Besides killing their targets with the greatest of ease, assassins on the big screen are also known for their cold and emotionless exterior. Until this protective shell is ripped away from the gunman, that is. In IFC Films’ latest thriller, American Star, this doesn’t happen to Ian Mcshane’s Wilson because of suspenseful gunplay or a more powerful foe, but instead through encounters with interesting people and vast new surroundings. His once careless disposition is then temporarily exchanged for a renewed sense of life which, sadly, becomes his profession’s greatest flaw. The older hitman who happens to be on his last job travels all the way to the island of Fuerteventura to kill a man who means nothing to him. When Wilson arrives, though, the target is not home and won’t be back for a period of time.
While this waiting game is very easy to win, Wilson starts to lose himself in the possibility of obtaining the things he never had: a sense of childhood, a family relationship and, most importantly, freedom from the chains of his all-consuming career. With famed director Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18, The Hollow Point) at the helm, the film takes a look at the innermost wants and desires of someone who shoots to kill, played by the venerable Ian McShane (also a producer here). MovieWeb recently had a fireside chat with these two names to find out how this unique hitman movie came to be.
How Ian McShane Conveys an Older Hitman
One of the most distinct aspects of American Star is found through its slowed-down pacing. Many modern age viewers will instinctively connect films about gunplay and killings with a run and gun cinematic style, but here, scenes are made to convey Wilson’s age to the audience. The director explains:
“I always try to find the proper personal approach to a movie with the director of photography, Jose David Montero. We talk a lot about the character, and then we always try to experiment, find the core of what we’re doing… For most of the movie we just used one lens, and it was always from Wilson’s perspective. You always see the over-the-shoulder angle with him, and then you see his face. It’s a kind of rule we always try to respect.”
This unwritten filmmaking commandment is certainly honored in American Star. This one-two shot sequence always elevates the more calmer sequences of the movie, like when Wilson is driving to a location or when he’s conversing with another character such as Anne, Gloria, Ryan or Max.
Speaking of the other characters that Wilson floats around with while in Fuerteventura, they all quickly hold a very symbolic place in the mind of Ian Mcshane’s main character. Making up a mother and daughter duo, legendary French actresses Fanny Ardant and Nora Arnezeder present Wilson with the tease of a family which he can’t resist. Stepping into the shoes of Ryan, British actor Adam Nagaitis fits the hypothetical mold of a troubled son to the aging gunman (even though he is actually just a younger and colder protégé) and young UK actor Oscar Coleman plays someone who strikes up an imaginative, almost childlike friendship with Wilson.
The Right Way of Living at the Wrong Time
Both Gallego and McShane were eager to talk about these dynamics in their own different ways. “We wanted to confront him with those different elements of his life, like childhood, the kid that he never had and the love that he probably lost and was never fighting for, and then being a father, the relationship with Ryan,” explained Gallego. “It’s about how Wilson behaves with a little boy or with the girl or with Ryan. You see different parts of him.” Discussing the actors behind these characters, McShane added:
“The actresses gave a warmth to the film which might not have been there before. It added something special to the movie. You can be very meticulous with the people you cast, but they were all wonderful, like Oscar, the little boy who I was semi-improvising with, and Adam Negaitis, who brought something new to the character. The film is about relationships—- but it’s a different thing when you’re actually performing it. It was a pleasure working with all the actors, I must say.”
Not only does the cast bring a unique flair with their own individual interpretations of the characters, but the literal setting of Fuerteventura seems to hold a special story as well within the making of American Star. Gallego describes the sleepy Canary Island setting romantically, almost as if it parallels the main character himself:
Fuerteventura is an incredible landscape. You can love it, but you can hate it right away too, because it’s deserted, it’s difficult, it’s harsh, ya know? The fact that this character, Wilson, was forced to spend a holiday on the island was perfect for the story.
From Sexy Beast to American Star
- Release Date
- January 26, 2024
- Nacho Faerna
- EMU Films
Seeing as the director of American Star knows how to maneuver around the technical and detailed acting of McShane, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the two of them have worked together in the past. First collaborating on a 2016 film called The Hollow Point (which is a revisionist western noir), the leading actor elaborates on what Gallego is like as a filmmaker and how it feels to have this movie made independently.
“He is true to his own way of working. We had a wonderful opportunity in early 2022 to make American Star, financially speaking, and we did it. The wonderful thing is, there’s nobody looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. We got there on the island in early March and over the next five weeks, we made a movie. Gonzalo and I had our moments together obviously, but it was kind of coordinated. I trust him, he trusts me. It was a very natural, easy and gifted way to make a movie.”
“I’m proud of what we did,” Gallego adds, but also I’m really proud of the way we did it. I know if the movie has mistakes, those are my mistakes. I can ultimately say, I’m responsible for what happened there.”
Many people will assume that Mcshane grabbed various aspects of the role that he played in the John Wick franchise to help form the character of Wilson in American Star, since both worlds revolve around killers for hire. The thriving 81-year-old actor surprisingly redirected the presumed inspiration to another movie of his, one from 24 years ago that garnered co-star Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination.
Sexy Beast is a gangster thriller, but it would be nothing without Ray Winstone’s love affair with his wife, which is the core of the movie. The emotional context. So this film has an emotional context with Wilson’s relationship with the other characters — as accidental as they may be. The surrounding characters make the story what it is.
When asked about his thoughts on the John Wick spinoff series called The Continental (that is currently streaming on Peacock), McShane commented that he was never asked about anything regarding the show and has no intentions of watching, calling it “a cash grab.”
His new indie thriller, however, is anything but a cash grab, and simmers like a passion project. American Star will be available in theaters and on digital platforms starting from January 26th.