In a world of sequels, remakes and reboots, there’s a grey area used by franchises doing none of those things while also doing all of them. Take the original Sniper film staring Tom Berenger and Billy Zane, if the title sounds familiar but the actors don’t, you probably know my next guest.
Tasked with being the new guy, the son of the old guy and just an all around badass, Chad Michael Collins took over in 2011 as headliner and torchbearer for what is now the seventh – and his fourth – entry into the franchise, Sniper: Ultimate Kill.
But he isn’t just taking down Columbian drug lords, Chad found the time to save the future as well. Leading the fledgling cable network BYUtv in its second scripted series, Mr. Collins pushes the limits of his humanity in the upcoming series Extinct.
And since there’s no way I made any of his work sound as cool and entertaining as it actually is, I’ll let him tell you all about it. Here’s my conversation with they very awesome Chad Michael Collins.
onFiction: You’ve got some new projects coming out soon, let’s start with Sniper: Ultimate Kill. This is your fourth outing as Brandon Beckett, where do fans of the series find him now?
Chad Michael Collins: I’ve been on a fun ride with Mr. Beckett. Basically now we’ve stepped away from the classic Marines Brandon Beckett and now he’s kind of a special forces gun-for-hire, traveling around the world being convinced to lend support and help take out the big bads around the globe. This time we find him down in Columbia trying to bust up a big drug cartel. Kind of boots on the ground lending support to federal agencies and global agencies to take down a nasty kingpin type of fella.
oF: This is the seventh film in the series. What’s that like as an actor to continue such a long running franchise?
CMC: In the first three movies Tom Berenger obviously was the title character, Thomas Beckett, the original sniper. So when I came aboard it was a bit of an experiment from Sony where I played his son in Sniper: Reloaded back in 2011. For all intents and purposes I’ve been blessed to say the franchise has been mine for the four films. They’ve kind of rebooted and relaunched it in this way, but it’s nice to have Billy [Zane] showing up here and there and Tom showing up here and there, little touches to the old, original franchise that’s been going since ’93. The nice thing about this movie is that Tom and Billy are back together on screen for the first time since the original film, which was a blast to shoot and made the film about ten times better.
oF: Is there pressure when taking over a franchise, or do you come in with a clean slate and do your version?
CMC: It’s not like – for instance – when Matt Damon did Bourne Identity and Jeremy Renner kind of stepped in in that way, I don’t feel there’s any pressure because it was a whole new character, he had a whole new story and he had a whole new journey to take. There were touches and glimpses and flashes of my dad and his legendary Marine sniper status and Billy Zane’s character popped up in the first one that I did as the mentor character who taught me the way of the gun, the long gun. So it’s kind of been my own. Been my own to create with the directors and the writers over at Sony who make these awesome movies. So I didn’t feel any pressure coming in. It was nice to be able to put your own creative stamp on it from the beginning.
oF: And you’ve been playing Brandon for about seven years now, how has he changed over the years?
CMC: It’s been a really fun transformation to the place where we find him now. In the beginning, he was an infantry soldier. He wasn’t a sniper, he was a Marine guy. But at the same time he was very much boots on the ground. Along that journey in the first movie, that’s when he discovers the way of the sniper. A sniper takes out his platoon and he’s like, “The only way you can beat a sniper is with a sniper.” So he picks it up, finds that he has an affinity for it, call it genes, call it good fortune, call it what you will.
So it’s been that journey as he steps more into that and that learning curve. There’s just a whole different can of worms when you’re a sniper: Do I pull the trigger? Do I not pull the trigger? Is it an honorable way of fighting? These guys never see the bullet coming. He took those journeys across a bunch of movies to the point now where he is so effective at being this long-range killer, that this movie touches on another thing that faces these amazing soldiers while the kill count adds up: What does that do to you mentally? Knowing that you’ve been a mile away, and you’ve taken out a target that never sees anything coming, do you start to have these PTSD moments? Do you start to battle with depression? Do you question the morals of it all? This film actually does touch on that and kind of sees Brandon struggle a little bit as the kill count goes into the dozens over the course of his career. It’s a really interesting thing to explore and I think we do a good job of exploring that with this new one.
oF: That’s how Brandon’s changed, how have you as a performer and a person changed over that same time?
CMC: Personally seven years is a long time, especially when you’re in your thirties and you start to become the man that you want to become. Your twenties is probably more about making mistakes and just collecting the data and trying to learn. And your thirties is putting the new you into action and that certainly lends itself to the character. Sniper: Reloaded was one of my first big film opportunities, my first chance to play that character but also to do a true lead in a franchise starting from scratch, more or less. And since then I’ve been able to work on dozens and dozens of TV shows and films. I’ve grown as a human being, I’ve grown as an actor and I think that that colors the Brandon Beckett character really nicely in terms of knowing what kind of shape I want to be in for the character, my look over the course of these films has changed. You see Brandon now and he’s not in the military fatigues, he’s in regular street clothes because he’s a hired gun. A lot more scruffy, a little bit more dirty, kind of aged up to give him the feel of having been around the block. And that’s true of me in real life, and I think that in this movie in particular you’re gonna see Brandon looking a little different, a little more world-worn, a little bit more experienced. I think that that’s true personally and in my acting career as well.
oF: Is it tough to maintain consistency with a character when you only play them every couple years versus something like a TV series where you’re that character almost everyday?
CMC: I don’t think it’s tougher, but you take a year or two off from playing a character and when it comes back around again you look at the script and see what the themes that they touch on are, but it’s just getting back into it. There’s a fitness routine I go through to get into that special ops, Marine type of shape, and again, you gotta put on the mental mask of what it’s like to be this sniper. It’s such an insane skillset that these guys have, there’s such an incredible mental toughness that these guys have. Being on their own, being by themselves for days and days and days on end. The concentration, the focus, all the stuff weighing in the back of their mind, these guys are the elite of the elite and to do what they do takes not just physical endurance, but the mental capacity they have to have, they have to be on at all times. It is a little bit trickier to step away and come back into it, but having done four movies it tends to feel like riding a bike at this point.
oF: Speaking of TV series, you’ve got another big project coming up. Do you mind introducing us to Ezra and the world of Extinct?
CMC: So Extinct comes out on October 1st for BYUtv. BYUtv is a smaller network owned by Brigham Young University and they’ve only done one scripted series before, so this is their big, “Here we are!” moment with this sci-fi series that we shot up in Utah. It was co-created by Orson Scott Card, who’s very well known for his Ender’s Game bestselling books, and Aaron Johnston his writing parter for a lot of these NY Times bestselling novels, created this awesome world where four hundred years in the future, aliens have come down and basically annihilated the human race. There’s a small handful of human beings that find themselves reborn in this future by a benevolent alien race. We don’t know why, our memories are intact from four hundred years ago. We remember our families, we remember the alien invasion and we don’t know why we’re here. It’s our journey to discover we we’re here and of course we’re in a strange place in the future. A barren place, a post apocalyptic place, and we have the alien threat that already exists on the Earth and we have this seemingly benevolent alien race that’s trying to help us repopulate human civilization, but we find ourselves possibly as pawns in a much bigger game. It’s day to day survival and it’s also, “What does it all mean?” kind of all wrapped up into one big, hot, lovely mess.
oF: I really enjoy the sci-fi post apocalyptic setting because it lets you really explore the human condition, but I’m also really glad to see one without zombies. What about this series stood out to you, what caught your attention?
CMC: I agree with you, there’s nothing better than sci-fi for creating a brave new world. You get to do it from scratch, you get to do anything you want and that’s the biggest thing that jumped out to me when I read the script for the pilot episode. For me it’s just a lot of fun. It’s got the elements of survival like a Walking Dead would have, it’s got – Lost was such a great television series in large part due to the wonderful flashbacks they had with the insight you get into the characters and their past lives and their journeys to why they’re here now and what they bring to the table as a result. It’s got that survivor sort of feel and it’s got these themes of, “What’s it all about?” But the regular theme still runs through the middle of it where we’re scrapping to stay alive and we’re trying to cobble together clothes and weapons and stuff like this and traipsing through a desert then traipsing through a snowy mountain trying to find suitable civilization. So all these things are alive and well in terms of braving the elements and just trying to survive in your environment. But, why are we here? Is there hope for us? Is there a point this? Asking those bigger philosophical questions, I think, is something that sci-fi explores so well, whether it’s Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek. It felt like a big mishmash of all those sci-fi shows when I read the script. Because at the end of it you have humanity, you have hope, you have love and family and all these wonderful themes together that always seem to be the beating heart of a sci-fi series no matter what whacky worlds you want to put them in.
oF: I agree with that completely. You have an opportunity to really shine a light on characters when the situation around them seems particularly impossible.
CMC: Yeah, you don’t know who you are until faced with these very extreme environments and situations. And these characters are all really different and really well defined. And as they come upon each situation you really start to find out who they really are.
oF: You mentioned it’s the second scripted series for the network, were you even aware of that while making it? Does it come up that this could break BYUtv into the mainstream?
CMC: We’re hoping for that. At the end of the day, we showed up and did ten episodes of a series that we’re really proud of. We know that if people come and take this ride with us they’re gonna really enjoy it. And the wonderful thing that I actually loved about this project is – you mentioned The Walking Dead, I love The Walking Dead, I’ve read every comic book and seen every episode but man, it is gratuitous. Zombies and blood gags and endless, endless, endless, endless times of them hitting you over the head with violence and dismemberment and the cruelty of the world. The thing about this show, and I really love this, is that we achieve all the action, we achieve all the adventure, all the love and the partnership and everything else, but they’ve done it in a way that doesn’t hit you over the head. They’ve done it in a way that a family could sit down and enjoy this adventure together. That for me is really fun. I do the Sniper movies, rated-R, shooting the long gun and some guys head is gonna get blown off. It’s kind of a given, that’s what these movies are, but to do more of a PG-13 version of a sci-fi world with action and adventure is really nice. I love to be able to say to my parents, “Hey, here’s what’s coming. Check out this show and there’s no cringe moments where you’re gonna have to cover your eyes.” So I really love that about this show. The accessibility is really great and for all the wonderful sci-fi shows that are out there, the world isn’t going to be hurt by one that an entire family can enjoy in the vein of Star Trek.
oF: That’s a great point. Now, when you’re switching between an R-rated project like Sniper and the more family friendly Extinct, does your personal prep change?
CMC: The thing about TV is the writing. We’re blessed to have Aaron Johnston who is a great writer, and accomplished writer with his novels and comic books and everything else. So he’s kind of the day-to-day writer of the show and since we can’t get away with he lops the head off this alien guy, it has to be in the dialogue, it has to be in this and that and whatever. We really lean on that more heavily and since we can’t push it visually, so much of the written stuff is great in that way. It’s a change of pace and it’s really a really wonderful one, we’ve got a completely capable writer at the helm who delivers on all ends. You don’t need to curse every other sentence to get your point across, I suppose. It’s a fun, unique acting challenge in the way that it’s just a little bit cleaner.
oF: What are some of the other challenges when taking on new material, combining that with it being on a smaller network?
CMC: It was a really fun learning experience, and not just for me but for everyone. The budget’s on the lower side, we don’t have Game of Thrones money to throw at visual effect dragons or things like that. The show is actually very VFX heavy and they look really cool and really great, but we made a lower budget sci-fi series and that’s always inherent with challenges. Even the Sniper movies, the budgets are not very big there, so you get creative and it forces you to be a bit more resourceful. Robert Rodriguez, the famous director, will tell you in his book, “The best way to ruin a director is to throw money at him.” We had less to work with, but we made it work in more wonderful, creative ways. And again, the writing and acting and the performances had to speak for themselves. We’re not gonna have giant FX dragons flying everywhere, but they still built amazing sets and this is a very experienced group of people in Utah who know what they’re doing. We shot so much on location in Utah and I had no awareness what a beautiful place this state is. We were in the desert in one hundred and fifteen degrees to start the series and finished on mountain tops with single digit temperatures covered in snow at the end of our shoot. That lends production value you can’t buy. True sci-fi fans will really love it.
Make sure to check out Chad in Sniper: Ultimate Kill and the new BYUtv series Extinct! Then click on over to Facebook and tell us about your favorite sci-fi series.