Megan Fox ditches her former sex symbol image to play a tough mercenary in new action flick Rogue. STACK got the lowdown from director MJ Bassett.

Director MJ Bassett had little interest in hiring a big star like Megan Fox for her low budget action thriller, Rogue.

“I like making small movies because they give me the freedom to do what I want to do which, in this case, was make an action film with an underlying eco-conservation message,” says Bassett, talking to STACK in Los Angeles. “When you add a big star to the mix, everything changes.”

Set in South Africa, Rogue follows a group of tough mercenaries on a mission to rescue hostages from the remote outback. When the escape plan goes wrong, the team is stranded in an abandoned lion farm, forced to survive a long night against local rebels and even more deadly wildlife.

“I hadn’t seen anything that showed Megan being tough and nothing she’s done demonstrated she’d even be interested. And frankly, it’s Megan Fox, so I wasn’t interested,” recalls Bassett, who was persuaded to meet Fox over coffee, the actress having expressed interest within 24 hours of reading Bassett’s script, co-written with daughter Isabel.

“But Megan is absolutely nothing like you’d expect. She’s a very thoughtful, considerate, intelligent woman. She’s a mother of three kids and not a sexy little vixen in short shorts anymore. She’s very aware of the perception about her and I think she saw how a film like Rogue could move the needle and allow her to be a different person.”

If Fox launched her career on big budget flick Transformers, then she had little experience of actually leading a movie. “She’d never really done any military stuff or handled weapons and I’ve done lots of that,” says Bassett, who put Fox to work with military advisors and a former marine sniper prior to the 21-day-shoot outside Johannesburg.

“So she came to Africa and got completely stuck in. I’ve previously worked with several of the cast – who have military backgrounds – and they all supported her. Like with other actors I’ve brought to Africa, it’s a completely different experience and you come away slightly changed. So she was not at all what I expected – and everything I hoped for.”

In portraying ex-Army ranger Sam O’Hara, Fox says, “I was instantly drawn to Rogue because it wasn’t just your typical action film, it had a message, a cause, it was an opportunity to promote something important… and I loved the script. It was fun, smart and witty.

”Quite frankly, Sam is cold, and ruthless, and authoritative… the opposite of me, really. Sam has had to bury any softness, any empathy, any traditionally ‘feminine traits’, to prove her worth in an incredibly male-dominated world,” she adds.

Featuring numerous CGI lions, you can’t help ask if Bassett might have tapped mo-cap stars Andy Serkis or Toby Kebbell, both of whom she directed in Deathwatch and Wilderness, respectively. “I love them both but I couldn’t afford them anymore,” she laughs.

Rogue marks a full circle moment for Bassett, a life-long animal lover whose teenage dreams were inspired by David Attenborough and David Bellamy; quitting school to train as a wildlife filmmaker.

Following a brief foray as a TV children’s show presenter, she purchased a video camera and began exploring a secondary passion for “blowing up sh-t”, resulting in her debut film, the horror-drama Deathwatch, starring Matthew Rhys and Jamie Bell.

“Growing up in the ‘80s in England, there was no real culture of genre filmmaking, but I liked James Cameron and Steven Spielberg and big accessible horror movies by Wes Craven and John Carpenter,” says Bassett, who eventually launched a successful action film career, directing Solomon Kane and sequel Silent Hill: Revelation.

As she built a repertoire of action/horror flicks on both TV and film, her passion for wildlife was not forgotten, and she considers Rogue to be the first of a trilogy of similar action/conservation themes, recently returning from Kenya where she shot a second film.

Rogue is ultimately supposed to be an entertaining, fast-paced, scary, edge-of-your-seat action thriller, with a kick-ass female heroine and some good jokes in there too. But there’s also a strong conservation message throughout. With this movie I’m hoping to shine a light on the lion breeding industry in South Africa, where these magnificent animals are farmed in often terrible conditions for their skins and bones as well as being used for canned hunting. Tourists don’t realise that the adorable cubs they’re petting for their holiday photos and selfies often have a very bleak future indeed. I’d love the audience to come away from this movie thoroughly entertained, but also educated, and thoughtful about how humans impact and often destroy the natural world.”

“On the surface it may be a popcorn genre movie, but if you want to see the conservation message, it’s there too. I think conservation has to be handed on a sugar pill because nobody’s listening,” she argues.

Coming out as transgender in 2016, Bassett’s handling of Fox’s performance is a million miles removed from the gratuitous style of director Michael Bay with whom Fox locked heads early in her career.

Coming out wasn’t easy: “Lord no, it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life because you spend your life presenting in one way and trying to convince yourself and everybody else that this is who you are when, inside, you know that you’re not.

“From a professional point of view, I’ve spent a career doing super macho alpha things and hanging out with solders, fighters and tough men and just loving that. In trying to be as alpha as anybody else, ‘over alpha-ing’, if you like – the truth is it’s not who I am. But it turns out I still love to blow sh-t up and shoot guns, but now I’m more comfortable in my own body and can be honest about how I feel.

“From a creative, professional point of view, it’s opened up my life because I now understand that happiness is all that matters for both family and self. So it was terribly challenging but it’s ultimately brought the greatest joy I could ever experience,” she says.

Fully supported by her partner and three adult children who are all in the business, Tom (AD), Madeleine (make-up artist) and Isabel (actress/writer), Bassett vows to continue blowing up sh-t, next tackling the heist genre – with sharks.

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