The Headhunter’s Calling centers on a Chicago-based headhunter, Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler, in the exclusive image above), who goes head-to-head with his ambitious rival, Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie), to control the company upon news his boss (Willem Dafoe) is retiring. But things take a different turn when he learns that his 10-year-old son, Ryan (Max Jenkins), is diagnosed with cancer.
Ahead of the film’s Sept. 14 premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Mark Williams, an experienced producer who makes his directorial debut here, said he knew The Headhunter’s Calling was something special the moment he read the script. â€œ[Writer Bill Dubuque, sent an early version of this script, and it had all of the warmth, charm, heart, humor, and drama that the movie now has, although in the earlier form there was something so rich about the characters and the dialogue that popped out that made you care about these characters on a level that you don’t find very often,â€ Williams tells EW. That authenticity comes in part because Dubuque (The Judge) was a headhunter himself for 15 years before he became a screenwriter.
In fact, headhunting was Dubuque’s day job when he met Williams and they began developing the project. â€œHe was headhunting all day long, and at night he would find quiet time, put his kids to bed, and go into his office and write, so [the movie is basically his life experience in many ways,â€ Williams says of his colleague, close friend, and collaborator (the pair also teamed for The Accountant, out Oct. 14, and are working on a TV series, Ozark). â€œThere’s some twists and turns that are dramatic and not true to life, but the backdrop is all from a world that he lived for a long time.â€
That real-world experience â€” constantly being on the phone to place people in jobs, listening to how people speak, and interpreting what they really mean â€” helped Dubuque foster his talent for writing dialogue and create a humorous, insightful screenplay that a lot of people can relate to, Williams says. â€œWhether it be their balance of life, or their father was like this, or they have a kid that’s like this, or in the case of the headhunting, most people have seemed to have had a job, lost a job, want a job, want a different job,â€ he says. â€œIt’s a potpourri of life that he brought to the page.â€
It’s a range of emotions brought to life on screen by Gerard Butler, who brings â€œdepth and heartâ€ to protagonist Dane Jensen as he tries to cope with his son’s diagnosis, Williams says, though the director confesses that while he did not doubt Butler’s ability to play a headhunter, he wondered early on if he could pull off the part of a father. â€œWhen I first met Gerry on the project, what I realized about him very quickly is as much as he is an action star â€” he’s in great shape and a good-looking, handsome man and all that â€” he has a real depth and heart to him and an intelligence that goes beyond what maybe his current persona is,â€ Williams says. â€œHe’s so good, quick, and smart, but really what moved me while shooting the movie was his relationship with his son, Ryan [Max Jenkins . I felt like there was a real connection there, a real love and concern, and I think that comes across on screen in a way that people are going to be surprised to see Gerry.â€