Today we wrap up our conversation with Wanted writer Mark Millar about seeing his and JG Jones Top Cow miniseries move from six comic book issues to a movie starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman opening this weekend.
For reference, this interview was conducted Tuesday, June 17th, and the premiere Millar is talking about took place on Thursday, June 19th.
Newsarama: With everything that you said about the changes from the comic book to the film, and obviously, you’re very enthusiastic about the re-envisioning of the story for the movie; what’s your feeling on that as a creator? After all, you and JG created something, and now people are seeing what’s kind of your story and is kind of not. Are you taking the Alan Moore approach of: the book is the book, and I wrote the book – the movie will be its own thing?
Mark Millar: That was always my thing – Alan Moore brought that Raymond Chandler idea to comics – the original comic is untouched no matter what happens with any movie. And that’s why I was preparing myself for the worst. But that said, when I read the final draft of the script, and when I sat in the screening room last month - they called me out to make some final tweaks to get it closer to the book again, I realized how much of it was like the book. I was really pleased.
The only thing that they really changed substantially was where the assassins came from, and that does obviously mean a radical change running through it, because suddenly Wesley isn’t a force for evil – in some ways, he’s a force for good. But it works. If they had turned it into a 15th century fantasy adventure, I’d have been pissed off, but it still feels very much like the same thing to me. The character journey James’ [McAvoy] character goes on is very much identical right down to the shots they take from the panel with the caption being the voice over. That’s very faithful, so I can forgive the origins of the villains. I just think that sometimes something that works on the page, just doesn’t work in film, so the big change they made in changing the origins for the villains just works for film. If people want the comic, the comic is still there.
I’m very philosophical about it, I guess. If they’d done it and made it rubbish, I’d be furious, but they’ve done it and it looks really good, so I’m really happy with it.
Kick-Ass is different even from this, because Matthew Vaughan is doing it page for page from the comic book, almost like 300. The script on it is so close to what I wrote. So I’ve been kind of spoiled a little bit, I suppose. But even with the next film that we do – before Chosen is adapted, I’ve got another one going out, and I’d be happy if they re-imagine it, and just keep the title. I’d be fine just as long as it was good.
NRAMA: But what can you do to make sure that they are good? Is there anything you can do to make sure, to use your examples, that they don’t slap your title on a 15th century fantasy story?
MM: What I make sure I do is that every single project I’m on, I make sure that the artist and I come on as producers. We don’t need to sell it for starters – so we’re only going to sell it to people we can trust. Wanted was actually incredibly lucky that it went to people who were extremely good, and it worked out really well. But one thing that I’m very conscious of now is that that’s not always the case. So I make sure nothing goes out unless I’m happy with who it’s going to. If they go and do something different with it after that point, I don’t mind, as long as it’s good.
NRAMA: While we’re catching you in a philosophical mood, what has Wanted done for you as a creator?
MM: Frank Miller gave me some really good advice ages back. He said that Marvel and DC, just by their very nature – they can’t help it – they burn through creators. So what you have to do – and I’m in my 30s now, and other guys like Brian and Warren are a year or two older than me, so they’re fine too…but when you reach your mid and late 40s, you find a lot of guys just not working at Marvel and DC anymore, or being replaced. Frank’s advice, which he gives to everyone, was to use whatever name recognition you can get from doing the big characters, and them get on to your own stuff as quickly as possible. He pointed out that Mike Mignola will never be fired from Hellboy. Likewise, Frank will never be fired from Sin City.
But it’s a big step to take, because you either take a big pay cut or you have to work for free when you do creator-owned stuff, so I can understand why people don’t want to take that risk, because everyone’s got bills to pay. But what was nice about Wanted was that it was my first foray into creator-owned work, and it made me realize – “Hang on a minute – six issues could pay more than the entire run I did with Bryan Hitch on the Ultimates.” Six issues of Wanted paid me more than 26 issues of that. And Kick-Ass looks like it’s going to be bigger again, so there’s a lovely sense of liberation that’s just as big as getting a chance to work on your childhood favorites. That chance of working on your childhood favorites will run out – and to have the confidence to go off and do my own thing is great, knowing that my income won’t go down. So that’s nice.
Also, creatively, it’s good too. If Stan Lee hadn’t created the Marvel Universe in the ‘60s and just kept doing the stuff that he read as a kid, you’ve never have Spider-Man and all the rest. I think that this generation of creators really kind of owe it to itself and the audience and the larger industry to come up with some good new stuff. I think Brian Vaughan and Robert Kirkman are the vanguards of that right now – I’m so impressed with what they do – they’ve added a lot more than what they’ve taken away with Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, The Walking Dead, Invincible and more. These guys are adding to the pot where some of the time many of us are a little too content to play with our childhood toys. I’m quite inspired by them.
NRAMA: In that sense, that you have gone off and created your own successful properties and projects now…have you ever thought about going back to Wanted in comics or are the Millarworld projects all about creating the new and not looking back?
MM: My creator-owned stuff isn’t as cynical as tying to start up a whole bunch of new franchises completely. Kick-Ass for example, I’m seeing as at least three series, whereas Wanted just seems like a finite story for me. If I went back, I think I would be betraying that little part of myself that said, “The End” when I was done. It’s easy to go back, don’t get me wrong – and I’ve been offered quite a lot of money to do it, but I’m happy with it. It’s a beginning, middle and end in six issues. What they want to do with the movie, of course, is different, and driven by other demands.
But with comics, I’ve got about 15 creator-owned projects that I want to do over the next few years. Some of them will be four issues long, some will be 20. But Wanted will stay at the original six.
NRAMA: Wrapping things up – what’s your week like coming up?
MM: Oh, it’s just mental. Yesterday, I had to go and get my portrait done for the National Portrait Gallery in Scotland. They’re doing an exhibition on writers in 2010 [laughs]. I’m not even sure the earth will exist in 2010, let along people will want to look at pictures of Scottish writers. Pathetically, though, I went and got my hair cut before the sitting, so that will be my movie premiere haircut as well. And I’ve had a couple of television interviews and print interviews, and while I was walking between the appointments for all of these, I was on my cell phone with more interviews. It’s been crazy like that for the last little while.
Today is a little bit easier, though – I’m literally in my boxers and a bathrobe now. I think we’re going to the cinema this evening, and then during the night, we’re flying to Los Angeles, and then the premiere is on Thursday. I’ll only be over there for three days, but it’s funny how quickly the week has filled up – breakfast and lunch and meetings as well. So the whole family is coming, as well as the babysitter. So it’s really going to be a great couple of days.
And there will be a couple of nice perks – things that you don’t get in comics. I see myself primarily as a comic guy, so I’m always shocked when you get these perks. One of them is that we’ve been given a special pass at Universal Studios Park, and we’ll have someone from the Studios with us so we won’t have to wait in any lines on the rides.
NRAMA: I wish this was an audio interview so people could hear your voice. I’d hazard a guess that you’re actually more excited about having someone to get you to the front of the line on rides than you are about a movie being made of your comic book [laughs].
MM: [laughs] But it’s true! I can’t believe it. They told me that wanted to talk about a possible sequel for the movie, and I was like, “Oh, okay,” and then they said that we’d be getting this treatment at the park, and I said, “What?! Are you serious?” I’m so excited about that – the best rides…I was there ten years ago or so, and stood forever, and it was just soul-destroying. But now, if I know that I’ve got someone who can get me on immediately…I don’t have to line up three different times to ride the best rides…it’s fantastic.
But the other thing that’s really cool as well – we’re flying over on Virgin Atlantic, who not only has the hottest air hostesses, but they have this incredible VIP treatment.
NRAMA: Was that all through the studio as well?
MM: No – actually, someone heard that I was going to a premiere for a movie, so I got a call asking for which movie, and I said it was the new Angelina Jolie film, and just an association with Angelina Jolie, you get VIP’d. And it’s a lifetime VIP thing. I asked why they were doing it for me, and they said that they thought I might be someone interesting to have in the First Class cabin. So even if you pay for a regular ticket, you get automatically upgraded into First, which is incredible. Normally, if I’m traveling for work, I can usually get them to pay for First Class, but if I’m going on holiday with the family, we just fly coach. Now we get automatic upgrades. They also send a car to your house to pick you up, and have someone meeting you at the airport to take you to the First Class lounge so you don’t have to wait in that horrible line. And did I mention that there’s a swimming pool at Heathrow Airport? It’s just really cool. [laughs]
But at the same time, I can’t find my cell phone. So I can’t get too big for my boots.