Tucked away in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is a large warehouse, and inside is a branch of Three Rivers Trust bank. It looks like the interior of any corner bank branch, with flyers advertising great mortgage rates and art on the walls depicting Pittsburgh’s steel-mill heritage. It would be a pleasant place to do business, if it weren’t for all the gunfire and bullet holes in the windows.
It’s mid April, and dozens of cast and crewmembers are in Pittsburgh shooting The Kill Point, an eight-episode action/drama series premiering July 22 on Spike. John Leguizamo stars as the leader of a group of Iraq War veterans who have trouble reintegrating into civilian life and rob a downtown Pittsburgh bank. The robbery quickly escalates into a hostage situation, and a negotiator (Donnie Wahlberg) has to defuse the crisis and get the hostages out alive.
When I arrive on set, the crew is in the middle of shooting an action scene. Director Steve Shill (Rome, The Tudors) and other cast members surround two monitors displaying images from cameras inside the bank set. Shill calls “Action!,” and three black-clad SWAT team members appear on the monitors, stalking the bank’s hallway with semiautomatic rifles drawn. Someone yells “Alarm!” off-camera. One SWAT guy looks up, startled, and then guns blast and the muzzles flash as they open fire at the cameras.
“This is when the SWAT guys breach the bank and this is our first encounter with them, so this firefight ensues,” actor Frank Grillo (Prison Break), who plays one of the gunmen, explains to me. “So you came in on a good day.” Sounds like it.
Between takes, the set is a kind of orchestrated chaos. It’s hot, dusty and usually noisy. There are electric cables running over the floor in every direction, and crewmembers are scurrying everywhere. Carpenters hammer and saw behind a giant plastic sheet in the corner of the warehouse, taking advantage of every second they don’t have to be silent. In the midst of it all, 16-year-old actor Ethan Rosenfeld, who plays a hostage, somehow gets his schoolwork done.
Behind the warehouse is an array of about 20 trailers, and I wonder how I’m going to find Leguizamo’s. But it turns out to be pretty easy — it’s the one with his giant black poodle running out of it. Inside, Leguizamo listens to rap music and reviews the script. I’ve heard he’s an intense actor, demanding a lot from himself (and from others, as I discovered later), and I’m curious to meet him.
“I think it’s a pretty beautiful piece,” Leguizamo proudly says of The Kill Point. “We’re ahead of the curve of all the stuff that’s happening. When [James DeMonaco] wrote this, it was almost two years ago. He wrote it about the vets coming back and not getting their benefits and not being taken care of and all the post-traumatic stress disorder happening.” Leguizamo says he studied soldiers’ YouTube videos to learn about their struggles during and after their tours in Iraq. While robbing a bank is extreme, he respects the courage of ex-soldiers willing to take a stand. “To buck the system, you’ve got to have big balls,” he tells me. “You got to be real brave, man, because they’re going to pull all your benefits, they’re going to come at you. Some of your friends are not going to want to be with you. It’s pretty brave.”
The following morning, they film more of the bank shootout, this time with the robbers’ guns blazing. Actor Jeremy Davidson, playing one of the robbers, looks like a natural wielding a shotgun. Davidson’s decked out in a suit and tie, combat boots, and a wristwatch with the Cleveland Indians’ logo on it. But it’s all acting — Davidson is a huge Yankees fan.
They also film a sequence with Leguizamo and his cohorts walking silently through a smoke-filled hallway in the aftermath of a firefight. It’s eerie to watch on the monitors, and I imagine it will be eerie to see on TV.
I only have a few more hours left on set when I realize I haven’t heard any dialogue yet. Fortunately, the crew sets up in the bank lobby to shoot a scene with the robbers and hostages interacting, so I can hear some lines and witness the scene without a monitor. But there’s a delay in setting up the shot. “Come on! Who’s not ready? Let’s go!” Leguizamo impatiently says.
Like I thought, he’s an intense guy. But this is a pretty intense show.