If there’s anything director and writer John Swab has learned in his seven years of Hollywood is how invaluable loyalty is and to follow your creative dreams. I spoke to Swab about his latest film Ida Red, its inspiration, casting, and carving his own path in the industry. The film centers on Ida “Red” Walker (Melissa Leo), who may not survive her terminal illness while incarcerated for armed robbery. She turns to her son, Wyatt (Josh Hartnett), for one last job and a chance to regain her freedom.
“My very close friend and partner in these things is my producer Jeremy Rosen,” Swab said. “When we got done with Body Brokers (2021) the year before we shot this, we both kind of wanted to try our hand at a film that is as an homage to a lot of the films that inspired us to get into making movies like crime films of the past like Heat (1995), Thief (1981), Straight Time (1978), or Hardcore (1979), etc.”
When it came to writing Ida Red, Swab already had in Leo in the title role and Frank Grillo as Dallas Walker in mind to start. “I tried to reverse engineer, and I had worked with Frank and Melissa before. I wrote Dallas for Frank, and I wrote Ida for Melissa. It wasn’t so much like we cast it after it was written. I very clearly went into this with the intention of having them play those roles. Then Josh was kind of came into the picture later, unexpectedly. Jeremy and his agent have a good relationship, and they thought it might be a good idea for him to explain why it’s so, and we made it happen.”
Some of the film’s inspiration came in part from Swab’s own upbringing in Oklahoma. “Most of the locations are places that I had frequented when I was a kid and were visually kind of stuck with me is something that might be cinematic one day,” he said. “That definitely bled in from the external in writing; I plan to shoot in those places as well. Those are kind of things that externally influenced the film.” One of the most challenging aspects of the film wasn’t any specific action scene but rather trying to work in an industry trying to figure itself out during COVID. “We were the first action film to shoot during the pandemic,” he explained.” We shot in July (2020), and there was only a handful of small Lifetime movies that had shot before us. That was really kind of just new territory for everybody.”
Swab did recall having to be creative, having access to a semi-truck for only three hours, and creating multiple different camera angles to shoot an elaborate robbery sequence. As far as the most invaluable lessons he’s learned since starting out in 2014, “Just knowing who to listen to and take advice from,” he said. “I think when I was younger, and I’m not that old now, I’m still learning very much in the time I’ve been working at this learning who to trust and keeping those people close. I’ve done my last five movies with Jeremy, and he’s become a partner in these things, one of my best friends, and we have very similar tastes. He’s one of the few people in my life that I trust creatively as well. That’s really the biggest thing I’ve learned is not to solicit opinions from everybody and be very careful who you ask.”
Saban Films’ Ida Red, which also stars Sofia Hublitz, William Forsythe, Deborah Ann Woll, George Carroll, Mark Boone Junior, and Beau Knapp, is currently in theaters, on-demand, and digital.