From the moment it was conceived, Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper has been crafted to appeal specifically to Chinese audiences and their booming international film market. And in their mission, the Hong Kong-set film had a secret weapon: Byron Mann.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, the 50-year-old actor returns home for the summer action film, starring as Inspector Wu, the police officer at the bottom of the titular skyscraper attempting to apprehend Johnson’s Will Sawyer, who has climbed his way into the burning structure. For Mann, a veteran of Arrow and The Expanse, joining Johnson (whom he “greatly admires”) in Skyscraper was a “no-brainer,” even before you add in the “bonus” perk of it taking place in his hometown.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know that sometimes you can’t even manufacture these kind of opportunities; it’s really serendipity,” says Mann. “Right place, right time, right age, right character. Who would have thought that Rawson Marshall Thurber, the director of We’re the Millers and Dodgeball, would write a script about Hong Kong?”
And while the film actually shot in Vancouver, he felt “great responsibility” in making sure the film was as authentic as possible. “Usually in Hollywood movies representing the East, they don’t get things right — and the Chinese audience almost expects that they won’t get it right. They already give it a little discount when they watch a Hollywood movie about themselves,” admits Mann. “So when I was first cast, I reached out to Rawson and I basically just said, ‘What kind of movie do you want to make?’ And he said, ‘I want to make as realistic a movie as possible. I want to make a movie where when we show it to the Hong Kong audiences, the mainland Chinese audiences, they would be very proud of this movie. They would say [we] got it right.'”
That was music to Mann’s ears. And once he heard they didn’t yet have a consultant, he took it into his own hands, connecting Thurber with a former Hong Kong police station sergeant. Then, two months before shooting was set to begin, Mann, the consultant, and a translator worked together to translate the script’s necessary dialogue from English to Cantonese to “more importantly, police talk Cantonese.” According to Mann, the police force being founded under British rule meant that there are still a lot of English terms mixed in with the Cantonese used by officers. “Nobody knew that except for the police guy, so we got a lot of that into the script,” he shares. “We were able to tap into that to make this film 100 percent authentic, which was really important to me.”
Skyscraper may be set in Hong Kong and aiming for the Chinese audience, but it’s shooting to be like one of America’s most beloved action films of all-time. “This entire movie is a nod to Die Hard,” reveals Mann, who says Thurber compared his character to Reginald VelJohnson‘s cop in Die Hard and Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshal in The Fugitive. “We were tipping the hat to these two great movies.” Mann describes Wu as a “by-the-book, seen-it-all kind of cop, who has not seen a situation like this before, where a guy is trying to climb up the tallest building in the world.” Join the club! He adds with a laugh, “It’s a very long, bad day for him.”
What Mann expects to be a very long, but fun day is the Skyscraper world premiere, rightfully taking place in China. While Mann had previously been offered the chance to screen the movie in Los Angeles, he decided to wait to see it with his countrymates. “I can’t wait,” he says. “I’m truly excited to see this with the Chinese audience. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if they will laugh or if they will cry. I can tell you that we did our very best and I’m quite proud of the work we did.”
Skyscraper crashes into theaters on Friday.