M.J. Bassett is passionate about conservation as she is in filmmaking., which is why she was able to blend the two in his latest action-adventure thriller Endangered Species. Having come a long way from her near 20-years of experience behind the camera, I had a chance to talk to the director and writer about how she was able to weather the pandemic shooting the film in Africa, how she got her cast together and working on the Alien franchise is her dream project. "I've been passionate about nature and conservation since I was a little kid," Bassett said. "It's a natural progression for me to keep that as a narrative theme for myself in my work. I always wanted to be a wildlife vet serving as a veterinary assistant in my teenage years. I've also worked in zoos and run a wildlife hospital."
How Bassett's Message of Conservation Goes in Her Films Like Endangered Species
Bassett recalled the time also speaking about the subject on TV in her youth. As she started filmmaking, she started integrating conservation themes in her films like her previous one in the Megan Fox-starred Rogue, explaining the need for balance "Endangered Species is hopefully one of a series of movies which I have a genre base of being an action-adventure movie while not being preachy about its environmental themes. First and foremost, the movie should be entertaining. The message is that for an audience to take if they want them. I feel like I have an opportunity to make something and at least have a dialog." The film follows a family in a safari trip-gone-wrong as after a run-in with a rhino, they have to battle the local and try to survive its dangers from local wildlife, weather to poachers. "With the script that Paul Chronnell wrote, I bought the rights to it, and I kept the idea and rewrote everything with my daughter [Isabell Bassett]. After Rogue, I was looking for another movie to do. I like the idea of a kind of safari-gone-wrong. I rewrote the script according to what I wanted. I wanted to challenge and delve into that the center of the family dynamic and deal with a few of those issues, as well as doing the kind of conservation stuff. The movie was supposed to be shot in South Africa, but because of COVID, we had to move the location to Kenya. It was kind of a wonderful and happy accident because the country's extraordinary. I've always wanted to go, that that became a kind of bucket list project for me."
When it came to assembling the cast, it became a tricky affair for Bassett. "The world is so different because of COVID," she said. "It wasn't just a question of finding actors who wanted to be in the movies. It was finding those who were prepared to travel or work during that crazy time when COVID was at its height. There was no vaccine, and nobody was quite sure what to do." When it came to her film's main lead, one came to mind in an against-type setting. "Philip Winchester is my go-to guy," she said. "He's gone to so many projects, a great friend, and a terrific actor. I like the idea of doing something different from his normal action hero roles."
Casting Jack's (Winchester) wife Lauren Halsey turned out to work out better than imagined in Rebecca Romijn. "I liked her work and thought she'd be terrific for it, but I wasn't sure if she could travel," Bassett said. "When I talked to her, she'd already been to Kenya earlier in her modeling career and was to go back. She was happy to go as long as she could bring her family with her two kids, and I hadn't realized she's married to [actor] Jerry O'Connell. He liked the script and wanted to be in it as well. I got a perfect package." The director explained how much of a life-changing experience traveling to the content can be. "Having Jerry never going to be Africa before or Kenya was very profoundly changed by the place," she continued. "Some African countries have that effect when we go there, and you feel really connected to a primal place."
Rounding out the cast, everything just fell into place, starting with her daughter. "Isabel was written in there," Bassett explained. "She knew that going into the role, she's going to be cheap, and she's a really good actress. The great Chris Fisher auditioned for me when I was doing stuff in South Africa. Getting him up into Kenya was a challenge because of traveling. Michael Johnston never left America, and his first experience with international travel was going to Kenya. It was quite a profound thing for him too. Once we put the team together, we're basically isolated out in the wilderness. The movie is very small in everything with crew and cast, and it was designed to exist in this cozy world. We went out to the wilds of the Kenyan national parks, got on, and made the movie." Lionsgate's Endangered Species is available in select theaters, on Apple TV+ and everywhere you rent movies on May 28th and available on Blu-ray and DVD on June 1st.