The director behind a controversial new gender-bending action movie explains what inspired it

Jason Guerrasio
the assignment Saban Films

Saban Films

Director Walter Hill has never been shy about making fantastical material.

His New York City-set movie about conflicting gangs “The Warriors” became an instant cult hit in 1979 and then he went and jumpstarted the buddy-cop genre with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 1982's “48 Hrs.”

But during those years of success, he had another unique story idea buried away that is only now getting its moment in the spotlight.

“The Assignment” (opening in theaters Friday and available on VOD) stars Michelle Rodriguez (of "Fast and Furious" and "Resident Evil" fame) as a male assassin who wakes to find that he's had gender-reassignment surgery and goes on the hunt for the doctor (Sigourney Weaver) who is responsible. While the setup has raised some eyebrows as the movie has made its way to release, it dates back many years.

Hill said the initial idea for "The Assignment" came in 1978 when screenwriter Denis Hamill wrote the story, then titled "Tomboy," and sent it to him.

"I was fascinated by it, it was very different," Hill recently told Business Insider. "I instantly thought it could make a movie, but I was very busy at the time."

Walter Hill photo credit by Nicolas Aproux

Nicolas AprouxA hot commodity in Hollywood at the time, Hill forgot about the script. But 20 years later, he went back and optioned it from Hamill. He hired another screenwriter and the two went at developing the story.

"It didn't come out very well and I abandoned it and let the option return to Denis," Hill said. "I just thought some work and some don't."

15 years passed and Hill came across Hamill's original script in his basement. Flipping through it, he finally figured out how he thought he should make it.

"That moment of insight had to do with making an episode of 'Tales from the Crypt' that I had done in the 1980s," he said. "I decided if I do it like a longer version of an episode from that show it would work, as the story had to be set it in a special world."

To add to the "Tales from the Crypt" vibe of the movie, Hill was able to get a publisher to make a graphic novel version of "The Assignment," which he said helped in finally landing the financing (under $3 million) to make the movie.

"The Assignment" has come under fire from critics who have called it transphobic for exploiting a minority identity for thrills, but Hill has defended the work, saying it isn't transphobic and isn't about a trans-identifying character.

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