Silver in action, with a twist

Action producer tackling different fare like 'V,' 'Brave'

For a long time, producer Joel Silver was happy to be known as the action man, having presided over such bombastic, macho and wildly profitable franchises as “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon.”

Now, with Warner Bros.’ “V for Vendetta,” Silver is taking a different tack. The pic pokes at post-9/11 sensibilities. Its hero, known only as V, blows up British Parliament in spectacular fashion and is either a terrorist or a freedom fighter, depending upon your viewpoint.

Who says a filmmaker can’t evolve?

“In the past, I’ve been responsible for a lot of stupid action movies,” says the Warners-based producer.

Not that Silver has changed all that much. Aside from “V,” he’s also out to prove that what he calls “muscular chick movies” can do solid business. In the upcoming “The Visiting” and “The Brave One,” Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster, respectively, may remind some people of Trinity, the gravity defying heroine of “Matrix,” played by Carrie-Anne Moss.

In “V,” Natalie Portman plays a disaffected character whose family has been killed by the government and whose head is shaved involuntarily.

Things changed for Silver when he produced the “Matrix,” directed by the eccentric and reclusive Wachowski brothers, who also penned the screenplay for “V.”

“While young male films may be my stock and trade, the ‘Matrix’ showed us that people were willing to accept something very different and very smart,” Silver says.

Silver has always been a somewhat enigmatic figure — a hard-driving action film producer as well as an architecture buff who bought and lovingly restored two Frank Lloyd Wright properties, the John Storer House in the Hollywood Hills and the Auldbrass Plantation in South Carolina.

Silver laughs when asked if he is actually defying — or offending — moviegoing taste in the case of “V,” which may bring back visions of the World Trade Center coming down.

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd, pic stars Hugo Weaving and Portman and was directed by James McTeigue, the Wachowskis’ longtime directing assistant.

Silver points out that he brought in the project in the 1990s, long before 9/11.

“It just felt right. The movie has strong ideas in it. But the ‘Matrix’ wasn’t a slam dunk either, at least among the critics. Some were very disturbed by it,” Silver says.

“But it’s by no means a new product. It was a comicbook series published in England during Margaret Thatcher’s rule. We’ve pretty much retained all the elements that were in the original comic book. V is a superhero, albeit a little aberrant,” Silver says.

In years past, studios haven’t liked to bump up against the political zeitgeist. But “V” is part of a new wave of big-budget hot-button studio projects, including Universal’s “United 93” from Universal and the Oliver Stone World Trade Center project from Par.

And Silver, who has generated untold riches for Warners — the “Matrix” franchise became a billion- dollar property — has certainly bought himself time to work on more idiosyncratic projects like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “V.”

Warners, as it does on most films these days, reduced the financial risk by taking on a co-financier, Virtual Studios, which put up 50% of the production budget for “V,” estimated at $50 million.

Next up for Silver is a series of films featuring women in leading roles, including Hilary Swank starrer “The Reaping,” Kidman starrer “The Visiting” and “The Brave One,” starring Foster.

“Brave One,” a female vigilante movie, and “Visiting,” a sort-of sequel to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” are what he defines as muscular chick films.

Silver doesn’t intend to ever abandon his roots entirely. One project being developed at Silver Prods. is a remake of “The Dirty Dozen.”

It doesn’t get more macho than that.