If you scanned the credits for Unstoppable, you may have noticed a familiar name near the top: Mimi Rogers. Best known as a versatile actress, Rogers made a splash as a producer in 2010 by shepherding the based-on-true-events tale of a runaway train to the big screen. Producer is just one of Rogers’s talents, however — in addition to her widely-praised performances in such diverse films as The Rapture, The Prince of Tides, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Rogers is also one of Hollywood’s finest competitive poker players. With the Certified Fresh Unstoppable hitting DVD shelves this week, we talked with Rogers about her favorite movies, the rigors of producing films, and what she learned from some of her previous directors.
MASH. To me, MASH is the superb realization of [Robert] Altman. Amazing. Whether it’s the improvisational nature, the way he layers dialogue, the way that he has scenes that are alive on every level. The rebelliousness, the anarchy, the humor. You know, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were just [great]. To me, it was sort of like the perfect realization of what he does, although McCabe & Mrs. Miller is another favorite.
Next, Rogers talks about bringing Unstoppable to the big screen.
RT: You’ve been in big movies; you’ve been in little movies; you’ve done comedy, horror; you’re a producer; you’re a poker player. Is there a pattern to your career?
Mimi Rogers: Chaos theory, baby. No, no, I guess there’s not a pattern. You know, I started producing however many years ago, which is not an abnormal route to take. Acting is wonderful; it can be, obviously, a very gratifying business, but it’s not a business where you have much control. I’m a big reader, I’m a big storyteller, I’m a big fan of really well told stories, and that sort of motivated me twelve or thirteen years ago to start saying, you know, “Hey, I have some ideas that I think would actually make great movies. Why not try and make that happen?” And, you know, I work with my husband, and we don’t really have an agenda. It’s not any type of genre, it’s not commercial, or indie; it’s anything that appeals to us, anything that we think is an interesting story to tell. This was an article that he had found, and that he brought to me and said, “I think maybe there’s a movie here.” And I read it and said, “Ohh, yeah.”
You’re talking about the true story about the train that was without a conductor for a bit, which is obviously a little different from how it’s portrayed on screen.
But surprisingly, not that different. It’s actually not that different. You know, the only aspect that became fictional is really what happened at the very end, when Chris [Pine] had to jump out and be driven to the front. But in terms of the size of the train, what was on the train, the stakes in terms of the amount of devastation and death, the attempt at the derailment… All of that happened. Almost everything in the movie did actually happen.
Well, it is really two different hats. I sort of liken being a producer to being a parent; you’re in charge, you’re supposed to pay for everything. Everybody comes to you with their problems, and you never get thanked. Being an actor is a much more childlike position. You only have to think about yourself. [laughs]
As an actress, you had a chance to work with directors like Michael Cimino, Robert Altman, Barbra Streisand, and Ridley Scott. Were you taking notes for your future career as a producer?
Well, it’s interesting, because you definitely glean something very different and very useful from each of them. Obviously, in working with Ridley, just a staggering sense of visuals, and what you can do with the camera. He’s not an incredibly verbal director, and he likes to sort of cast people that he feels sort of already have the role in hand, not something that has to be broken down or seriously explained, because he does a lot of the storytelling through the visuals. You see you know, how you can do that and convey a sense of time, place, and identity through what you see and how it’s shown.
Working with Barbra was insanely great. She’s a genius on so many levels, and watching her perfectionism and understanding what that really means. She knows how she wants it, she knows how it would be best realized, and she’s not going to settle for less. That’s kind of a great position to take.
Well, obviously, it took us years and years to get it brought to the screen. What we felt about it from the beginning was that it was just sort of rooted in the tradition of great American, sort of blue collar, ordinary person, hero-based action films. The fact that it was rooted in reality was kind of what made it doable because things happen in the movie that literally are stranger than fiction, that if you’d written it in a fictional story, a million people would have said, “Well, that could never happen, that could never happen, and that could never happen.” But our intention from the get-go was to make a really big, fun, fast, highly entertaining commercial film.
Are there any poker movies that get it right?
Not really. Not yet. I mean, there are movies that get gambling addiction right, but in terms of getting poker playing right? Not really. I think it’s just a lot more esoteric than people think. It took a long time to get a movie about chess with any sort of grain of true reality. The actual real mentality, I just don’t think it has been captured yet.
Unstoppable arrives on home video today in the US.