Business

The Wolf is back: On HP’s film set with Christian Slater

The Garage heads to Prague to see the Wolf take a bite out of the shadowy world of cybersecurity.

By Joe McGovern — October 10, 2018

Business

The Wolf is back: On HP’s film set with Christian Slater

The Garage heads to Prague to see the Wolf take a bite out of the shadowy world of cybersecurity.

By Joe McGovern — October 10, 2018

Not far from the ninth-century castle perched above the city of Prague, there is a popular tourist attraction called the Lennon Wall. Since the dismal communism days of the 1980s, the block-long edifice has been a wide canvas for graffiti artists to express the peace and love philosophy of the Beatles legend John Lennon. On a warm afternoon in late May, a man in a black hoodie walks along the wall, studying all the bright, spray-painted illustrations.

Sightseers take no note of the man. Some even bump into him while moving among the throng. Little do they know that the man is an actor with more than 100 film and TV credits, famous to generations of audiences for his iconic roles in Pump Up the Volume, Heathers, True Romance and TV’s Mr. Robot.

Slater as the Wolf and Jonathan Banks as the Fixer.

Courtesy of HP Inc.

Slater as the Wolf and Jonathan Banks as the Fixer.

Yes, it’s Christian Slater, incognito, walking through the streets of the Czech Republic’s beautiful capital. His anonymity is an ironic reflection of what brings him to Prague in the first place. Namely, Slater’s title role in the third and most ambitious short film in HP Studios' cybersecurity series The Wolf, in which he plays a mischievous prankster who hacks into unsecured printers and threatens to destroy assumed-safe institutions like banks and hospitals.

“He’s got a kind of Deadpool quality,” Slater says of his character, while taking a break on the set. “A little bit of Ferris Bueller. A lot of breaking the fourth wall. I picture him as a piece of code who can move through the cables — or the cloud, as it were. He’s a particularly fun, fantastic character to play.”

In seasons one and two of The Wolf, Slater played the titular character in six-minute short films, and in the United States alone, the second Wolf short was viewed online nearly 300 million times — in addition to scooping prizes at the prestigious Cannes Lions festival and Clio Awards in 2017.

The Wolf’s method might be a bit twisted but his motivation — and that of the films — is to draw attention to the risks posed by ignoring endpoint security. The majority of IT decision makers haven’t given the same level of emphasis to printers as a front line of defense against hacking as other networked devices such as PCs. In the second film, the Wolf uses an unsecured emergency room printer to incapacitate a man by swapping his medical records. The Wolf’s signoff in that installment was, “To those of you in the hallowed seats of power and government, know this: You’re next.”

Courtesy of HP Inc.

Betty Adewole as ex-hacker and security expert Cecilia Grey.

And to be sure, this newest chapter ups the stakes by taking on the threat of global hacking.The ante has been upped. 

This third Wolf installment, True Alpha, is nearly triple the length of its predecessors, clocking in at 20 minutes. Two characters have been woven into the plot for Slater to joust with. Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) plays the Fixer, who’s been the star of his own HP commercials as a grizzled enforcer in the cyber wars; and Nigerian-British model and actress Betty Adewole plays an ex-hacker security expert named Cecilia Grey.

“Oh, my palms are sweating, I’m just trying to keep calm here,” says Adewole while on the set. For the 26-year-old, The Wolf marks her first significant acting job — and the series’ first major female character. “I’m not a very tech-savvy person, though I’m definitely getting more into it now,” she says. “And I would love for people to be inspired by the strong woman I’m playing. Personally, it’s inspiring to me.”

As the Fixer, Banks is taciturn like an old Western sheriff, but the actor is remarkably loose and likeable when we catch up with him while shooting a scene at a shipping container port on the outskirts of Prague. Wearing overalls and a hard hat while crewmembers hose down a hot blacktop nearby, Banks gestures with his hand towards the massive red and blue steel boxes being lifted by a crane. He deadpans to me, “How many dead bodies ya think are in those containers?”

Banks, who grew up in Washington, D.C., where his mother worked for the CIA, turns serious when explaining the pull that roped him into this project. “We present The Wolf in a dramatic form and it’s a fun storyline,” he says. “But the reality is it’s such an awful thing to have your privacy or your property violated. And I think anybody who tries to harm someone else by hacking is just a low-life jerk. Is that specific enough?”

“What the Wolf does — exposing weaknesses so that people protect themselves — is actually making the world a more secure place.”

Director Lance Acord

The script for the whole series was written by Adam Groves and Zac Ryder, founders of the creative agency Zac&Adam whose credits include HP’s acclaimed 2015 Jane advertisement. For this third installment, the writers initially brainstormed the idea of inserting the Wolf into a global sporting event, such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Inspired by international news, Groves and Ryder pivoted to a world economic forum, modeled after the annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. It’s there that the Wolf entwines with a billionaire shipping industry oligarch named Stefan Torvik (Tomi May), the true antagonist in the plot.

“All of us talked about how the Wolf wasn’t exactly a real villain,” says director/ cinematographer Lance Acord (Lost in Translation, Being John Malkovich). “So here it’s Stefan who’s wearing the bad-guy hat. What the Wolf does — exposing weaknesses so that people protect themselves — is actually making the world a more secure place.”

Courtesy of HP Inc.

On set at the filming of the newest installment of The Wolf in Prague.

According to Slater, the third film’s wider scope and longer running time is “a testament to the episodes that came before. But this is also like a genuine stand-alone film. That’s exactly how I hope audiences will approach it.”

Indeed, Acord has surrounded himself with a crew of top-notch movie industry professionals, including costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone (Ready Player One, Moonrise Kingdom) and two-time Oscar-nominated production designer Jan Roelfs (Gattaca, Fast & Furious 6). And HP has provided its own tech experts to analyze every frame of the film for product accuracy. An HP developer in another room stares at a monitor of the scene, fact-checking every bit of code on the screen to ensure veracity.

Director Lance Acord, behind the scenes.

Courtesy of HP Inc.

Director Lance Acord, behind the scenes.

Though HP is only mentioned once during the course of the film, HP’s chief technology officer vetted the back story, reviewed scripts, and ensured the actors pronounced the technical terms accurately. Writer Zac Ryder explains, “Without the involvement of the tech team, it would be hard for us to put pen to paper. We always joke we’re probably on some NSA watchlist, since for the last two years we’ve been Googling stuff like, ‘How to steal medical records from a hospital’ and ‘How to hack a bank.’”

Indeed, Slater is animated by a similar driving force. He remembers, “Robert Downey, Jr. came up to me and he raised his eyebrows and he said, ‘So what's this HP thing you're doing?’ That was really fun. I told him that it was all about cybersecurity and he was intrigued. I just loved the fact that The Wolf is on people's radar.”

The new Wolf brings to the sphere of digital shorts all the sophistication and droll humor of a Bond movie — but inside that entertaining content is information that really matters. The series has already taught us that printer security could be a matter of life and death. Without the right defense tools, hackers can cause both monetary and political havoc around the globe.

“I've always looked at The Wolf to a certain degree as a public service announcement,” Slater explains. “We're not just out there trying to hawk a product. We're also saying that really bad stuff could happen. What we're dealing with now is pretty darn scary.”

 

Watch the The Wolf: True Alpha.