Mark Millar on the Kick-Ass Movie
This year saw Mark Millar attack theaters with the film version of his and J.G. Jones’ Wanted, and if things continue apace, next year, movie-goers will be buzzing about the movie version of his and John Romita Jr.’s Kick-Ass.The film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is a fairly straight-ahead adaptation of the Kick-Ass miniseries, published by Marvel’s ICON imprint. In it, a normal boy in the normal world (that is, ours) is inspired by comic books to give being a real life superhero a go. With initially bad, but then, pretty good results. Eighteen year old Aaron Johnson will play Dave Lizewski, while Chloe Moretz will play the nine-year old girl who follows (albeit more violently) in Lizewski’s footsteps. Most recently, Nicolas Cage was named as playing the father of Moretz’s character - an ex-police officer who wants to bring down a drug lord, and has trained his daughter to be a lethal weapon. Lyndsy Fonseca will play the object of Lizewski’s affection, while Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse will play Red Mist, the son of a mobster who tries to discover “Kick-Ass’” identity.
We spoke with Millar about the casting news, and how he’s involved with the film. Newsarama: First off Mark, having spoken with you about the film version of Wanted, and now, hearing you talk about the Kick-Ass movie, is it safe to say that your involvement with the movie version of Kick-Ass is different? More than just writing the comic and meeting the director? Mark Millar: Wanted was kind of like your first comic book project in that you’re learning the ropes. You’re getting to know editor’s names and what one company is like compared to another. It was a really new experience for me, and luckily it all worked out great. It made a lot of money, and a lot of people were really happy with it. But what’s quite nice with Kick-Ass is that I’ve learned how to ride the bike now. Matthew Vaughn is a dream director/producer for any writer, because he keeps the writer of the source material super involved. We did this deal before Christmas – I wrote the thing mostly last year, so this was all set up before the comic came out. Since then, I’ve been to every meeting, seen everyone who’s been cast. If you’re an executive producer, it’s usually just a small courtesy, but this level of involvement is really rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty in the screen story and in the comic book, too. So it’s very, very close to the material, which makes it slightly different than Wanted – Wanted is probably 70% of the book, but this is 110%. NRAMA: Before we get into the cast and casting, there was news about the film’s financing – that is, no studio was eager to touch this film due to the violence and the age of the protagonist(s)… MM: That story’s kind of grown a little bit in the telling. What happened was that Matthew has a deal with one studio, and they asked him what he was doing next. He said he was interested in both Chosen and Kick-Ass, and when he saw the scripts for Kick-Ass, he decided that he would do it first. He liked it because it was unlike any other superhero property that was out there at the moment. Everything else is pretty much hitting the four quadrants, and this one is pretty much R-rated material. We got the screenplay together Jane Goldman, who did Stardust with Matthew and is just an amazing screenwriter came in and did several drafts and made it just spectacular. We took it to the studio, and they said they loved it, but then started asking for all kinds of changes. NRAMA: What were they looking to change? MM: All the things that made it that thing that was a little bit different. So Matthew told them he wasn’t prepared to change it, to compromise the integrity of the project. He took it to a couple of others guys, but they had the exact same concerns about it – a little girl who’s nine years old and is cutting people’s heads off – “Can we make her 18?” They weren’t trying to change the actual content; they were trying to change some of the superficial and so on. Again, we just felt that they were compromising the material too much, so we said no thanks. Luckily though, Matthew is incredibly wealthy and has a lot very wealthy friends. So, because he believes in the project so much, he made some calls and gathered together upwards of $60 million, and it’s self-financed. So he’s doing the movie on its own back, and someone else will distribute. This was all prior to Wanted coming out, and people were asking if you really could make an R-rated superhero movie, and then Wanted made $300 million at the box office, and should make another $200 million on DVD.
So people are now getting it, and we’re going to get a better deal than we would have initially. So it’s all worked out very nice.NRAMA: So the casting…given the slow roll-out of the cast members – did you get the newer faces in first, and were waiting for the bigger names who were holding out? MM: We actually looked at so many people. The biggest challenge was trying to find someone who is charismatic and in their late teens. Kick-Ass, the movie, will stand or fall on whether or not you like this kid. After we looked at 100 guys, before we found Aaron, we kind of understood why the “kids” on Happy Days were played by 35 year olds. I never got that before now – really, when you’re looking at actors in their late teens, there really aren’t a lot of people that can carry a movie. It’s a very rare thing. They haven’t quite got that magnetism that you need. So, that was the biggest challenge – we were trying out everyone, from famous people to people who were trying out for their first movie. We had a lot of big names, too – and we were going to spend the money on “Kick-Ass” himself, too, but we couldn’t find the guy. We had some dream choices for the others, like Big Daddy, the redneck superhero who trains our little girl, and was introduced at the end of issue #3. They’re a father-daughter super-team. It’s like the Punisher, but with a daughter, and more extreme. She’s this little 9 year old neo-con that hates welfare cheese, asylum seekers and immigrants crossing the borders, so we needed a real charismatic dad for her. We threw a lot of names around for her, and in my original script, I’d written that we needed someone with a real ‘Nicolas Cage vibe’ because I was thinking of his look in Raising Arizona. NRAMA: And then… MM: Right - coincidentally, amazingly, we got Nicolas Cage. It all happened while I was in the states on tour for War Heroes. We had wanted to try and get him, but the movie is really moving fast, and unfortunately, most big names are tied up a year or at least six months out, so you have to match up someone’s schedule with your shooting schedule. At the last minute, Cage said he was able to do it. Also, by an amazing piece of good luck, we were able to find a semi-unknown actor, Aaron Johnson to come in a play Kick-Ass himself, and the minute we all saw him, we knew this was the guy. It was one of those Christopher Reeve moments where you knew you had the right guy. NRAMA: Tell me about the casting process, especially for the unknowns. How did you end up, for instance, figuring out who, among a couple dozen little girls can swear like a sailor – or worse than a sailor, while committing acts of horrific violence? MM: That was one of the funniest things we did. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to show this on the DVD extras, but every night, I would log on to a special website with a password, and they had uploaded the casting sessions with the prospective little girl and Dave [“Kick-Ass”]. That was always my favorite part – to log on and watch these kids... NRAMA: Swear and get all angry? MM: [laughs] You had all these kids who looked like Disney Channel people – cute as a button, just swearing like sailors. It was my favorite thing in the whole world – it was just hilarious. And then I would be wracked with pangs of guilt, thinking “My God, what are we doing?” But pretty spoon I’d find it all very funny again, and end up showing my friends. The day we found Chloe Moritz…it was unbelievable. Everybody in the room just got really excited – the other little girls were good, but Chloe just knew how to swear. She put her heart and soul into it. She’s a brilliant actress. She gives you the same feeling that you got when you saw Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver when she was 12. You just can’t believe that a child is capable of pulling off this stuff. It’s amazing. And the chemistry between her and Aaron in the scenes that they’ve done together is quite amazing. I feel that we’re tapping into something quite new here – the movie’s working out so well, and the comic, it’s only on its fourth issue, and it’s outselling Spider-Man. I think it’s one of those really lucky things that’s supposed to happen occasionally. I think we’ve captured the zeitgeist, and it’s really smart on Matthew’s part – this feels like a post Spider-Man superhero. NRAMA: It seems that the market may be receptive to going in other directions with superheroes, as long as it’s done well… MM: Yeah – I think we’ve used up Superman and Batman a while ago. Dark Knight – in my heart of hearts, I don’t feel was a Batman movie. It was a great movie, but it was a great Joker movie. Every other Batman movie that the Joker has not been in hasn’t been a financial success. Batman Begins is a great movie, but it just made its money back. And Superman Returns didn’t make its money back. I think those ‘40s characters, the World War II characters, as much as I love them, I think the public has seen them, and aren’t as interested in them. The Marvel characters are still going great, but they’re now approaching Spider-Man 4, X-Men 4 – and they’re moving on to the secondary Marvel characters, like Iron Man and Thor compared to the global franchises. I think there’s a gap in the market – people are clearly hungry for this material and nature abhors a vacuum – people want to see more superhero material, but we’ve used up what we’ve got. So I think a lot of interest in creator-owned material has been fast-tracked because of that. I think I’m just in the right place at the right time. NRAMA: Back to Nic Cage – he has an…interesting reputation with comic fans, and something of a reputation with comic book movies. Take us through the process that landed you with him… MM: To me, it was always just a massive plus- the idea of having Nic Cage in your movie is like having Angelina Jolie in your movie, only Nic Cage is more expensive. I think Nic Cage is one of those guys who, even though people have criticized his films, when he’s on, and when he’s with a great director, he can be absolutely transcendent, absolutely brilliant. So, I think with someone like Matthew, combines with Nicolas Cage, combined with an over the top comic book character can be a lot of fun – and bring a redneck, right-wing superhero with a big moustache to life. I think we might actually have an iconic character here. I’m actually ecstatic about it. NRAMA: Time-wise, where will the comic be by the time the movie comes out? As people have said, Cage was announced as a cast member about the same time the character debuted in the comic… MM: The comic won’t finish until the spring, and the movie will be out a few months later. I think we’ll just have the trade out in time for the movie, which I think is unheard of. The film version of Kick-Ass is currently shooting in London.