Quint chats with Mark Millar about random stuff like James Cameron, Mary Poppins and air travel... oh, and a little about Kick-Ass 2.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I've done many, man, many interviews over the last decade and a half. Sometimes they're just the facts, ma'am straight Q&A style and sometimes I get yelled at by folks in talkback because they go all over the place in a conversational style. I'm prepared to be yelled at for this one.
I don't know Mr. Millar well, but we met during the promo tour for the first Kick-Ass and talk on Twitter every once in a while. Pretty much we know each other just well enough to fuck off for the first half of this interview. Keep in mind this was done during the insanity that is Comic-Con. I was already burned out and it felt to me like Mark had been in the “sell the movie” mode for a while too, so it was a perfect storm to talk about random bullshit in our 15 minutes of chat time.
That's not to say we don't talk about Kick-Ass 2. We spend at least half the interview discussing the further exploits of Dave Lizewski and Mindy Macready... but before we get there we talk all manner of nonsense, from the horrors of air travel to The Hobbit, James Cameron and Mark's near-traumatic first viewing of Mary Poppins.
Check out the chat. The bit you miss at the beginning is that he was stuck on his plane for hours when flying out to Comic-Con. That's what prompts my own travel horror story. Enjoy the conversation!
Quint: I was on a flight once to Vegas. We landed about 45 minutes early, but there was a plane in our gate, so we had to sit there. The problem was that plane was incredibly late and when it pulled back someone decided somewhere to let the plane behind us in, I guess to cut off the domino effect of delayed flights.
Mark Millar: Isn't that a Twilight Zone episode?
Quint: We ended up sitting on the tarmac for about 4 hours, longer than the flight itself, before they figured out what to do with us. The biggest problem was that when the plane was on the ground they couldn't run the air conditioning and it was Las Vegas in the summer...
Mark Millar: They tell you to put down the windows because the sun's coming in. Yeah, that's horrific. Lucy and I were just sitting there, cursing Universal. I can't believe I'm saying nice things about the film! (laughs)
Quint: I just did a flight from Sydney to Austin...
Mark Millar: What were you doing down there?
Quint: I was down in New Zealand for Hobbit stuff.
Mark Millar: I forget The Hobbit exists! I really do!
Quint: Well, you got two more years to be reminded of them!
Mark Millar: I think I felt I was getting ripped off when I heard they were turning it into three movies, you know? I didn't see the first one. I thought, “I don't want to see a third of one movie.” Was it any good?
Quint: I liked it. You should see the Extended Edition because I'm in it!
Mark Millar: Seriously? I was going to say, how could they possibly do an extended version of something that's already stretched out? (laughs)
Quint: Here's the thing: Since Lord of the Rings ended up being first, I don't think general audiences would have accepted a straight adaptation of The Hobbit. It's too slight compared to Rings and even Tolkien thought so, which is why he wrote a bunch of connecting tissue in the appendices to Lord of the Rings. So those guys are making The Hobbit, but using as much of that connecting tissue and background material as possible to make it one giant Middle Earth tale that will fit together tonally as one big story.
Mark Millar: Is he adding (new) stuff, then?
Quint: A bit, but from what I understand most of it comes from the appendices, like where Gandalf was going every time he left the dwarves and Bilbo because the stuff he was dealing with, according to Tolkien, are directly related to the beginning of Lord of the Rings.
Mark Millar: Oh, that's pretty cool.
Quint: I think people were a little harsh on the first movie, but I think people will accept these new films a bit more because the story breaks away a bit from the template of Fellowship. In other words it won't feel like people have already seen this story in this universe.
Mark Millar: How did it do? Did it hit a billion?
Quint: Yep, it did.
Mark Millar: In a shit year, that's incredible.
Quint: Didn't they project Man of Steel coming close to that as well?
Mark Millar: It had a great opening weekend, but it's sitting at about $650 million or so.
Quint: I'm holding out hope for the Titanic-style rise of Pacific Rim! Remember, Titanic opened pretty small, but it had amazing legs.
Mark Millar: (laughs) How does Jim Cameron do that? He did it with Avatar as well! When I heard he did $70 million or something opening weekend I thought “Fuck! Disaster.” But then you just saw it going up. You'd hate to be coming out five weeks after a Jim Cameron movie!
He's a genius. Although I wasn't a huge fan of Avatar, it's my least favorite of his films, I'm a huge Jim Cameron fan. He can connect to an audience like no other.
Quint: He knows how to do it, he knows how to steer the marketing. He's literally a genius, he knows everybody's job. Not just the crew, but on the exec side as well.
Mark Millar: There's almost nobody like him. When you think of that generation of guys, it's weird. I don't know who the next wave will be, where they'll come from.
Quint: What's weird is they call came in around the same time. Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg...
Mark Millar: You forget how innovative Lucas was from a business model point of view he's the most successful of them all even though people are quite down on him. Then you've got the geniuses like De Palma as well, who are kid of weirdly forgotten now, which is kind of sad because De Palma's body of work is amazing. Also John Carpenter. Carpenter has done, I'd say, more great movies than almost anyone outside of Michael Curtiz.
Quint: He had a run that I don't think I've seen any filmmaker match, even Spielberg... maybe Hitchcock had a similar run. I'm not a huge Dark Star fan, but from Assault on Precinct 13 through to They Live he threw something good to great out every single movie. Christine might be his weakest in there, but it's not a bad movie.
Mark Millar: It hovers between four and five stars, doesn't it? Even Spielberg had a two star by his third movie.
Quint: With 1941?
Mark Millar: Yeah, and almost everyone has. Like Super 8 I don't think was as good as Star Trek and all that. Everybody has a little dip somewhere. Tarantino I think is our most successful modern filmmaker. Maybe (Matthew) Vaughn. Vaughn hasn't let us down yet. I always tease him about it and say “You're going to fuck up at some point.”
The thing is to hit five movies in a row. There's almost nobody that can do it. Nolan might have done it, although his movie's aren't fun or anything, but you can't say they're not good films.
Quint: I dig Insomnia and that's the one people usually identify as his weakest.
Mark Millar: I like Insomnia a lot, actually. I prefer it to any of his Batman films. But Vaughn so far... I know a lot about Secret Service and that looks amazing as well. I don't think he's going to fuck up for a while. He's quite tough on himself and he has a really good eye for what works and what doesn't. He's quite like Spielberg in that way. And he's a great crowd pleaser, he's great at manipulating the audience.
I think that's what's missing from a lot of these summer films, there's no Spielbergian manipulation going on. Like with Superman, you should be (breathes heavily and looks excited), but you're sitting through it like that (just stares straight ahead) and felt nothing while watching it.
Quint: I never agreed with the critique of it being bad when a film is manipulative. You know that movies are manipulations, right? Every time a director frames a shot, an actor gives a line-reading, an editor makes a cut, that's a manipulation to make you feel something. Storytelling is manipulation, so when people, especially movie fans, say they don't like to be manipulated, I just kind of shake my head. Super 8 was a great example of hearing that critique. I don't mind the manipulation there and I love that Michael Giacchino isn't afraid to go big with his scores. I love big scores in movies, which is another thing that has been lost in the recent wave of blockbusters. Now most scores are happy to be subtle background noise, but when I was growing up every movie had a big score, whether it was a family film, a drama or a blockbuster...
Mark Millar: It tells you how to feel!
Quint: Sometimes they went a step beyond that, too. The Princess Bride score, for instance, actually comments on the film like it's an observer, not just strengthening the moments that are there. I love that.
Mark Millar: Raiders is probably the best example of that. When he swings and you hear the swell of music you know that you're supposed to be having a good time.
I didn't appreciate how important the soundtrack was until I was watching the final cut of Kick-Ass 2. About three weeks previous I had seen it without the music. It had a bit of a temp track, but it was very rough. The difference whenever the final music came on was spectacular. The fight scenes felt like something. I hadn't realized because I had never seen a movie without proper sound before and to actually see it overlaid I got just how important sound was in general.
Quint: I saw a clip once of the scene in Halloween where patient Michael Myers steals the car. They showed it once with Carpenter's music and it's great and creepy and moody and then they showed it with some circus music and it suddenly turns into a comedy. The way the actors were reacting and all that just came across as funny. It's all movie magic!
Mark Millar: You've probably seen these a million times, but I love the Scary Mary Poppins and The Shining recuts...
Quint: I love those!
Mark Millar: It just shows you how important an editor is. It's genius!
Quint: Well, Mary Poppins was always a little bit of a horror movie anyway. That movie scared the crap out of me when I was little... the sequence where the kids get lost in London and the old hag comes out of the alleyway and the dogs are barking...
Mark Millar: That was the first movie I saw in a cinema, Mary Poppins. I have a very vague memory of (the movie itself), but I remember my brother, who was with me, pimping me out at it! What happened was there was a couple who were there and they said, “He's such a lovely little boy...” I was about 4 and I had this gigantic, massive blond curles, the Art Garfunkle, and they said, “Can he come sit with us?” And my brother said, “If you give me fifty pence!” My brother literally took their money and they enjoyed watching a Disney film sitting with me, they didn't have a kid. They could have been abusers or something, but my brother got fifty pence!
Quint: Your memory of Mary Poppins could have been much worse!
Mark Millar: I'm the only person who remembers the cock in Mary Poppins! (laughs)
Quint: The hole cut in the popcorn box...
Mark Millar: (laughs) It was the weirdest, most inedible hot dog I ever had! There was mustard at one end and nothing at the other. (laughs)
Quint: Alright, this is getting weird! (laughs) Maybe we should talk a little about Kick-Ass 2? I didn't read the books because I knew the movie was coming, so I figured I'd let the movie tell me the story. It seems like there's a focus on Mindy this time around...
Mark Millar: Well, she was the best thing in the first movie for people, I think. All her scenes were gold. The trick is to not overexpose her. I can't believe I keep talking in Star Wars terms, it makes me sounds like such an idiot, but I always come back to Star Wars because it's so beautifully structured. In the three Star Wars films Luke Skywalker is audience point of view. He's the guy you follow because he's the one you're most like. You're not as cool as Han Solo, you're the new young guy seeing this world for the first time.
(In Kick-Ass) that was Dave, that's his role through all three of the movies, in all three of the books. Mindy is Han Solo and if you see too much of Han Solo then he's not going to be as cool. If you add up all of Mindy's scenes in the first movie it's maybe 15-20 minutes. It's not a lot. Same with Han when you watch Star Wars. There's surprisingly little of Han in it, so you love it when he comes in. You know you're having a good time when he appears.
Hit-Girl is so competent and so brilliant that she would solve any problem in a real life situation, so you have to kind of almost have to pull her out of it a bit. So, I wanted her to be Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Thematically that's what the second movie is. It's about a little girl who has been killing people since she was five, she's living with her stepfather who says “you're not allowed to kill people anymore” and she has to hang up her guns, like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. But the whole time you're watching Unforgiven you're going “I can't wait until Clint takes down those guys and goes out to nail some guy!” It's the same with this.
Quint: See, that wasn't a Star Wars reference. You're doing good!
Mark Millar: Yeah, I'm growing up a little bit! (laughs) This is Empire Strikes Back. This is the bigger, bolder, darker version where you see more of that world. We had a finite number of characters in that first movie and now it's exploding out into not only a super team that Dave's now a part of, but also the reaction to the super team, which is the super villain team. Suddenly we've got ice planet Hoth, a second Death Star is being rumored to be built, that sort of thing.
Quint: I don't remember Darth Vader having any feathers on his costume...
Mark Millar: (laughs) It's exciting because it feels like a further exploration of the world we enjoyed in the first one, which is cool. And because a third of the way through the movie Mindy has to give up being Hit-Girl we can focus on stuff we couldn't do in the first film. Because she's fifteen you can start playing around with some stuff that I touched on in the book, but the character is a couple years older in the movie and Jeff (Wadlow) was able to go real deep on it, which is the idea of super bitchy high school girls giving Mindy a hard time.
In the book it was really important to me to show a Hit-Girl you didn't see in the first one. It's a great gag, a little kid that's killing people and wearing, but you've seen that gag. For the second one you need something new, so you had to think “What makes her vulnerable?” And it's not a physical vulnerability, so it had to be a social vulnerability. She isn't the coolest kid in the school. Socially she's awful. She grew up with dad, she watched Van Damme movies, she didn't watch Glee and everything so she has no idea what she's doing in school and these bitchy queen bee types just destroy her.
To see that happen to Hit-Girl is awful because in her head she wants to kill them, but she can't. She's in the classroom. She goes home crying...
Quint: Isn't that all of us? We want to kill people, but we're just not allowed to!
Mark Millar: That's one of the things I miss from superhero comics now, the geeky secret identity, like Peter Parker. Every single reader identifies more with Clark Kent than with Superman, but ever since Dean Cain time Clark Kent has been kind of cool as well. You start to think, “What's that all about?” People relate to Clark and that's their entry point to that character, so Mindy being vulnerable at school makes us, at some level, see Hit-Girl as a real person. All that's great and it works really well in the film.
Quint: Speaking of Spider-Man, I got a real Sinister Six vibe from the footage, seeing Chris building his villain team.
Mark Millar: (laughs) It's nice to play with those archetypes, isn't it? You think “What would that be in the real world? How would you find a bunch of guys to do this?” So, of course, Chris has to go out and pay them!
Quint: One of my favorite glimpses of anything in the footage was John Leguizamo's character...
Mark Millar: He's the only thing that's not in the book, actually. There's a couple of small things that have been added. In a comic you can have internal monologues and things like that, but you can't have that in a movie as such, so what we have instead is this character that Jeff created called Javier and he's kind of an evil Alfred to Chris' Bruce Wayne. He's a mobster who comes in and does all of his dirty work. It's a really nice character, actually, because he brings a kind of warmth and he humanizes Chris' character.
Quint: Are you bringing the movie to Austin?
Mark Millar: Is there a festival?
Quint: No, I just want to watch it!
Mark Millar: (Laughs) You just want to see it for free!
Quint: Absolutely! Actually, there's a precedent. Ain't It Cool screened the first film at Butt-Numb-A-Thon.
Mark Millar: That screening is what started the buzz on the last movie. People were losing their minds. I wasn't at that one, but Matthew was telling me people were stamping in the back row whenever they started that music with Hit-Girl in the corridor...
Quint: What was great about that screening was it was such an early screening that the soundtrack was still the temp music, so it was filled with famous superhero themes, including John Williams' Superman. It actually added a lot to the piss-taking of superhero tropes aspect of the movie. I realize with the rights situation it would be impossible to release that cut, but I really wish it were possible for people to see the movie that way.
Mark Millar: We should put it online! Just release it and not say who did it! I love that cut. I thought the Hit-Girl sequence with the Banana Splits music would be one of the things to go as well. I couldn't believe it when that stayed in the movie. I think that's my favorite bit in the movie. Matthew is really good at choosing just the right thing for each scene. If Tarantino was doing that scene he would have put the Banana Splits in there!
The one I wanted, actually, for the end of this one, but I came up with it too late... Matthew was like, “Shit! We've locked the movie, it's already too late!” You know the program, The Greatest American Hero? We didn't get it in the UK, but now I'm slightly obsessed with it. You know that theme music? I wanted that to be our credits music! It's so catchy, isn't it? I think it's so in tune with Kick-Ass as well and after all the hyper violence of the third act of this movie... to then cut to that in the credits... (laughs) Maybe we'll use it in the third one.
Matthew said to me... I texted him late at night when I thought of this, and he texted me back and said, “Sometimes your ideas are so shit that they're kind of genius. Let's do this in the next one!”
There you go. A couple of nerds bullshitting. Don't say I didn't warn ya' in advance!
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