For Rogue, co-writer/director MJ Bassett is taking audiences into some beautifully remote areas in Africa where a group of mercenaries, led by Megan Fox, must try and free a group of hostages from a dangerous group of warlords. This mission doesn’t go exactly as planned, and after the team finds themselves stranded in an abandoned lion farm, they must try and survive against the dangerous group of criminals hot on their trails as well as a lioness who has her own agenda.

Earlier this week, Daily Dead had the pleasure of speaking with Bassett about her latest film project, and she discussed how the idea for the film was born out of her own passion for wildlife. Bassett also talked about the challenges she faced during the film’s ambitious shoot in South Africa, her experiences collaborating with Megan Fox and more.

Rogue arrives on Digital and On Demand today, August 28th, and will be headed to Blu-ray and DVD on September 1st, courtesy of Lionsgate.

Let’s start off by talking about the story here. I know you worked on this script with your daughter. What was that process like?

MJ Bassett: I did. So the movie is really a combination of 30 odd years of passion on my part because I wanted to be a wildlife vet as a little kid. That's what I've always wanted to be. I was a veterinary assistant when I was a teenager. It was my part time weekend job. I ran a wildlife hospital. I used to fly Falcons. I appeared on TV in the UK hosting wildlife programs when I was a teenager. I was trained as a wildlife filmmaker and a documentary maker, but I ended up going into making genre movies cause that was the other great passion of mine. I ended up in that space and it's taken me all this time to get to a story where I thought I can do all the genre things I love to do.

So all the running, jumping, chasing, exploding horror stuff, gore, violence, humor, character, and attach you to an idea at the heart of it, a message, which I feel very passionate about. With Rogue, it's about lion farming and how these animals are being exploited and used by the traditional medicine market and being shot for big game hunting and the cubs are being used for tourism. And I just thought, “Okay, lions are a great dangerous presence, but I didn't want to do for lions what Spielberg did for sharks because I don't want to turn them into monsters.” So even in this movie, humans are the ultimate monsters. The lioness is just doing what a lioness would do. So it's that. But in terms of the specific evolution of this story, knowing that's what I wanted to do and I had got the opportunity through a producer friend of mine to make a series of low budget, eco-themed genre pictures for Lionsgate.

That was the idea. She came to me, my producer friend came and said, "I've got these movies. Would you like to executor produce them?" I said, "No, I want to make these movies. I want to write and direct and produce them with you." And she said, "Well, there's no money." I said, "I don't care about the money," because this is I think finally the thing that I'm really passionate about. Not that I haven't been passionate about my work in the past, but this was really finally something I cared about and could bring all my loves together in one place. 

The other thing is you want to surround yourself with family and my daughter Isabel is a very, very gifted young writer. She was 20 years old when we did this and I went to her and said, "Listen, I've got to do this picture. I have an idea for a story. I have an idea for some characters." So I wrote her an outline and said, "Would you give me a first draft of the script? Just from your point of view as a young writer who doesn't really like genre." It's a great gift because I'm a genre fan and she likes straight drama. So she wrote a draft in her own voice and I really liked lots and lots of it. I thought, "Yeah, there's a movie in here." I then took it and then rewrote it for myself, and then she beat me up for the changes I'd made to her story and her script and we went backwards and forwards and then through a process of collaboration and argumentation and all those other things, we got to a script which really worked.

Then, we went out to cast and I started building it firstly with actors that I knew. Philip Winchester has been a friend of mine for a long time and he's amazing in the movie. I had also worked with Jessica Sutton and Brandon Auret and Sisanda Henna. They're all folks I'd known having worked in South Africa a lot, and then the missing piece was Megan Fox.

I don't think there's any secret that Hollywood has done Megan Fox dirty over the years, which has been a real shame for me because I've been a big fan of her work and it's nice to see movies like Jennifer's Body finally getting the appreciation that it deserved. But I love the fact that in this, she's assured, she's bad-ass but she's still human. There are really human moments to the decisions she has to make and the things that she has to do. Can you discuss developing this character with her? I think it's unfortunate some folks will just assume she's the pretty girl from the Transformers movies. She's so much more and I really think Rogue showcases that in a great way.

MJ Bassett: Oh, I'm glad you said that. I really appreciate it and I think she would as well. Honestly, I didn't expect Megan to be right for the movie at all. When we were finished writing the screenplay and it turned out really well, there was a sense of this very little movie that we shot it in 22 days, and the budget was very tiny. I'd say it was probably less than a catering budget for Transformers.

It was tiny and it was always supposed to be that film, but the script turned out great. There was an ambition as to whether or not we could get a bigger name actress. The character's a badass soldier, but also at the beginning of the movie she's emotionally inaccessible. She's closed herself off from her femininity and her maternal instincts in order to exist in this military world. And at the beginning of the story, the male characters are much more concerned for the safety of the hostages than Megan is. Samantha O'Hara, her character just wants the money. But we got the script to Megan and she responded to it immediately. I think she liked the environmental message and she also liked the sense that she thought it could move the needle a little bit on how people thought about her. Not just the Transformers girl, not just the model, not just the pretty mouthpiece. She can be badass. I went to meet her and she was nothing like the person I was expecting to meet. She's a very thoughtful, very considerate quiet woman.

She's a mother, she cares about the planet and she also knows that her energy is quite a young, feminine energy. So the conversation we had is can we find that other gear together for her? Now on a film set, I'm tough. I drive really hard. I expect commitment and physical commitment and I don't give much quarter, and anybody's worked with me before will know that. I will always figure out very quickly whether you're part of my filmmaking family. So I said to Megan, "This is going to be a tough shoot. We've got to train you up. We've got to make sure you're weapons ready, you're tactically aware." And it was a very, very steep learning curve for her, but she got stuck in, she came to Africa and she was surrounded by these big tough dudes who'd all done some kind of military work before, but was absolutely committed and wonderful in it. I'm really, really pleased that not only she's helped my movie by being Megan Fox, but I hope that the experience she had on this film allows her to become somebody else in the public's eye because she deserves that opportunity.

You mentioned you had a really tight shooting schedule, not a ton of budgetary resources to rely on, and there is so much ambition on this screen. Can you talk about some of the challenges that you faced? You have explosions, gunfights, and a big cast, and it all works really well.

MJ Bassett: Oh, I really appreciate you saying that. Any movie's a challenge because it's just a machine with so many moving parts. Now I'm lucky that I've done lots and lots of action in my career. It's a genre I love. I've done horror, I've done action, I've done sci-fi, I've done fantasy, so this is my sweet spot. So putting the movie together, everything I wrote I knew I could do. Not everybody else thought I could do it. The studio was like, "Really? On this budget?" I was like, "No, no, I know how to do this. I know how to do a Jeep chase in a day. I know how to do a gunfight. I know how to do an extraction sequence." Every moving part was something I had done before in some capacity. 

I also knew that I wanted the movie to open with an incredible bang. So, the first 25 minutes of Rogue are pretty much a nonstop sequence. I wanted the audience to be as breathless and exhausted as the characters should be, so when it finally is over you go, "Thank God I can catch up." Because the characters are doing that as well. I wanted to try and make it as experiential as possible, again because I didn't have cranes and helicopters and all those other things that the big toolbox that let's say Michael Bay has. I had no time so I have to be absolutely efficient. 

A couple of things that make that possible is a crew who work at the speed you work at and they knew me. I'd done a show called Strike Back in South Africa for many seasons. I brought those people on board and I did other movies down there, so they knew what they were getting into. When somebody gets into bed with me, they know what they were going to get. Same with the cast. So again, Megan was the unknown quantity. That was the challenge and luckily she completely fit in with everyone else. If she'd been a prima donna or difficult, then that unbalances the whole thing. 

The challenge of making the movie is the time, the physical play. South Africa is a challenging environment when you're shooting out in the wild. We had to jump into rivers. We had to drive through the Bush. We were shooting on a hillside where it was full of iron. It was a ferric hillside so it drew lightning storms down every night into the iron in the ground so at least one hour a night was rained off by these torrential thunderstorms. There are those things which you build into your schedule, but then again, there's no wiggle room because there's no time, so you have to go, "Okay, what's my next choice?" Now my privilege was that I was a writer and a director and the producer of the movie, and I had very little oversight from studio, they let me get on with it. So it's constantly, “How do I solve this new puzzle? How do I preserve the story and the characters while constantly being on my toes accommodating the new things that are happening?” That's exactly what I love to do, so Rogue was the best experience ever for me. I loved it.

I'm a big believer whenever you do something creative, obviously you put something of yourself into that, and I also think you take something away from it as well. Looking back at the experience of making this film, and being able to do something that balances action, but also has a social conscience to it as well, what was your biggest takeaway from working on Rogue?

MJ Bassett: I think for me doing a movie like Rogue where I can, for the first time in my career, really genuinely tell a story that I am passionate about what it's about. Normally, you put a thematic idea in there; it's about redemption or it's about this, and those are all very, very valid, but with Rogue I can say, "This movie's about something." When you finish watching the movie and at the little title card at the end, which explains if you haven't got the message by that point, it really explains it. I can say I care about this. MJ Bassett cares about this. I don't like banding around the word art very much, but I've created something where I can say, "If I've made a difference, if I've allowed people to become aware of something that they weren't aware of before, this movie has done its job."

And as a filmmaker, as a person, I came out as transgender about three years ago, and I'm much more honest about myself. I'm much more honest about the things I care about. This was the first time I've really been able to do a project which is entirely me and my voice. If the movie's good, it's because it's what I wanted it to be, if it's bad, I take all those hits as well. I'm proud of being able to finally say, "I don't have any excuses. This is the film I wanted it to be."

[Photo Credit: Above photos courtesy of Lionsgate.]

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.