by Frank Garcia
Used without permission (sorry)
Personifying Marvel Comics' finest commando soldier in this live-action adventure is Baywatch's David Hasselhoff.
Unlike a lot of other movie-of-the-week films based on Marvel characters, this production has an advantage. Stan Lee, Nick Fury's co-creator (with the late artist Jack Kirby), executive produces with his colleague Avi Arad. They helm a Marvel Entertainment company, Marvel Films, and thus have more control over the life and times of the company's crown jewels in film and animation.
In this David Goyer-scripted tale, Nick Fury is brought out of retirement after five years in seclusion to battle an old enemy, HYDRA, a terrorist agency headed and reawakened by Viper, the daughter of Baron Von Strucker, HYDRA's previous leader.
Talking just as the film was deep in post-production in June, 1997, Stan Lee was excited about seeing the film being completed. "I love the script!" said Lee. "Fox Television got interested in it. David Goyer succeeded admirably. He's one of the best screenwriters that I know.
"We were very lucky. The main thing, of course, is getting Nick Fury correct. When I first heard that David Hasselhoff was being considered, I had never really seen that much of him, just still pictures, because I never watch Baywatch." But once Hasselhoff donned the appropriate garb, grew a two-day beard and chomped on a cigar, Nick Fury was born and Lee was ecstatic.
"I've seen footage, the dailies, I saw them and I just loved them," says Lee. "When it's put together it should be wonderful. Even the way they do the helicruiser is terrific. I'm extremely happy!
"Our hopes are high. We expect it to do well. And of course, if it does, we expect there to be a lot more."
David Hasselhoff is surrounded by an ensemble cast of colorful characters. Lisa Rinna plays Val, a SHIELD agent who just happens to be Nick's ex-girlfriend. Sandra Hess plays Viper, the leader of HYDRA, the resurrected terrorist agency. Ron Canada plays Gabe, a SHIELD commander. Garry Chalk plays Tim "Dum Dum" Dugan, Nick's close friend and a veteran soldier.
And then there's the fresh-faced Brit, Neil Roberts. He plays Alexander Goodwin Pierce, a SHIELD agent on his first field assignment.
Dressed in jet black combat fatigues, Roberts escorts MANIA's reporter into his private trailer for a chat about the role during a break on the set of the film, on location in Vancouver, Canada.
"He's quite a clever guy!" chuckles Roberts, referring to his Fury persona. "He was at the top of his class in silent killing! He was trained and knows everything. He's very eager and keen. However, he's never put it into practice. Nick Fury is a legend and my character gets involved with Nick Fury. This is the guy I read in the textbooks. Nick Fury doesn't do anything by the book. And my character is very nervous about straying and doing anything unusual. The pressures that my character during this film, is the fact that I learn the Nick Fury way. To follow your heart, to have instinct is certainly more important than reading the textbooks. It's a journey that by the end Pierce is nearer to being a really good agent like Nick Fury."
A young British actor, Neil Roberts has spent his most of his time in theater, but upon arriving in Los Angeles has managed to snatch roles in Sliders ("Seasons Greedings"), Steven Bocho's short-lived sitcom Public Morals, and a film called A Second Civil War. Most recently and notably, Roberts guest starred in the final episode of Babylon 5 's fourth season, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" as Brother Michael. **BREAK We don't want to completely spoil all of Nick Fury's finely crafted film illusions but the interiors of the flying helicarrier that serves as SHIELD headquarters were actually an abandoned power sub-station in a suburb of Vancouver. The company took over the Port Mann power plant for their own purposes. They actually constructed the headquarters' unique architecture by integrating their own layout as part of the existing, surrounding pipes, ladders and latticework. Thus, a grander illusion was struck, not of a power plant, but a futuristic combat base complete with high-tech screens and computer readouts.
And it is here, in a courtyard filled with parked Winnebago vans and catering trucks, that David Hasselhoff and company are filming.
Roberts says that he's enjoying an opportunity to portraying a "totally green!" but not bumbling SHIELD agent. "I keep getting into scrapes. I keep messing up. I'm single-minded at silent killing and in one scene, out of eagerness, I take over. 'Let me try and kill the guy!' "
When the team tries to infiltrate a HYDRA base, and in an attempt to show Colonel Fury just what he's capable of, Pierce jumps forward and attempts to subdue a sentry guard. "Nick Fury says, 'No! Pierce! Come back please! Don't!'
"I bang him on the back of the neck which worked in training," continues Roberts. "But this guy is called Sluggo and he's 7' 2". And he turns around and he has no effect at all. And I go, 'Oh, oh!' And get smashed down. And Nick Fury turns up and saves the day. And he looks over me and says, 'What are we thinking of?' And I'm very embarrassed because I really messed up here. It's really quite comical. And there are quite a few moments like that where I'm just so eager I try and take over. But I really have the ability!
"It gives it a little bit of humor because there's a lot of intensity. It's a comic book and its silly, the stakes are high because we're saving the world. HYDRA is going to blow up Manhattan."
With lots of action/adventure, missiles flying through the air, explosions and a deadly race against time, Roberts says it's important to make humor an integral element in the film.
"It gives it a dichotomy," explains Roberts. "The humor comes out of the situation. It's a relief - a release for the audience. Otherwise it gets too heavy. The humor doesn't come in big laughs or anything, the humor comes out of that frailty and that innocence. The dichotomy between Fury and Pierce is quite amusing. You need those elements to keep you going as an audience, to stimulate interest."
Roberts remarks that he's suitably impressed with the hardware and the action that the film delivers. "What this has is the realism and the grit and also it's not like The Fifth Element where you look at it and it's spectacle and futuristic. The beauty of this sort of thing is that, as an audience, it could happen. And they got the equipment that we have. It's a little bit further [into the future] than now. You think maybe people do have that sort of weapons. It's more accessible to an audience because you can believe the situation.
"At the end of the day what you're trying to do is make entertainment. You start making something that's fun. You can't take it that seriously because it is out of a comic book. We're on a flying airship!"
Surprisingly, just like fellow co-stars Sandra Hess and Lisa Rinna, Roberts has previously worked with star David Hasselhoff in other projects, in this case, an episode of Baywatch Nights. "David is terrific! He's got an enormous amount of energy. I think it's nice for him because that this is away from the normal character that he plays, and the fact that he's got an eyepatch, is gritty and has a cigar and doesn't shave. His character doesn't say a lot. He always looks at things and is sarcastic. He's very dark and gritty so he's having fun."
As an actor, what's thrilling for Roberts is that Nick Fury gives him a chance to live out some childhood fantasies. "I really enjoyed when we were out at the HYDRA base. It was a lot of hero stuff. We had these great big guns and we were firing. I always wanted to be James Bond, in that sort of adventure movie. I've always dreamt of doing James Bond stuff - running down corridors, hiding behind pillars, flinging yourself down the floors and throwing yourself around. Pierce is like James Bond [but] he's like 003 1/2. He's not quite there!"