I’m a pretty private guy. I like to keep private matters private—the good and the bad. I want to avoid troubles. I just want to keep the peace.
The spy thriller genre is something of a crowded place, and although Grant S. Johnson’s Agent Game can feel more familiar than truly innovative, it ably needles a time-tested formula to get the job done, going back to the basics with a steadier hand than most others that have come before.
An old school thriller that finds Mel Gibson back in his comfort zone—a salute to the genre—it’d be a misnomer to say that it’s his show. When a political shift in Washington turns allies into enemies, Harris (Dermot Mulroney), a black site CIA officer, finds himself the target of a rendition operation after being scapegoated in the death of an interrogation subject. Elsewhere, a ragtag group of private contractors tasked with bringing Harris in—Kavinsky (Adan Canto), Miller (Katie Cassidy), and Reese (Rhys Coiro)—begins to question orders, testing allegiances as they try to function as a cohesive unit, with Olsen (Gibson), a senior intelligence officer, turning up the heat.
Anthem reached out to Canto to discuss stunt work, getting behind the camera, and Agent Game 2.
Agent Game hits select theaters, on Digital, and On Demand on April 8th.
Hi, Adan. How are you doing this morning?
I’m doing fine, man. Really, really good. What’s going on with you?
Well, I checked out Agent Game. What a fun ride. This movie is action packed.
It is, man. It was a lot of fun doing this film. Great team. It was a surprising film to be in—surprising in the sense that it just kind of hit my inbox out of the blue. And as I was reading the script, I was surprised at how well-written it was and how engaging it was. It was easy to follow and you could envision the world as you were reading it, which is always a great thing to achieve in screenwriting. It was also surprising how quickly everything went. Despite being in the Covid era, we were able to get it done immaculately—by that, I mean, schedule-wise. So it was a pleasure to receive it. And to have it come out so soon after doing it, it’s been great all around.
So you did shoot this during Covid.
We did, we did. And it was easy, you know? There are other productions I’ve experienced through Covid, but, I have to say, we didn’t have a lot of trouble [on Agent Game]. I think we had one positive case towards the end of shooting, but it didn’t really affect the team as a whole.
The ensemble is spread out into different core groups. That must be helpful in its own way.
That’s right, yeah, that was helpful. Although, shooting inside of that jet, we had all the camera guys in there, too, obviously. I don’t know if you remember that sequence with the standoff between Katie [Cassidy] and myself where we both pull our guns.
I do remember that.
Well, the sweat was real. [laughs] That jet was tight, man. We were all crammed up in there and, you know, I sweat easily. So that was real. That was not makeup.
When you signed onto this movie, did they want to see that you have prior experience in stunts and firearms, or is it more understood that there might be some training involved?
I think Grant [S. Johnson] and I did have conversations about that. I came with previous combat experience and had done some action sequences. Obviously, nothing on the level of Tom Cruise, but certainly, plenty to pull from. I’m assuming that Grant expected us to be honest about things. We had no issues in terms of action sequences. It was, thankfully, very seamless. No accidents.
You gave a shoutout to Warrior Poet Society on Instagram. That was your training, right?
Yeah, John Lovell [founder of Warrior Poet Society] is just a great guy. He’s funny, and he’s immaculate with handling weapons and tactical training and all of this. He was very generous with his time, guiding me and tuning me up, if you will, in terms of hitting the mark. So it was very helpful to meet with him beforehand. And I actually grew up shooting with my dad down in Mexico. I would go hunting with him and all that. But it had been a while. And obviously, with the tactical part of it, I had my ideas about it, but I needed that real boots-on-the-ground approach. John has experience with that. He served in the military so he’s a vet and we thank him for it.
There’s a morality tale to this movie. Your character, Kavinsky, is the first one to admit that there are things to be kept in the dark in his line of work so that he won’t have to act on his feelings, which could compromise missions. And as the audience, we’re kept in the dark about him, too, by design. Information is drip-fed to us. How did you relate to him?
Well, in thinking about keeping things in the dark and all of that, everybody chooses to go about their career in a different way. And I’m a pretty private guy, you know? I like to keep private matters private—the good and the bad, you know what I mean? I enjoy my family. My priority is my family. I kind of compartmentalize Hollywood and family. And that’s not to say that people who expose or put their entire private lives out there are doing it wrong. Everybody’s equipped to living in certain ways and they make their choices accordingly. I just choose to do things in the way that works for me and my family. So I guess that was the element to Kavinsky I related to. Things are kept in the dark, certainly strategically in his case, but for me, it’s just because I want to avoid troubles. [laughs] I just want to keep the peace, you know what I mean?
Totally, and that’s a great parallel. And that’s clearly true of everyone in Kavinsky’s ragtag team. Because who can you really trust? I absolutely loved the dynamic between you, Katie, and Rhys Coiro. It really livened up this world. Did you guys have to do chemistry reads?
We didn’t have any chemistry reads.
How did you build rapport?
Firstly, I have to say kudos to Grant with that. He and Tyler [W. Konney, co-writer] both have a very, very good sense of chemistry. They looked at our track records or previous projects and were kind of reading us and interviewing us, making sure that the personalities matched up for this combustible three-way relationship to play out, where it can hit those marks and create that tension. I really enjoyed that contrast between our personalities. Katie and I actually kept it cold until the end of the shoot. Sometimes we wouldn’t even say “Good morning” or “Have a good day” to each other. [laughs] We just hit the ground running, which was very helpful. And I know her uncle, Shaun Cassidy, very well so it was kind of fun to know that I was going to work with her. But even then, we kept it professional and kept that cold relationship alive.
You’ve previously spoken about how you kind of fell into acting, and I know you started out in music and then took up theater in Mexico City. Was that a hard switch for you?
I think there’s a connective tissue between art forms, always, especially when you consider inspiration and intuitiveness in the mix of it all. There’s certainly more theoretic or objective ways to approach things, and that’s something I guess I’ve acquired throughout the years, but always in conjunction with inspiration and intuition. I started as a street musician and then as a street actor. What I mean by “street” is, I had no formal education until I knew there was a future in it, at which point I completely dove into the education side of it all and made sure that I was well-equipped to embark on the projects I was going to embark on. In a way, that was also to ensure that I wouldn’t waste people’s time, and certainly not my own time, and that I was able to deliver.
It’s interesting that, in filmmaking, when the creative process and collaboration are talked about in a loving way, it’s so often compared to music and specifically jazz, and how film crews are like bands making beautiful harmony together. Music is put on such a pedestal.
You’re right, man. Everybody’s job has to match up to make the bigger picture work, right? We do what we do as actors, the directors are like the conductors, and obviously there’s all the rest of the departments filling in the other blanks. It’s a fun job. It’s a great world to be a part of. I certainly give thanks every day for it. And it’s not an easy thing. It’s something that I kind of slipped into and I’m very blessed in that way. Yeah, I just can’t stop enjoying it. Every job is different. Every environment and every role is different. Oddly, most of the time, what I noticed is that the atmosphere created by the whole team kind of echoes the sentiment or the spirit of the story we’re telling. So in the case of Agent Game, it was just a lot of fun. We all got along swimmingly. Yet, the shooting days were daunting, so we would pretty much arrive and leave.
And it appears that acting didn’t just materialize out of nothingness when you decided to take it up professionally. At 7 years old, you were an extra in Like Water For Chocolate.
Isn’t that crazy?
I still remember watching that movie in Spanish class. It was part of the curriculum.
How did that even come about at such a young age? Was it suggested to you?
I always say that it was an accident. I was 7 when they were shooting that film in my hometown—a very, very small town. I mean, it’s changed now. I haven’t been back in a while, but it’s certainly changed. Back in the day, it was a very small place so everybody knew each other. I think my grandfather had met the director at a restaurant one evening and they became acquaintances. Then the director invited our family over to the shoot and they needed some people to be extras for that crazy scene where everybody’s throwing up into the river after eating that cake.
Do you remember that with a lot of clarity?
I remember it vividly, just the experience of being on set and the creation of a world. The wardrobe, the set design—it was a beautiful thing. But I just never thought I would get to be a part of that world. I never thought it was something that you can aim for or achieve coming from such a small town, right? What I did have at hand was the music. Music was something that was proving to show some promise, like as an actual potential in life, getting feedback from some producers in Texas and Mexico City. So that kind of kept me going in music for a while. And then that got me into music writing and producing, and I inevitably fell back into the world of film.
What a cool memory to have to always come back to. It’s almost like the birthplace of your acting journey, isn’t it? And this small town where you’re from, it’s called Acuña?
That’s right. That’s my hometown.
And you haven’t gone back in a while you said, right?
It’s been a while, certainly with Covid and a lot of other elements in life. But I go to my hometown quite a bit in Del Rio, Texas. Acuña and Del Rio are like one town separated by the border and the bridge, right? I guess what I mean by “one town” is, back in the day, in the ’80s and ’90s, it was just so easy to cross back and forth. That’s just the way your life was. You had friends and family on both sides. It was easy up until 9/11—that kind of changed the dynamic quickly. Obviously, there was also massive growth in both towns. Now they’re more separate and it takes a while to cross the border. The cartel activity that hit in the early 2000s was pretty aggressive out in Mexico and there’s a lot of stories to be told about that alone. That’s for another time. Essentially, I feel blessed to have been raised out there. We live in such a diverse world. Acuña is just a very interesting world onto itself. I’m actually writing a film about the place. It’s taking a couple of years, but I just want to get it right. I just figure that, at least where the community in that town in the 90s is concerned, it’s a very interesting environment to show the world. How people grow up like that, the challenges that they have, and how they have to make ends meet to live a good life.
That’s awesome, Adan. I’d love to see it made.
Yeah, it just takes a minute. I want to make sure that I have the right people involved to collaborate with to get it right. I have other movies, too, but that film in particular, I don’t know, maybe in two, three years time? Hopefully? We’ll see. Also, it depends on how many people are jumping in and how quickly, you know? You get the right people involved and, all of a sudden, you’re up and going. It can go real fast. Other times, it takes a minute because everybody’s involved in other productions and you have to wait for them to become available to start shooting.
You’ve directed several shorts already. Did the ambition to direct come to you organically?
I think it was organic. Essentially, I get your word “ambition” and there’s impulse that comes with ambition, but it wasn’t the objective, you know what I mean? It was more of a necessity. I just imagined certain worlds and imagined them in a certain way, from camera language and setups and flow and color and sound and rhythm and music. All of these things come into play. I’ve edited quite a bit. On this last short we produced [The Shot, with Adan’s wife, Stephanie Ann Canto, who’s also the co-writer and star], a 20-minute period piece, I edited a lot of it. With the flow of it, I found that it’s so important to have a music background. It’s hard to explain, but you just know when to cut—and I’m talking about frames making a difference. If you go two frames too far, it doesn’t feel right. It has to do with feeling. I think all my past experiences served me very well.
And about that other matter: Agent Game leaves the door wide open for a continuation.
There were discussions about that. I guess it’s just a matter of seeing how it performs. Thankfully, everyone’s been really happy with it. I’d be excited to do it. I’d be thrilled.
I would love to see more of Kavinsky’s backstory, and more of this trio together.
That’s cool to hear, man. I really enjoyed it, too. I want to see more of their private lives for sure. I want to see Reese actually flipping burgers. I want to see Katie’s character actually kicking the shit out of her old professors. With Kavinsky, I want to see him getting drunk at a bar and working as a bouncer somewhere. I think there’s just a lot of things to explore here with this thing.