Simon Cellan Jones has now collaborated with Mark Wahlberg on two straight films: The Family Plan and Arthur the King. However, the two films couldn't be more different.

The former is an action-comedy as Wahlberg's character, an assassin-turned-salesman, defeats his foes on a deadly road trip to Las Vegas. The latter is based on the real-life story of Mikael Lindnord's 435-mile race in the Dominican Republic.

Mark Wahlberg stars in the lead role as Michael Light (Mikael's name in the film). He is joined by the likes of Simu Liu and Nathalie Emmanuel, both of whom are used to filming action. And yet, Arthur the King presented new challenges.

ClutchPoints spoke with Simon Cellan Jones ahead of Arthur the King's release. He discussed some of the high-octane sequences, his cast's endurance, and Ukai, the adorable dog who plays the title role.

Simon Cellan Jones-Arthur the King interview

Ukai and Mark Wahlberg in Arthur the King.
A still from Arthur the King courtesy of Lionsgate, Carlos Rodriguez.

 ClutchPoints: One of my favorite parts of interviewing you for The Family Plan was asking you to give a car sales pitch for that movie. I can't quite do the same thing for Arthur the King, but I'm just gonna ask you straight up: you've worked with Mark Wahlberg now twice, so could you pitch me a third project?

Simon Cellan Jones: Well, the one I would love to do is Family Plan 2, which we're talking about. We're writing the script. Nothing's guaranteed, but there's a chance that that could happen. And that would be something really exciting and really fun as well.

CP: I think when we last spoke, you were about to go to Vegas for the premiere of that movie. What was that like?

SCJ: It was really fun. I mean, you know Vegas, it's a crazy place — you never want to spend more than a weekend there, I don't think. [chuckles] But I I loved Vegas and, of course, we filmed there for two weeks, so I saw I saw a lot of it, actually.

It's a well-run city. They are just in the entertainment business. It's incredible.

CP: Now getting into Arthur the King, if I'm not mistaken, I believe you came on after some of the castings were done. You might've replaced another director who had stepped out of the project. So if that is true, I wanted to ask you what that's like coming into a project where you're kind of inheriting another filmmaker?

SCJ: Well, not really. I mean, Mark was already engaged and I don't know whether they talked about it with other directors or not, but I came in to a project that was ready to roll, but nothing had been worked out. No casting had been done apart from Mark.

We decided to film in the Dominican Republic, but no locations were being planned. So, I just got this script sent to me and maybe I was lucky to get it, but my God, I grabbed it with both hands and just dived in.

CP: I know it's been a long journey, I think this movie was filmed a few years ago, so what's it like to finally have it out in the world? Is it exciting? Is it a little nerve-racking?

SCJ: Yeah, it's nerve-racking, but it's really exciting. I want people to see it. If you've got a dog, you have to see the movie, but if you don't have a dog, there's a lot in there for you as well. So it's not just one type of person that gets to see this movie.

CP: What's so interesting is that in under two hours, you have the very tall task of capturing this days-long race, and you have to condense it into a feature film length. I would have personally loved to see even more of the race, so was there ever talk about doing a longer film, or maybe even making this as a miniseries?

SCJ: No, I don't think so. We loved filming the race and it was really cool, but I think as you know, with any movie, the thing that really carries the movie through is the story. And I think the story ends up being the relationship between the dog and the man and how they get together and how they stay together and [the] difficult things happen to them.

I think that's just how it rolled.

CP: I think with The Family Plan you told me that there were some sequences that had to be cut, or alternate takes that didn't make the movie. I imagine you filmed a lot with the race, so is there anything that didn't make the film that you wish someday, maybe on a Blu-ray release, could be seen?

SCJ: Yeah, there was a scene from a previous race that we filmed that took place by a huge waterfall that the characters had to jump into and that was really fun and I wish that would have ended up in the movie. But again, we just need the story to fly.

CP: I imagine this was filmed on location — it looks amazing — so I was curious about that bicycle sequence and how that was tackled.

SCJ: Oh, yeah. I mean, they're on his zip-line. The bicycles are strapped to them — they were lightweight racing bikes, but they still weigh a fair amount — and we sent them down, and then [in] the scene you referred to something goes seriously wrong.

The end result is Mark Wahlberg is left stranded 500 feet in the air. And he really was 500 feet in the air. We had a line to pull him back. So he wasn't stuck for real, but we sent him down there. We filmed with drones and other camera people on the zip-line.

It was just as real as we can make it.

CP: Your actors have done a lot of action movies, so I'm sure their endurance is great since they're all in great shape. Was it hard for them to get adjusted to the endurance required for this type of race?

SCJ: Yeah, it was. I mean, as you know, Mark Wahlberg works out quite regularly and keeps himself pretty fit. [smiles] So he had a good start. But he found it tough.

And the other actors didn't want to get left behind. So they put in the work. People like Simu, he's pretty fit anyway, and Nathalie, and even Ali [Suliman] as well.

But the younger ones, I think, had the edge here. [smiles]

CP: I know you're directing, so I'm sure every day was busy, but did you ever get to experience anything like the zip-line or anything fun while shooting this film?

SCJ: Yes, I did. We went on several scouts to the zip-line. And once you get up there, the only way down, I guess you can walk down these terrible paths, but the best way down is to go down the zip-lines. So I went several times and loved it. [smiles]

CP: So was Arthur the King the most unique film shoot you've ever done?

SCJ: Yeah, for sure, for sure. Jungle, sea, kayaks, urban sprawl, all of that. It's fantastic.

CP: A lot has been made about Messi from Anatomy of a Fall, who was at the Oscars. But you ask a lot of Ukai in the film, whether he's swimming or running, and I'm curious how he handled all of that.

SCJ: Well, he has to do a lot of physical stuff. We trained him for a long time. He was a young dog who was quite strong, so he was okay with that.

But he had to do emotional acting and of course some of that's done with editing, but a lot of that stuff you can't really fake — there are eye expressions and that sort of [thing].

He was just fantastic. There was a real sort of truthfulness to that dog.

Ukai in Arthur the King.
A still from Arthur the King courtesy of Lionsgate, Carlos Rodriguez.

Spoiler warning: One of the pivotal moments from the race is discussed.

CP: And how did you handle the scenes where Ukai is swimming and ultimately drowns a bit? 

SCJ: The bit of him sinking is CGI because you absolutely cannot grab a dog and pull him underwater and hold him there —  that's so cruel. You couldn't do that to a human or a dog. [smiles]

I think almost better protected by the American Humane Association than the actors are by their unions. [smiles]

CP: Was it a long process of finding the right dog for Arthur the King? Because like you said, it's not just the physical stuff, it's also the emotional stuff. So I don't know if you all did screen tests with Mark, but did you have him meet them? ‘

SCJ: Mark was definitely involved in the hiring of the dog and giving us feedback.

But we found the dog pretty early, actually. And then the filming got delayed, but what that meant was that we could just spend more time training him.

CP: When we last spoke, you said that you might try to post some of the Family Plan deleted scenes on your Instagram. I haven't checked, but have those come out or something that we can make happen sometime?

SCJ: Not yet, no, no, not yet. [smiles]

CP: Do you have anything else coming up the pike that I can look forward to? Because I enjoy your work and it's a lot of fun talking to you.

SCJ: Thank you very much. No, just look out for Family Plan 2.

Arthur the King will be released on March 15.