It’s a chilly night in Toronto and in a donut shop parking lot, a green costume clad Dave Lizewski is outnumbered. Not to worry though. It may be the fledgling hero’s baptism by fire, but somehow he still manages to dish out some serious lumps to three thugs before growling “I’m Kick-Ass!” to a guy recording the event on his phone. Of course, this is a pivotal scene in Lionsgate’s film adaptation of Kick-Ass, the Marvel/ICON comic book by creative masterminds Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. After multiple takes, lead actor Aaron Johnson sat down during his dinner break to talk about embodying this unique vision and how the movie is going to seriously, need we say it, kick ass!
Newsarama: So Aaron, how does it feel to be Kick-Ass?
Aaron Johnson: It’s good fun, man. It was quite a shock. It was all about the right place at the right time. It was quite exciting and kind of like a boy’s dream. When I was growing up, I’d dress up like a superhero in an action movie. I’m really enjoying this and working with really great actors as well. Chris Mintz-Plasse dressed up as Red Mist is so funny. It’s just a really good experience.
Nrama: What’s it like working with Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn?
Johnson: I haven’t got to meet Mark Millar yet, but I’m really keen on meeting him because I’m on the second issue of War Heroes and obviously I’m following Kick-Ass and The Ultimates. I’m trying to keep up with what’s going on today because I didn’t really know much about comics before I got the job but then, a month before rehearsals, I was going through comic books, reading up on Watchmen and other projects. But yeah, I’ll meet Mark Millar back in London, I think. I’ll be really excited to do that.
Nrama: How does it feel to know what is going to happen in the comic before it actually happens?
Johnson: Yeah, it’s kind of strange. Jane [Goldman], the writer on this, Mark Millar, and Matthew have really created the end of the comic. I think they had a different ending but all together worked it. It’s good that we’re going to stick to the comic. I know when I read it, Wanted was completely different than the movie. It would be really great if we could stick to the comic book.
Nrama: Since you mentioned him, can you talk about Red Mist and why he’s your arch nemesis?Johnson: I don’t necessarily see him as an arch nemesis at first because the idea is Kick-Ass and Red Mist are possible partners. Obviously, Red Mist is all a bit of a scheme in this and there’s a twist at the end. He goes a bit evil but it’s kind of strange cause in all my scenes with Chris, I can’t stop laughing. I can’t really see him as a bad, bad influence. I suppose together we’re a bad influence on set since we get into a little bit of trouble.
Nrama: In the scene we just witnessed, you moved around quite fluidly. Have you been doing any stunt training or are you naturally agile and athletic?
Johnson: I did a lot of activities when i was younger and a lot of dance so it was easy for me to learn the choreography. Chloe [Moretz], who plays Hit Girl, did two months of crazy hardcore training. She has a lot of flips, jumps, and leaps while my character just gets the sh*t beat out of him. We did a couple of weeks of stuff like choreography, but most of the stuff we have to pick up on the day. And then you want to keep it kind of rough; you don’t want it to be choreographed. You want it to be a bit manic. We just have to be like “This is how it’s going to be.” My character is not supposed to be a skilled fighter so it’s good they just chucked me into it swinging around. You get a better reaction this way.
Nrama: Is it exhausting? Looking at this scene, it looks emotionally and physically intense.
Johnson: No, that’s what I really love. You’ll see me walking around set and then five minutes before, everybody just psyches themselves up. It’s the same for the stunt guys. Everyone has to get themselves back into that energy. You just need a couple of minutes. Some actors might be method but then no one can interact with you. You psych yourself up and get back into the thought process and the energy where you were last at. But I think that’s why you need a director.
Nrama: What’s your favorite facet of playing a character like Kick-Ass?
Johnson: I think it’s great that I’m really far from the character David Lizewski who is an American, original, quirky, normal guy. I think it’s really nice that I can go from a vulnerable naive guy to putting on a mask where he’s got all this confidence. It’s like split personalities so it’s really good fun you can play around with. It’s really nice that a lot of my scenes in the high school have been with Clark Duke. He keeps a straight face, which is so funny.
Nrama: As a young actor, are you feeling any pressure not to mess up something that has such a huge fan base?
Johnson: That’s the only thing that worries me the most. There are a lot of comic book fans that might see it that way and I don’t want to take it away from that. It’s a lot to live up to. It does kinda worry me but I’ve never had to deal that pressure so you don’t want to think about it. I guess what you can do is believe in the people around you who are working with you. Hopefully, it turns out all right and I don’t get beaten at Comic-Con.
Nrama: How did it feel putting that costume on the first time?Johnson: Yeah, it was great. It was back in London with the costume designer. I had no idea it would be like a wet suit. It’s got to be a sort of suit he could buy on EBay and put together himself. I liked it because I knew my character wouldn’t have a Batman suit with all the weapons or a six-pack. It’s pretty cool and kinda different. I like that. That’s what this character is about. He’s really unique and different.
Nrama: Is Kick-Ass the type of hero you’d like to come and rescue you if you were in a dire situation?
Johnson: He’s doing very well at the moment with saving that other poor guy from three men. I guess so. He’s kind of different being a young boy going out. I think it’s quite cool cause the first time he gets beaten, goes to the hospital, and gets a metal back plate fit in, that’s almost where he becomes a superhero superhuman thing because he doesn’t feel pain as much. It’s quite cool really.
Nrama: Do you see Kick-Ass as a hero or a vigilante?
Johnson: At the end of the day, he does become sort of a hero because he goes back in to help out Mindy and save the day. Maybe that’s the heroic thing of saving people’s lives, or trying his best. That’s kind of important. You get people like that in the news nowadays where someone jumps in for their mate’s stabbing at school or what a hero like this young teenager is. I think he’s doing the heroic thing. It isn’t a lot different than Spider-Man because we’re trying to make it real. There are vigilantes in the real world, but because they dress up as other comic book people we know, you see them like superheroes. It’s interesting and an amazing script. It really is. It’s going to be exciting. If you’ve seen Layer Cake, Matthew is excellent. Just seeing some of the shots and dailies are so f*****g cool. It’s going to be cool because it has that gangster edgy sort of style on it, but then you see kids running around in costumes. There’s Kick-Ass and Red Mist in a Mustang and there’s the colors in it as well. It’s going to be fun.
Nrama: How hands-on of a director is Matthew Vaughan?Johnson: He’s excellent. Him and the writers worked on it for ages. He really knows about every character and what he wants. It’s especially very visual as well. He’ll just keep on top of if, go through what happened previously, and keep you on your toes. You don’t want a director praising you all the time and saying “Yeah, yeah. That was really good.” He’ll keep you on your toes and keep pushing you so you improve. I think that’s brilliant.
Nrama: For people who haven’t read the comic book, what motivates Dave to become Kick-Ass? What makes him tick?
Johnson: He loses his mother and it’s just him and his father at home at the moment. He’s quite a lonely sort of guy, but nothing is really happening in his life. It gets to that point where he’s still a teenager and he’s starting to fall for girls. He needs to break that confidence barrier and really grow into who he’s going to become. He’s really into comic books and doesn’t understand why no one dresses up like a superhero and does it. So he gives it a shot and accidentally comes across a fight, fails, goes to the hospital, gets rebuilt, and becomes a superhuman kick-ass. It’s one of those things that you feel you get so close to but yet, it was the only thing he could run away to. That was his hide, that was his buzz that was personal to him. He can’t help but have to go back out, dress up, and see what he can improve. He knew from the first fight, which would have been the first fight he had ever been in, what he needs to do to improve. You have to go through mistakes to learn from them. Then he starts to grow up into a young man and go through that teenage arrogance.
Nrama: When you were a kid, did you have a favorite superhero?
Johnson: I think it was Wolverine, to be honest. I was always running around trying to stick knives between my fingers or any sort of spikes. I liked Wolverine a lot. And the Hulk was interesting because he was beefy. I liked the cartoons. Either that or it would have been the Human Torch.
Nrama: Can there be a Kick-Ass 2? Are you signed on for a sequel?
Johnson: There could be [laughs]. There are sort of rumors of what they are going to do with it. I’ve heard sort of plotlines but yeah....I don’t know what to say.