Exclusive: Director Simon Cellan Jones of The Family Plan On Mark Wahlberg, Fight Scenes, and More


Brace yourself: The Family Plan is a very different road trip film. It’s fun, hilarious, and filled with great action sequences — but it’s the plot that will win you over. After a social media snafu, a former top assassin who’s been living incognito as a suburban dad makes a frantic decision to take his unsuspecting family on a Las Vegas road trip to avoid danger. No such luck. His past and other life-threatening events follow him and his clan all the way to Sin City.

Directed by Simon Cellan Jones, the action comedy stars Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Father Stu), Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible), Ciarán Hinds (Belfast), and Maggie Q (Fear the Night). Fueled by this solid cast, a slew of action sequences, and satisfying story arcs, the family-friendly film stands out in an otherwise packed streaming season.

In this exclusive MovieWeb interview, Simon Cellan Jones unpacked the challenges he faced shooting several fight sequences and chase scenes and discussed his upcoming film — a heartwarming sportsman meets lovable dog adventure — Arthur the King, which also stars Wahlberg. Dive in.

Great Concept, Great Cast

Simon Cellan Jones quickly captured interest as a promising director. His first feature film Some Voices, starring Daniel Craig and Kelly MacDonald, was selected for Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. This paved a path for him to become a go-to director with his work in U.S. productions, such as the Emmy-nominated Generation Kill. He’s also been active behind the lens in stellar TV outings including Treme, Boardwalk Empire, The Expanse, Jessica Jones, and more.

With The Family Plan, Cellan Jones makes a memorable transition to film, capturing wonderful on-screen chemistry between the entire cast, especially Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan, who play husband and wife. There’s a nice balance of gripping action sequences and light humor, too. “I’ve done a lot of TV stuff and what I love about this is that it’s a big-ish movie,” Jones mused. “It’s a bit of a transition because although everything’s about the script, the story, and the characters, this one really does up the game.”

“I’ve had a few moments of fear, I’ll be honest with you,” he was quick to add.

“I’m going, ‘Jesus, this is a big film with some big Hollywood people, and I better not screw it up.’ But after a month or two, I went, ‘Wait a minute. I’m having a fantastic time here. I love doing action.’ When you do TV, of course you do action, but it’s smaller. You have less time, less money. And I don’t have a reputation for being an action director, but hey, I’m ready to do my next one, I’ll tell you that.”

Crafting a Great Fight Scene in Family Plan

Sure, the intense fight sequences in John Wick: Chapter 4 and, more recently, Silent Night, are among the most well-executed of 2023. But there’s also one sequence in The Family Plan which is destined to generate buzz for its inventiveness. As seen in the trailer, Wahlberg’s character, Dan Morgan, is at the supermarket with his infant child strapped to him. He’s approached by a dangerous thug attempting to take him out. The fight scene that ensues, baby in tow, is one of the best audiences will see this year.

Related: 20 Movies With Really Unique Fight Scenes

“He has his 18-month-old child strapped to his chest, so the whole fight takes place with that, you know, extra piece of juice,” Jones noted, adding:

That was a great scene on the page, and it was a total nightmare to film because, of course, you’ve got a baby, and if you’re an 18-month-old baby, you don’t want to be strapped to someone’s chest while someone’s throwing punches two inches from your face.

“We had two main babies,” Jones went on, “they were twins, of course, and they were both going, ‘Wait a minute, no, no, no, no, no — this is not how we see our relationship with you!’ So of course, you’ve got to look after your actors all the time, but particularly you’ve got to look after your babies. That was a little bit of a nervy sequence. It took a long time. We had to keep swapping babies. We had to calm them down, we had to rest them. But, you know, with a little bit of patience and not too much trick photography, actually, it worked out. It’s one of my favorite sequences, for sure.”

Coordinating Stunts and Chases

Yet another action sequence finds the Morgan family Vegas-bound. While the family sleeps in the vehicle, Wahlberg’s Dan Morgan has outrun several fierce cyclists on a busy roadway. The car-chase scene is intricate, taught, and filled with action.

Related: The Best Car Chases in Movies, Ranked

“That’s by far the biggest chase sequence I’ve ever done, I’ll be honest with you, and it was a huge production,” Jones admitted. “I love the scene so much that I worked out with our executive producers to get more time for it by being clever about spreading our money around. I made it bigger than it was and what I love about this film is it has several action scenes where you think, ‘Okay, it’s kind of a conventional action sequence,’ except that there’s a real secret weapon.

“In this one, it’s two things. Firstly, Mark is in a heavy chase sequence with people trying to kill him, but he can’t wait for his family,” he added. “And secondly, he’s got an 18-month-old baby [in the car] who is awake and fully aware of what’s going on. I thought that was a glorious twist on a conventional trip.”

On His Upcoming Mark Wahlberg Film, Arthur the King

Mark Wahlberg in Arthur the King

Up next for Simon Cellan Jones is yet another Mark Wahlberg project. In the highly anticipated and heartwarming film Arthur the King, which hits theaters in early 2024, Wahlberg plays an adventure racer who adopts a stray dog named Arthur. The canine joins him on an unforgettable endurance race that dramatically changes his life.

“The funniest thing about Mark Wahlberg is, although he’s this enormous movie star, he’s really easy to work with,” Jones said. “I mean, who knew? The first time I worked with him, I was going, ‘Oh my God, what’s he going to be?’ But he’s really straightforward. He wants to do a great job. He’s a producer on films, so he’s very invested, he’s super professional, he’s really just good. And you can’t underestimate that because that is the real secret weapon.”

Jones goes on to smile, adding, “He doesn’t necessarily do everything I say, but he’ll always listen and be up for it. He’s a really exciting actor to work with, and Arthur the King is a very different movie — a dog movie. It’s tough because it’s [about] these crazy people who basically do Iron Man [excursions] for five days straight. People like you and me would rather have a cocktail maybe, I think, and watch it on TV. But these guys are insane.” He continued:

And of course, Mark Wahlberg is pretty famous for having a good attention to fitness. He was able to cope with the athletic side of it and his co-star here was a dog. And you know what they say about dogs and children. We both just worked with a dog, then kids. And we’ve come out of it unscathed.

Dive into The Family Plan on Apple TV+ from December 15th through the link below:

Watch on Apple TV+

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