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‘Man on a Ledge’ begins with an unidentified man in a business suit, coming out of New York City’s subway and getting a room at an upscale hotel in midtown and ordering an ostentatious meal, complete with champagne and lobster. He then writes a note and steps out onto the ledge of his hotel room. To the audience this appears to be a desperate man, perhaps answering a desolate economy with the only solution he knows: ending it.
“There’s something gripping about the idea of a man on a ledge,” says the movie’s producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. “Is he going to jump? Is he not gonna jump? And you know we talked to a lot of veteran cops and people who have been in this situation. And they say in general the people down below about are 50/50 for them to jump or not jump, which is kind of sick and yet I guess it is human nature.
I think it’s what attracted us to the script is that impending catastrophe and in this case we wanted to have this very strong interactivity between the ledge and what’s going on there.”
Executive Producer David Ready adds, “it really had a romantic quality to it. A redemption story of a guy who’s putting it all on the line in one day to get his life back. And so it just sort of hit all the buttons, for me and for the group.” Cut to a prison scene where we again meet our “jumper,” Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) once a New York City police officer now a convict, sentenced to 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
Cassidy admits to being suicidal to the prison’s shrink and unable to handle his time for the crime for which he was found guilty of. While doing a moonlighting gig, escorting the rare and expensive Monarch Diamond, it is stolen and businessman David Englander (Ed Harris) frames Cassidy for its disappearance, putting him behind bars for 25 years and allowing Englander to collect the insurance on the diamond.
Englander’s motto, di Bonaventura says, is “if somebody takes something from you, you take more back, ‘because that’s America.’” Cassidy is furloughed to attend his father’s funeral where an elaborate escape plan and heart pounding chase scene ensue, bringing us back to the ledge. “Cassidy,” di Bonaventura explains, “has an agenda, which is to prove that he was framed, and as an audience member, you still believe that maybe he is suicidal.”
Explains Ready, “it’s a prison escape that turns into a heist movie that sort of results in a love story.” Worthington agrees, “it’s got something that is different to other action movies…I get to stay still and act for a bit, not just go around yelling.”
The love story comes into play through the relationship between Cassidy and NYPD negotiator, Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) whom Cassidy asks for by name. Mercer is a controversial figure within the police force, having recently lost a jumper who was one of their own. “Cassidy chooses Mercer,” explains di Bonaventura, “because he feels that she’ll understand what has happened to him. He was ostracized for something he didn’t do, as she was for something she had no control over.”
Man On A Ledge was a spec script written by Pablo F. Fenjves that Lorenzo di Bonaventura hoped to option while he was the president of Warner Bros. He later acquired it under the di Bonaventura Pictures umbrella. As Mark Vahradian further explains, “the script got stuck along the way at MGM Studios, where they asked to take it out.
It then went to Paramount and was set up at Paramount Vantage. Three months later Paramount Vantage went out of business and so the script was dead again.” di Bonaventura and Vahradian didn’t give up on it, though. They had just finished Red with Summit Entertainment, so they sent the studio the script. “They fell in love with it,” says Vahradian. Suddenly there was interest from Sam Worthington, and Summit bought it that same week. “From there it went very, very fast,” explains Vahradian.
Director Asger Leth, whose background is in documentaries, was brought on to steer Man on a Ledge as his first feature film. It’s a decision the producers were especially excited about because the qualities he’d used to tell real-life stories were what they were after. Explains Vahradian, “what Asger brought was that awareness of details that you have to have as a documentary filmmaker. You have to be able to pick out what’s interesting in this grand gigantic frame of reality and move there.”
di Bonaventura describes Leth as gutsy, an attribute one would probably want from a director who was going to film a 14-inch ledge, 225 feet above midtown Manhattan. Leth’s fearlessness was made initially apparent at his first meeting with di Bonaventura. As Leth recalls, “I went to meet with him about another script, but on the way there I was thinking, ‘he’s also got that other script that I really like, that I’ve been talking to my agent about for a while.’
So I went there and said, ‘Lorenzo I know we’re having a meeting about this script, but that other script, Man On A Ledge, I read that. I really like that.’” di Bonaventura was impressed by Leth’s willingness to tackle a big entertainment movie as his first film. “He’s not risk averse,” says the producer. “And that’s a great thing, to find somebody like that.
So much is unfamiliar that you want somebody who’s gutsy. Also, stylistically, doing documentaries is really interesting, so we were hoping to bring that style and gutsiness to our movie.” Within a week of that first powwow, Leth and di Bonaventura were meeting with Summit and Sam Worthington. “Worthington had a really short calendar,” Leth explains, and it was decided if they were going to do this, they had to get started immediately.
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