Rollerball : Production Notes


McTiernan's Rollerball is an update of the classic 1975 film directed by Norman Jewison. It isn't the first time McTiernan has remade a Jewison film; the recent Thomas Crown Affair, The (1999) was also based on an earlier Jewison incarnation.

But although he acknowledges there are similarities between his Rollerball and the original, there are some crucial differences: the original film was set far in the future, but McTiernan's is just about to happen; the teams in McTiernan's film are co-ed; and McTiernan's game is not set in the United States, as the original one was.

Rollerball (2001)"Anything that happens in North America or Western Europe soon happens in the rest of the world," says McTiernan. "How that entrepreneurial capitalism spreads around the world interested me. What's happened in Rollerball (2001) is that this aggressive capitalism has been spreading around the world.

"The premise of this movie," he continues, "is that a dangerous new sport is created, and somebody says, 'Gee, we can up our take by 10 percent if we get some blood on the track. ' What happens if you move an extreme sport to a place where there are no limits, the kind we take for granted? What happens if a couple of normal American guys get swept up and caught in this thing?"

Up-and-coming star Chris Klein agrees. "In football, when somebody makes an amazing play, they replay it over and over. They do the same thing when someone is hurt," says Klein, who portrays Rollerball's young hero, Jonathan Cross. "They get a close-up of it, they get the microphones in there to hear what's being done. Then, once they show the close-up of the injury and everything around it - boom, they go to commercial, because that's when everyone is sitting around the television watching. "

"I mean, look at the success of Survivor," he continues. "Audiences are enthralled by people behaving like savages. This movie examines those questions. What happens when sports become tainted?"

Rollerball - Movie PosterTHE STAR PLAYERS

CHRIS KLEIN has steadily gained acclaim with winning turns in films like American Pie (1999) and Election (1999), but he was thrilled at the opportunity to star in a no-holds-barred McTiernan action picture. "I read the script a long time ago," he says, "and I really loved it. In addition to the themes it explores, I thought it was just a really cool movie. I've always been a huge fan of action movies, and it was a great chance to work in the genre. The game, the character, McT as McTiernan is known to his cast - it's everything an actor could ask for. "

Klein enjoyed the challenge of playing a character faced with the complications of quick stardom, a situation that echoes his own quick rise to film fame. "Jonathan starts out as a guy in San Francisco who doesn't have a whole lot going for him," he says, "searching for something that makes him feel alive. At first, Jonathan's attraction to Rollerball is a vanity thing. He all of a sudden goes from being nobody to being one of the most famous, powerful and richest Rollerball players. Eventually, though, he realizes there's a high price for all that. " Combine his character's dilemma with breathtaking action and stunt sequences to train for, and Klein was set for an extremely exciting shoot.

Marcus Ridley, Jonathan's best friend and fellow Rollerballer, is played by LL COOL J, the phenomenal recording artist and actor who has garnered critical kudos for his work in such films as Any Given Sunday (1999), Deep Blue Sea (1999), and Kingdom Come (2001). When Ridley convinces his friend Jonathan to come play this new sport, he introduces him to what becomes a very dangerous and lethal game - a game that extends beyond the Rollerball arena.

"At first, my character is only out to get a check. He's only interested in getting paid and staying safe," says LL. "He eventually realizes, though, that he's been put into a life-threatening situation because other people can profit from it. He has to figure out how to respond to that, and he decides that friendship, love, and integrity are more important than money. I think that is cool. It's a tough decision to make, but it's only right, and he stands up for something important. "

Though filming was incredibly challenging and physically demanding, LL was thrilled to be a part of it. "You've never seen anything like this," he says. "This is something completely new. Rollerball (2001) is intense - motorcycles and explosions, effects, people flying through the air. Combined with McT's excellence and the meticulous way he puts films together, it takes Rollerball to a new level. I think people are going to be blown away. It throws a hand grenade into extreme games. "

Rollerball isn't just a sport for men. Aurora, played by REBECCA ROMIJN-STAMOS (X-Men (2000)), blows the lid off conventional women-in-sports stereotypes, and Romijn-Stamos was happy to play such an strong, sexy character. "I'm not the sunny California blonde in this movie," she laughs. "McT wanted to take every ounce of California out of me. " In creating her character, she and McTiernan decided on jet black hair and a ragged scar etched into the side of her face.

"Aurora sees the ugly side of life," she continues, "and the scar is a representation of that. She's had the scar for years and is very ashamed of it. It really has a profound effect on people when they see a scar on somebody's face. "

Romijn-Stamos describes Aurora as a dark person, a loner who has learned to be very wary. "She doesn't socialize with the rest of the team players," she says. "She doesn't go out, she doesn't party with them. The only person she has a relationship with is Jonathan. "

In the film, Aurora and Jonathan have an affair that's kept secret from the rest of the team and its owners, and Klein enjoyed getting to work so closely with Romijn-Stamos. "She was phenomenal to work with," he says. "She's gorgeous, she's great in the part, and we're lucky to have her in the movie. "

Not everyone in Rollerball (2001) plays on the same team. Acclaimed actor and international star JEAN RENO (Mission Impossible (1996)) plays the villainous Petrovich, the treacherous team owner and Russian entrepreneur whose twisted manipulation of the sport brings him astounding wealth and success. "Petrovich is unbalanced," Reno says. "He is ex-KGB. He is a crazy man, out of his mind, addicted to power. He enjoys playing with people, which is why he's attracted to Rollerball. He controls the players, he controls the fans, he controls the corporations. He owns everything and everyone. "

Petrovich at first seems like a father figure to Klein's Jonathan Cross. "Jonathan is his protégé," says Reno, "but I think it's much more complex than that. He likes Jonathan, but he wants to break him. He tries to get Jonathan to behave the way he wants, and because he is so dangerously crazy, people rarely defy him. When Jonathan begins to rebel, it's something Petrovich just can't take. " As the movie progresses, Petrovich becomes an ever-more-chilling reminder of the corruptive power of money.

The movie is full of rough-and-tumble action, colliding Rollerballers, and wince-inducing slams, crashes, and punches - hard stuff to watch. But that's the point. Reno feels the movie ultimately repudiates violence. "The movie is a denunciation of violence," he says. "Yes, there is violence in it, and it is a fine line between how much violence you can show in order to denounce it. Ultimately, though, the film condemns violence in sports. " The movie becomes a crusade against the very thing Petrovich and the other businessmen would have become reality.


Before filming, Rollerball's stars had to undergo intense and extensive training in preparation for the difficult physical feats they'd be required to perform. For the fast-paced, round-the-track Rollerball games, Romijn-Stamos and LL Cool J had to become proficient motorcyclists.

"Yeah, I'm a bitch on wheels," Romijn-Stamos laughs. "I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle, but on my fourth day of shooting I had to do a stunt, so I had to learn fast. I spent about 10 hours straight on the motorcycle. " Stunt motorcycling is very dangerous and often left solely up to the pros, but she didn't let fear get the best of her. She threw herself into her training. "It was fun," she says. "I didn't have any apprehension at all. "

In fact, she enjoyed the motorcycle so much that in-between takes she and Chris Klein would take off, riding tandem, until wary producers asked them to save the cycling for the camera.

Rollerball (2001)LL Cool J had also never ridden a motorcycle. "I took lessons from an incredible teacher," he says. He also prepared for his required on-bike athleticism in numerous ways. "I did trail biking in my backyard," he says, "up hills, all kinds of stuff. I also went to upstate New York in the mountains and rode on the trails. I did everything I could do and trained intensely for about a month. Plus, I changed my regular workout. I started running more, about three miles a day, so I could be lighter on the bike.

"The idea was not just to be good on the motorcycle," he continues, "but also to be comfortable on it. It's one thing to get on a bike and ride around. It's another thing for them to call 'Action!' and immediately look like an experienced motorcycle driver, to be able to maneuver and drag Chris around behind me on the bike. I needed to be confident enough to know I wasn't going to leave myself or Chris in traction. "

Klein endured the most extensive preparation of all the principal actors. To learn the art of inline skating, he went to the Olympic speed skating training facility in Calgary, Alberta, prior to principal photography. "I trained for this movie harder than any other," he says. "I had to learn how to inline skate, which I had only done in junior high school. I trained with a man named Andrew Baron, who set up the program at the Olympic center. The plan was designed to correct my body so that I could be an inline skater. "

Sounds easy enough, but Klein soon learned how much skill was involved. "It was a horribly humbling experience," Klein says, "because I consider myself to be somewhat athletic. I like mountain biking and hiking and love lifting weights and swimming. Then I started training, and people would ask me do something that I was initially just physically incapable of doing. "

Klein suffered plenty of "down-time" as well. "At first, I was really positive," he says. "I would fall and it would be okay. But as we went on, I just didn't have the muscle memory to accomplish what they were asking me to do. It was very frustrating. I was there for a month, getting my body ready to go, learning how to skate. "

Klein's training continued when he arrived in Montreal prior to filming. The production began assembling the Rollerball team players, among them a handful of local extreme skaters, most between 18 and 19 years old.

"I began working with these extreme skaters," Klein says, "guys who were all younger than me. I trained with them for another month on a practice track and they taught me how to do a half-pipe, how to skate up the wall - that kind of stuff. I really watched those guys and the way they interacted with each other, their fearlessness and enthusiasm. " It was studying their mindset, style, and fearless radical stunts that helped Klein complete work on his character and get ready to play Rollerball.


The movie features four Rollerball games, filmed in order, beginning with the Horsemen's home game against the Horde. Klein, LL Cool J, and Romijn-Stamos's characters all play for the Horsemen. To staff the rival teams, McTiernan recycled the players, disguising their faces with elaborate costumes and helmets. "We re-used the actors for each away game," McTiernan says, "because, as filming continued, we hoped there would be a learning curve in terms of their ability as skaters and motorcyclists. With each new game they improved and worked better as teams. By Game 4, the final, pivotal game, they were amazing. "

As mentioned, the stunts required of the actors were extensive, though Chris Klein wryly points out that "acting on skates itself should be considered a stunt. " LL Cool J routinely towed Klein around the track with his motorcycle to give him enough momentum to leap over the series of bumps and ramps that dotted the track. Klein also dangled from wires, leapt from all heights onto pads, and became an adept and graceful skater by Game 4. LL Cool J accomplished a complicated manuever in which he was tethered to a motorcycle that was yanked back as he crashed into it from above, pushing the stuntwoman riding it off the seat. To complicate things, her motorcycle was on fire.

The actors attempted these stunts out of necessity, not vanity. McTiernan and his cinematographer, Steve Mason, wanted to put the camera on the track with the teams so the audience would feel the adrenaline and danger of the game firsthand. The actors had to do many of their own stunts because the camera was right in their faces.


Working with an anamorphic lens and varying angles, Steve Mason's cinematography transformed the undulating Rollerball track into a brutal, massive course. He and McTiernan wanted to capture something not seen before, something grittier and as close as possible to the players, but to achieve this took some experimentation. Mason buried lipstick cameras into players' skates and placed cameras on cranes in the bleachers, jutting over the playing field and into the stands. Primarily, he and McTiernan wanted the feel of hand-held cameras, but it was a challenge to get them onto the track and into the game. They fastened a Steadicam to camera operator Mike O'Shea and strapped him to the back of a motorcycle as it spun around the track.

McTiernan adopted an unconventional shooting style during production in that he shot coverage of the games before he shot the traditional masters. In effect, he was the coach, and the cast and crew were the team. Every day, the assistant directors distributed that day's plays, i. e. , the shot list to be accomplished. These plays were listed on a board that featured a hand-drawn mock-up of the track, with descriptions and simple drawings illustrating the shot. After about a month of shooting these "pieces," McTiernan treated the cast and crew to a short montage of the shots that his editor John Wright had put together. After all their hard work, they were thrilled with the results.

Mason worked closely with gaffer Mo Flam on lighting the track. Essentially, the track didn't change for the different games - the art department painted it different hues to indicate another location. The lighting underscored various aspects of the games.

"We lit the track for three different states, using low lights, spotlights and flickering lights for the pre-game atmosphere to emphasize the players' state of tension. We generally lit the track very brightly and the audience fell away to black, like a rock-and-roll show," Mason says.

In fact, Flam adds, the immense lighting rig his crew erected was modeled on rock-and-roll shows. "It was very theatrical, extravagant lighting with various color schemes," he says.

"We used lighting instruments that are fairly atypical for movies, and we used a lot of them. "

The track was built on the grounds of a former cement factory, which was a boon for Flam in terms of energy. "Because it was an old factory, we could use the existing power. We had 14 lighting transformers and 16,000 amps of power, which is more than any other Hollywood production I've ever worked on. It would have required 14 generators to sustain that kind of energy. "

The track was built on the grounds of a former cement factory, which was a boon for Flam in terms of energy. "Because it was an old factory, we could use the existing power. We had 14 lighting transformers and 16,000 amps of power, which is more than any other Hollywood production I've ever worked on. It would have required 14 generators to sustain that kind of energy. "

"In the beginning it was nerve-wracking because it was of Montreal. The task of transforming the compound into this strange new world fell to production designer all about defining this unknown world," Garwood says. "By setting it in Kazakhstan, the game and all the money involved with it, there was a coming together of all these very different cultures. It was like Cadillacs and camels all in the same place. You've got this kind of Mafia-based power structure in the game, but the people who pay the money to come see the game are the poor. On their way to the arean, I wanted the mass of poor people to pass these great billboards for perfume or clothes or other kinds of upscale products, stuff they could never even think of owning. "

Garwood adds that some of his inspiration came from the exterior locations used for the film when they weren't shooting at the factory. These included various places in Old Montreal, a motley restored area of the city on the St. Lawrence River. Cobblestone streets lined with stately 19th century buildings and the famed neoclassic Notre-Dame Cathedral abut glass office buildings and refurbished lofts. In particular the production utilized the old port's towering grain silos, whose stark, industrial presence impressed such luminaries as Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius and the influential architect Le Corbusier. The Montreal Casino and the city's storied Rue St. Jacques, with its rich architectural and financial history, also served as some of the film's outdoor locales.

The company also filmed at an airport in the town of St. Jean sur Richelieu. The production decorated it with a huge, snub-nosed Hercules cargo plane, an equally massive Convair aircraft, and the sleek deluxe passenger jet, the Citation III. All were emblazoned with the Horsemen logo, designed to carry the team and their gear to and from games.


Once the main characters were in place, it was up to casting director Pat McCorkle to help McTiernan choose the additional Rollerballers. "It was the most complicated casting I've ever done," McCorkle says. "The players required a combination of sports ability, acting ability and the ethnic look required for Eurasia where the game is played. We had to approach the casting process in a different way than we normally would.

"In addition to traditional auditions," she continues, "we did a lot of work on the internet looking into the world of extreme skaters. We looked into rollerblading and extreme rollerblading and got to know who people were. " The globally diverse teams McCorkle finally assembled included athletes and actors with an eclectic array of skills.

OLEG TAKTAROV, who plays Denekin, is an Ultimate Fighting champion from just outside Russia. Now an actor (he recently completed 15 Minutes (2000) with Edward Norton and Robert De Niro), Taktarov turned to free-fighting essentially to obtain a green card. Handsome and strong with striking chiseled features, Taktarov had never skated before and practiced jumps and swivels relentlessly in-between takes. He says with a grin that he learned the art of falling as a fighter, which helped him in his novice skating attempts.

LUCIA RIJKER is one of the world's most accomplished female boxers, but for Rollerball she had to learn how to pull her punches. In order to telegraph the punch for the camera, Rijker had to learn how to throw a bad punch that would read as a vicious roundhouse. Dutch-born Rijker was the 1999 WIBO Boxing Champion and is a four-time World Champion Kickboxer. The New York Times called her "the world's best woman in the ring. "

ANATOLY ZINOVIEV, a huge Muscovite with a mischievous sense of humor, competed on Russia's Olympic speed skating team for nine years before emigrating to Canada. Zinoviev found the tricks difficult as well because they required different techniques than those used for speed skating.

Even EITAN KRAMER, a trick skater honored by the Guinness Book of World Records for "most air off a half-pipe," found the course on the track challenging. Kramer is one of the original New York City vert skaters and is known for his stylish "Lui Kangs" and death-defying 720s.

Fortunately, the teams relied on the advice and examples of some "experts": teenage extreme skaters from Montreal. Perpetually in motion, these young men performed some of the most perilous stunts, and the film is full of their amazing footage. Skaters leap from cylinders above the track, bound over strategically placed moguls and smash into the glass up high and parallel to the floor to shove the ball into the goal. Others, tethered together, swirl perilously around the plexiglass perimeter. Another lone player skates from the ceiling down an impossibly skinny, curved ramp to jump down on the track and join the fray. The cast and crew routinely applauded their feats, and the "extremes," as they were known, served as cheerleaders and unpretentious teachers for anyone interested in learning.

The Rollerball teams also featured additional women, including Yolanda Hughes, a world class body builder and two-time Miss International winner; Kata Dobo, a petite Hungarian TV actress; Alice Poon, a Canadian stunt woman; Ruth Chiang, an actress who McTiernan discovered when she waited on his table at a local restaurant; and Marisol Harding, a bald model whose skating was limited to the kind on the ice. While none of these women were professional skaters, they had enough heart, talent, and practice to compensate for their lack of experience.

In addition to the game itself, Rollerball features stunt work from other major sports figures. In the breathtaking San Francisco street luge scenes, BIKER SHERLOCK is featured speeding downhill with Chris Klein. Sherlock was the 2000 EDI Downhiller of the Year and 2000 EDI World Champion Downhill Skateboarder. He held the title of EDI National Street Luge Champion from 1996-1999. He is the most decorated downhill skateboard and street luge athlete in the history of the ESPN X-Games and NBC Gravity Games.

TODD LEHR is Chris Klein's stunt double in the luge scene. When it comes to street luge, Lehr was second to Sherlock for the 2000 Downhiller of the Year award. They're actually friends who grew up together in New Jersey, and together they're the best in their extreme sports field. Seeing them careen downhill at the same time, side by side, it's apparent why McTiernan chose to get their expertise on film - it's completely thrilling to watch, and a perfect complement to the extreme game of Rollerball.

Rollerball (2001)TEAM UNIFORMS

Each of the team members developed a theatrical personality for their characters, like the stars of the WWF. Dobo, for instance, a lithe beauty with distinctive red mane, had an even larger crimson "stunt wig" attached to her helmet, part of her character's game persona. Rijker, who the New York Times called "the world's best woman in the ring," wore a dominatrix mask and a fluffy red tutu.

In general, McTiernan adds, the key players' costumes grew out of their own personas. Klein's Jonathan, the team's American poster boy, donned a ripped t-shirt emblazoned with a Statue of Liberty silhouette. LL Cool J's Ridley, flashy and menacing, wore huge chrome gloves with dangling skulls and a prize-fighter's belt emblazoned with the initials H. H. for head hunter.

The costumes were designed by Kate Harrington, who worked closely with McTiernan to help create the film's overall look. For the uniforms, the idea was to invent something credibly athletic and practical, but also striking, dramatic, and as flamboyant as the game itself.

"We tried not to design the costumes only for sport," says Harrington. "We wanted them to be more sexy and edgy. McT initially came up with the idea of the characters as chess players, which evolved into archetypal figures like the Jester and the Temptress. Additionally, we always had to consider the reality of making the actors safe, so we ended up putting much of the characterization in the helmets. We also gave the girls corsets - a little fetish influence to combine sexuality with power. "

The base of the uniform took its inspiration from a leather motocross outfit. The teams were differentiated by color - red for the Horsemen, gold for the Horde, etc. McTiernan shot the games in order as scripted, and for each new game the wardrobe department added or removed colors accordingly, using sticky vinyl for the color bars that denote the different teams - the same vinyl tape used as lines on a basketball court. It stuck through the stunts but peeled off easily to be swapped for another team color.


Of course, fast rolling Rollerballers need fast ground transportation when not on the court. Rollerball features a fleet of shiny, expensive sports cars, the preferred wheels of the Horsemen's star players. The cars are supreme examples of automobile - a blue Audi, a deep purple Lotus, a yellow Mongoosta, a red Ferrari and red Corvette. Then there's the piece de resistance: an azure and silver 1964 Shelby Daytona Cobra.

The Cobra, a bona fide racecar, flew to the production straight from a competition in England. Its deep rumble immediately alerted the cast and crew to its arrival. The Cobra, a groundbreaking vehicle when it debuted in '64, came to its maker, the maverick automobile designer/racecar driver Carroll Shelby, in a dream. As Shelby's bio points out, the Cobra was "the fastest car on the planet, and Shelby's group of tinkerers started to make them even faster. They won the FIA Manufacturers Grand Touring World Championship, the only American car company ever to do so. " Shelby himself visited the Rollerball set and makes a cameo appearance in the movie.

Lucky Chris Klein. His character is the one who gets to drive the Cobra. He also drives another Shelby model, the curved, silver new Series I. The Rollerball company actually used two of these models; one was stripped down to the essentials, as it was destined for an explosive end.

The production had a lot of fun creating the vehicles of Rollerball's near-future. "Because it was in the near future, we wanted the vehicles to be familiar, but just a little ahead of our time," says Gino Lucci, the cars supervisor on the film. "We took ordinary vehicles and exaggerated them. We took a two-door Jeep Cherokee and added two additional doors to the rear and stretched it to accept four rear wheels, so it was a six-wheeled vehicle. To stretch a car, you basically cut it in half and add pieces.

"We also purchased two Porsches," continues Lucci. "We had to buy them because of all the modifications we made. McTiernan thought that for the scenes in San Francisco LL Cool J's character should have a little sophistication in his vehicle. It's a 911 C-2 Porsche given a turbo-look: very wide tires, with the bodywork contoured to the wheels. That car was built from start to finish in four days.

Rollerball (2001)"When all the components are together," he says, "we can basically work miracles. We also took a Pontiac transport minivan and enlarged the wheelbase and the tires. The idea was so it would have exhaust coming out of the hood like a hot-rod. We also took an Oldsmobile called the Aurora, and we magnified the wheel arches, giving it bigger wheels. "

Lucci's team also built the Rollerball motorcycles, a conglomeration of so many different pieces that Romijn-Stamos affectionately called hers "Frankenbike. "

"It was John McTiernan's idea to start with a very light-weight motor bike," says Lucci, "about 150 pounds, which he found in Spain. We contacted the company and procured a total of 12 bikes. Our first concern was safety, because of the close proximity of the motorcycles to people. They were very agile, made out of a chromemoly, which is a very strong but light material used in racing. We took these motorcycles and then basically altered them in every possible way. We designed a core body for the team bikes, which were basically the same except for different team colors.

"Because of the speed of the original bikes," he says, "which were very, very powerful, we experimented for approximately two months with a much smaller engine to slow down the vehicle so it wouldn't become a projectile on the track. We combined a smaller motor with special bodywork strong enough to form the shape but weak enough to collapse in the case of an accident. We created motorcycles that were lightweight but looked menacing.