Dir. Paul McGuigan PUSHes For Fresh Look @ Comic Book Genre

Image from the motion pictue 'Push' starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning

Nick Gant [Chris Evans] is hardly what you would consider traditional hero material. As a young boy, he witnessed his father’s murder at the hands of Henry Carver [Djimon Hounsou], the extremely powerful leader of a covert government branch known as The Division, whose mission it is to hunt down and control those individuals with extraordinary powers.

In Nick’s case, he’s a mover, or a telekinetic, who has been laying low in Hong Kong and using his Jedi skills to barely get by. Of course, it all hits the fan in the upcoming big screen adventure Push when a spunky clairvoyant named Cassie Holmes [Dakota Fanning] shows up on his doorstep with a vision that changes Nick’s life.

“I was sent the script by producer Bill Vince who had done a few movies,” recalls director Paul McGuigan. “I was surprised to get such a script through the door because usually I get hardcore gangster movies where 10 people are dead on the first page. When I read it and no one had gotten killed early on, I was like ‘Whoa!’ I was fascinated he sent it to me because normally I don’t get that comic book genre. Bill explained he thought this was a movie that should be done with hand held camera in the way I normally do. That’s what we did. We went to Hong Kong, liked it, and decided to make the movie there.”

Indeed, after gritty dramas like Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin, McGuigan welcomed the chance to explore the world created in Push.

“I love comic books and what I did was go online to look up people who had been experimented on,” reveals McGuigan. “It turned out people had been experimented on in the Cold War, especially by China and Russia. The more I looked, the more I saw it just wasn’t in the Cold War, but also in Victorian times where people were fascinated by what was out there, such as women who claimed they could talk to the other side. It dawned on me that people are just fascinated by the untapped power of the human mind. Then I saw the Internet was fascinated by it and thought if that was the case, maybe I should make a movie about it.”

With Hellyboy II, Wanted, Dark Knight, Hancock, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk smashing into theatres recently, it’s no wonder they declared 2008 the year of the superhero. With its good versus evil themes combined with some uncanny powers, McGuigan feels Push and its characters are very much in the same vein as those blockbusters.

“Well, these are comic book characters in that genre of movie,” notes McGuigan. “We tried to do something, which is a fresh look at the genre including shoot it all hand held. There are a lot of effects, but the effects are put on top of what we shot rather than with green and blue screen.

"I felt the Hulk was a great movie up until the last third and then it became like a cartoon. It was two cartoon characters fighting in front of me and I didn’t care. I thought James McAvoy’s movie Wanted was a joke. People were laughing in the theatre. I’m like ‘It’s about guys that weave? It’s kinda cool but I don’t get it.’ Iron Man and Dark Knight were fantastic so we’re somewhere in between of that genre. We don’t have those fans that are obsessed by the way it should look and who should be in it. They have their own ideas about Iron Man and Batman, but we get a clean slate.”

During Nick’s journey, viewers are introduced to pushers, watchers, bleeders, shifters, sniffs, shadows, readers, shrouds, stitches, and wipers. All of them have their own distinct gifts although remembering who does what won’t require a scorecard.

“I wouldn’t say you get bogged down; it’s just the film is filled with people with all these powers,” offers McGuigan. “I’m obsessed by comic books and sci-fi so I get obsessed by each individual’s powers and what they do. I can quite literally talk about this for hours and the movie is only one hour and 45 minutes.

"Chris’ character can move things across the room. Quite frankly, what they can do is not all that amazing, but it’s amazing enough for you to go ‘Whoa!’ Nick can move a certain little bit or Cassie can only see a little bit into the future and she doesn’t know how to use it. All these powers aren’t harnessed and they haven’t come to grips with them yet. That’s the other thing I like about Push is you won’t see people flying through the air. These people and their situations feel real. Then it’s fun when we start throwing big things around.”

At the same time, McGuigan found it challenging coming up with how each power would visually manifest.

“As a director, you are always thinking,” agrees McGuigan. “You have set out a special language for the movie. There are a lot of flash forwards and flashbacks, or there are people who can put something in your head like false memories that you think have happened. How do you visualize that? You have to be very aware of that so I was thinking was this is going to be quite complicated to figure how I’m visually going to tell this, to let the audience know they are in a flash forward, a flashback, or a memory. It was all done through the camera so we had 60 millimeter cameras, would wind them up, and shoot 20 seconds. It would all be funky. It’s a visual treat really because you get to go to places you normally don’t.

I could show off as a director a little bit I guess is what I’m trying to say [laughter]. You aren’t just wanking off to be a clever director though. I need people to understand they are in a flash forward. You get a snippet of what you think is going to happen in the movie and then you go back to modern day stuff. Hearing myself speak, I’m thinking ‘I’m making it sound like War and Peace! This could be the longest Internet interview ever!’ [laughter]”

Although Evans has played in the superhero sandbox before in Fantastic Four and Fanning is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s most talented young actresses, on paper they are certainly an interesting choice to pair up for an action packed super-powered flick.

“They are an odd couple and that is something in the movie that really works for me,” states McGuigan. “Those two are brilliant. They had this kind of brother/sister bond in the movie. I wouldn’t have done this movie if Dakota said no. I would have just said ‘I’m out of here!’ When I read the script, that’s the only person I thought of. I even read the script four or five times before I said yes. I really enjoyed that I could make Dakota into this little punky, sassy, runt where before she was this sweet little kid. We went for swearing, Cassie drinks, and gets drunk. Her and Chris had an amazing chemistry together.

When I met Chris, I thought he was a quiet, silent man and had liked what he had done before. He had a sense of humor which I wanted in this movie. Those two worked really well but I did question them together. I know when you say interesting, you mean that might not work [laughter]. I’m glad you questioned it because it’s strange, but it works. They have this brother/sister thing where he doesn’t want to help her but for some reason, he has to. He puts himself in danger and gets so beat up. She never once gets upset he’s almost dead; she just picks him up and it’s ‘Let’s get on with it!’”

Sequels are a popular concept in Hollywood these days so if Push delivers the goods at the box office, McGuigan would understandably be thrilled to explore more adventures of Nick and Cassie in further installments.

“Bring it on baby!” exclaims McGuigan. “I really enjoyed the genre and creating this world no one’s ever seen before. That was fun as a film director. If you can do that and get paid for it … I would wake up at 4 a.m. with these stupid ideas and were like ‘Let’s try this!’ I would love to wake up everyday where I’m excited to go to work. This was a great ride and it really satisfied me as a director."

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2009 - The Year of the Comic book Movie (Again?)

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