B orn March 4, 1973, in Fremont, CA; son of Loren and Janice Wiseman; married Kate Beckinsale (an actress), May 9, 2004.
B egan career in film industry art departments, working on props for Stargate, 1994, Independence Day, 1996, Men in Black, 1997, and Godzilla, 1998; directed television commercials and music videos, c. 1990s; made film directing debut with Underworld, 2003, and followed with Underworld: Revolution, 2006, and Live Free or Die Hard, 2007.
A s a child, Len Wiseman dreamed of directing motion pictures. “Die Hard, Indiana Jones, and Lethal Weapon were the movies that really kicked it off for me in high school,” Wiseman told the Evening Standard’s Nick Curtis. “I saw a making of Raiders of the Lost Ark documentary and thought: ‘Man, that’s the job I want to do.’” Wiseman’s dream came true in 2003 when he made his directing debut with the Gothic action-horror-flick Underworld. The film proved moderately successful and Wiseman was tapped to direct 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment of the fan-favorite Bruce Willis action-hero franchise.
Born March 4, 1973, in Fremont, California, to Loren and Janice Wiseman, the future film director spent his childhood attached to the family’s video camera, filming the neighborhood kids in various plot scenarios he invented. “He would videotape himself jumping off the roof or direct his friends in some play,” Wiseman’s mother told the Tri-Valley Herald’s Tom Anderson. Wiseman’s other childhood passion involved art, and he ended up drawing storyboards for films before earning a spot in the director’s chair.
In 1988, Wiseman was just a teenager when the first Die Hard movie hit theaters. It featured Willis in the role of John McClane, a policeman who becomes a reluctant hero when he is forced to deal with a hostage situation on the 30th floor of a Los Angeles office building. “I was obsessed with Die Hard in high school,” Wiseman told Susan King of the Los Angeles Times. “The action was amazing, and the relationship between the good guys was like nothing else I had seen before.” The teenage Wiseman could not get the action-packed thriller out of his head. After seeing the film, he shot his own backyard version starring his friends. With the help of his father, Wiseman even made a battery-powered, blood-squirting explosive vest to enhance the project.
At 18, Wiseman helped with props for a movie filmed at the Marin County Renaissance Festival.
Afterward, he was asked to help the art department with props for 1994’s Stargate. Wiseman did similar work for the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day and also appeared briefly as an extra in the film’s final battle scene. More prop work followed with 1997’s Men in Black and 1998’s Godzilla. Despite the steady work, Wiseman really wanted to direct films—not make props for them. To gain some directing experience, Wiseman left the movie world and began working with television commercials and music videos. He directed a number of videos, including some for heavy metal rockers Megadeth and the R&B group En Vogue.
Meanwhile, Wiseman continued courting Hollywood, hoping to break into the industry as a director. To market himself, Wiseman had his agent solicit reels of his work. Eventually, Wiseman’s work caught the eye of Dimension Films, which pitched a proposal to Wiseman, asking him to create a were-wolf film. “I wasn’t too thrilled about a werewolf film in general,” Wiseman told Patrick Day in an article for the Chicago Tribune. “It had a bit of a B movie sounding quality to it. We didn’t want it to be a local sheriff in some forest hunting down mysterious killings and that kind of thing.” Wiseman bounced the idea off his friends—actor-screenwriter Danny McBride and actor-stuntman Kevin Grevioux. Grevioux suggested it might be possible to make a werewolf film that was a mix of action-thriller Blade Runner and the fantasy-horror The Howling. Grevioux also suggested a Romeo and Juliet caveat—except it would involve a werewolf and a vampire.
Dimension eventually dropped the idea after hiring another director, Wes Craven, to create a horror flick. Wiseman, Grevioux, and McBride, however, continued working on the concept and pitched it to Lakeshore Entertainment. The company’s president, Gary Lucchesi, told Day that the detailed artwork that accompanied the proposal helped cement the deal. “The script arrived with drawings of what the werewolves and vampires were going to look like,” Lucchesi said. “So we already saw there was a world that was unique that was going to be created along with the story. You never thought cheesy. You thought, ‘This is really cool. This is artistic.’” Wise-man himself had rendered the 12 production drawings that went along with the script.
McBride penned the screenplay, and Wiseman directed the eventual film, which they titled Underworld. It opened in 2003. The story focused on a vampire warrior named Selene, played by British actress Kate Beckinsale, who had made a name for herself playing a nurse in 2001’s Pearl Harbor. Selene hunts—and kills—werewolves, believing they are responsible for the death of her family members. Over the course of Underworld, Selene falls for a wereman, played by Scott Speedman of Felicity fame.
The movie received fairly mediocre reviews. Film critics did not care for it, although it gained a bit of a following among fans of the horror genre. Writing in the Orange County Register, film critic Craig Out-hier complained about the actors’ performances. “We feel the suspense and tension in Underworld but miss the more delicate emotions, especially in regard to the central love story, which ends more like a chaste business arrangement than a taboo-shattering romance.” Though not a box-office smash, the movie proved moderately successful. It took in $51.9 million at the domestic box office, but only cost $22 million to make.
In May of 2004—less than a year after the film was released—Wiseman married Beckinsale, the leather-clad star of the film. Beckinsale already had a five-year-old daughter, Lily, with actor Michael Sheen, who also starred in the film. When Wiseman followed with a sequel, 2006’s Underworld: Evolution, he cast Lily in the role of playing Selene as a child.
Underworld: Evolution included more action shots than the original and was the top box-office draw its opening weekend, taking in $27.6 million in ticket sales. After the opening-weekend hype, however, the movie faded to the background. Writing in Film Journal International, Ethan Alter rebuked the film for its murky, hard-to-follow plotline. He also criticized Wiseman and screenwriter McBride for their inability to get a handle on the various characters and conflicts involved in the story. “The history of this universe is constantly changing, which means that the narrative often comes to a dead stop as the characters stand around trying and failing to make sense of each new revelation.”
Although his Underworld flicks failed to garner the attention Wiseman hoped for, 20th Century Fox sensed his potential and asked Wiseman to direct 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard sequel. Wiseman was a relative newcomer to the field of directing, yet veteran actor Willis felt comfortable working with him. “Even before I met Len, before we sat down to talk about doing the film, my daughter, Scout, turned me on to Underworld,” Willis told the New York Post’s Reed Tucker. “We sat up one night watching it and I thought it was great.”
For Wiseman, it was a dream come true. Twenty years earlier, he had mimicked the original film’s action sequences in his own yard, filming them with a camcorder. Now, he was being offered the chance to adapt it for the big screen. When Baltimore Sun writer Chris Kaltenbach asked Wiseman if he was nervous about taking on the project, he replied, “Of course. It’s a huge franchise, and the first film was such a classic to so many people. But, you’ve only got one life. It was like, ‘What am I in this industry for, anyway, if not to try to have some fun and just be part of a franchise that was so important to me growing up?’ I thought, ‘I can’t pass that up. It’s Die Hard. How many times does an opportunity like that come along?’”
Live Free or Die Hard finds the reluctant hero John McClane battling a vengeful computer hacker named Thomas Gabriel—played by Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant’s character is trying to cripple the United States by taking over various computer systems that control important infrastructures, such as those that control power, defense, and banking systems. Besides dealing with hackers, McClane is also involved in a secondary storyline that involves a spat with his college-age daughter, Lucy.
Instead of relying on digital graphics, Wiseman chose to shoot the film old-school style, using live-action shots instead of special effects. In one scene, McClane’s car flies across the roadway and smacks a concrete divider, which in turn launches the car into the air, where it hits a hovering helicopter. Mc-Clane bails along the way. Instead of using computers, Wiseman insisted on shooting the sequence in real time, with real props, so the flavor of the excitement would not be lost.
“As complicated as that scene looks, it was more about testing and timing,” Wiseman told the New York Post. “We tested it out in a parking lot. We suspended another car by a crane (because we didn’t have another helicopter), then measured out the distance of the jump. Then we lined it up on set. We got it in one take.” Another scene finds Willis involved in a fistfight inside an SUV that has crashed into an elevator shaft, dangling by cables. To shoot the scene, a five-story elevator shaft was constructed. Despite all of the stunt work, Willis got by with just 43 stitches to his head over the course of making the film.
Unlike the previous installments, Live Free or Die Hard was rated PG-13 instead of R. Some fans did not like the change and missed McClane’s sharp, foul-mouthed tongue. Overall, though, the film was warmly received. Writing in Cinematical, Erik Davis praised Wiseman for knowing how to shoot an action sequence. He called the movie a “fun ride,” but lamented the overuse of explosive set pieces and the fact that the aging McClane was able to survive such an implausible number of explosions and blows to the body. Despite his criticism, Davis said the movie “is not a bad film; it’s the film we expected—a sequel punched up to appeal to our Costco-sized addictions.”
Live Free or Die Hard, produced on a budget of $110 million, brought in $378 million worldwide. Each of Wiseman’s films has earned more than it cost to make. As such, Wiseman should have no trouble getting studios to finance his future projects. After Wiseman’s Die Hard sequel was released, he was thinking about directing a superhero movie. He was also reviewing a sci-fi script called Shell Game, which he had started on before Underworld.
Baltimore Sun, June 29, 2007, p. 3C.
Chicago Tribune, September 15, 2003, p. 3 (Tempo).
Evening Standard (London, England), July 5, 2007, p. 32A.
Film Journal International, March 2006, p. 41.
Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2007, p. E3.
New York Post, June 24, 2007, p. 40.
Orange County Register, September 19, 2003, p. D (Show).
Tri-Valley Herald (Pleasanton, CA), September 7, 2003.
“Review: Live Free or Die Hard—Erik’s Review,” Cinematical,http://www.cinematical.com/2007/06/27/review-live-free-or-diehard-eriks-review/ (November 19, 2007).