Hey friends, Barbarella here after speaking with Adam Egypt Mortimer about his latest film ARCHENEMY, which comes out on Friday, December 11 in Theaters, On Digital and On Demand. Starring Joe Manganiello (MAGIC MIKE), Skylan Brooks (THE DARKEST MINDS), and an almost unrecognizable Glenn Howerton (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA), ARCHENEMY diverges from what one might expect from a superhero film. It poses the question is Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) a hero from a parallel universe, or is he merely another schizophrenic adamant that his feverish visions represent reality?
Much of the film's animation evoked images from another film. Concerned my first question may offend Adam, I had to clarify my reason for asking it.
There are parts of ARCHENEMY that bring to mind PINK FLOYD: THE WALL. When I saw that movie, I was pretty convinced that Roger Waters was on drugs when he wrote it, so I'm wondering if drugs or alcohol were involved at any point while you were writing this screenplay?
“Well, first of all, PINK FLOYD: THE WALL is my favorite movie, and it was a huge influence on ARCHENEMY, so I love that you're bringing that up and asking about it. Obviously, [ARCHENEMY] is a movie where drugs is part of the story. The main character is on all kinds of drugs. Hamster, [played by Skylan Brooks], who very clearly does not do drugs, talks about drugs in this interesting way, like he would reference Hunter Thompson and things like that. And then, there are sequences that are deliberately very, very psychedelic and cosmic. But if your question is more of a process question, I wish I was the kind of person who could take tons of acid and then write a movie or live that kind of Dennis Hopper lifestyle, but I can't really.
“The most I can get out of drugs these days usually is smoke a little bit of weed so that I can focus on watching Criterion movies; you know what I mean? When I was a lot younger, I was much more interested in taking psychedelic drugs and things like that. I think that taking psychedelics and watching Jodorowsky movies had a huge influence and informed parts of how I see the world and what I want out of art and movies. I find, these days, that the process of writing, and then certainly of directing, is you just need to be so aware of where you are in space and time and the people around you. So, that's my [answer to] the drug question, but I think that the PINK FLOYD: THE WALL question is so much more interesting. When I saw that movie as a kid, it just completely ruined my life because it's so distressing. When we went to make this movie, I was saying that when Max Fist has these visions of his superhero life, and we don't quite know if it's a story or memories or what, that the way PINK FLOYD: THE WALL uses animation to intercede on the main character's life and sort of open up his head, that was very much the way that I wanted to approach thinking about animation in ARCHENEMY.”
What inspired the story?
“I have always loved comic books. I've been deep into them my whole life. In movies these days, for the most part, "superhero" is a genre. Comic books use every possible genre and all kinds of different experimentation with the form and aesthetics of how to tell these stories. This has been true for decades and decades because I think the people reading comics are so sophisticated about what those kinds of stories are that you can do all kinds of crazy stuff with it. And so, when I started working on ARCHENEMY, which I think was around 2015, I was thinking, "Well, now that we've had so many superhero movies, I want to treat the film-going audience in the same way, with the same sophistication that comic books treat their audience. We don't need an origin story."
“I had this image of a man in a tattered cape, drinking whiskey at a bar, talking about being a superhero, and I thought about the movie THE WRESTLER, and I wanted to see what it would be like to try to do a superhero movie inspired by that approach to the character. Then it went off in all kinds of other directions, but that was the starting point. And I sat down with a friend of mine named Lucas Passmore, and we started working on the story together, and then I ran off and wrote the script, and then it happened overnight, except it was years ago.”
How many comic books do you own?
“Oh, I don't know. I don't keep count. I don't so much buy individual issues like I did when I was a kid. I think I probably have four or five long boxes of those, but I stopped that a while ago. But I have a vast bookcase, and one quarter of it is trade paperbacks.”
Did you intentionally seek out Joe Manganiello to be part of the film? If not, how did he become involved?
“Joe came on because I think he was a big fan of some of the other movies that SpectreVision did. He saw MANDY, and it blew his mind, and I think he was like, "I want to be in that kind of movie." They showed him my previous film, DANIEL ISN’T REAL, and I think he really loved it. He just seemed like the absolute perfect person to play this character. Joe is like a real-life Superman. He's just the most attractive man on the planet, and he's so strong and physical, but I met with him, and he's a super comic-book nerd. We had that in common, and we could talk about all these superhero ideas.
“And he's a very sensitive actor, and what he really wants to do is roles where you see him as the character and not as "Joe, the hot guy." We were both really excited about the idea of how we could deconstruct his look and fuck up his teeth and get him scruffy and really, how he is going to play this broken tragic man and then have these moments of incredible action fury. Joe loves to do his own stunts and tackle people and punch things and shoot guns. It's like, "You were grown in a lab to be the perfect actor for Max Fist."
What part of making ARCHENEMY was the most stressful for you, and how do you cope with that stress?
“It's funny, coping with stress, I think, is really 50% of what it means to be a filmmaker. This movie was so ambitious. It has all of these characters and moving parts, and it has action, and it has concepts, and we didn't have very much money. We had less money than when I made DANIEL ISN’T REAL. Then we had such big problems and no time to maneuver around so that. For example, a real big problem one day was that somebody was sick and it was real last-minute, but we couldn't push the shoot, and we couldn't shoot a different scene than the one that they were the star of, so I woke up at four in the morning that day, and I wrote a brand new scene. I looked at it [and thought], "Who are the actors that I have? They're all so great. Let's come up with something new."
“[It was sort of] terrifying showing up on set at 6:00 AM and saying to the crew, "Okay, we're going to shoot a different scene than you thought we were going to do because I'm going to go sit over there and start writing it while you guys light for it." But to me, that was super freeing, because then you're making the kind of movie where you're like, "Okay, look at the space we're in. Look at the people we have now. How do we fit that all together?"
“It’s really exciting if you know your movie well enough, and you understand what you're trying to say and who the characters are. Then, when things fall apart, it actually gives you an opportunity to do something that's spontaneous and life-like and cool that you wouldn't have had the opportunity to do. I'm a huge fan of Wong Kar-wai, and I kept thinking I want this movie to be like, "What if Wong Kar-wai made a superhero movie? What if the way he did FALLEN ANGELS or CHUNGKING EXPRESS was a superhero movie?" His filmmaking style is he shows up on set, and he's like, "Oh yeah, that's a really nice window. Why don't we shoot a scene with you guys in that window?" So, I took the worst possible things that could happen and tried to turn it into something that was inspirational and fun.
"To answer the question "How you cope with it," I think understanding that just because something is going wrong, doesn't mean that you are a terrible person, or you have done something terrible. You might be feeling really, "Oh, no, the world's falling apart," but that doesn't actually mean anything, so you move past that feeling."
If you had a massive budget, what kinds of things would you have done differently?
“That's an interesting question. God, I don't know. The choices we made, I'm really happy with, but could I have had big explosions and trucks driving through walls and fifty guys getting punched in the head in slow motion, instead of just one slow motion, one-on-one fight? Things like that would have been cool, I guess. It's funny because I love what the animation is now. If you had given me $30 million, I might have said, "Well, instead of animation, let's make this a gleaming, very realistic MATRIX-like sequence." I wonder if that would've worked in the same way. I definitely would have done that if we had the money. I don't know if it would have been better or not.
“Yeah, just more action, more bullets flying, more destruction. It's hard to destroy as many things as I want to destroy on a limited budget because people are like, "You can't put blood on the wall," and I'm like, "But somebody's about to get shot in the head, so there's going to have to be blood on the wall." And then everybody's putting plastic up everywhere, and scrubbing things. And you're like, "Oh God, I just want to cover things in blood."”
What is your favorite movie that's based on a comic book?
“Oh, my favorite movie based on a comic book is GHOST WORLD. I loved that movie so much. I love those actresses' performances in it. I know that's not a superhero movie, but I love how Daniel Clowes’ comics approach things, Some of his comics were a big influence on ARCHENEMY. What else is something cool based on a comic book that I really love? I don't know. That one's my number one.
“I also loved the movie UNBREAKABLE, which is not based on a comic, which is why I think it's such a spectacular superhero movie, because he really sort of invented what he wanted to do with that world from scratch and wasn't beholden to comic-book format of it. So yeah, my favorite thing based on a comic is not a superhero movie, and my favorite superhero movie is not based on a comic book.”
If you could have any kind of super power, what would you want and why?
“Oh, man. I would want to know all things at all times and be one with the universe.”
I don't know, is knowing everything really that great?
“Well, not "knowing everything" like I want to win at Trivial Pursuit, but... One of the things that I started doing when the pandemic hit was reading the “Bhagavad Gita” a lot, and that's kind of like the original superhero story. There was a big cosmic war, and Krishna is like, "Let me reveal how many millions of arms and eyes I have." But it's all in service of, "How do you live your life in a way where you can just be totally chill on the highest level?" I think that's anything you do, if you're exercising, or - I like to box, I box a lot - yoga, all of these things, you're just kind of training to be okay with the world. Wouldn't that be the best superpower, to just feel okay all the time?”
If that what Adam’s going to go with, no judgment from me, but I’d take the power to heal over knowing everything any day. Call me crazy. At any rate, Adam Egypt Mortimer's ARCHENEMY comes out on Friday, December 11 in Theaters, On Digital and On Demand. Check out the trailer.