Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin, Moody (Jackson) and trained in the family business, Anna (Maggie Q) is the world's most skilled contract killer. But when Moody, the man who was like a father to her and taught her everything she needs to know about trust and survival, is brutally killed, Anna vows revenge.
As becomes entangled with the enigmatic killer, whose attraction to her goes way beyond cat and mouse, their confrontation turns deadly, and the loose ends of a life spent killing will weave themselves even tighter.
This action-packed film follows Anna (Maggie Q) who’s been trained for years by her mentor and father-figure Moody (Samuel Jackson) to become one of the world’s premiere assassins.
A devastating incident with her family in Vietnam, back in 1987, has scarred Anna for life. It was also how she met Moody, a professional killer, who discovered her while on one of his dark missions during the war. In an instant, gazing into her vacant eyes, Moody realized this 11-year-old was a different kind of child and decided to take the girl under his wing and develop her as an asset.
Thirty years later we see Anna and Moody working flawlessly as a team to eliminate a local drug lord in Romania. Their approach in handling the task is impeccable; they are certainly on their game.
As usual, after the job is finished, they part, and each continues with their own life. Anna is running an antique book shop in London and Moody is enjoying his hobbies - music and tech gadgets, in his country estate, while waiting for the next assignment. Even though they don’t seem to spend much time together, Anna is there for Moody’s 70th birthday, bringing him apple pastries that she’s made herself. It’s during this celebration that Moody reveals to Anna that he is sick, dying from cancer. He reveals that he has bought the bookshop in her name as a parting gift. Moody also asks Anna to find, through the hacker she works with, the whereabouts of a person by the name of Lucas Hayes.
Then, a sequence of turbulent events begins to unfold. Anna is visited by a mysterious man, Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), who shows a thorough interest in her. The hacker’s place is ransacked, the hacker killed. Anna finds Moody’s dead body in his country house - he’s been assassinated. She gets attacked herself by two killers at the bookshop but manages to escape. Connecting the dots, it all leads back to Moody’s final request - Lucas Hayes. Determined to untangle the plot and get revenge for her mentor’s killing, Anna departs for Vietnam – the place she swore she would never return.
In Vietnam Anna will cross paths again with the man from the shadows, Rembrandt. He turns out to be an essential member of the security team for the same billionaire she has to kill. Anna will experience unimaginable torture and will risk her life numerous times, determined to complete her mission. There will be some unexpected twists along Anna’s journey and tension right until the end, when scenes from her horrific past will be revealed, and we will finally comprehend why she became who she is. And just when it all seems darker than ever, the mysterious Rembrandt will bring a touch of hope with his gentle words to Anna, prompting her to make a life-saving decision.
Written by Richard Wenk, the script came to Millennium Media with director Martin Campbell on board. “An opportunity to work with Martin on a script that I knew was this good, was wonderful!” – says producer Rob Van Norden, Head of Physical Production at Millennium Media.
“Samuel Jackson and Michael Keaton were cast early on in the process - to elevate the script and make a wonderful and exciting movie.” – adds Van Norden.
“We chose them because they are the best!” – says director Martin Campbell, referring to the cast.
Samuel Jackson shares what attracted him to the story of THE PROTEGE : “Ever since I did The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), I’ve always thought women who kick ass are great! Someone who’s beautiful, dangerous and lethal always has an appeal.”
About his character in the film Moody and his relationship with Anna, played by Maggie Q, Jackson says: “I think Moody was a spook in Vietnam, doing undercover ops, when he discovers Anna. Somehow, he pulls her into his world. She had a capacity of doing these violent things and he nurtured that part of her. But he also sent her to these great schools, took care of her – became essentially a father-figure for her. Their relationship is pretty solid. He didn’t stay around pretty much. He only sees her when he needs her. It’s kind of a cold thing, but it worked for them. So, he is that guy – not necessarily a fixer but a get it done guy.”
On how he prepared for the role of Moody, Samuel Jackson shares: “I’ve watched movies like this my whole life. You tie a piece of one character you’ve seen in a movie, and another character, and you come up with this person. So, you watch enough movies about people like this. You don’t necessarily have to go to spy school or killer school to do it. For me, I just couple together pieces of guys that I’ve seen in different movies. Some are American, mostly Korean and Chinese films, guys who are cool assassins, older British guys undercover. And you create a whole person from that. You show up and hope it works!”
On working with Maggie Q on set, Samuel Jackson says: “Maggie was amazing, To see her attack, among the physical things she had to do, she also had a psychological baggage to carry, which was great to watch.”
Maggie Q adds: “It’s a really beautiful connection they have. And I’m so glad it was Sam because we had a really natural flow which made time on set a lot easier. It’s a nice balance - you have someone that Anna looks up to, someone who raised her but also someone she is so comfortable with, that she is an open book to. There is a friendship between them.”
Director Martin Campbell adds: “Maggie Q is a certain part Vietnamese, she is also a very good martial arts fighter.”
On working with Michael Keaton, Maggie Q says: “Michael Keaton is a legend. What I loved about our characters’ chemistry in the movie is that they are playing a game of wits. She is highly intelligent and so is he. I don’t think that he’s ever found his match in the way he does with her. That is sort of the crux of their relationship. It’s who is going to get ahead of the other. And how are they going to do it. And they both know that they are capable of it. It’s like constant game and you never really know what is gonna happen with them. Up to the last second you don’t know who’s gonna make what decision.”
“Now I have my Robert Patrick moment where I can say that I was in a scene with Robert Patrick!” – Sam Jackson
Helming the project is Martin Campbell.
“Martin is a tyrant on set in the best possible way. He is old-school with tremendous amount of experience, enormously decisive, he is a commander.” – says producer Van Norden
“Martin likes the mechanics of what’s going on. He works very hard and making sure that the mechanical aspects of what’s happening in a scene are perfect. So, when you move the camera from here to there, the emotional arc of what we are doing fits like perfectly in the frame. He trusts the actors a lot to bring what we bring.” – says Samuel Jackson.
Maggie Q shares that when they pitched the project to her she heard the name of Martin Campbell and that was “the magic word.” In the action genre, that is what she was looking for. The actress says that it’s nice when a director is concerned about the chemistry between the actors and she liked very much that they did a lot of rehearsals with Martin Campbell before the shooting.
Maggie Q adds that she didn’t expect Martin Campbell to care so much about the characters’ relationships. “He was so particular about how we handle these relationships.”
“I very much like to work with Martin Campbell.” – says Romanian line producer Popescu. “He is very precise and as a producer you understand very well what you have to provide and there is no room for a discussion.”
According to producer Rob Van Norden they chose Romania as a main shooting destination first because of the tax credit, and second – the capital Bucharest is a major international city and had locations that really worked for the script. All the interiors were also done in Bucharest.
Director Martin Campbell says he especially liked the forests, lakes and parks of Romania as well as that he found the local crews very hard-working.
One of the most interesting locations in Romania was The “Ceauşescu Mansion” – that served for a quarter of a century (1965-1989) as the private residence of Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu and his family.
Actor Tudor Chirila (playing local detective Petru in the movie) comments that shooting at the ex-communist leader mansion was an intense experience for the Romanian actors. Chaushesko had marked in a tragic way their lives, and they were still haunted by what happened 50 years ago in Romania, with their wounds still not healed.
“During the regime, we didn’t know where the palace was situated. I’m here for the first time! Who would have thought we will be filming by Ceausescu’s pool one day!” – says actor Tudor Chirila.
Another location in Romania to mention was a textile factory, built in 1930 and pretty run down. The production used the big area to build sets. The line producer Gabriel Popescu says they had to recreate a street from Vietnam there.
“Imagine 60 scooters on set, 5-6 period cars, 200 extras – Asian looking, which were not easy to find in Bucharest, costumes, hats, brought from Vietnam, in order to recreate a busy street in Asia in year 1987. All of this done in Romania in January, when we usually have a lot of snow!” – tells Popescu.
Fortunately, the production was lucky with the weather and they succeeded in capturing some of their Vietnam scenes before the snowfall. Of course they also had to reschedule some of the planned shoots due to the weather conditions.
At the former royal Snagov Palace, situated on the shore of Lake Snagov, they shot the scenes at the billionaire’s house in Vietnam.
An international crew of around 200 professionals, coming from the local pool of talents as well as Bulgaria, the US, France, Spain, Germany, the UK, Canada, South Africa, Thailand, even Kazahstan, worked throughout the filming in Romania.
Thailand and the UK (London) were also used for shooting some establishing shots. It was in London where the production wrapped, one day before the first big lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
THE PROTEGE was the last film shooting in Europe (UK) before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown happened. They went right to the edge. Then they came back to Nu Boyana Film Studios in Bulgaria to finish the movie.
The post production side in pandemic lockdown circumstances has moved along mostly seamlessly. Outside of things like ADR and a little bit of travel, the actual work and workflow for the most part remained unchanged. The team had to be inventive at times but it was impressive how on the post side of things everyone geared up and rolled out really well.
For their first review session in the spring of 2020 the team set up a system where the director was in Sofia, Bulgaria, the sound mixers were in Canada and they were running this system remotely to work on the project in the “new normal” post Covid environment.