‘Bullet Train’: David Leitch Went from Being Brad Pitt’s Stuntman to His Director

You mentioned Ladybug having an existential crisis. Brad has so many great punch lines filled with lessons he’s learned from therapy. As a long-time stuntman and martial artist, has therapy played a role in your life, too? Has some of the terminology helped you at all?

I’m a proponent of therapy; I have not had it. Maybe I should experience some. But I do like some of the positivity and the platitudes. I’m generally a positive person and looking for the best in people, and looking for the best in the situation, and so in that respect, the platitudes that Ladybug follows aren’t far off from how I feel in general. But they haven’t come from a therapeutic source.

Has being around violence in action movies and working on fight sequences for close to three decades changed the way you perceive the world in any way?

I think it can. I do like to have morals to my stories. Deadpool has a bunch of bombastic action and crazy jokes, but in the end, the story is really about Deadpool showing compassion to Julian Dennison’s character, and by showing that compassion, he stops that kid from becoming a genocidal maniac. That’s a huge moral tale that we can tell in these commercial films. Hobbs and Shaw is all about family. Yeah, there’s a crazy world-ending virus, and Idris is a genocidal maniac, but at the end of the day, it’s about Hobbs and Shaw putting aside differences and coming together for a common cause to do something positive for the world.

With Bullet Train it was no different. Seven sociopaths that enter a train. They don’t feel anything. So how do I humanize them the right way? Not that they would ever be redeemable, but relatable enough that we could have a moral tale. I think you see the brotherhood between Lemon and Tangerine, and we can all understand why these guys love each other and relate to how they became the horrible people they became. When the violence is completely detached, it’s hard for me. I’m not a fan of that.

You’ve mentioned Jackie Chan as a hero of yours, and a lot of Bullet Train seems to have his signature blend of inventive comedy and martial arts. Who were some of your other muses as you made this?

Well, there are so many influences for me as a director, but for Bullet Train, as a director, the physicality of Ladybug’s character is really inspired by Jackie and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. And there are some direct homages [to them] in it. It was really fun to lean into that with Brad and have a clear vision of the physicality of the characters. In terms of tone, I just wanted it to be fun and wild. There are echoes of the Coen Brothers and some of my favorite directors that are always going to come out in ways I can’t explain because their work has become part of my DNA. I just love the bold take the Coens have on characters and dialogue and their fun choices.