Last Passenger (United Kingdom) is the new runaway train movie done in a Hitchcockian style. Omid Nooshin is the first-time director, and I would hope he has a future ahead of him. He has Dougray Scott and Kara Tointon as two appealing actors stuck on a train going at full-throttle speed after a madman has taken control. The other few remaining passengers are aggravating additional foils, all disagreeing on what measures to take next.
I engaged Nooshin in an email exchange in discussion of his movie. “Last Passenger” has already met with critical and audience success in the UK, and the U.S. critical reception has been equally generous.
The runaway train genre is a reliable favorite of mine. Do you have a personal favorite thriller-on-a-train film?
Actually no, although trains crop up frequently in my favorite movies. That’s probably why I felt I could do this as a debut, that I could put my own spin on a tried and tested formula, then use some of those genre specific tropes to usurp audience expectations. Trains in movies of course go right back to the birth of cinema, with the Lumiere Brothers, Edwin S. Porter, and so on. There’s a rich tradition to uphold.
Your film is very Hitchcockian? What does Hitchcock suspense mean to you and how did you employ it into your film?
Hitchcock’s suspense formula was rooted in the relationship between stakes and identification. There’s a co-efficient bond there — the greater the audience’s identification with the protagonists, the lower the stakes needed to engage their interest. That’s the recipe we used in “Last Passenger” — making the characters as relatable as possible so the audience would feel like they were the ones on the train, and it becomes a vicarious thrill ride for them.
Dougray Scott is so good that “Last Passenger” could be the one that proves how under-utilized he has been in films. He should picked more as a romantic hero. What made you choose him and did you know right away he was perfect for the part?
Dougray’s persona simply chimed with the main character, Lewis, with various qualities I was looking for. He has leading man charisma, and a self-possessed confidence and aloofness characteristic of some doctors, but he has a certain vulnerability which prevents him from radiating the invincible aura of an action hero. You know intuitively he’s going to have to dig deep to survive.
To be utterly honest, Kara Tointon is the most beautiful actress I’ve seen in quite awhile, she’s a classy beauty – I loved looking at her. How in the world did you find her and what did she bring to the part that wasn’t necessarily in the script?
I saw Kara in a West End production of “Pygmalion,” playing Eliza Doolittle. She’s actually well known here in the UK for winning the British version of “Dancing with the Stars.” The wonderful thing about Kara is that her beauty isn’t only skin deep, and she has a charm that touches everyone around her. Charm is a hard thing to mimic, so it helps if the actor has their own natural supply. And of course she has that smile which casts its own spell, and certainly can’t be written.
How do you see the production design, cinematography and music playing a significant part to your movie?
It’s all about unifying the creative decisions around a central theme, or a metaphor, to give cohesion to the overall design. “Last Passenger” is thematically rooted in existential notions of mortality, but that’s too abstract to act as a decision-making prism. So it became a modern day dragon slayer myth. All of those choices then, such as the action-adventure quality of the score, are informed by this mythic core.
“Last Passenger” plays better as a night train movie because of the night fog and street lamps that refract through the window. It’s visually dynamic. Did you know from the beginning that your film had to be a night film versus a day film?
Absolutely, from day one, it was a night movie. It’s more practical when using rear projection, and it’s more vibrant aesthetically. Sometimes a movie needs to step back from the demands of plot and just revel in its visuals.
If you’d like, who are your three favorite directors and what is your favorite film by each director?
Kubrick, Spielberg, Hitchcock. “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Jaws,” “Rear Window.”
What do you see in your future career? What kind of films would you like to be preferably making and what can we expect from you?
You can expect me to take a personal approach to genre movies, with an emphasis on visuals, and stylistic tributes to the 60s and 70s, which is my favorite era. I love sci-fi because of the scope for invention but, as to which project is green-lit next, I’m still at the mercy of the movie gods.