Director Tony Scott had a lengthy history with Domino Harvey, who he first met more than ten years ago after his business manager, Neville Shulman, sent him an article from what Scott refers to as a "rag newspaper" in London. The article depicted the life of a young woman who had decided to become a bail recovery agent and follow the seamier side of life, both personally and professionally. But what really piqued both men's interest was the fact that this young woman was the daughter of the late actor Lawrence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate) and came from a very privileged and gentrified background.
Scott immediately got in touch with the then-20-year-old. He invited her to his office and a week later, the two were in discussions to put a version of her life story on screen. The director always planned to begin with an outline of Domino's life, but from the start never intended to produce a strictly biographical piece. In some cases, he even shied away from using people's real names "because I was misrepresenting what had actually happened in their lives," the director says.
Over the years Domino became a surrogate daughter to Scott. He attempted to watch over her and her comrades as best he could, but even the most concerned and involved father cannot always dissuade his children from foolhardy pursuits and destructive behavior.
"I kept telling Domino, 'You're crazy,'" Scott recalls. "She was into lots of dangerous things other than bounty hunting, and I said, 'Watch out. You're gonna kick down one too many doors.' But she said storming through those doors with a shotgun in her hand was the biggest adrenaline rush she'd ever had, and it helped to quell the voices in her head, so there was nothing I could say or do that would change her attitude."
"When I met Domino, she was living at home in Beverly Hills with her Mum and stepfather, Peter Morton, the famous restaurateur. She'd leave her guns in the garage and pick them up when she went on these bounty hunting missions. She was living two distinctly different lives."
"I also met with Domino's team," recounts Scott. "They were infamous even ten years ago when there weren't that many bounty hunters around. They used her as a cover or as a carrot, whichever the situation warranted. But make no mistake, bounty hunting is a tough, dangerous business."
Writing the script
Several different screenwriters took a stab at the story, but to Scott's dismay, they were more interested in writing a very straightforward portrayal of Domino's life that Scott describes as "solid, but way too linear." When Scott gave the same assignment to Richard Kelly, he got more than he bargained for.
"I read Southland Tales and I saw Donnie Darko, and thought Richard had an interesting voice," says Scott. "He takes an unusual and very imaginative approach in terms of his comedic elements and his darker, almost sci-fi side. He manufactured the story but left the characters as real, breathing people."
Kelly came up with the thread for his fictional story while sitting at a Santa Monica Department of Motor Vehicles office attempting to correct a snafu with his driver's license. The DMV acts as the conduit for all of humanity; it is the source of all information and the nucleus of each story within the film. Kelly also uses the shortcomings of the DMV as an allegory for America's poor overall health care system.
"The DMV is a mess," says Kelly. "All of these people are processed through a system that is flawed, just like our health care system, which is a disaster. Ultimately the thieves, followed by the would be bounty hunters, the Mafia, the FBI and some other thieves all have to go through this institution for the money they're searching for."
"It's a very complex story," Scott admits. "It's a huge jigsaw puzzle. The audience has to pay attention in order to stay with all the beats of the story. We play it in forward and we play it in flashback. But for me the story is really about a girl who lives in the house on the hill and dreams of being a bounty hunter and then escapes that dream by the skin of her teeth - time stood still for that period - and that was the real Domino."
Throughout the film Domino flips a coin in the air. Heads, you live. Tails, you die. "She flips the coin, wondering where it's going to land. That's a running theme in the film," says Scott. "And just like a coin, she had two distinct sides; she was an adrenaline junkie and a wounded bird, but she always lived life with the throttle wide open."
Producing the film
When Scott was certain he had a film to make, he called upon long-time friend and associate Samuel Hadida (True Romance, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Resident Evil) to produce the picture. "Sammy has always flown my flag," says Scott. "He trusts me, and trust was paramount in terms of making this movie because it's dangerous material. The box office appeal is not necessarily readily apparent, but he let me do my thing, for better or worse, and believed that I was going to come through."
Samuel Hadida and his brother, executive producer Victor Hadida, were only too eager to work with Scott again. Samuel had produced the director's True Romance, which although critically praised, was a film released before its time and so was not the box office success everyone had hoped it would be. But that outcome did not deter the French producers, who gravitate to more artistic, less conventional projects.
Samuel Hadida first heard about Domino during a dinner party at Scott's house. Inquiring as to what was next for the director, Hadida became privy to Scott's long-standing pet project about Pancho Villa as well as a newer idea based on an article Scott had read about a young woman who worked as a bounty hunter. Knowing how long it can take for an idea to become a viable script, Hadida did not revisit the discussion for several years.
In 2002 Hadida met Richard Kelly. "I first became acquainted with Richard when we were distributing Donnie Darko, which he'd written and directed," says Hadida. "We were talking one day and he told me he was writing a script for Tony Scott. I couldn't believe it when he told me it was the screenplay for Domino. It had been ten years since I'd first heard Tony's plans, so I told Richard I would love to read it once he was finished. Next thing I know, Tony is calling me, telling me that he was trying to get the movie done, that he has a small window of opportunity because Keira Knightley, who he wanted to play Domino, is only available from October to December and asking would I be interested."
The next day Scott sent Hadida the newest script, his latest BMW commercial and a ripomatic (an edited video trailer of sorts utilizing images and clips from past movies, commercials and television shows to suggest the proposed look for a project in the works, used more in the commercial world), he had put together so that Hadida could get a feel for the look and tone Scott envisioned for the film. He also sent a print of his recent film Man on Fire, which had yet to open in Europe. Hadida spent the evening in his Paris office looking over the materials and called Scott with his decision the next morning. He was in.
"The ripomatic gave me a sense of the story and gave me a visual," Hadida remembers "It began with a girl's voiceover and up came a beautiful model, a gun, a coin flipping in the air; it was a cool blueprint of an idea that gave me a sense of the cinematic experience working in Tony's head."
"The script was very edgy," he continues. "There was a darkness to it and humor, it was emotional and took you for a ride, but the character was still believable and three-dimensional. It wasn't the same old idea; I felt we were treading on some new ground. I like when I open a script and I can read to the end without putting it down. When it holds my interest, when I begin thinking like the characters as I read, when I become a little worried and nervous about how we're going to make the film, that's when I am attracted to a project, because I like challenges. The strong female lead and the action also reminded me of True Romance, which was a great experience. Richard's script for Domino not only had all the dramatic elements, it was incredibly textured and layered so that you never knew where it was going next."
Samuel and Victor Hadida are the principals of Metropolitan Films. At present, they are setting up satellite offices in Hollywood to deal with the influx of projects the company is currently developing. While Victor remains a constant guiding force in the Paris office, Samuel is more gregarious and spends as much time as possible with the production, on their movie sets. A particularly affable man, his philosophy has always been one slanted toward giving the artist room to develop his or her talents and bring to the fore their own, unique perspective of any given subject. His good nature and constant zeal for the company's many collaborators is exceptional in today's film industry.
Hadida feels that he was "the perfect partner producer" to come in and take over the reins of the project. "Tony had spent so many years developing the script and it had finally come to maturity and he'd found the perfect actress for the role in Keira Knightley. It had been a long engagement and with the two of us there was a perfect marriage. When the time is right, there is no stopping the process."
"Being European," Hadida continues, "we are director driven, so Tony knows we will not be tapping him on the shoulder or twisting his arm with directives or overbearing suggestions. We are not a studio, we make independent pictures for studios and we have a bond with our filmmakers."
"Working with Tony is always a special experience," says Victor Hadida. "He is forever pushing his boundaries and attempting some new endeavor, and he brings us, as audience members, along for the ride. He is a creative force who brings out the best in everyone he works with; it's a natural osmosis."
"An added bonus of agreeing to become involved with this project was that Samuel and I were able to bring to Tony our valuable relationships with everyone at New Line Cinema," continues Victor Hadida. "Samuel and I think of New Line as our home away from home, so this combination was most fortuitous for us."
Once the Hadidas were on board, they sent the script to New Line Cinema, a company known for taking the road less travelled and making cutting edge films. The company's co-chairman/CEO Bob Shaye and production president Toby Emmerich knew the schedule Scott and Hadida had set for themselves would be grueling, but they were so happy to work with the filmmakers and Knightley that they immediately moved forward to lock the deal in 24 hours. The Hadidas have distributed New Line Cinema movies in France and in French-speaking countries around the world for 15 years.
"Odd characters have always appealed to me, " Scott says, referring to the title character of his film. "She's definitely out there." He cast 20-year-old Keira Knightley from gut instinct. "Domino and Keira are different personalities for sure," the director says. "The real Domino was darker, a little more out there, but on the surface they are both English girls - a little innocence, a little Princess Di mixed with discomfort at being slotted into that role. They both come from a different planet that does not mix well with the dark world of bounty hunting. I could see Keira as that girl. Taking Keira on this journey of being Domino Harvey was akin to how the real Domino felt when first being exposed to this dark world."
Scott first saw Knightley in longtime friend Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of the Caribbean, while Hadida knew her not only from Pirates but also from other roles including Bend it Like Beckham (which he distributed) and Love, Actually.
"Keira's an actress on the rise," says Hadida, "and Tony was adamant that we should not miss her. Keira has the innocence, the charisma and the presence we wanted. We decided we couldn't make the movie without her. It was a no-brainer. Although her schedule did put us under some pressure," he explains, "I believe that you need pressure to make a good movie. It adds energy to the set."
In April 2004 Knightley made a whirlwind trip from London to L.A. for a breakfast meeting with Scott. "I absolutely loved the script," she says. "It's such a mad story; it's got action, sexuality, violence, bad language…but it's very funny. I wanted to meet the people behind that dark sense of humor and I was excited by the prospect of doing something a little crazy that I hadn't done before. Meeting Tony was a thrill; he is so excited by life and by what he does that it's catching."
Knightley is quick to point out that her portrayal is not an imitation of the real Domino; rather the actress drew from the film's real life muse for inspiration. "There is no point in doing an accurate characterization unless the entire story is accurate," she says. "So that gave me a lot of freedom to explore the mentality of someone who comes from a privileged background and decides to go off on her own path, in a completely opposite direction. She had a strong rebellious streak. I found the combination fascinating. And even though Domino knew that we were not one hundred percent faithful to her story, I hope she would have liked what we created."
The film version of Domino Harvey's life takes license from the very beginning . . . in Scott's version her mother and sister first move from London to Los Angeles in 1990. It is not an easy move for the youngster who misses her father, the only one with whom she had ever shared a strong connection. She grows up as the quintessential middle child, not sure of where she belonged or where she was going. After many awkward ups and downs, Domino finds a place where she fits in and even excels. It is not the life her mother would have chosen, but it is where she finds acceptance and love, and how director Tony Scott sees her.
Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly begin with a look at Domino's early years in England in order to capture the intense vulnerability of the girl at the core of the story. "Domino is tough on the surface, toting guns and kicking down doors," says Scott, "but underneath, she is this vulnerable girl. She got lost along the way after her dad died, and even though there was a lack of connection to her mother, there is genuine emotion and a relationship of sorts that keeps Domino returning home time and again. You need to see that in order to understand the woman."
Scott, who is the father of five-year-old twin boys, gets a kick out of working with kids, and especially enjoyed the scenes with Tabitha Brownstone, who portrays eight-year-old Domino. "Tabitha was spunky and feisty," he says. "She felt like an extension of Keira. I love the challenge of being able to get a performance out of kids, to get the kids to be real. In Hollywood there is a danger that children are over-coached and a little too predictable."
Precocious, to be sure, Brownstone captured Domino's discomfort in her own skin. She was quite literally a fish out of water. A tomboy and misfit, her only remaining link to her father is a small goldfish which, like the girl herself, does not survive the boarding schools or other efforts made by her mother to encourage Domino to fit in among her peers and the proper social set.
Veteran actress Jacqueline Bisset appears as Domino's mother, Sophie Wynn [a pseudonym]. In the 1970s Bisset was acquainted with Domino's real mother, an elegant, sophisticated woman who had lived an idyllic life with her handsome actor husband. They were among the beautiful and famous, appearing on the covers of magazines worldwide. Since that time, Domino's mother has remarried and lives a quieter but no less elegant life style. In spite of their vast differences, mother and daughter stayed in touch and were closer in the last years of Domino's life, but unfortunately their schedules did not permit them much time together.
Even after Bisset spoke with Domino's mother to make certain she was aware of the film and the fictional nature of the story, she was still protective of the character. "I felt tied to my loyalty to Domino's mother," says Bisset, "because the situation was a bit delicate. There's always a sense of responsibility when a character starts from the position of a real person, especially when that person finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance. She is totally worried about the danger in which her daughter finds herself and she can't imagine what the job entails. Your mind boggles at what can happen."
"She wants her daughter to be happy," continues Bisset. "Most mothers do. But she realizes from the very beginning that her daughter is rebellious. She's grungy, she's tough, she's independent. And I 'm sure Sophie's youth was not saintly. Becoming a bounty hunter is about getting attention. It's natural."
"We depict Domino's difficult relationship with her mother," Knightley says. "She isn't someone who fits in easily with her mother's crowd. She's also not someone who cares much about the superficial world of fashion and manicures and hair styling. Her life's journey is about excitement and finding something that makes her feel alive. She doesn't find that until she starts bounty hunting and meets a group of people who scare her and intrigue her all at the same time."
"What makes her good at bounty hunting is her innate ability to remain calm and not flinch while a gun is pointed in her face," Knightley continues. "Instead of freaking out or becoming hysterical, she becomes eerily calm. She's a bad ass."
Once Tony Scott began the casting process, he realized he needed a sound foundation from which his characters could grow and decided that the family aspect of the trio was the place to start. Meeting and researching real bounty hunters proved to be an unlikely but incredibly fruitful well of information for Richard Kelly's rewrites.
"Most of these guys come from dysfunctional families," reports Scott. "It's similar to the Hell's Angels. The only family connection they know is the one they forge with their self-selected, self-made group. Domino and her partners Ed and Choco were a dysfunctional family that worked. And it all came from Domino, who was searching for a father figure, and somehow Ed became that. They gravitated together because the family they created was the first real family any of them had ever known and addressing these family issues made all the characters much stronger.
"I always find role models for my actors in real life, and then I try and find actors who are those characters, " says Scott. "Mickey Rourke was Ed and Edgar Ramirez was Choco. Ed was from Los Angeles and Choco was from El Salvador, but they were like brothers. They had the same perspective on life and the same laconic, dark attitude."
Scott, who has known Rourke socially since the director first emigrated to the United States more than 25 years ago and most recently worked with him on Man on Fire, is confident that he cast the perfect man for the role. He remains one of Rourke's biggest fans and believes in his talent with complete vigour.
"Mickey is a consummate actor," asserts Scott. "If you look at the main body of his work, anyone can see that he is brilliant at his craft. It's true that his heart wasn't it in for a while and he lost his way, but I honestly believe I cast the right guy and the rest will take care of itself."
"Ed would sit on one end of the sofa and in my mind I could see Mickey on the other," the director continues. "They are so similar in personality and character. Mickey is the right age, he's grown up on motorcycles and in a boxing ring, he's experienced drugs and the dark side; everything in his life experience just crossed the Ts and dotted the Is in terms of Ed's character."
Producer Samuel Hadida was in complete agreement with Scott. "Mickey is one of my favourite actors."
When Rourke heard that Tony Scott wanted him for another film, he agreed without hesitation. "I love Tony Scott," he says. "He's a cut above most directors in Hollywood. He's an actor's director; he can bring you right to the edge. And I like the movies he makes."
"The script didn't really come alive for me until Tony, Keira, Edgar and I started working together," explains Rourke of his process. "We sat in a room and discussed how we saw the characters beyond the obvious facts that Domino is a girl from London who decides to be a bounty hunter, and Choco is a hot tempered Latin, and Ed is a godfather character."
Rourke worked tirelessly with Scott throughout the entire production, constantly refining and polishing his character. He wanted to know the details of Ed's backstory so that he could understand why this man was driven to take on the central role in this ragtag family. Read more
Training the actors
Filming Domino - cinematography and visuals The director's creative process
Creating Physical Stunts and Visual Effects
Tony Scott (Director/Producer) / Richard Kelly (Screenwriter)