American Assassin Introduces Film Audiences To One Of Contemporary Fiction’s Most Popular Heroes.
Based on the mega-bestselling book series by the late Vince Flynn, American Assassin introduces film audiences to one of contemporary fiction’s most popular heroes working in the shadows: CIA super-agent Mitch Rapp, a 21st Century counter terrorist spymaster-in-the-making who, in a world of new rules, breaks all the old moulds.
Tragically, in 2013, Vince Flynn passed away at the age of 46 of prostate cancer. But before his death, he made a deal to bring Rapp’s post-millennial brand of spycraft to today’s movie audiences. Flynn continued writing throughout his fight against cancer, maintaining his dedication to Mitch Rapp’s millions of loyal fans.
Likewise, after Flynn’s passing, Producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler remained as committed as ever to getting Rapp’s story to the screen, and brought aboard a crack team of writers led by Stephen Schiff, known for his work on television’s multi-layered Soviet spy drama “The Americans,” to translate the story to the screen – Michael Finch (The November Man), Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back).
American Assassin tells the story of a 21st Century counterterrorist spymaster-in-the-making who, in a world of new rules, breaks all the old moulds. But much as we’re in the midst of a new era of bold individualists, this is also a story of far-flung global agents discovering what truly matters: working together for the greater good.
A one-of-a-kind American assassin possessed of savage skills and a ferocious drive for payback is born in this non-stop action-espionage thriller rooted in the raw reality of today’s hard-to-detect enemies invisible black ops, high-level surveillance, portable nukes and murky agendas.
When Rapp’s promising future is torn apart by a shocking burst of violence, it ignites his career as a clandestine warrior on the frontlines of the Age of Terror. Now he must discover how to turn his blistering rage into fuel for hunting those who would destroy others’ dreams – in a world where clarity isn’t easy to come by.
American Assassin traces Rapp’s origins from heartbroken fiancé to cunning renegade to off-the charts CIA trainee to his first must-not-fail mission on the trail of 15 kilos of stolen plutonium. The film brings together rising star Dylan O’Brien – who creates the no-holds-barred Rapp for the first time on screen – with Oscar® nominee and Golden Globe® winner Michael Keaton as legendary CIA trainer Stan Hurley. Seeking to right his own devastating mistakes, Hurley prepares Rapp to join Orion, the most deeply concealed network within the CIA. But even as Hurley teaches Rapp that spy work can’t be personal, Rapp makes personal connections that help him penetrate a web of mercenaries, arms dealers, extremists and an angry ex-agent not unlike himself, all colluding to spark a new World War.
What Tom Clancy was to the 1980s espionage thriller – plying the raw material of the Cold War and the darkest recesses of American spy operations to craft fiercely entertaining stories – Vince Flynn became to a new millennia.
As the world shifted into a dizzying, post-9/11 maze of menaces that were nearly impossible to see coming, Flynn shifted the spy novel with it. He steered away from an era of cool, East-West-divide techno-thrillers and into a brave new world of spontaneous, redhot threats that can come from anywhere. He saw early on that the global rise of terrorism against civilians meant the CIA would need a fresh kind of recruit. With terrorists emerging from diverse backgrounds and regions, intelligence agencies would put a new premium on spies capable of climbing inside the pitch-black minds of those motivated not so much by political aims as to light up the world with their fury.
That’s why he created the addictive Mitch Rapp series, focused on the unrelenting skills of one man – a man who uses his anger, idealism, pride and deeply personal venom to respond in kind to the vengeful, morally rootless threats that increasingly define these times.
In 1999, Flynn first introduced Rapp. He was already a veteran CIA asset reserved for the most precarious missions in Transfer of Power, in which a terrorist attack turns the entire White House into a hostage situation, with Rapp sent in as the last-ditch commando to save the very same U.S. government that rankles him. It was an instant hit, praised by Publisher’s Weekly as offering “endless intrigue.”
The book then set off a rapid-fire series encompassing 13 Mitch Rapp novels written by Flynn – as well as more subsequently written by Kyle Mills, chosen to keep the series going after Flynn’s untimely death.
Flynn quickly racked up endorsements from real-life intelligence community members stunned by the pinpoint accuracy of his novels. He wrote with an insider’s knowledge of how government agencies function, how covert operations go down, as well as how Washington’s political in-fighting and the machinations of global powers can generate a thick fog around the battle to keep Americans secure.
The Rapp series garnered fans of all stripes, from inside the beltway to foreign heads of state – from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to King Abdullah II of Jordan – and especially among American troops serving abroad, where barrack bunks are said to be littered with his paperbacks. Every single one of his books hit the New York Times bestseller list, with more than 12.5 million copies of the Rapp novels sold in the U.S., as well as traveling internationally to 20 different markets.
In 2010, Flynn responded to fans’ fervent calls to hit the rewind button – and at last he gave readers the story they wanted: Rapp’s origins, exploring how a lonely, emotionally-wounded kid fresh out of college became every terrorist’s worst nightmare.
This was American Assassin.
t would become one of his most critically praised and beloved books, as it laid out Rapp’s tormented past – the love he lost, the grief that spurred him and his recruitment into a top-secret program to train agents to work outside conventional rules.
This time Publisher’s Weekly said: “Flynn delivers his usual high-octane international thriller, but, in giving us Rapp’s back story, he’s infused it with more depth and heart.”
Bringing American Assassin To Movie Audiences
Tragically, in 2013, Vince Flynn passed away at the age of 46 of prostate cancer. But before his death, he made a deal with di Bonaventura and Wechsler to bring Rapp’s post-millennial brand of spycraft to today’s movie audiences.
Flynn continued writing throughout his fight against cancer, maintaining his dedication to Mitch Rapp’s millions of loyal fans. Likewise, after Flynn’s passing, di Bonaventura and Wechsler remained as committed as ever to getting Rapp’s story to the screen. It was clear that American Assassin had to be the first story out of the blocks.
“’American Assassin’ is the prequel to the entire series, so this was a great way for us to bring Mitch’s origin story to movie audiences, whether fans of the book or newcomers alike,” says di Bonaventura.
“By starting with Mitch as a young man in his 20s rather than with the savvy, war-torn veteran he becomes you get to see how his gravitas developed.”
Di Bonaventura continues: “This is at heart a story about how someone becomes a hero. That’s where Vince Flynn really shined. He wanted to take readers not only into the physical world of today’s intelligence agents, but also the emotional world of those men and women who are driven to protect the rest of us, to explore why some are so willing to go to any lengths of sacrifice even though no one may ever know what they’ve done to keep us safe. And that’s what ‘American Assassin’ does.”
The filmmakers brought aboard a crack team of writers led by Stephen Schiff, known for his work on television’s multi-layered Soviet spy drama “The Americans,” to translate the story to the screen – Michael Finch (The November Man), Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back)
Stephen Schiff is a screenwriter, TV writer-producer, and journalist. His film work includes Lolita, The Deep End of the Ocean, True Crime, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In television, he has been, since 2013, a writer, consulting producer, co-executive producer, and (currently) executive producer of the acclaimed FX series The Americans. Before becoming a film and television writer, Schiff had an extensive career in journalism. A Pulitzer Prize finalist in Distinguished Criticism, Schiff was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nine years and was Vanity Fair’s Critic-at-Large for nine years before that. He has also been film critic of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, The Atlantic, Glamour, and The Boston Phoenix; a Correspondent on CBSTV’s newsmagazine West 57th; and a contributor to The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Conde Nast Traveler, and other publications.
Michael Finch is an American screenwriter known for Predators, November Man, and Agent 47. When not writing, Finch teaches screenwriting at the University of California at San Diego’s Masters of Fine Arts program.
Edward Zwick began his feature film career directing About Last Night. He went on to direct the Academy Award winning films Glory and Legends on the Fall. Zwick also directed Courage Under Fire, The Siege, The Last Samurai , Blood Diamond, Defiance, Love & Other Drugs, Pawn Sacrifice and most recently Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Currently Marshall Herskovitz and Zwick are Executive Producers on the series Nashville.
Marshall Herskovitz is a writer, producer, and director who has won numerous awards for his work in television and film. Born in Philadelphia, he attended Brandeis University then moved to Los Angeles in 1975, where he attended the American Film Institute and met his longtime creative partner Edward Zwick. In the years since, he has helped create such TV series as thirtysomething, My SoCalled Life, and Once and Again. He currently serves as the Showrunner for Nashville on CMT
The decision was made to move Rapp’s origins to the present-day to reflect Flynn’s love for of-the moment stories in a world that is changing second by second.
The emphasis also switched to the new character of Ghost as the story’s villain – a character who reflects just how blurry global terror can be now, coming from the least expected people and places, and who also serves as a kind of dark mirror for Rapp as he forges his persona. Other changes were made to maximize pace and visual excitement in a 2-hour span – but from day one the foundation was about staying true to the spirit of Flynn’s creation.
Michael Keaton was drawn to a mix of elements that are very 2017 but with Flynn’s unique POV on modern espionage. “The script made real changes from the book – but I felt it kept the core of what Vince was trying to say while complicating things morally and globally in a very intriguing way,” he says.
For Nick Wechsler going fully contemporary was in sync with Flynn’s work. “What appealed to me most about the entire Mitch Rapp series is that it’s not about villains from the past. It’s about the villains and chaos that we see in the world right now,” he says. “I felt that could be very exciting on screen.”
Wechsler continues: “Part of what people love about Mitch is that he is never afraid of getting at the truth, and that is equally true whether he is confronting terrorists, politicians or those deemed to be his superiors. He’s just a no B.S. character. And because Mitch doesn’t suffer fools on any side, he will evolve into a kind of secret Sheriff of the entire Western world, keeping the worst evil at bay.”
Stephen Schiff sees “American Assassin” as a coming-of-age story of sorts: “At the beginning, Mitch is a boy really, not unlike people we all know – our friends, brothers, sons and daughters. He has unique skills and abilities but we don’t learn of those until later. When tragedy strikes, he begins his journey to become a man. All of the characters he comes to meet help form him into who he will become, but he has his own path to follow, his own pain and passion and drive. Only he can create the Mitch Rapp that will be – the American Assassin.”
To give the film that edgy, current immediacy and to line it wall-to-wall with pulse-pounding set pieces that hit the high bar of today’s action epics, di Bonaventura and Wechsler went in search of a director as adept at probing drama as taut suspense. That’s what led them to Michael Cuesta.
Cuesta , an Emmy Award-winning Director/Executive Producer who directed such thepilots as for Homeland and Dexter, creates the film as a rough but riveting transcontinental journey that careens from Washington D.C. to Istanbul to Rome to the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier…and right into the moral gray zones of our world in 2017.
Says Cuesta: “This is the origin story of Mitch Rapp – as he transforms from a man seeking personal vengeance to a professional who operates with a fierce sense of justice. I’m excited to have fans of the books and everyone else get to see Dylan O’Brien become Mitch. Dylan has a very contemporary appeal as an action star for this millennia, and I think audiences are going to love his interaction with Michael Keaton who nails Hurley’s tough-guy persona like a 21st Century John Wayne.”
Cuesta was attracted to a story that is both global in nature and bucks the stereotypes to explore the drives and consequences of terror on a more personal level. He was also drawn to the story’s mounting momentum and wanted that acceleration to be real and visceral for the audience without every becoming comic book or fantastical.
“I love that there’s a real sense of geopolitical movement as well as psychological movement in this story. My approach was to never overtly stylize the story – but rather to ground things in reality, as Flynn did in his books, even in the most intense action,” the director elaborates.
For all of the quite literally high-explosive sequences, Cuesta wanted to indeed make things personal for the audience. “I love edge-of-your-seat thrillers but I believe action has to be earned,” he explains.
“An irony is that even the most extreme, cutting-edge action can feel boring if you don’t care about the characters caught up in it. So that’s why from the start we felt this film had to center on Mitch’s appeal as a person. He’s a guy you’d follow anywhere, into the most hazardous situations.”
The production’s commitment to Vince Flynn’s perspective made a big impression on Flynn’s widow, Lysa Flynn, who became an early supporter of the film. She believes Vince would have gotten a huge kick out of seeing Rapp – a character who hit home so hard that some fans even believed Vince himself was Mitch in disguise – become flesh-and-blood from the page.
“I truly wish Vince could have been here to see this happen,” says Lysa Flynn. “If he were here, I know he would have been on set talking to everyone behind the camera as much as in front of it. He really appreciated a strong work ethic, and I saw people at every level working so hard to make this movie. It’s been awesome to see.”
When she visited the set, Lysa was moved not only by the work ethic but also by the insight she could feel the actors bringing to her husband’s characters. “It was really important to me that the characters stay true to what mattered to Vince. My feeling was that it was OK to change the story in all kinds of ways, but doing justice to his characters is what I cared about most. And I really felt that was there. When I met the actors playing the characters, I was even more convinced,” she says.
She notes that the production’s emphasis on keeping the story contemporary to 2017 fits with Flynn’s penchan for always staying one step ahead of the game. “Vince always did lots of research and that was one of his favorite parts of writing. He loved learning,” she explains. “I think Vince had sort of a 6th sense when it came to looking into the future, and that’s part of what makes his books so relevant.”