I’d be a stunt person. The reason was that I grew up with all these huge movie stars around, including John Wayne, but to me, the stunt people were the real heroes.
Movie Fanatic: You became one of the youngest stunt coordinators of all time, guess it was unavoidable.
Ric Roman Waugh: Yeah! I started working with Mel Gibson and Tony Scott for his movies. I started seeing what the director did and how much I liked it. I never liked being in front of a camera. Stunt people, in a way, have to play parts… and I was the worst at it [laughs]. But what stunts did for me is it let me work hand in hand with so many movie stars and also seeing what the director does. When you've got a guy like Tony Scott who can pick up the phone and put Brad Pitt in a movie (True Romance), he comes because there’s that chemistry and level of respect. I learned from the right people. I call myself a blue collar director. I came up from the crew and I’ll always have that mentality.
Movie Fanatic: Your journey kind of mirrors the evolution of Snitch star Dwayne Johnson. Did you take inspiration from his movie evolution?
Ric Roman Waugh: Yes, exactly! To go from football and a national champion, and not having a legitimate shot at the NFL, and instead of seeing that as a limitation, he forged ahead and moved into wrestling, and then became a huge unbelievable star in wrestling and used that to become a movie star -- and to continue to use that knowledge and tools as a positive. That’s what I started doing. I can use all my experience to my advantage… now I just had to understand story a little bit more.
Movie Fanatic: How did writing your own screenplays come about?
Ric Roman Waugh: I was so naive, and thankfully so. I moved into directing commercials and the movie scripts that I was getting sucked, so I thought, “I’ll just write my own!” I knew some great screenwriters that I had worked with over the years and had them read my work and hoped they’d mentor me. I wanted to have someone who could tell me if it sucks, and why it sucks. I wrote movies all the time. I just absorbed everything. I got to understand the story process. But, most importantly, I got to understand what my voice was.
Movie Fanatic: What was it about the world of snitches that compelled you?
Ric Roman Waugh: I’m very choosy about what I want to do. I try to focus on the stories that I want to tell. This script came along that they offered me called Snitch. It was based on a Frontline special on PBS. It centered on these laws called mandatory minimums, federal laws, designed in the late 1980s in the drug war, to ensnare high level drug traffickers. They would say, "Guess what? You’re going to do 10 years in prison, mandatory. The only way we can reduce your sentence is if you snitch on other people."
Movie Fanatic: And this one is unique in how a father of a person put in jail steps forward to be the snitch...
Ric Roman Waugh: Yes, this story blew my mind that it was real. The father of an 18-year-old son who is wrongly accused of dealing drugs, his own friend set him up. He went in front of the judge and says that he doesn’t know any drug traffickers, so he was serving the mandatory minimum. Now, he’s in jail with real hardcore criminals. His father sees him through the glass with what he’s going through and he’ll do anything to get him out. So he went to the U.S. Attorney, saying, “My son doesn't know anyone selling drugs. But, what if I go undercover and get you some people dealing drugs?” This is the real story of a real father who goes into the drug world to free his son.
Movie Fanatic: How did you put your own stamp on it?
Ric Roman Waugh: I took over the script and infused what I had learned on my film Felon and built out that tapestry. When it came time to cast the movie, we talked about the usual suspects. I was fortunate that Dwayne Johnson had seen Felon and was a big fan of it and I’m a huge fan of his. We started talking with things we wanted to work on.
Movie Fanatic: How did having Dwayne alter things?
Ric Roman Waugh: By putting Dwayne Johnson in the movie, we show that it’s not about size or power, it’s about heart. It’s about how much integrity and our own morality we risk to save our kids. We would move heaven and earth for our kids and this is a true story about a father who does that. His character is a blue collar guy who built up a successful construction business. He thinks he has it all, great family, great house, great life -- except he has a son from a divorce, who he’s estranged from. Then when the son gets arrested, it all gets turned upside down. The film is about him and this son coming back together while these unbelievable odds are being thrown at them. I thought that was a compelling story to tell.
Movie Fanatic: How is this a different turn for Dwayne Johnson?
Ric Roman Waugh: What’s great about this is Dwayne has never been a father like this on camera. This is a father with real peril and real struggle that has to protect his kid.
Movie Fanatic: And Benjamin Bratt portrays a drug lord who is unlike any we’ve seen before, as so eloquently shown in that awesome Snitch Super Bowl trailer. How was crafting that character a challenge?
Ric Roman Waugh: He’s the top of the food chain. He’s very much like the guys who do that right now. They don’t have Ray-Ban sunglasses and 5 o’clock shadows. They’re wearing expensive clothes, here in America. They come from oligarch money and have paramilitary backgrounds -- they’re sophisticated and educated.