It is the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins are battling the Chicago Blackhawks as 17,000 frenzied fans – including the Vice President of the United States, who is watching from the luxurious owner’s box high above Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena – are on the edge oftheir seats – unaware that an elite group of extortionists is about to make this a game no one will ever forget.
JeanClaude Van Damme is reunited with his Timecop director Peter Hyams in the suspensethriller Sudden Death. Van Damme plays Darren McCord, a fireman with a troubled past. When his young daughter (Whittni Wright) is suddenly taken hostage during the hockey game, McCord engages in a deadly game of catandmouse with a ruthlessly cold-blooded adversary (Powers Boothe). With thousands of lives at stake, including that of his son (Ross Malinger), McCord battles both the terrorists and his own personal demons as the seconds on the game clock race towards a fateful conclusion.
“When I first read the script,” Hyams recalls, “I was struck by the fact that there was a chance to make a truly exciting movie that wasn’t stupid, but intriguing. All too often, there exists a dichotomy that action films tend to be pretty dumb. And that intelligent films are rather tepid. But, every once in a while, a really exciting film comes along that is both The Fugitive and Die Hard are examples. That’s the kind of film I’m most attracted to, and Sudden Death seemed to have that kind of potential.”
Hyams had recently directed JeanClaude Van Damme in the boxoffice hit Timecop, and the Belgian born actor was always the first choice to play the tormented protagonist in Sudden Death.
“When I first met Jean-Claude, I found him to be this incredibly charming, very sweet, very bright, very accessible man,” says Hyams. “He’s obviously remarkably athletic, but he’s also got something that I think makes him vulnerable, and he has the ability to project feelings.
“This is our second film together,” Hyams continues, “and we developed the shorthand that two people get when they start to work with each other for a while, especially in an environment as intimate as filmmaking. I think Jean-Claude trusts me now, and I know I trust him. The result is that we each make more demands and push each other harder to make the best movie possible.”
“Timecop was the first time I worked with a good strong director who understands the domestic action audience,” concurs Van Damme. “Working with Peter on Sudden Death was a terrific experience especially because this film is a great story with lots of action.”
As he was growing up, Van Damme’s Hollywood heroes were Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and although the actor candidly acknowledges while although a transition to those types of roles “takes time; you can’t jump right from Mad Max to Hamlet,” it’s clearly on his agenda.
“JeanClaude was perfect for this movie,” notes producer Moshe Diamant, who has worked with Van Damme in the past on such films as Timecop, Hard Target and Double Impact. “In person, he’s a wonderful guy who can become a hero, and that’s exactly the character we needed for the lead in Sudden Death ”
“JeanClaude really likes making movies,” adds costar Powers Boothe, “and so do I. And there’s a certain professionalism about our business that I enjoy when someone knows their game whatever that is and does it well.”
The young costars of Sud(len Death, Whittni Wright (I ‘ll Do Anything) and Ross Malinger (Sleepless in Seattle) offer more immediate observations about the actor who plays their father: “JeanClaude was really nice,” they offer, with Ross adding, “He has great kids of his own, so it’s great working with him.”
With the principal roles cast, the filmmakers addressed the task of casting the supporting characters, assembling an impressive ensemble including Dorian Harewood (Pacific Heights, Full Metal Jacket) as the Secret Service agent assigned to protect the Vice President, played by Raymond J. Barry (The Ref, Cool Runnings). Kate McNeil (I ‘ll Do Anything, Monkey Shines) was cast as McCord’s exwife, and Audra Lindley (best known from television’s The Ropers) plays an early victim of the plot to extort over a billion dollars from the United States Treasury.
Casting director Nancy Mosser cast 60 Pittsburgh areabased actors in speaking roles in Sudden Death, as well as the thousands of extras required for the film, which she describes as “the largest feature that’s ever been filmed in Pittsburgh.”
Principal photography began on August 29, with Peter Hyams doing his customary doubleduty as both director and cinematographer on the picture. The decision to shoot Sudden Death on location in Pittsburgh a city that has hosted such features as Flashdance, Silence of the Lambs and Striking Distance was based on the involvement of producer Howard Baldwin, whose company has been involved with the production of 12 films since 1985, and who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.
“It has always been our desire, since we started in the film business, to make a movie that shows hockey action on the ice in a realistic and exciting fashion set against an entertaining story,” remarks Baldwin.
During the next 14 weeks, the SMdden Death company used over 20 locations in the Pittsburgh area, with the city’s Civic Arena ( with its domed roofthat can be opened at the touch of a button and proves to be a crucial factor in the film’s explosive climax) serving as the central setting, with the film’s entire story virtually taking place during the course of a hockey game. Other locations included neighborhoods on the North Side, at Mount Washington and at Station Square. Empty warehouses in the industrial part of the city were transformed into sound stages, where various interior sets were built. The kitchen that in the film is adjacent to the owner’s luxury box was, in fact, located at the brandnew Veterans Hospital in Aspinwall, which opened its doors immediately after the film crew completed their work at that location.
During preproduction, the filmmakers were concerned that their biggest challenge would be finding the equipment necessary to shoot the many complicated stunts in Sudden Death.
“This film is technically huge,” observes producer Moshe Diamant. “In one sequence, we had a 400foot crane that had to pick up a helicopter and drop it through the open roof into the arena, with nine cameras shooting the stunt. In addition, we had 200 emergency police and ambulance vehicles, all of which had to be coordinated as we shot this complicated scene over and over again from different angles.”
But the biggest challenge to production came from a totally unexpected source the National Hockey League, which postponed the start of the hockey season because of a labor dispute with the players. The Pittsburgh Penguins were scheduled to open their ’94’95 season with a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, which the Sudden Death company had arranged rights to shoot extensively for the film’s sequences depicting the Stanley Cup final game. Instead, participating members of the Penguins were augmented by former hockey players who reside in the area, and the Chicago Blackhawks were portrayed by members of the Cleveland Lumberjacks, the Penguins’ farm team. (Penguins’ star Luc Robitaille plays himself in the film.) The labor dispute that effectively stopped the start of the NHL seasons was not resolved before production was completed on Sudden Death, although it had no impact on the finished film, which provides action and excitement both on and offthe ice.
Sudden Death is anything but a standard actionadventure movie. “Directors are storytellers,” observes Peter Hyams, “and I found what I believed to be a really juicy story, one that I wanted to tell and tell it well.” “This is a film about a man who can be so frightened that he can’t function at critical times,” Hyams continues, “and JeanClaude was emotionally brave enough to show that, to flatout open his heart and show it to people.”
Even more important, Sudden Death reflects Peter Hyams characteristically compelling visual style. In bringing writer Gene Quintano’s screenplay to life, Hyams has walked a delicate tightrope, seamlessly blending moments of unexpected and brutal violence with wickedly dark, laughoutloud humor (stemming largely from the unlikely source of Powers Boothe’s character), all of which is intensified by the fact that there are 17,000 sports enthusiasts filling the arena, absorbed in the hockey game and completely unaware of the peril that literally surrounds them.
“In some respects,” notes Hyams, “large films like this have become almost defined by who the bad guy is. It’s a tradition that may well have been started in Die Hard, with Alan Rickman’s villain with panache and a sense of humor. These almost become moviestealing parts John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire and Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege, for example.
“So when you’re going up against a JeanClaude Van Damme,” Hyams continues, “you go against them with somebody who’s lethal rather than brawny, and the only way that can be done is by an actor who has incredible charisma and brains. Powers Boothe has those qualities his eyes are magnetic and he’s wonderfully bright.”
“Foss has this really brilliant, marvelous plan that he has concocted, and he has all the bases covered,” says Boothe of his villainous character in KSudden Deach “He’s even planned his escape, in the unlikely event that things were to go terribly wrong. And yet this one fireman someone who, in his mind at least, is so insignificant and mediocre could get in the way and put a wrench in the machinery of this intricate scheme.”
At its center, Sudden Death is a story of one man’s selfless pursuit of redemption set against a very real race against time. The terrorists have given the U. S. government until the end of the hockey game to meet their demands, and if this deadline is not met, the consequences will be catastrophic. Only Darren McCord is able to evade the predators that threaten the arena from inside the huge facility; security officers and Secret Service agents attempting to enter the arena are routinely dispatched. And each of McCord’s decisions are made against the passing seconds and minutes on the scoreboard.
“This film is inextricably tied to a clock,” explains Peter Hyams. “In this case, the clock is the extraordinary pageant of a hockey game, with all of its violence, action, drama, athleticism and excitement. Ultimately, though, it is this clock that drives the story, because when this hockey game is over, something terrible is going to happen. This remarkable game which is the clock is what is so unique about this story and the element that I found most attractive about this project.”
“The story caught my attention because all of the events are tied to this interesting time device? which is the hockey game,” agrees producer Moshe Diamant. “Everything that happens in the movie, whatever the villains do and our hero does, is tied to the fascinating notion that while this fastpaced game is being played the clock we are aware that somewhere in the same arena other more sinister things are happening.”
To ensure that the action and special effects sequences in Sudden Dealh were as spectacular as possible, the filmmakers retained the services of some of the finest stunt men and effects artists working today. Stunt coordinator Gary Hymes (Speed, Jurassic Park, Hook) and special effects coordinator Garry Elmendorf collaborated to make Sudden Death an example of state-of-the-arts movie magic.
“We’re in the business of creating illusions here,” explains Hymes, “and we tend to speak the same language as the special effects people, so it’s easy for us to communicate when we are designing some of the more elaborate stunts and the mechanical aspects that go with them.”
“We worked closely with the stunts people throughout production,” adds Elmendorf. “For example, in one sequence a bomb detonates and throws out a lot of debris, bursts water pipes and blows a door offits hinges. We had 18 stunt people in front ofthe door, who then got swept offtheir feet right into the camera by two thousand gallons of water we rigged to pour down the pedestrian ramp inside the arena.
“Probably the most difficult effect we had to create for this picture was when we hung a fullsized Jet Ranger helicopter from the largest mobile crane in the United States, weighing 1100 tons with a 400foot reach. It had to fall 170 feet, through an opening in the roof of the Civic Arena, pass through the lighting truss, short out the electrical system for the arena with a shower of sparks, then hit the ground and explode.” This was just one of several sequences in the film that had to work on the first and only take.
“On those occasions, I’m probably nine parts fear and one part exhilaration,” admits Peter Hyams. “What goes through my mind is, ‘Have I properly judged the way something is going to look, have I placed the cameras in the right positions and are they running at the right speed and have I guessed the proper Tstop?’ Basically, have I screwed up?” (The helicopter sequence ultimately was shot with no problems whatsoever, with spectacular results.)
Although Sudden Death is filled with each stunt more thrilling than the last, stunt coordinator Gary Hymes describes the choreography of the handtohand combat sequences as “the single most difficult aspect of stunt work. Especially in a film like this that has several fights, because you certainly don’t want to become repetitious. You have to take a fresh approach to each fight, and it’s quite a challenge. It’s like choreographing a ballet or any type of dance; everything is broken down move by move, requiring a lot of rehearsal time.”
Having turned down an offer from a professional ballet company earlier in his career so that he would be free to pursue work in films, Jean-Claude Van Damme was particularly welltrained for the many arduous stunts and fights required of his character in Sudden Death. (He also took hockey lessons to prepare for this role.) “Jean-Claude has the unique ability to move and do things that other mortals can’t do,” enthuses Peter Hyams. “Other people don’t fight like he does, they don’t move like he does and they don’t fall or jump the way he does. He can even get hit and hurt unlike anyone else he’s really extraordinary at it.”
Young Ross Malinger offers his own perspective on the stunts and special effects that are so pervasive in Sudden Death by recalling, “The most exciting thing that I’ve ever seen happen is one night when they blew up cars in the parking lot. That was the neatest night because they had al1 the ambulances there and everything. It was like real.” Younger Whittni Wright echoes Malinger’s “take” on Sudden Death: “I can’t believe that I’m making this really scary movie. It’s really fun.”
The scene in which the special effects team blew up six cars in the Civic Arena parking lot was one in particular that was less than fun for assistant production manager Betsy Bottando. For that one night alone, Bottando had to notify every city agency and every business within a onemile radius of the arena. In the event of possible hysterical reactions to the huge explosions, Bottando notified 911 operations in advance to anticipate possible calls.
“We got a lot of cooperation from the folks here particularly the local film commission because they like to see movies being made in Pittsburgh,” explains Bottando. “They all want to help. They get really involved and excited.”
Director Hyams hopes that that excitement has been captured on film in Sudden Death. “When people leave this movie,” Hyams notes, “I want them to feel the way you feel after getting off a huge roller coaster that kind of dizzying, breathless feeling you get after the ride of a lifetime. You’re happy to be back on the ground again….except maybe you’d like to go back on it again for one more ride.”
ABOUT THE CAST
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME (Darren McCord), one of the world’s foremost action stars, has established a strong following among a wide spectrum of moviegoers, both in the United States and around the world. His popularity has grown steadily, film by film, in the years since he was first topbilled in Bloodsport.
These days, Van Damme puts the same dose of grit and determination into becoming a fullyrounded film actor as he applied in his youth to achieve physical perfection. In his most recent films, Timecop, Nowhere to Rl/s1 and Hard Target, Van Damme puts more emphasis on emotional and dramatic sequences than ever before.
Van Damme’s biography is a reallife, onlyinAmerica success story. A native of Belgium, the 34 yearold actor was born Jean-Claude Van Varenberg and adopted the name of an early mentor because of its “tougher sound.” Even as a selfdescribed “skinny kid,” the young Van Damme began to transform himself physically and mentally utilizing ballet, martial arts and bodybuilding techniques until he had mastered all three.
While still in his early 20s, this karate and body building champion turned down an offer from a professional ballet company in order to follow his dream to Hollywood. There, he lived from hand to mouth for several years supporting himself as a cab driver, waiter and night club bouncer until his impromptu display of martial arts prowess for startled producer Menahem Golan outside a restaurant won the determined performer his kickoff role in Bloodsport. He is by far the most versatile of the new action stars, having successfully tackled a wide range of characters in Lionheart, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Nowhere to R1m and Hard Target.
More recently, Van Damme starred in Universal Picture’s Street Fighter, which costarred the late Raul Julia. Having earned the role of Lt. Guile by popular demand, Van Damme holds the distinction of being ane of the first actors to have his image transformed into a video game hero! Last fall, he starred in the futuristic action thriller Timecop, marking the actor’s first romantic leading role. This blockbuster success has already earned over $135million worldwide. Van Damme makes his directorial debut with The Quest, which filmed recently in Thailand with Roger Moore.
POWERS BOOTHE (Daniel Foss) has an extensive list of film and television credits, which includes supporting roles in Tombstone, opposite Kurt Russell, and Bl1le Sky, opposite Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones. Among his feature film credits are John Boorman’s criticallyacclaimed film, The Emerald Fo7est, and the Walter Hill films Extreme Prej1ldice and So1Jthern Comfort. He has also appeared in Cruising, A Breed Apart and Rapid Fire, opposite Brandon Lee. On television, he has been seen in Mind Over Murder, The Sandman, Hard Time, By the Dawn ‘s Early Light, and in his acclaimed performance as the Reverand Jim Jones in Guyana Tragedy, among others.
ROSS MALINGER (Tyler McCord) is perhaps best known for his starring role opposite Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the blockbuster hit, Sleepless in Seatlle. He has also appeared in ByeBye Love, Kindergarten Cop and Eve of Destnlction. Malinger has also been a featured player in a number of hit television series, including Good Advice, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, Roseanne, Beverly Hills 90210 and Who ‘s the Boss? This gifted young actor juggles his film career while maintaining an Aaverage at school, in which he is a fifth grade honor role student.
Young WHITTNI WRIGHT (Emily McCord) was cast to costar opposite Nick Nolte in the James L. Brooks film I’ll Do Anythin7g at just five years old. Handselected after a sixmonth nationwide talent search, she wowed filmmakers with her audition and won the part on her fifth birthday. Prior to being cast in I’ll Do Anything, Wright had already made her mark as a clog dancing prodigy, winning several top championship prizes. She is also an accomplished vocalist who performs frequently at festivals in and around her hometown of August, Georgia. When not in school, Wright enjoys swimming, singing and playing with Barbie dolls.
KATE McNEIL (Kathi) has a broad list of television credits, including appearances on Murder She Wrote, Bodies of Evidence, Dear John and Designing Women. Having recently made the transition to feature film, she has appeared in I ’11 Do Anything and Monkey Shines. Prior to her onscreen career, McNeil was an established stage actress, appearing offBroadway and in other regional plays. She received her BFA from Ithica College and later attended the program at Circle in the Square.
A talented stage actor and film star, DORIAN HAREWOOD (Hallmark) has an extensive list of credits on Broadway, as well as numerous TV and feature film credits. As an accomplished supporting actor, his credits include the box office hit Against All Odds, as well as Pacific Heights, Stanley Kubrick’s rull Metal Jacket and opposite Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn in The Falcon and the Snowman. His television appearances include Roots, Amerika, C’hildren of Poverty, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, I ‘ll Fly Away, China Beach, Sisters and numerous others. On the stage, Harewood created the role of Morgan Evans opposite Bette Davis in MissMoffat, the musical version of The Corn is Green. His Broadway credits also include Streamers, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Jesus Christ Superstar, among numerous others.
RAYMOND J. BARRY‘s (Vice President) long list of movie, TV and stage credits include such wellknown projects as Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, TV’s longrunning series L.A. Law, and the smash Broadway musical Zoot Suit. Barry most recently appeared as the Chief of Police in the popular comedy, The Ref He has also had roles in Cool Runnings, Falling Down, Rapid Fire, Nothing but Trouble, Cop, Three For the Road, Out of Bounds, Year of the Dragon, Insignificance and An Unmarried Woman, among other features. His television appearances include the movies of the week Indian Wells: Between Love & Hate, Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, as well as the TV series Mr. Lyle, Tales from the Crypt, It ‘s a Living and Scarecrow & Mrs. King. He was also a series regular on NBC’ s The Oldest Rookie. Barry received the 1987 Dramalogue Award for his lead stage performance in Buried Child at South Coast Rep. He previously received Dramalogue awards, as well as the L.A. Drama Critics Award, for writing and starring in Once in Doubt at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
PETER HYAMS (Director and Director of Photography) is well known for such visually innovative films as Outland, Capricorn One and 20I0, on which he served not only as director and cinematographer, but also as the film’s writer and producer. He wrote, shot and directed the thriller Narrow Margin, and served as director and DP on Stay Tuned. His additional film credits include Running Scared, starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and The Presidio, starring Sean Connery and Meg Ryan. Born in New York City, Hyams comes from a notably theatrical family. His grandfather is the famed theatrical impresario Sol Hurok. His father, Barry Hyams, was a successful Broadway press agent for 30 years and his mother, Ruth, is now married to conductor Arthur Lief. After college, Hyams joined CBSTV News and was promoted to anchorman shortly after his 21st birthday. During his tenure at CBS, he worked in New York and Chicago, as well as in Vietnam where he filmed a documentary on the conflict in addition to reporting on a daytoday basis. In 1970, Hyams moved to Los Angeles and sold his screenplay, T.R. Baskin, and produced the movie, which starred Candice Bergen, Peter Boyle, Marcia Rodd and James Caan. For television, he wrote and directed Goodnight My Love, and directed The Rolling Man. Hyams made his feature directorial debut on Busting, starring Elliott Gould and Robert Blake. This was followed by Our Time, Peeper, starring Michael Caine and Natalie Wood, Capricorn One (director and screenwriter), with Elliott Gould and James Brolin, Hanover Street, starring Harrison Ford and Leslie Anne Down, Outland, starring Sean Connery and The Star Chamber, starring Michael Douglas.
MOSHE DIAMANT (Producer) previously worked with Sudden Death star Van Damme when he coexecutive produced Hard Target, and on Double Impact, which he also executive produced. His extensive list of credits as executive producer include such films as Bad Influence, Men at Work and Stone Cold. During his association with Trans World Entertainment, he executive produced such diverse films as Teen Witch, Night Game, The Further Ablvent1lres of Tennessee Buck, Full Moon in Blue Water, Survival Game, Rage o+Honor, The Curse, Catch the Heat and High Spirits, directed by Neil Jordan. He also coproduced the film Kansas. In 1988, Diamant was a founder of Epic Productions, Inc., a privatelyheld independent production company headquartered in Los Angeles. Appointed cochairman and co-chief executive officer, Diamant has been the guiding creative force for Epic and its allied production entities. He and Michael Douglas were producing partners for three years in Stonebridge Productions, developing more than 20 features and producing such action films as Stone Col(l, Double Impact and Hard Promises. Currently, Diamant is president of Signature Entertainment Group, which is a producing partner of Timecop, as well as The Quest, on which Jean-Claude Van Damme made his directorial debut.
A leader and owner in professional hockey for 24 years, HOWARD BALDWIN (Producer) is recognized as one of the top marketing entrepreneurs in all of professional sports, as well as for his burgeoning portfolio in the film industry. Currently the owner and Chairman of the Board for the Pittsburgh Penguins professional hockey team, Baldwin has always wanted to bring the excitement of hockey action to the big screen. Along with his wife Karen Baldwin, and partner Richard Cohen, Baldwin has developed a unique pedigree to do just that, including involvement with such highprofile films as Hoosiers, Flight of the Navigator, From the Hip and kSpellhinder, among others.
GENE QUINTANO‘s (Screenplay) credits as a writer include Cop and a Half, Police Academy 4: Citizens 071 Patrol, Allan Quartermai71 and the Los City of Gold, Police Academy III, King Solomon ‘s Mines and Making the Grade, among numerous others. He was also the screenwriter for the recent comedy Operation Dumho Drop, as well as the upcoming The Quest. Among the projects he has directed as well as written are WhyMe?, Honeymoo Academy and National Lampoon ‘s Loaded Weapon. One of the most prominent stuntmen/coordinators in Hollywood, GARY HYMES (Stunt Coordinator) is the only person to win two consecutive Stuntmen of the Year awards from his peers in the industry. Hymes has performed seemingly impossible stunts in literalEy hundreds of feature films, including such blockbuster hits as Speed, The Flintstones, Jurassic Park and Hook. To date, a large portion of all car chases seen on the big screen are a result of his mastery of the craft. Among his numerous television credits are Hardcastle ct McCormick, T. J. Hooker and Sting Ray. In addition to his fifteen years of stunt work, Hymes is an accomplished second unit director, represented by his work on Steven Spielberg’s Hook, Tango & Cash and The Untouchables, to name a few.
This article was published in a 1996 edition of Kick magazine.
Courtesy of Tema Edelsburg, Universal Studios
Aothor: John Corcoran