Director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard, an action flick with themes of immortality, ethics around big pharma and capitalism, and a centuries-old love story between two men, has been all the rage since it dropped on Netflix last week.
The Charlize Theron-starrer based on Greg Rucka’s graphic novel about immortal warriors who use their powers for good has resonated with audiences and is currently number 1 on the streaming service. In it, Theron plays the eldest of the warriors, Andromache of Scythia, or Andy for short. World-weary and exhausted from fighting the same types of ethical battles for centuries with little to no change, Andy is wary of her immortality when a new member of the Old Guard is discovered in Nile (KiKi Lane), a marine based in Afghanistan who miraculously recovers from having her throat slit.
Once Nile is pulled into the fray, Andy takes on a mentorship role with the unwilling young immortal as they battle Merrick (Harry Melling), a wicked big pharma entrepreneur, and Copley (Chewitel Ejiofor), the man with questionable ethics who sends the warriors into a trap so that he can study and duplicate their regenerative powers.
The group of warriors seeking to change the world for the better includes Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), a French soldier who fought under Napoleon; Joe (Marwan Kenzari), a Muslim warrior from the Crusades; and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), a Christian soldier in the Crusades who becomes Joe’s one true love for several hundred years.
The groundbreaking action flick not only depicts love between men, but there’s also a woman from Andy’s past with whom she shared a deep connection, although the nature of their relationship was not completely unpacked in the film, which has rumors of a sequel. Not incidentally, however, Andy appears to transcend gender, at least in this century.
The cast of The Old Guard spoke with The Advocate about the many aspects of the film, including big pharma, queer love, and kicking ass.
Theron touched on the timeliness of The Old Guard’s release during the pandemic and hopelessness around history repeating itself.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t think this film would be as timely as it actually turned out to be. There is a sadness, I think, and a frustration that you can feel right now in our culture, which is, why do we keep making the same mistakes and why can we not just change things?” Theron said.
“If nothing changes, then what’s the point? Do you just give up? And Andy is a character in this story, especially in the first act, she’s definitely asking those questions. She’s lost faith in herself in humanity. And rightly so,” she added. “The world can be a really messy and an ugly place. But I think the story is a good one for now. There’s so much happening. It’s complicated. We’re still going through a pandemic, and now with all of the social and racial injustice that we’re trying to resolve, and there’s so much passion behind it.”
Lane, who previously starred in If Beale Street Could Talk, was excited to work with Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, Beyond the Lights) and Theron on her first action movie.
“Even before I read the graphic novel, just knowing that I would have the opportunity to work with Charlize and work with her in this genre where she has made such huge strides for representation of women in action,” Lane said. “That definitely made me so much more excited to be a part of the project.”
“I’ve always wanted to do action because I’m just all about not being put into any type of box. I want to do all types of genres of film,” she said. “But it was great to kick it off with Charlize, kick it off with Gina, and the wonderful cast that we got to work with. And really acquiring some dope skills. Like, now I really can box. Now I really can handle a weapon and all of that.”
Watch the interview with Theron and Lane below.
Meanwhile, Kenzari and Marinelli discussed the power of playing centuries-old lovers.
“I really like, for instance, in Homer’s work, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus,” Kenzari said, giving historical context to the love story between Joe and Nicky.
“There’s this natural energy between these characters that I really loved. And since they’ve been together for so long, their relationship is so deep, and it goes further than anyone can imagine. To have each other for that amount of time.”
There’s a point in the film when Joe and Nicky are referred to as “boyfriends” and Joe delivers a speech about their epic love:
“He’s not my boyfriend. This man is more to me than you can dream. He’s the moon when I’m lost in darkness and warmth when I shiver in cold. And his kiss still thrills me even after a millennium. His heart overflows with a kindness of which this world is not worthy. I love this man beyond measure and reason. He’s not my boyfriend. He is all, and he is more.”
It was that speech that profoundly spoke to Marinelli.
“I really fell in love with their story and with how passionate they are. And, of course, the first time I read the monologue of Joe I found all the answers I needed,” Marinelli said. “One of the big questions was how is love after so many years? And that’s the answer.”
Watch Kenzari, Marinelli, and Schoenaerts below.
Ejiofor and Melling spoke about how they dove into the ethics around big pharma to build their characters.
"For me, it was important to get a sense of what these pharmaceutical companies were doing, researching certain characters that have maybe abused the system, what they did. All of that was the foundation from which to build the character,” Melling said. “Maybe they start off for a good reason and then it goes pear-shaped further down the line.”
It turns out that Ejiofor’s Copley began his quest for immortality with good reason, but eventually lost the thread.
“With any of these conversations, really, they relate to our systems. Our system of capitalism and how that can encourage amazing things and great progress,” Ejiofor said. “But also, can encourage all of this avarice and this destructive toxicity surrounding money and financializing all of these issues ad infinitum and why that causes all of this destruction overall.”
The characters cross all of these lines of morality, ethics, and so on,” he added. “That’s why when you’re dealing with big pharma, when you’re dealing with anything to do with people’s health and sense of well-being, and people are so vulnerable in those areas, you have to be extremely careful that people aren’t able to take advantage of those natural human fears.”
Watch Ejiofor and Melling below.