Doug Liman reveals how Tom Cruise space mission led to COVID-19 thriller 'Locked Down' (exclusive)

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·10-min read

Watch: Trailer for Locked Down

Doug Liman has revealed that his quarantine heist movie Locked Down had unlikely inspiration — his forthcoming trip to space with Tom Cruise.

The 55-year-old filmmaker is currently preparing to blast off with Cruise for a secretive action project, which will partially shoot on the International Space Station.

Liman's new film, which shot during the autumn in locations including the empty Harrods store, follows an ambitious attempt to steal a diamond worth £3m under the guise of stock movement.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway play the recently separated couple who find themselves presented with the opportunity to make a tonne of money, potentially without anybody noticing.

Read more: Was Tom Cruise's on-set rant justified?

The director tells Yahoo Entertainment UK that the two projects — despite being light years apart geographically — are actually intimately linked.

Liman says: "The producer who said to [Locked Down writer Steven Knight] and me in July that we should come up with an idea to shoot this fall — which is a crazy idea — was the same producer [P.J. van Sandwijk] who said to me a year before: 'Do you want to shoot a movie in outer space?'

Tom Cruise is set to work with Doug Liman on a space-bound movie. (Photo by Samantha Zucchi/Insidefoto/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty/Susie Allnutt/Warner Bros)
Tom Cruise is set to work with Doug Liman on a space-bound movie. (Photo by Samantha Zucchi/Insidefoto/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty/Susie Allnutt/Warner Bros)

"Once somebody has said that and Tom Cruise signs on and NASA signs on and SpaceX signs on, whatever this guy says — no matter how crazy it sounds — I'm gonna listen.

"So when he said this, I listened and Steve listened — and the result is Locked Down."

Read more: Mission: Impossible 7 lines up final leg of filming

Liman says some of the physical prep for the space project has begun, and that working with Cruise gave him the skills and knowledge necessary to get Locked Down made during the pandemic.

He adds: "I was very aware of what he was doing on Mission: Impossible 7 and how he was getting that back into production.

Tom Cruise on the set of 'Mission: Impossible 7' in Rome. (Credit: Marco Ravagli/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Tom Cruise on the set of 'Mission: Impossible 7' in Rome. (Credit: Marco Ravagli/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

"I really had thought that we, as filmmakers, were going to be idle until there was a vaccine. Because how can you possibly make a movie socially distanced?

"But Tom Cruise was taking the resources of Mission: Impossible to show how you could safely go back into production, so I really followed on his coat tails to make Locked Down.

"We copied his safety protocols that they spent the budget of Mission: Impossible to come up with for our little movie."

Read more: Health experts urge Hollywood not to trivialise pandemic

Certainly, Locked Down was a challenging movie to make, and it is now making its way on to VOD platforms in the UK, having debuted in the States earlier this year via HBO Max.

Read the full interview with Doug Liman, in which he discusses shooting in Harrods, the challenges of lockdown filmmaking and, of course, Tom Cruise...

Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor attempt a Harrods heist in 'Locked Down'. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)
Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor attempt a Harrods heist in 'Locked Down'. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)

Yahoo Entertainment UK: I wanted to ask about the very start of this project. Was there a moment where you had been sat in lockdown for so long that you just had to make a movie, or did this just come to you and give you the opportunity?

Doug Liman: It was more the former. After months of being locked down, a producer challenged Steve Knight and myself to come up with an idea for a movie to shoot in September. That was in July. Steve and I spent ten minutes batting around some ideas.

There's people having different experiences during this pandemic. We all have the annoying friends who are having the most perfect pandemic, locked down with people they love. Steve and I were drawn to people having the other kinds of experiences — the really challenging experiences. In this case, the idea of a couple who have broken up but are being forced to quarantine together. We really loved those characters. We also liked the idea of a heist.

The producer asked if we wanted to get together in a few days on Zoom and keep talking about it. Because of the pandemic, it's not like I had any social plans, and Steve didn't have any pressing social plans. We decided to keep brainstorming because, if nothing else, it's an escape from whatever else we're doing — to just imagine what a movie set during the pandemic might look like. And so, the film started as a form of escape for us to sort of fantasise about the idea of making a movie.

But it wasn't real. In the history of film, there has never been a movie where someone said in July "let's come up with an idea" and then in September they shot it — let alone during a pandemic when no movies were shooting. There was no chance of this movie happening, but we were enjoying brainstorming the "what if?" because what else were we going to do? There's nothing else to do. You're just stuck at home. Why not just keep playing with this idea?

'Locked Down'. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)
'Locked Down'. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)

We came up with the idea that a couple would ultimately hatch the idea of robbing Harrods. It grew out of the same impetus that we were having to make this movie. It's a product of the pandemic. We said: "Harrods is never gonna go for this, but we might as well reach out and try". Harrods normally insist on seeing a script and then take months and say no, but we just pitched them the idea as it stood at the time and they said they were in. They loved it.

Was there anything that Harrods said no to and that you couldn't do, or was it a case of all bets are off?

There was nothing. The film is really about this couple, but ultimately there is a heist and it involves going into the vault in Harrods. I said: "Can we shoot in your vaults?", and they were like: "I don't know about that. It's our actual vault where we actually store our diamonds". Then they were like: "Actually, as long as you don't show where it is in the store and the route to the vault, you can film in the vault".

So in a crazy thing of life imitating art, I actually found myself alone in the vault with my producer while the security person went out to get more crew. You could only bring in two people at the time because there's this airlock, which is in the film. We were like: "Holy s***, we're in the vault and we could actually now just rob Harrods ourselves."

I'm assuming you didn't? And if you did, I don't think you'd admit it at a junket anyway.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 24:  Harrods is seen decorated with Christmas lights on December 24, 2020 in London, England. Many Christmas events have been cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus Pandemic but London is festooned with Christmas Lights across the capital.  (Photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)
Harrods is seen decorated with Christmas lights on December 24, 2020 (Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)

We did not.

Obviously Steve is a British guy and there are some specific British elements in the movie, like the clap for the NHS. Did Steve have to explain those things to you at all?

Well, I live in New York City, so I was also on my rooftop. Actually, in New York City, we clapped every night and you guys only clapped once a week.

We're really organised!

I've lived in England, at different points in my life, too. So no, there wasn't anything that didn't resonate with me. And the story is so universal. I used to bring my dog into Harrods, because you can bring your dog up to the pet floor. So I knew Harrods, but not the way Steve knew Harrods. He's a way fancier guy than me. I would treat my dog to stuff in Harrods, but I would never treat a human being to something from Harrods.

This must have been a very challenging movie to make given the COVID regulations. And then your next movie, which I know you can't say much about, has the space challenge. What is it that draws you to these mega-challenging projects?

'Locked Down' was shot under strict COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)
'Locked Down' was shot under strict COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. (Credit: Susan Allnutt/Warner Bros)

I have always been drawn to challenges, even going back to Swingers. The challenge of making that film on no money was part of what made that movie what it is. We had to organise the shoot on Swingers with the things most likely to get us arrested last. I think if I'd had ten times the budget, Swingers would have been a very boring movie.

There is an energy that comes from my sticking my neck out. I don't think I have ever stuck my neck out as much as I did on Locked Down. We were really venturing into the unknown. Not only were we conceiving of the film really quickly, but I committed to shooting Steve's first draft and actors signed on with partial scripts. London was shutting down around us, so we didn't know if we would be able to finish the movie.

It's a pandemic, so the virus controls how things happen. Boris Johnson was shutting things down all around us, so we were racing to get the film done before we got shut down. That energy shows up on screen. There's an urgency to Locked Down which can't be faked.

Very quickly, before I let you go, presumably you have started physical prep for the Tom Cruise space movie?

Doug Liman and Tom Cruise attend a promotional event for 'Edge of Tomorrow' on June 26, 2014 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)
Doug Liman and Tom Cruise attend a promotional event for 'Edge of Tomorrow' on June 26, 2014 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)

We've started some of it. These things actually do relate to each other. First of all, because I'm working with Tom, I was very aware of what he was doing on Mission: Impossible 7 and how he was getting that back into production. I really had thought that we, as filmmakers, were going to be idle until there was a vaccine. Because how can you possibly make a movie socially distanced?

But Tom Cruise was taking the resources of Mission: Impossible to show how you could safely go back into production, so I really followed on his coat tails to make Locked Down. We copied his safety protocols that they spent the budget of Mission: Impossible to come up with for our little movie. Were it not for the fact that I was working with Tom on something else, I would not have been so aware of how he was getting Mission: Impossible back into production. That really inspired me to go and make Locked Down.

The other way these films relate is that the producer who said to Steve and me in July that we should come up with an idea to shoot this fall — which is a crazy idea — was the same producer [P.J. van Sandwijk] who said to me a year before: "Do you want to shoot a movie in outer space?" Once somebody has said that and Tom Cruise signs on and NASA signs on and SpaceX signs on, whatever this guy says — no matter how crazy it sounds — I'm gonna listen. So when he said this, I listened and Steve listened — and the result is Locked Down.

Locked Down is due to be released on VOD platforms from 11 March.