[Editor’s note: The following story contains spoilers for “Bullet Train.”]
David Leitch’s “Bullet Train” cast is packed with big names — including Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, Michael Shannon, and Bad Bunny — but it’s a bit of a treat to see it cram in so many major cameos.
Based on the Kōtarō Isaka’s novel “Maria Beetle” (published in English as “Bullet Train”), the film follows Pitt’s “Ladybug,” a trained assassin dispatched for one job on the eponymous bullet train who finds that things are not at all what he expected — namely, the train is populated with other assassins out to kill him.
Along the way, Pitt’s Ladybug comes into contact with friends, foes, and a random dude. “Bullet Train” producer Kelly McCormick told IndieWire how each cameo came together.
[One more time: The following story contains spoilers for “Bullet Train.”]
How random is Channing Tatum’s recurring role in “Bullet Train”? He’s officially billed as “Random Passenger,” and that’s about the sum of it. Tatum appears throughout as a seemingly insignificant train-rider who gets mixed up in some of Ladybug’s milder schemes, like pretending to be the dangerous assassin by donning his signature bucket hat.
“Chan’s [character] was supposed to just be somebody,” McCormick told IndieWire. “For a long time, we were looking at a lot of [audition] tapes, and wondering, who could that be? There were so many great ones, especially because we were shooting in LA and there’s lot of great actors here. But then we were just like, ‘I wonder what Chan’s up to, I wonder if he’s around, wouldn’t it be fun?’”
Leitch and McCormick were especially taken by the idea that they would be the first to cast Pitt and Tatum in a project together (which only led to another, more on that later). “We just called him, and he came for a day, and they ended up just cracking up the whole day and got so many gems,” McCormick said, hinting that there may be a few outtakes on the film’s VOD release.
“Cameo” might underplay what Michael Shannon turns in as the nefarious crime lord “White Death,” who ends up being at the center of the complicated revenge scheme that drives the film. It’s revealed that some of the action was orchestrated by his own daughter, Prince (Joey King), who is both pissed that she’s been ignored by her dad and eager to prove that she’s more than able to do her own nasty crimes.
“White Death changed a lot,” McCormick said. “He always haunted the script, but in the original draft the Prince role was the full motivator of the villain plot. David really needed to find a connectability to every character. For her, it was a little bit too much of a manipulation for us as well as an inability to redeem her on some level.”
The answer: make White Death culpable, too. “David pushed White Death more into having been the orchestrator, which I think works really well and gave Michael a lot more to do,” McCormick said. “He was the first person we went to for that role, I think, and we’d been wanting to work with him for a long time.”
McCormick fessed up to a long-gestating rumor that Shannon was nearly cast as Cable in Leitch’s “Deadpool 2.” “He actually almost was Cable,” the producer said. “Then there was some sort of hiccup conflict at the very last minute, and then we just ended up reconnecting on this one, and felt really lucky that this was the role for him. Because Josh [Brolin] was so good as Cable, I can’t even imagine [what that would have been like].”
Another “Deadpool 2” holdover! Ryan Reynolds appears very briefly at the end of the film as a fellow assassin who many believe is actually Ladybug. That one? “Payback for Brad being in ‘Deadpool 2’ for two seconds,” McCormick said with a laugh, referring to a similarly brief appearance by Pitt as Vanisher in the 2018 Leitch film. “And the goal was that it’s almost the exact same length!”
Mostly, McCormick said, Reynolds really wanted to do it. “That was, of course, what Ryan wanted to do, and he wanted to give back, and he loves to play with David, and we keep missing each other because he’s so busy and David’s so busy,” McCormick said.
Reynolds actually shot that cameo on the set of his “Adam Project,” which was filming at the same time. “We sent up the suit and some helmets for him to choose,” McCormick said. “And then they shot it, and they’d send it over, and David would watch it and go like, ‘Do this version,’ or he would give more notes. They were literally remotely working while we were working on ours and they were working on theirs, which was kind of cool.”
And while it’s no surprise that Sandra Bullock is in the film, it is a bit of a twist that Ladybug’s handler, AKA Maria Beetle, appears in the final act. After smoothly guiding Ladybug through his job as a voice on the phone, Bullock pops up in the flesh.
“It was always written that way,” McCormick said. “In fact, we shot a bunch more things that we tried to put in, and it was almost like the more of her, the harder it was that she wasn’t in it even more, because she’s so great. So we ended up pulling a bunch of it back, and just had that moment at the end that’s so special. She only had two days, so it ended up working out great that that’s all we could do for that role.”
Like what you saw? Perhaps there’s more to come. “If we got a [‘Bullet Train’] franchise, she hopefully would want to play much deeper into it,” McCormick said.
And, yes, that joining of Pitt, Bullock, and Tatum on rom-com “The Lost City” did partially come together on the set of “Bullet Train,” mostly thanks to… the weather? “Actually, ‘The Lost City’ thing happened on our set, [because] she only had one or two days [with us], and then it rained [when their final scene needed to be in the sun],” McCormick said. “And so she was with us for too long, and Brad was feeling really guilty about it. Then it was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this thing.’ They love each other, they always have, and it was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’ll do this thing.’”
A Sony release, “Bullet Train” is in theaters now.