The cast and crew of ‘Kick-Ass’ discuss throwing punches, profanity
BY TODD GILCHRIST
Over the weekend at Austin’s storied South By Southwest film and music festival, Lionsgate’s underdog comic book adaptation Kick-Ass arrived in town to offer a preview of the film and interview opportunities with members of its cast and crew. Following a panel during the festival, director Matthew Vaughn, actors Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and comic creators Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. appeared at a press conference to discuss their contributions to the creation of this oddball send-up-cum-celebration of comic book lore.
In order to get a first look at the film and talk to the filmmakers, Hollywood News saw Kick-Ass in advance of SXSW and joined a small group of journalists at the press conference to ask questions and gain insights about the production. In addition to talking about the challenges of making a successful comic book satire that’s still thrilling, Vaughn addressed the recent controversy about the film’s advertising, which features 12-year-old Moretz using language that would make a sailor blush, and the entire crew reflected on the experience of ushering this story to the screen.
Hollywood News: You make several references to familiar lines in other comic book properties. How did you make sure they were used as homage and not parody?
Matthew Vaughn: That was my point of view. All I can say is yes, you’re correct. It was a love letter, it sounds slightly pretentious. I hate saying the word postmodern but it was. Mark started it with the comic and we just wanted to take it further.
Mark Millar: It’s the sort of thing it couldn’t have been made as a movie I think even five years ago, seven to ten years ago. But the world is very geek literate now. If you mention Wolverine now, everybody knows who you’re talking about. Everybody’s girlfriend knows who you’re talking about as well. It’s like everybody understands everything that we spent all our lives training for which is great.
Hollywood News: Mark and John, how did you adapt your own material and maybe make changes for its transition from the page to the screen?
Millar: As adaptations go, this is probably the most literal one I’ve seen outside of maybe 300.
Vaughn: Or Watchmen.
Millar: Yeah, Watchmen, but where it had to be changed, we were cool with it. It’s just a case of trusting the team that’s developing it. Luckily we all knew each other quite well and we got to know each other more and just knew it was in good hands, so it was quite relaxed. If anything was being changed, it was discussed and followed through easily. But generally, compared to say the Bourne movies, where there was much more [changed], I’d say probably 90% of the movie is what we wanted.
John Romita Jr.: If I hadn’t been encouraged to continue doing what I was doing, I would have been terribly intimidated and concerned. But Matthew and Mark imparted upon me that it was going to be close to the comic and they wanted to see what I was doing as opposed to doing differently. It gave me a comfort zone and I relaxed and continued to do what I could do. I got flattered beyond belief at the same time.
Hollywood News: How involved was Chloe in the gunfights?
Vaughn: Yeah, I’d say you did about 85%?
Chloe Moretz: Yeah, I basically did almost everything, except for running up walls and doing insane back handsprings in the middle of the air. Basically, all the shooting and knives and swords and stuff was me.
Hollywood News: Is there a scene you’ll look back on in years that’ll stick with you?
Millar: I think being in a sewage factory on day one. I remember thinking how Hollywood , this is going to be awesome. We’re off to film. Nic Cage is in the scene. This is going to be great. It’ll be helicopters bringing in food for everyone. It’s going to be so cool. It was literally a sewage plant in east London that we were filming it and the stench of human feces.
Moretz: Matthew originally came and he was like, “As long as the wind is going this direction, you won’t smell it. But when the wind changes, you’ll smell it.” And the wind did change.
Vaughn: It changed, but we did shoot the whole thing in four hours though.
Moretz: And it was blizzarding rain.
Vaughn: But that wasn’t my highlight. He’s Scottish so… I just had fun. For me it just made me fall in love with making movies again and again because I did a studio movie beforehand. It was just painful having people interfering and giving you bad ideas that you have to spend your life fighting against for the safety of the movie. But we had fun, the whole thing. There wasn’t a bad day.
Hollywood News: Were you concerned about safety for an 11-year-old girl in fight scenes?
Vaughn: We have safe sets whether it’s an 11-year-old or a 50-year-old. She was just part of the team. Making the movie, I had no concerns at all.
Moretz: It was completely safe, so safe to where if I got a speck of dust in my eye, they would freak out.
Aaron Johnson: She’s dangerous now though because she’s learned how to do way too many [stunts].
Hollywood News: Did you have any moments that were tough acting in a costume?
Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Definitely my mask. It had some points at the end so it kind of pushed my cheeks down during the whole film, so I had to work with that and my mouth like this. That was difficult but I think that was the only hard part.
Vaughn: That and you have to take it seriously.
Mintz-Plasse: Not really a malfunction, that was how to act in a costume, right? The mask is part of the costume.
Moretz: Doing action in a suit, I probably ripped the middle of my suit in half like 30 times. You’d see my suit and of course because the kilt covered it all, but underneath it it was literally ripped and torn and patches of leather had been glued onto it just to get through another scene.
Johnson: Mine was a wetsuit, but I always seemed to sweat through it. We had about ten different sort of costumes and we would have to keep changing them in and out. But, yeah, I feel like I suppose you’re a bit overacting when you’ve only got like a letterbox to look through, really, for the eyes and everything.
Vaughn: He was very dedicated. In the scene where he gets stabbed, we had an insane sound man, and when I say insane I mean he was really brilliant but nuts. But he had a breastplate and a stomach plate put in-
Johnson: My mic was up through my mask.
Vaughn: He decided that the mic was making too much noise, so the sound man took it out but no one told us. So the stunt man was stabbing him and he had hundreds of little cuts, and didn’t complain once – which I thought was stupid but great.
Johnson: Uh, it was exciting – it was good. It was good fun. You know, the whole costume thing, it’s part of the character. It just added more and I could just work with that; I liked jumping into it.
Romita Jr.: The problem with this is that Mark suggested a sweat suit, and because of his dialect nobody understood, and it became wet suit. So it would have been interesting to see a Tony Soprano-type outfit on Aaron. It would have been interesting.
Hollywood News: What are your thoughts on continuing the adventures of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl?
Vaughn: Um, I have a lot of thoughts on it.
Mintz-Plasse: And Red Mist (laughs).
Vaughn: You know, I don’t feel like tempting fate. If the film’s a hit then I’ll start engaging on it, if it’s not then it won’t happen.
Moretz: Let me just add that I really want a purple Ducati in the second one.
Hollywood News: Mark and John, do you have ideas?
Millar: Yeah, we’ve got lots of ideas. We want to get the comic up and running before the DVD comes out, so Johnny and I will get moving on that.
Vaughn: So what – that’s coming out in like four months!
Millar: Oh, we’re fast! So the plan is to get that out at the end of summer and have it all done; we have to time this thing so we can capitalize on the trade paperback.
Romita Jr.: And someone will complain of it being too far in advance of the film, so I’ll get in trouble either way.
Hollywood News: Where do you see the characters going in the sequel?
Millar: Well, Red Mist becomes – I hope I’m not spoiling it for anyone, but at the end of this movie he’s a bad guy, so he becomes – he’s the Joker to this guy, but we’re talking about another villain as well. He’ll always be a sidekick to this other guy-
Hollywood News: What did you want to call him?
Millar: I’m somewhere between The Motherf*cker and The C*nt. That’s the two names I’ve got [so far]. But it’s better than The Joker, isn’t it? (pause) I forgot Chloe’s here and I said ‘c*nt’.
Romita Jr.: I assumed that Hit Girl was New York girl, and I’ve never heard of any female in New York use that, the c-word. I can’t even use it myself. I emailed him saying, ‘no, a little girl from New York is not going to say that. Say ‘you m-fers want to do this?’ and he said no, I’m sorry, I want shock value and I’m going to do it this way. I said, but Brits say that. Americans don’t say that. They’re cowards when it comes to cursing like that. He [said] no, and that was it, and now he wants to name a whole character that.
Millar: The rationale for using it in the book because the editor, she said ‘Americans don’t say this,’ and I said, ‘look- at the end of Star Wars when the Death Star explodes, you shouldn’t hear sound in space. But it’s cool.’ And that was rationale enough to let us do it.
Hollywood News: can you talk about the reaction some groups had about Chloe’s character and her use of language?
Vaughn: The people who are taking it overly seriously haven’t seen the film, so the way I feel is – and I said this earlier – it’s a movie. You do not have to buy a ticket, number one. Secondly, it’s a character, you know – this is a character that slaughters and kills people and has from the age of five been brainwashed. If she was working for the U.S. government, killing the Taliban in swarths, and a 19-year-old Navy Seal, no one would complain. But it’s interesting that we’re discussing more about the fact that she swears more than she kills, which I would rather be in a room with a bunch of people swearing at me than hacking me up.
Hollywood News: What did Brad Pitt bring to this film as a producer?
Vaughn: Brad Pitt was like my anchor of how everything worked in America. Because when I realized I was sort of declaring war, I thought I might as well have an ally that was a 10,000 pound gorilla – which he can be in a good way. I sent him the script – he was one of the first people to read the script, and he loved it, and he just said, ‘I’m in. Whatever you need to help this thing get made, let’s just do it.’
Hollywood News: After spending so many years almost doing these kind of caped vigilantes, how was it when Nicolas Cage “finally” became a superhero?
Vaughn: Comic books are a very, very big deal to the guy. I think he knew more than even Mark.
Millar: Even his kid is called Kal-El, which is Superman’s real name, and that shows you the intensity of the guy. But the first day on the set, I looked around and saw comic fans, really, that were making the movie, our little geek club. And I think he was really happy that we were making the movie. He told us all of the stories about how close he got to playing Superman and how close he got to playing Lex Luthor and all of these things over the years. But to see him dressed as a Batman guy was cool.
Vaughn: He loved it, but the helmet is actually more like from Phantom of the Paradise than it is from Batman.
Hollywood News: Do you see the movie influencing the comic book in the future?
Millar: I think it would be a mistake. I think if you tried to guess things, you just end up pleasing no one, and our job is just to do the best possible comic book we can and hope that gets used as the movie. If not, that’s fine. If it works as a comic book and not as a movie, fair enough, and the movie can sort of do its own thing.
Romita Jr.: There’s enough of the comic in the movie to not be concerned with the effect on subsequent comics.
Hollywood News: Do you see liberties that were taken, such as the ending?
Romita Jr.: No. the difference with the jetpack as opposed to coming up in the elevator, it would be very boring on film to come up in an elevator. But a comic is stop-action, and each panel will get the same weight, as opposed to the kinetic movement of a jetpack. It would be boring to come up in an elevator on film.
Millar: It’s got to be structured that way. But no, we’re comfortable with it.
Romita Jr.: I wouldn’t say it was bad in front of Matthew anyway. But it was the right move, absolutely.