The Commando Director Asif Akbar on Inspiration Behind Film & Casting

PTSD is a subject near and dear to director Asif Akbar tackling the subject in a few films, including his latest action thriller in The Commando. Conceiving the idea with his writing partners Al Bravo and Koji Steven Sakai, he wanted to focus on a home invasion story, in this case, a DEA agent (Michael Jai White) who returns from a botched mission and must now protect his family from a recently freed convict (Mickey Rourke) and his henchman as they come after their stash of millions inside the agent's home. I spoke with Akbar about how the project together, casting, and the most challenging sequence he had to film.

The Commando: Michael Jai White Talks Action Film, PTSD & Co-Stars
Michael Jai White in The Commando (2022). Image courtesy of Saban Films

I know a lot of friends and family that are veterans and I made a couple of other projects that dealt with veterans and their PTSD. I made a film called Smoke Filled Lungs back in 2015 that dealt heavily with soldiers, PTSD, drug use, prescription drug use, and how that also affects their families. So that subject matter has been pretty close to home for me, and I guess it's not just PTSD with soldiers, but law enforcement, doctors, anybody with any profession where they could be traumatized and how that stays with them and those around them.

That was a big idea that we wanted to implement into our hero and give him a vulnerability that's real and something that you know a lot of people can relate to, especially in today's society. It's such a big issue and then that leads to suicide that leads to all kinds of abuse like drug use, harming family members, or whatnot. We wanted to kind of implement some of those real life battles that a lot of people in our society are facing, and we wanted to touch up on that. At the same time, tell this home invasion story with some great actors. And hopefully, we were able to entertain people and also shed some light on some of these issues.

The Commando Director Asif Akbar on Inspiration Behind Film & Casting
Mickey Rourke and Michael Jai White in The Commando (2022). Image courtesy of Saban Films

Akbar saw potential in White able to show a layered character in James Baker when he sought him out. "Michael was the first actor we approached as an action legend I wanted for the film, and at the same time, I wanted to find someone who could carry a deep emotional character," he said. "While we're used to seeing Michael Jai White kicking ass, fighting, and being in a full-throttle action movie, but this one actually allows him to open up as an actor more with more range. You know, he cries. He laughs. He gets angry. He gets all kinds of emotions you can think of is put into this. At the same time, there are some fights and action that he does very well. When we first approached him, he read the script, and he liked it, and right away, he said he wanted to be a part of it."

The Commando: Jeff Fahey Talks Action Film, Veterans & Lawnmower Man
Jeff Fahey in The Commando (2022). Image courtesy of Saban Films

When searching for his primary antagonist in Johnny, Akbar initially sought out an MMA legend for the role. "With the second casting, we had to then find our villain who was between the two actors," he said. "Originally, we had Randy Couture that we were thinking about for the casting, and he actually had come on board. But at that time, a few weeks before we were starting production, Randy had gotten into an ATV accident. So the doctor said he had about eight weeks to recover. So we had to scramble to kind of recast, and my second choice at that time was Mickey [Rourke], and Mickey was also attached to one of my other films. We were supposed to go into production at that time, but because of COVID, it had delayed. I called him up and got him the script. He liked it and so decided to come on board, and that completed our two major castings that we needed to move forward."

The Commando: Michael Jai White on Action Thriller, PTSD & Co-Stars
Courtesy of Saban Films

The other cast members came together as Akbar was filming in New Mexico, finding Brendan Fehr and Cowboy Cerrone, who happen to be local to the area. The most challenging sequence he recalled was actually the opening scene because he only had one day to shoot during the daylight at a steelyard in downtown Albuquerque. "That was definitely a challenge, but we got through it, and it looks great, and I'm glad we pulled it off." Saban Films' The Commando, which also stars Jeff Fahey, Aris Mejias, and Gianni Capaldi, comes to theaters, on-demand and digital on January 7.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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