By Clark Collis
August 21, 2020 at 09:01 AM EDT

In the new road rage-thriller Unhinged, Russell Crowe plays a disturbed individual who terrorizes a mother and her young son, portrayed by Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Batemen, after an altercation at a traffic light. But Unhinged (out Friday) may be best remembered as the first major film to screen in cinemas since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's obviously super-exciting to be that first film that people are able to come and see," director Derrick Borte says. "Conversely, there are a lot of concerns with that. I know that the studio and the theater chains are doing everything they can to make sure that it's safe for everyone. So, it's exciting, but it also comes with a level of responsibility that you can't ignore."

Below, Borte talks more about the film, working with Crowe, and a possible sequel.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come on board the project?

DERRICK BORTE: I had met with Solstice (the company which produced Unhinged) after they saw my last film, American Dreamer. They were big fans, and said they wanted to find a project with me, and not a week later we got a call. They had just purchased the script and wanted me to read it. I picked it up and couldn't put it down, I couldn't wait to see what happened every page. Russell was not involved yet. The very first thing I did, after getting my casting director involved, was to get Russell on board.

And how does one go about getting Russell Crowe to star in one's movie?

[Laughs] Well, we made an offer to him, and he agreed to read the script, and once he read it he wanted to have a meeting with me, and we had what I thought was a productive, good first meeting. Then he said he wanted to watch my last film, and he watched the film that night, and then called back the next day and wanted to talk about that film because he really enjoyed it. We talked further about this film, and his character, and, next thing you know, he's on board the film.

A lot of the film is set in cars, and moving cars at that. What are the practical difficulties of that?

Short of rewriting this and making it about people on scooters, it really had to be cars. Yeah, it does present challenges. You can shoot some of it on a stage, where you get a lot more work done in a day and are less prone to being shut down due to weather. When you're shooting in New Orleans during hurricane season, some combination of practical and stage work and visual effects allows this whole thing to work.

Skip Bolen / © Solstice Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

Russell Crowe's character is extremely angry throughout the entire film. Can he just turn that on and off? Or does he grump around before and after a scene?

He's the smartest guy on the set and knows what everybody on the set is doing and supposed to be doing. He really gets you to raise your game up to meet his. I think there are times when he uses certain things going into a scene and other times when he's laughing and joking, keeping people kind of relaxed, and then he snaps into character when the lights go on. Once the cameras are rolling, he's where he needs to be.

Tell us about casting Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Batemen.

Caren we found through a fairly exhaustive audition process. It was very obvious immediately after watching her first audition that she just had something special on camera. She had this mix of vulnerability and strength and she had this sort of everywoman quality, very accessible, and yet also was captivating on-screen. She just brought it every day. She rose to the occasion playing opposite an obviously legendary acclaimed actor. Gabe is a pro, he's been around a long time. In his 14 or 15 years, I'm sure the majority of that has been spent on set. He's a very smart actor and asks great questions and wants to dig deeper into every scene. He's a pretty special kid.

What do you want people to take away from the film in terms of a message?

The film is, number one, entertainment. It's an edge-of-your-seat ride for ninety minutes. It just gets you to realize, wrong place, wrong time, honk your horn at the wrong person on the wrong day, and it can go horribly wrong. Beyond that, I would hope that film [is] fuel for conversations about where we are in the world today. Yet, as I said, the main takeaway here is, it's a heck of a ride.

Could there be an Unhinged sequel? There's no shortage of ways in which people can go off the rails.

I think that's a great question for Solstice. As you said, it's a subject matter that is ripe for exploration beyond this film.

But you're not saying no to Unhinged 2: The Unhinging?

[Laughs] The Re-Unhinging? It is fertile ground for material. I guess we'll see what happens.

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