Michael Lombardi Interview: The Retaliators

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The blend of horror, action, and vengeance that makes up the story of The Retaliators is tailor-made for the Halloween season. Now out in theaters, The Retaliators is both led and co-directed by Michael Lombardi (alongside Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith), and written by Darren and Jeff Allen Geare. The film’s dark tale blends a wide variety of different styles, and even brings musicians and bands like Five Finger Death Punch, Joseph Gatt, Tommy Lee, The Hu, Escape The Fate, Ice Nine Kills, and Papa Roach into the story.

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Michael Lombardi’s Bishop is the focal point of The Retaliators, and the story sees him embark on a mission to avenge the killing of his daughter. As he does, his quest grows into a dark, harrowing battle pitting him against his vicious enemies.

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We speak to Michael Lombardi on the making of The Retaliators, the influences he brought to the movie, and some of the challenges he encountered as star and co-director on the film during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screen Rant: How did The Retaliators come about, and how did you become involved with the film?

Michael Lombardi: Back in the mid-2000s, I used to have a band and a record deal. I was living in L.A. at the time, and my manager said ‘You’ve got to write with these two brothers, Darren and Jeff Allen Geare. These guys are amazing writers and I think your tastes will really align’. I would drive from L.A. to Southern California to work with them and write songs, and we were very creatively aligned, and we really hit it off.

Cut to several years later, I’m doing a charity event, and one of the songs we wrote, ‘When Heaven And Hell Collide’, I was going to play. I called Darren for the first time in a few years and said ‘Hey Darren, I’m performing this song at a charity event, I’ve got to drop at a half step, I don’t have my band, blah, blah, what do you suggest I do?’, and I also asked him what he had been up to, and he said he’d been writing screenplays. So I asked him to send me what he had been writing, and one of the screenplays with The Retaliators.

When did you first read the script for The Retaliators?

Michael Lombardi: That was about three years ago, and about five days later, I was on a plane from L.A. to New York to try to make it. Everything just jumped off the page, the musical aspect, the wink at the ’80s, the graphic novel-esque Sin City-vibe of the film, the crazy Tarantino-esque third act, the crime thriller side, I just fell in love with it. I told Darren ‘Dude, I see this movie, I see this, I see that!’, and he was like ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! That’s it!’ Our tastes were so aligned that he wrote with the intention of the points that I picked up on when I read it, and I’m like ‘I’ve got to make this thing.’

You co-directed The Retaliators as well as being in the movie. What can you share about the process of co-directing a movie you’re also starring in?

Michael Lombardi: What happened next was I brought the script to Allen Kovac, the CEO and founder of Better Noise Media, who told me he wanted to do something with me some day. I thought this thing screamed for music, and Allen said ‘Okay, I got you, go do this, let’s make the thing’. Now I’m a producer, and I’m also directing during COVID.

It’s hard to make a movie and it was so very, very hard during COVID. The number one thing you have to have is passion for the script and for the project. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and this thing has become a family member to me over the last three years. You get a shot with a script, and it’s one movie that you really like that’s like all the dudes I’ve talked about, and it also has the slow-burn of the story. It’s not just a horror movie but a high-brow horror movie, the subject matter goes into religion, morality, and justice, and all these things that just jumped out at me, but now you’ve got to go shoot and you’ve got to fight a lot, whether it be egos or COVID or not getting locations, the producing part never stops, you have a lot of creative say, but there’s also a lot more business involved.

When I was on Rescue Me, Denis Leary starred in, wrote, and produced the show, and little did I know then how much I was actually learning and picking up on to be able to bring The Retaliators across the finish line.

What stage was the pandemic at when you were making the film, and what impact did it have on the process?

Michael Lombardi: Yeah, we really went through everything. When it started in March 2020, we were in Connecticut, I had my crew from New York, there were about 50 of us, and all of a sudden, the pandemic starting coming in. So the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) sends a rep to me, and they go, ‘Listen, you’re one of the last productions in the world to still be filming.’ There was another one in Arizona at the time, and I think we may have even beaten them out, because we went another day or two, though we still did wrap early. That was back when you couldn’t buy toilet paper, so that was nuts.

Then, we had to take a break. And then, we had to go back out, because Five Finger Death Punch were in Nevada. So, I brought a maybe 15-person crew to Nevada, we scout locations, then first day of filming, I get the call that someone has come up positive for COVID, and it was the locations guy! So, SAG shut us down, and we had been testing at the hotel before coming to set, but that just killed us. All the arts got affect during COVID, it was a challenge.

Did COVID require you to rework the story of The Retaliators at all?

Michael Lombardi: COVID did so much, but I think we were always sort of pivoting in terms of we couldn’t get this location or because of this happening, so we had to come up with solutions, and we did that throughout. So, a couple of things did happen, COVID kept a couple of people from coming to set at different times so then maybe other people’s roles got a little bigger or something changed, or we had to add scenes or change scenes. There were a lot of disappointing moments, but nothing that was going to stop us or change the movie that I wanted to make.

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment, in terms of what you were aiming for with The Retaliators?

Michael Lombardi: You know, as I reflect on it, I love acting, I love the character, and people seem to be getting some things that I set out to do in making this movie. In terms of all these little nods to the different genres we give, the slow-burn and all the inspirations and Easter eggs we tried to lay in there, it seems like people are really picking up on them.

I think what’s really cool is you get a script and you make the movie, and then you edit the movie, and you hope to get what you fell in love with to begin with. And I feel like from what I’m getting now that the movie’s being released and people are seeing, it seems like maybe we did that. I love that we took a horror movie, but it’s a little more than a horror movie, it gives you some things to think about, and you might be able to have a drink afterward and talk about it, the morality, the religion, the justice. And of course, the musical aspect of it is very fun to me, meeting all these wonderful bands and having such a killer soundtrack.

The Retaliators Synopsis

In THE RETALIATORS, an upstanding pastor uncovers a dark and twisted underworld as he searches for answers surrounding his daughter’s brutal murder. A high-octane original soundtrack and cameos from some of the biggest names in rock music set the tone as this horror-thriller reveals a game of revenge played using a new set of rules. Michael Lombardi (Rescue Me), Marc Menchaca (Ozark), and Joseph Gatt (Game of Thrones) star. Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee, Papa Roach, The Hu, Ice Nine Kills, Escape The Fate, and more appear on screen and on THE RETALIATORS Original Soundtrack, releasing with the movie in September via Better Noise Music.

The Retaliators is now in theaters.