“The only thing driving this movie is the most powerful force in entertainment, and it’s word of mouth,” says director Matthew Reilly.

Military action flick Interceptor topped the Netflix charts last weekend without a big-name cast member or splashy L.A. billboard in sight, and first-time director Matthew Reilly has an inkling of why that is.

"There are two reasons," Reilly told EW in a recent Zoom conversation. "One, I think the movie delivers what it promises. It is just a pure, gleeful, enthusiastic piece of fast-paced entertainment. It's authentic, and audiences I think can spot that."

The second reason belongs to Reilly's leading lady.

"It's just got an outstandingly good and charismatic lead in Elsa Pataky," he said. "We both just threw ourselves into this movie."

Interceptor, a high-octane throwback to the action heyday of the 1980s and '90s, stars Pataky as an Army captain attempting to stop an extremely hostile takeover of an ocean-based missile interceptor station.

Reilly said on Wednesday that the film has logged 76 million viewing hours, accounting for a quarter of all Netflix households worldwide. When Interceptor debuted on Friday, it zoomed to number one in 83 of the 89 countries tracked by FlixPatrol.

Elsa Pataky in 'Interceptor'
| Credit: Brook Rushton/Netflix

Reilly, 47 and the author of several thriller novels, works in an office full of memorabilia from the movies that inspired him: a model Millennium Falcon, a miniature Nakatomi Plaza, a T-Rex chasing a Jurassic Park jeep, even a Duff Beer from The Simpsons. And that's on purpose.

"I do believe as a writer you surround yourself with your inspiration. I want to give people the joy I got watching Indiana Jones going under the truck when they read my books or now watch my movie," he said.

An Australian living in L.A., Reilly is proud of the collaborative nature of the Interceptor set, praising everyone from co-writer Stuart Beattie ("an outstanding human being") to composer Michael Lira (for music that propelled a "really fast movie to light speed") and director of photography Ross Emery (who made a suggestion about a frowny face in blood that was "the nastiest thing" Reilly had ever heard.)

"Clearly, I'm having fun," Reilly said. "I had a blast making this movie."

Although Interceptor is sitting at 44 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Reilly isn't sweating it because the film has found its audience.

"In these times where there's so many extreme views, I think we forget that there's a very large middle. And the large middle want to be entertained," he said. "They want to tune in with their family and watch something that shows them a good time."

In the end, Reilly says, Interceptor's success comes down to a single variable: "The only thing driving this movie is the most powerful force in entertainment, and it's word of mouth," he said. "I made the exact movie that I intended to make, and the movie's very upfront about what it is."

Read on for EW's full conversation with Reilly, including a peek at the "bigger, badder, louder, and funner" potential Interceptor sequel and the future of stoner TV salesman Jed. (Hint: that Hemsworth kid's going places!)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on the success of Interceptor! What did you do to celebrate?

MATTHEW REILLY: I got a cheesecake. I got a S'Mores Galore cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory. I've been getting fit since I was off making the movie for nearly 18 months, so I treated myself to a cheesecake.

This was your first film as a director. What was it like to shoot in the middle of a pandemic?

We got very lucky. We filmed in Sydney during a period in the pandemic where Sydney was sort of running normally. So it was just blind luck. We had everybody masking, we had check-ins and whatnot, and just as we were finishing the edit, Sydney went in lockdown again. So in terms of the pandemic, we just got lucky.

INTERCEPTOR. (Center) Luke Bracey as Alexander in INTERCEPTOR. Cr. Brook Rushton/Netflix © 2022
| Credit: Brook Rushton/Netflix

You have experience as a novelist, where the worlds you build are vast and sprawling. But this movie was basically the equivalent of a bottle episode in a lot of ways. What was that challenge like?

It was a challenge. The key to the one location is, you've got to make it a really interesting location. So when I discovered this idea that there are interceptor missiles that could shoot down nuclear weapons, I just thought, "That's interesting. That's a movie I'd like to watch." The stakes are high, there's going to be some serious countdowns. It's going to be thrilling.

But the command center for a place like that, there's got to be reinforced doors, there's got to be lots of lights and screens and radar thingies tracking missiles. You've got to have a video call to the White House, a red phone going to the Pentagon. The room itself has to be interesting.

One of the key things I've been doing for years in my books is pace, high stakes, thrills, and I have very inventive deaths and clever escapes. And Interceptor is a film version of one of the books.

One of the scenes that people are talking about is Pataky's one-armed swing. That's some real Ninja Warrior stuff. Was that something you two talked about, the physicality of the character?

We did. We talked about the physicality a lot. She trained for that swing for a long time. Her stunt double, the amazing Hayley Wright, had done it, but Elsa said, "No, I can do it." She did it five times, and the last time we did it in super, super, super slow motion.

The thing about Elsa, Elsa is very beautiful, but she actually bulked up for the movie. She put on muscle. She said, "I want to be a strong, capable military woman." She became the character, and Elsa can act the socks off anybody. She's quite amazing. You see her in that sexual assault scene; her eyes act. I don't think anybody could've been prepared for how physical and capable she was.

I'm guessing we're going to be talking about Natalie Portman when Thor: Love and Thunder comes out, but I feel like Elsa got there first with the physical presence of that strong character.

Funnily enough, they were filming Thor: Love and Thunder in Sydney when we were filming Interceptor, and Elsa and Natalie are actually very close. I don't know if they worked out together, you'd have to ask them.

But yeah, I think there will be comparisons made. Maybe Elsa and Natalie can compare guns.

I say a team-up movie. Fight crime, commit crime, I don't care. That would be great.

You know, I'm a big Natalie Portman fan. We could put her in Interceptor 2. I could do that. She's fabulous.

That set-piece with Pataky fighting the other woman was fantastic also. It was almost Terminator vibes, with this kind of silent, unstoppable, you think she's down, she pops back up villain. Was that something you also wanted to showcase, two women fighting?

Yes, and the villain woman is actually played by Ingrid Klemig, who was our second unit director and co-stunt coordinator. Ingrid is outstanding; one of the best stuntwomen in the world. She did all that training with Elsa so you end up with this great fight because Ingrid is an accomplished stuntwoman.

We wanted a female stunt coordinator because women fight differently, and in my very first call to Ingrid, I said, "Hey, I've got this action movie. It's like Die Hard with a woman at an interceptor missile facility," and Ingrid said, "I'm in."

Speaking on behalf of long-haired people everywhere, I appreciated that you made sure Pataky's hair was in a ponytail for all of the action. Was that intentional?

Yes, and it was in all of my storyboards too. Chris [Hemsworth, who is married to Pataky and makes a cameo in Interceptor], his movie Thor took all the storyboard artists in Sydney, so I had to draw my own. I did 770 storyboards, and in every one she has this flinging ponytail. The ponytail should almost get a credit by itself.

INTERCEPTOR. (L) Elsa Pataky as JJ Collins in INTERCEPTOR. Cr. Brook Rushton/Netflix © 2022
| Credit: Brook Rushton/Netflix

You know, that TV salesman really had a certain something. Would you work with him again in the future?

Yeah, I think he's an up-and-comer, that actor who played Jed the stoner TV salesman. I think he's got a future. Keep an eye out for him. His name is… Hemswith? Oh, Hemsworth, I think.

What a guy. Just so funny. There's even a line where they're stampeding out of the store, and Chris says, "Hey, we're not closing yet!" That was all him. The amount of stuff we left on the cutting room floor with Chris… He was just such a good sport, and when you meet him, you realize just how funny he is.

Could you find him a role in Interceptor 2 if it comes to that?

Absolutely, oh yeah. If he wants to do it, we'll do it

Speaking of Interceptor 2, can you give us any look at what that might involve?

Well, the final scene — spoiler alert if you haven't watched it — the president invites her (Pataky) to come work on her national security staff at the end of Interceptor. So maybe the president will be involved in Interceptor 2. It's a lot bigger.

With Interceptor, it's my first movie. I didn't have a lot of money, but I had energy and enthusiasm, and I do liken it to the original Mad Max or the original Terminator, which were movies by filmmakers who've gone on to do great things. I'm not saying I'm like them, but George Miller made Mad Max with what he had and James Cameron made Terminator with what he had, and they found an audience. And so when they got more money, Miller makes The Road Warrior, and Cameron goes on to make Aliens and Terminator 2.

This was doing the best I could with what I had, and if I get another go at it, Interceptor 2, it's a far larger idea than Interceptor. I'd love to be able to have the resources to do something bigger.

Beyond that, what projects do you have coming up?

I've got three scripts I'd like to direct. Two of them are based on books of mine, one of them called 7 Ancient Wonders and the other called Cobalt Blue. And they're wild. So it's hopefully an escalating series of bonkers, crazy, fast, fun movies. That's the plan.

I'm 47 years old. I've been waiting 37 years to do this, since I watched the making of Return of the Jedi. I want to keep making movies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interceptor is streaming now on Netflix. Watch the trailer below, including a look at Pataki's one-arm swing:

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