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Netflix's 'Outside the Wire' director says Boston Dynamics' dancing robots were 'a big inspiration'

By Justin Carter
Outside the Wire

Recently, Netflix revealed its overall plans for 2021, which includes releasing at least one new movie per week for the entire year. It's a bold strategy, but one completely warranted during these pandemic times when you're not sure if going to a movie theater is entirely the right move, whether you've got the vaccine or not. Not sure what to watch one evening? Netflix has you covered. The streaming giant's second movie of the year is the action flick Outside the Wire, starring (and produced by) Anthony Mackie, that guy you may know from the other movies where he has robotic wings.

**This story contains some spoilers for Outside the Wire.**

An MCU hero as the star of an action movie for Netflix? Sounds similar to last year's Extraction, which featured Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary, but the similarities between the two begin and end there. In Outside the Wire, it's the near future and the U.S. military is using robotic soldiers called Gumps to help fight against an Eastern European warlord. Snowfall's Damson Idris plays a U.S. drone pilot named Harp who gets assigned to the command of Mackie's Captain Leo. The twist is Leo isn't just a soldier, he's an android supersoldier — ironic, since Mackie was the lead of Netflix's sci-fi original Altered Carbon not too long ago, where he was also a hypercompetent soldier.

Recently, SYFY WIRE got the chance to speak with the film's director, Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström. Håfström's directed numerous films over the years, mostly horror and thriller flicks such as 1408, The Rite, and the original Escape Plan. During our phone call with him, we talked about the film's development, from the influences that went into creating the robotic Gumps to his favorite kill, and having the future Captain America on hand for the action scenes.

Let's start with the cast. You certainly got lucky in getting the actual Captain America to be your co-lead. Did his MCU work come into play when coming up with Leo?

It didn't really come into play at all. [Laughs.] Anthony read the script and liked it, certainly, but I wasn't thinking too hard about his previous work. I was actually trying to isolate his previous work away, and just to be in the moment.

As Leo, Anthony brought the right charisma and physical ability to the part. His previous work definitely helped a lot during the action, and he's quite special in that way. He did amazing things during the fight scenes, he rarely used his stuntman.

Yeah, he's great in the action in this, particularly during the vault sequence. There were a lot of moving pieces in that, including Harp with the hostages and the Russian Gumps. What was it like to film that?

It took a lot of time to figure out and find a location for that scene. Once we finally settled on the bank vault, the script had to be rewritten with it in mind. We did a lot of thinking about how it would work because when we were shooting it, we didn't really have the Gumps there. We would use the mo-cap guys and then the visual effects team would come in and insert the Gumps. It was a fun sequence, and challenging in a way I've never really done in a film before.

Leo's abilities are obviously the star of the show, but there's also Harp. He gets to shoot a gun a couple of times, but that's it for him in terms of action. Was there ever a talk about giving him a "hero moment" of his own or anything of that sort?

The thing about Harp is that he's very different from Leo. He's heroic in a different way and not a frontline guy like Leo is. He's spent so much time as a drone pilot, and it wouldn't have made sense for him to suddenly become an Action Guy, especially in such a short amount of time. We wanted it to feel real. Damson joked about having his own action scene a lot. I told him to take notes for his next action movie so he knows what to expect!

At one point during the film as Leo and Harp are walking through the forest, Leo talks about how he was chosen as a Black man by the government to "convey neutrality." Were the characters originally conceived as Black?

Originally, the script didn't say anything about anyone's race, period. That changed after Anthony came on, obviously. For Harp, we went through plenty of auditions where the actors were Asian, Black, white, etc. Damson and I met over Skype because he was shooting for something else at the time, and we laughed a lot during that. He had a lot of charisma and humor, and it just felt like he was the right guy for the role.

outside the wire gumps

I want to talk about the Gumps. They feel like they're not that far off from being a reality. How'd their creation come about?

[Laughs.] When we did the Gumps, we were looking at the technology that existed now and how to push our current technology into that near future. We were thinking that this would be the kind of military robot we'll be seeing in about 10, 15 years. In fact, there are robots like this that exist already...

The robots from Boston Dynamics?

Yeah, exactly, like that dancing video. Those robots were a big inspiration for us visually. Looking at them helped us figure out what the Gumps would be like in this movie.

Before this, your previous work was mostly thrillers and some horror. What was it about this that drew your attention?

It was the near-future setting, since it gave me a chance to do a futuristic film before, something I'd never done. And the characters and the story just spoke to me. I liked how it starts out as this action movie and then over time turns into actually being anti-war.

Do you see more futuristic movies in the cards down the line, or do you want to go back to something more present?

It would be fun to work on something in the far future. But it would have to be about what draws my interest. Give me the right story and the right characters, and we'll talk.

Outside the Wire premieres on Netflix on Jan. 15.