Wondercon ’10: ‘The Losers’ filmmakers on making a winning comic adaptation
BY TODD GILCHRIST
It seems like every spring Hollywood produces at least one breakthrough movie – the sort of film that razes notions of stardom or style and gives audiences something they want in a way they don’t expect. The Losers appears to be 2010’s requisite entry: directed by Sylvain White, best known for helming Stomp The Yard, the film features an ensemble of up-and-comers in roles that give them equal opportunities to advertise their action and comedy chops.
Following a presentation of footage and a public Q&A Saturday at San Franscisco’s Wondercon, the cast and crew spoke directly to reporters about the process of bringing the cult comic book to life. Sylvain White, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans and Columbus Short offered their opinions and insights about the film, and additionally provided a few details about some of their individual projects, including Evans’ recently-announced stint as Captain America.
Hollywood News: Many films at Wondercon have a tenuous link to comics. Is it nice to be here with an actual comic book project?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: It’s an absolute pleasure. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here and be in this world. This is a great world to be in and as actors, you get all these scripts. What’s great about the world of comic books is the stories are original. There’s this kind of ebb and flow in Hollywood and you get the same scripts over and over. Every romantic comedy reads exactly the same. In the world of graphic novels, there’s some originality there. There’s some great characters.
Sylvain White: I think for me, as a filmmaker and a graphic novel fan since I’ve been a kid, it’s an absolute delight to be here among my peers and present what I’ve done with a graphic novel that’s so cool like The Losers and that’s so original in tone. That’s I think what Jeffrey’s saying is that there’s a lot of derivative source material out there and I think graphic novels are now kind of giving and reboosting Hollywood in that sense. It’s giving them more original stories that are untapped.
Hollywood News: Is the comic book a substantive aid in creating the look and feel of a film?
White: Absolutely. There’s two things that I really focused on that I knew worked extremely well in the graphic novel. The first thing is the tone. The graphic novel has a unique tone combining really gritty visceral action with a really strong humoristic tone. The characters are really fun to navigate the action with so that’s the first thing. The second thing is aesthetically, the graphic novel is amazing and I really wanted to reflect that in the movie. You can’t necessarily replicate frames out of the graphic novel. I don’t think that helps anybody, but there are certain things that I talked about with Jock in terms of the use of colors and the graphic design of the novel that I really wanted to translate into the movie so that you have a comic book aesthetic but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. It’s subtle and it eases you into that world.
Hollywood News: Jeffrey, how much of the original source material do you bring to the performance and how much do you give your own spin?
Morgan: A lot less with Watchmen. I think that was so kind of iconic. That needed to be exactly so close to the comic book or people would’ve ripped us a new one. This, this is a great foundation to use. For Sylvain it was invaluable. For us as characters, invaluable. It gives you a really great place to start and jump off. Jock and Andy did such a good job kind of defining these characters. Then Sylvain kind of allowed us as actors to take what we gathered out of those graphic novels and bring to life what we kind of thought of those particular characters and their relationships. So we got to play around a little bit more than I did in Watchmen.
Hollywood News: Chris can you talk about your connection to comic books as you start to prepare for Captain America?
Chris Evans: I’m not a big comic book reader, you know what I mean? I don’t really have a history and a love for comic books. I didn’t grow up reading them. But they’re fantastic for films. I was saying earlier in the giant room that they’re great for films in the sense that films are an intangible thing. You have all of these different creative people coming together trying to make something, and the director is the quarterback who’s trying to bridge the gap of all of these different artists together with words. And a lot of times the message can be lost in translation, not all of the time, but the beautiful thing about comic books or even movies based on novels [is] you have like a blueprint. You have a tangible thing to say, listen, this is the world we’re going for, and especially in comic books, you have a color palette. You have a visual home base to kind of root yourself in, so as an actor, it’s nice knowing that at least the people behind the visual element of the film have this kind of blueprint to work off of, and as an actor you have something to go off of too. So it’s a treat. It’s always nice working off of a comic book because you know what you’re getting into beforehand.
Hollywood News: Can you talk about what spoke to you in Captain America?
Evans: I don’t know, I really don’t know. It was just… I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I think Marvel is doing a lot of good things right now, and it’s a fun character. Even if it wasn’t a comic book, I think just the story of Steve Rogers is great. He’s a great guy. Even if it was just a script about anybody, I would probably want to do it. So it wasn’t necessarily about the comic itself, it was about…
Zoe Saldana: It was about the tights.
Evans: It was about the tights. Any time I can get blue tights, I do it. It’s just he’s a great character, a great character to play. It just so happens to be a comic book, and that’s really where I’m coming from.
Hollywood News: Is there less pressure to making a movie about a lesser known comic book like The Losers?
White: I didn’t necessarily see it that way. I think the pressure came from the fact that it’s really great source material and you want the translation to movie to be at least as good if not better. I think the pressure came from there but in terms of how aware of not people are to the graphic novel it was pretty inconsequential for me. I just wanted to make a great movie that reflected the graphic novel as best as it can.
Hollywood News: The forward in the collection talks about the movie influences. How much did you look at that, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and things he listed?
Columbus Short: One of the real reasons I wanted to do this movie is because as an actor, you want to do something, I personally want to do things that are grounded in some sense of reality. This is one of the graphic novels that I think in the last five years that’s A, one of the best ones I’ve ever read, and it’s grounded in the sense of reality. These guys aren’t fantastical. They’re not tights. They’re not flying and don’t have super powers but they’re antiheroes. They’re real guys. That’s something I like to do and Sylvain is amazing at grounding material like this. So it helped in our performance having some freedom, some liberties because it’s not Captain America or Superman where we know what Superman is. We know what Batman is. We know how Bruce Wayne is. We had some liberal ability to change up our characters and give our own take on it which comes across great on screen with the chemistry with us because we’re all close to our characters in this film I think in a real way.
Hollywood News: Zoe, talk about your amazing year. Does it seem surreal?
Saldana: I mean, that’s one way to look at it. There are so many other directions that I choose to focus on instead because if I do, I’m just going to blow up. It is overwhelming. You do feel very blessed but at the same time too, I like what I do. I like being employed. I like living off of my art. It’s an absolute privilege when you get to work with amazing directors and good actors and you get to play really good roles. You just want to give it 150% and you pray to God that the movie makes $400 million.
Morgan: That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re riding Zoe’s coattails.
Saldana: Captain America’s going to be guiding us.
Hollywood News: Do people recognize you from Avatar?
Saldana: They do. I have to say that they do. The campaigning that Jim [Cameron] did along with his team and the Fox people, they literally – – I don’t know, they also wanted the technology to be acknowledged and respected in terms of what the actors, what we all did. My thing is, and this is no disrespect to any actor. We still do live action movies. It’s a technology that’s just like animation. You’re just going to sometimes do a movie that’s going to be motion captured or whatever, but it does not substitute. It only complements what you’re doing and they need to understand that. We took a lot of heat. The acting department in Avatar took a lot of heat so Jim felt the responsibility to tell the world that what we did was very important. It could have been a football movie and I would have still given 150%. So there are no mall visitations right now.
White: The cool thing about Avatar that Zoe brought to the table is that she worked very closely with the stunt team there, Garrett, that she referred – –
Saldana: I would call Sylvain every day. I would send him a text like, “Dude, do you have a stunt coordinator already because my man, my boy, man. Garrett Warren, he’s the sh*t.” Then he sits down with Garrett and Garrett really understood and wanted to be a part of the movie. Just the fight sequences, everything that Garrett put together along with Sylvain worked so awesome.
Hollywood News: Aisha’s a rare positive kick-ass middle eastern character. How do you tackle that reprentation?
Saldana: I don’t focus on the representation. I think I just focus on the character so I’m playing a woman that has issues just like any individual would. If I was a comedian and I just tried to play a comedy, then I’m not going to be a storyteller. Then I think that happens after. After you’ve laid everything and you’ve imprinted that on film, then you walk away going, “Okay, that really represented something powerful. I kind of hope it’s seen.” But I couldn’t focus only on that because I had to be Aisha.
White: I’ll say a lot of the light political commentary and tone that the graphic novel has and some of the conspiracy theories and that kind of things, we touch upon that very much but it’s done in a very light, subtle way so it’s always kind of winking at those things. That’s what the movie does really well. It winks at the throwbacks of those fun movies from the ‘80s, but you laugh with it. You have fun with it. It’s very postmodern that way.
Hollywood News: Why is the film PG-13 when the Vertigo series are edgier?
White: I’ll tell you this. I came on this project, it was an R. I think the studio perceived it as an R film and I thought that’s ludicrous because the tone of the graphic novels, that’s really what’s important. It’s not the violence. It’s how intense and visceral the action is. So I really went for that versus how gory and graphic the violence is. The good thing about it is it still feels hard, hard as hell. It feels gritty and realistic. The rules were relatively easy to navigate with this film particularly and I don’t think you miss that. It’s not like you watch the movie and you think, “Oh, this is a PG-13 movie.” I think that’s a good accomplishment.
“THE LOSERS” TRAILER