Real-life bike fiends gave 'Premium Rush' the gritty mojo of NYC's mean streets
- Last Updated: 2:21 PM, August 19, 2012
- Posted: 10:07 PM, August 18, 2012
When you’re shooting a big-budget action movie and your leading man gets sent headlong into a car window and starts gushing blood, it’d normally be hard to find a silver lining in it. When that happened to Joseph Gordon-Levitt while shooting a scene for “Premium Rush” in Midtown, though, it was more like method acting.
In the movie, out Wednesday, Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, an adrenaline junkie and hot-shot New York City bike messenger who’s chased through the streets of Manhattan by a renegade cop looking to intercept a delivery. And, as anyone who’s seen a bike messenger flying through traffic might guess, it’s a job where the occasional crack-up is all part of a day’s work. So when an errant driver sent Gordon-Levitt off course and into a taxi’s rear window, resulting in 31 stitches to his forearm, it was something of a badge of authenticity.
“Everyone on the set was freaking out — the guy’s insured for, like, $9 billion dollars — but he was pumped that it happened, because it’s the real s - - t,” says Kevin “Squid” Bolger, a veteran city messenger who served as a technical consultant on the film.
Bolger was one of many city messengers who worked on the thriller, recruited by the producers and director David Koepp to add a shot of authenticity to the movie — the first big-budget picture to feature bike messengers since Kevin Bacon played one in “Quicksilver” 26 years ago. They included consultants, stunt doubles to perform the pulse-spiking chase scenes, actors in bit parts and dozens of extras, who informed everything from the setup of the actors’ bikes to the costumes and the dialog.
Koepp, an Upper West Sider who’s written blockbusters such as “Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Spider-Man,” reached out to messengers early in the production, after knocking out the first draft of his script.
Prior to that, he had the same limited knowledge of bike messengers that plenty of city dwellers have, shaped by the occasional run-in when, Koepp says, “They almost hit you, and you wonder, what is the deal with those jerks?”
But he set out to school himself. He hit the Web, finding a trove of videos by “people who are interested in putting a camera on their bike helmet and showing you what it’s like out there, which is absolutely fascinating.” He started asking around at bike shops and courier companies. It was inevitable that fingers would point to Bolger, a 20-year veteran who’s something of a legend among messengers in New York City and beyond, due both to his street skills and the length of his tenure in a job where fast burnout is the rule.