Rogue (2020)

In the action movie Rogue (out on demand Aug. 28), Megan Fox plays a mercenary named Samantha O’Hara who battles ruthless kidnappers and an equally dangerous lion after a rescue mission in Africa goes awry.

“Rogue is the story of a small mercenary unit of soldiers who have been engaged by the governor of an African country to rescue his daughter who has been kidnapped by an Al-Shabaab-type organization,” says the film’s director and co-writer M.J. Bassett. “This unit go in, there’s more than one girl so their plan is immediately compromised, and their extraction goes wrong. So, suddenly they find themselves on the run from the bad guys, looking for refuge in Africa, and come across an abandoned farm, or they think it’s abandoned. While they’re hunkering down they realize that the farm was used as a poachers’ stronghold and a breeding place for lions for the hunting industry and the East Asian medicinal market. And though the lions seem to have escaped, there’s clearly one still around. So, suddenly they realize they have no ammunition and they are very much the bottom of the food chain, and they have to survive the night before the bad guys arrive, the lion gets them, and the extraction can happen.”

When Bassett first wrote the script with her daughter and Rogue cast member Isabel the filmmaker had no thought that the movie would star someone as well known as Fox.

“It was supposed to be a really small picture, that’s the thing,” says Bassett, whose directing credits include the 2009 fantasy film Solomon Kane and the TV shows Strike Back and Ash vs Evil Dead. “The script turned out better than anybody expected and my financiers were like, ‘We should try to go out to somebody, this is a great part for a woman.’ Megan was on the list. I was like, ‘Well, we’re never going to get Megan Fox, that’s ridiculous. It’s a little movie.’ I was like, ‘We can’t wait for the big movie star to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ give it the weekend and we can just move on with our lives.’ She read it and said ‘Yes’ the next day, which never happens ever.”

Below, Bassett talks more about Rogue, Megan Fox, and how the Backstreet Boys helped out with the movie.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Rogue come about?

M.J. BASSETT: My producing partner Molly Hassell said, “I’ve got a little bit of money for movies which have an environmental theme.” My background is natural history filmmaking and actually hosting wildlife and natural history science shows in the UK when I was younger. I’d gone this big convoluted route through action movies and fantasy movies and horror stuff. Molly actually [said], “Would you like to executive produce it? Because we have a very small budget, we can’t afford you.” I said, “No! I want to direct, write, and produce it. I don’t care about the money. I’ll make an action movie, and at the heart of it will be an environmental message, and a conversation to be had about how we treat the planet, and the creatures in it, which won’t be like eating your greens.”

How did your daughter get involved, both cowriting and acting in the film?

She’d been in a movie of mine called Solomon Kane years ago when she was like eleven-years-old, playing a little witch. All three of my kids are in the film business now. One’s an AD, one’s a makeup artist, and Izzy has become a writer. When she was nineteen, she put a screenplay on my desk — after having sworn she would never be in the film business — and it was an incredibly competent, excellent piece of writing. A sort of feminist, intense, dark story. She’s a good writer. She’s a better writer than I am and I’ve written tons of these things.

When I was putting the movie together, I needed a script, and I said, “Listen, this is the story I want to tell, will you take a swing at the script? I want there to be a fresh voice in here.” She wrote a draft of the script, and it was terrific. Clearly one of the characters was her voice, this slightly irritable kidnapped girl, and because the movie was supposed to be small, I had to bring in friends and family and just people I knew to keep the budget down and to keep it contained. And then Megan Fox got involved, which turned it into something else.

What attracted Megan to the project?

I went to meet her, and we talked, and she’s a very environmentally-aware woman. She’s socially conscious and she wanted to do something that she’s never done before. I know she’s done those Michael Bay movies, the Transformers movies, but she’s always been in short-shorts, running away from a robot or whatever. She’s been treated as a sex object, as a sexual being. I think she was drawn to the fact that sex is not relevant to this character at all. She’s a tough woman, who’s got her own agenda and her own issues, and she’s trying to work through them.

Megan has not done a lot of very physical stuff, so I took her to a friend of mine who’s a military expert, and she did a lot of training with weapons. I’ve done lots and lots of action in the past, through Strike Back and other movies, and I’ve trained with the Jordanian special forces and all those kinds of people. I think she comes out of it really really well, particularly as we were surrounding her in the cast with people like Philip Winchester, who I’ve worked with for years, who’s one of the most militarily competent actors I’ve ever worked with. Some of the cast were ex-military as well, so she really had to stand her ground, and I think she did. What I liked about the movie was it’s got a female producer, a young woman co-wrote it with me, it’s got a female lead, a trans woman writing and directing and producing it. It’s pretty progressive without really trying to be, which I’m really proud of.

The movie has a running joke in which Philip Winchester’s tough-as-nails mercenary character repeatedly sings “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” How did that come about?

[Laughs] I like my action movies to have comedy in them. I think that makes the characters accessible. And all the soldiers, all the military people I know, they’re really funny, because they deal with death and intensity by being off-hand about it — so that was the gag. We had this list of ear worm-type songs and one of these was the Backstreet Boys song. We made our presentation to the management of the Backstreet Boys. I have no idea whether [the band] read the script but we certainly got the word back that they were happy for us to be warmly rude about their music and to have this kind of earworm idea. I love it.

Review by Clark Collis

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