Writer: Tim Basham
Emergent: Lexi Alexander
Birthplace: Mannheim, Germany
Favorite singer/songwriter: Damien Rice
Favorite book: Think Positive by Joseph Murphy
Favorite director: Martin Scorsese
Favorite film: Raging Bull
Favorite place to do a transatlantic phone interview: An English Pub while having a pint.
“You get me honest.”
Major studios can’t really be blamed for asking Lexi Alexander to direct an action film. After all, the violence of professional boxing served as the backdrop for her Oscar-nominated short Johnny Flynton. And her first full-length feature, Green Street Hooligans, deals with the senseless violence between English soccer fans. Added to the fact that Alexander was once a World Karate and Kickboxing Champion and taught Marines hand-to-hand combat, the studio’s choice appears logical. But don’t tell that to Alexander.
“I’m not really the kind of girl that goes for action films,” explains the 31-year-old director who lists Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer as two of her favorites—films that deal more with emotion than motion. “Exactly,” confirms Alexander. “That’s the kind of person I am.”
Perhaps belying her intended persona is her appreciation of films by Martin Scorsese, not exactly known for warm-and-fuzzy features, and whose influence is evident in the graphic fight scenes of Alexander’s Hooligans. Nonetheless, Hooligans is also about family, friendship and loyalty—emotional ties frequently played out in Scorsese films.
A student of positive thinking (her mother is a motivational coach), Alexander uses visualization techniques to achieve her goals, as she did at age nineteen when winning the International Karate Championship in California. She pursued acting at the urging of fellow martial-arts actor Chuck Norris, who sponsored her green card. Though seen as a potential female version of Jean-Claude Van Damme, years of drama school led her down an alternate career path.
“There was a choice of being a director who’s more familiar with the technicality of doing a movie, like learning about the camera and filters and setup, or being a director who can actually talk to actors,” says Alexander. “And I always wanted to be an actor’s director.”
That became clear to Elijah Wood who, in Hooligans, plays a Yankee in West Ham. His character evolves from a weak, mild-mannered American into a heroic member of the team’s club. Wood credits Alexander for helping him make the transition realistic. She, in turn, felt she had an actor “who wasn’t afraid to look like an ass in the beginning of the film.”
“A lot of actors would have screamed if I would have told them you’re going to stand there and say ‘I don’t know how to fight,’” says Alexander. “Elijah is a very professional actor.”
But her visions and decisions haven’t always been enthusiastically received, as when she chose relatively unknown actor Charlie Hunnam (Nicholas Nickleby, Queer As Folk) for Hooligans’ pivotal role of Pete, the club’s leader.
“I cast him within hours of meeting him, and I got so much shit for it,” explains Alexander. “He’s the kind of guy you cannot help but love. And that was really important for this film.” Festival audiences and critics agreed, praising Hunnam’s performance.
Alexander is currently working on her second feature, Life ‘N’ Lyrics in London and has already signed on for her third feature, Disney’s Labor Day. “[Labor Day] has a great, classic love story,” she says before adding, “It’s set into a contemporary action film.”
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