This is your first feature film that doesn't riff off one genre.
In a way, I was keen to get out of that. With both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the idea was to mix in so many flavors that it becomes its own thing. I hope with Scott Pilgrim, there's many facets to it--sometimes, people say it's a negative when you make things that can't be put in one box, but I strive to do it like that. Essentially, it's a comedy, but there's a big romantic element and a musical element and an action element. On top of that, there's gaming.
Before, you've been judged on the creativity you've brought to a genre. Here, for the first time, you're facing a wall of fan boys who will measure you for faithfulness against the original comic, though you've already said your ending will be different.
It's tricky. It's been great to have the access to Bryan [Lee O'Malley, author of the comic] and the books. I got involved in this six years ago when the book was first given to me, and I've been working on it on and off for five years. When we first started working on it, there were only two books published. By the time we were shooting, there were five. We had bits of six. And throughout the production, I've had access to all six and access to Bryan. And Bryan, unlike some fans, is actually the person who is very supportive of making changes because he understood that the book is the book and the film is the film. Rather than try and do a condensed version of the book, we've taken the structure and done something fairly different with it and the same characters. The main thing is to get the spirit of the books, and the humor and tone. The biggest change adaptation-wise is that it takes place over a shorter time span. The books are about a long term relationship over the course of a year. In the film, it's a ten day fling. The idea is that we show a whole relationship in the course of ten days. That makes it sound like How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Can I say nine days?
Eleven days it is.
Do you think Scott and Ramona are a good couple? In the comics, that's nebulous.
We tackle that in the film very much, as well. One of the nice things in the film is that she's the archetypal dream girl. She's literally his dream girl--he met her in a dream before he really meets her. So Scott's initial reaction is, "This must be the girl because I dreamt about her before I met her." From there, it's the hardship of surviving having the crap beaten out of him by seven different people. Is it really worth it? And I think that's a metaphor for relationships-how hard do you want to fight to be with someone? And then when you're with them, how much are you going to fight to keep going? It's an uphill struggle. A lot of people deal with other people's baggage: their hearts, their revelations that come out once you've started dating. Then, it's about how much do you love that person to see through that? Scott definitely jumps through a lot of hoops and in the film, by the time he gets to the fourth act, he's wondering whether it is really worth the trials. And also, Ramona's character, the way she sees it, is she's had a hex put on her. She doesn't like all the attention and she would much rather have a quiet life. She's gone to Toronto to get a quieter life.
Hearing you say that--and also, some of the shots in the film: a woman with bright dyed hair, white snow--reminds me of Eternal Sunshine.
A couple of people have said that about the park scene. The film takes place in a Toronto spring. It's April, yet it's snowing really hard, which is very realistic for Toronto, as we found out. It's in the middle of an April cold snap. When I read the books, I fell in love with Bryan's art work of snowy Toronto--it's one of those cities that looks amazing snowbound, and we wanted to keep that.
You gave everyone in the cast a list of ten facts about their character. Michael Cera said his number one was that he's the star of his own movie.
Those were written by me and Michael Bacall [co-writer], but we got Bryan to add fun facts for the cast. They weren't supposed to reveal them to other people-some had quite big bombshells in them-and we told the actors not to divulge them. That fun fact about Scott pretty much says everything about the movie. Scott Pilgrim is the star of the own movie in his head. That really explains the tone of the movie because it's almost as if the movie is one big dream sequence. Scott Pilgrim is a massive daydreamer. Even in the way he conducts himself, some people when they read the comics say that he's a bad person for some of the stuff he does. He's definitely flawed. But he's not intentionally selfish. He's slightly blinkered and he lives in his own little bubble of importance. In a way, you can even factor the gaming into that. He lives his life like a character in one of his games. He doesn't necessarily think about the feelings going on around him. I like to think that Scott Pilgrim the film is almost a solipsist's movie of this character and the rest of it is just a figment of his imagination or a highly exaggerated version of events. There's a point in the film in the beginning where there are these dream sequences. When I showed it to Jason Schwartzman [who plays Ramona's ex Gideon], he said possibly the nicest thing anyone could say about the start. He said, "Wow, the start is almost like a Luis Buñuel film." Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of my favorite films. It's almost like the opening is one of those Russian dolls of dream sequences. And hopefully when someone watches it, they'll be like, "Hang on-does he ever wake up?" As far as I'm concerned, Scott Pilgrim never wakes up, and what you're watching is his highly exaggerated, surreal version of events.
As in how in Buñuel films, everything starts off seeming normal, but off in a way you can't put your finger on. And then it builds until the world's gone insane.
That's the idea. It's a gift to be able to do it. Even though I worked with Universal on Shaun of the Dead, this is my really first US film and studio film proper. It's a gift to be able to bring it to the screen uncompromisingly. I think it's got the elements of the basic boy-meets-girl story, yet at its core, the beat of it, it's a romantic comedy or a musical. With the central love triangle, it's counterpart is Grease. With massive fighting.
Tell me about the Ferris Wheel. Michael Cera said I had to ask, but he didn't give me any context.
[Laughs] We had this thing about Scott Pilgrim, about what he's like as a character. He swings like a pendulum between being really cocky and sure of himself to having a full-on nervous breakdown. And so our note was that he's half-Ferris and half-Cameron from Ferris Bueller. We called it the Ferris Wheel and I drew a diagram for Michael. On one side, it said [Matthew] Broderick and on the other side, it said [Alan] Ruck. It had an arrow so Scott Pilgrim could swing between. The night before we started film, me and Michael Cera and Michael Bacall watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off as our good luck film. And I had the art department make a wooden Ferris Wheel as a prop. It had a moveable arrow so Cera could ask, "What's the Ferris rating on this scene?" and I'd say if it was closer to Ruck. Then it was a really sad irony that John Hughes died whilst we were filming. We were all hit hard any way by that, but it was also kind of spooky because the film and the books-as do all youth comedies-owe a lot to John Hughes. I took a photo on the day he died and wrote a eulogy to him on my blog on the set. I had "R.I.P. J.H." up on the set for the day.
Here, when people throw punches, they pop up on the screen as "Ka-pow!" How can you reclaim that from Batman?
I like the Batman punches. Most comic book movies try to do one of two things: they try to be super-realistic like The Dark Knight, which goes for this dark naturalism. The other thing people try to do is like Sin City or 300, stylized but super gritty. The great thing about Scott Pilgrim I saw when I read the books was that this is my chance to do a Pop Art film. It's fun and energetic and kind of like Roy Lichtenstein. I like the comic book movies that go all out and be bubblegum films like Danger Diabolique, the Mario Bava film, or even the '80s Flash Gordon. I like the ones that have a lack of pretention-they say, "You know what? This is a comic book movie." They have bright colors and just go for it. Scott Pilgrim is a black-and-white book, but the covers are really colorful. It goes between the two: there's the naturalistic, mundane normal scenes with the muted palette, but as the film explodes, the colors come in. Kind of like Eternal Sunshine as you referenced, Ramona's hair is the first bright color that you see. I like the idea of absolutely embracing the colorfulness and making the whole thing an eye candy explosion. And eye and ear candy explosion. Actually, that sounds like wax made into a gummy-bear, which doesn't sound too nice. Arm candy is a completely separate thing.
How does that play into your second draft of Ant-Man? I've heard conflicting reports: that you're making it naturalistic and that you're making it a comedy?
I haven't actually started the second draft yet-I'm not going to be able to until this film is out-but what we wrote for the first draft, and what Marvel really liked, is that it's funny, but it's a genre film. It's about the level of comedy that Iron Man has. The idea is to make a high-concept genre film where it's within another genre. His suit and its power is the big gadget and it takes place in the real world. I just wanted to do something that was slightly different than the superhero origin film. I felt that between that and the various mad scientist, crazy doctor films that we've all seen, this would be a way into an origin that was slightly different. I'm not really a multi-tasker-I haven't done anything since Marvel liked our first draft.
Does that take a huge leap of faith when you choose your next project, knowing it will be your life for the next 24 months?
Pretty much. For better or for worse. A lot of directors have three things going at once, or before their new film comes out, they make sure they're on the next one signed, sealed and delivered. I just try and put so much in to everything that every job I've done, I've ended up working myself into the ground to the point of collapse. I've already planned my collapse on this film. I know exactly what week I need to be dropping dead. You know what's crazy? It's also a nice thing, but that people always want to know what's next. I did the red carpet at the MTV awards and pretty much every interview went like this: First question: "So tell us about Scott Pilgrim?" Well, it's this film and blah-blah-blah and it's coming out on August 13th. "So what's next for you? Ant-Man?" Hey, I haven't even finished Scott Pilgrim yet! It's 110 minutes long and there's lots to talk about when you see it--I promise! I hope that when I do interviews after people have seen the film, they won't just ask me what's next.
It's good that people care, but it must feel like, "This isn't enough?"
That's always been the case, even back on Hot Fuzz. "So, tell us about Ant-Man?" I think if I actually made Ant-Man and then did press for that, lord knows what people might say afterward. The world might end. Maybe it's the Mayan Calendar. When I finally make Ant-Man, what will be left to talk about? I guess let's talk about the meaning of life, or something. It's 2010 and the Mayans say the world is going to end in 2012. Ant-Man will have to be scheduled before then. That doesn't give it long to play.
Speaking of worlds ending, have you figured out how you want to destroy the planet in World's End, the last in your genre trilogy of Shaun and Hot Fuzz?
That's something Simon [Pegg] and I came up with the idea for. Everything feels like I've been writing it for years, but we did come up with the idea for it after Hot Fuzz. The nice thing about doing films with Simon and Nick [Frost]-hopefully if we get the chance to do this third one-is it will be like Michael Apted's Seven Up. Every time we get together, we get older with the characters. Spaced was about people in their mid-twenties, Shaun was about turning 30, and this one will be about getting into your mid-to-late thirties. We're all getting older and the characters are getting older as well. It's one of the reasons we never returned to do a third season of Spaced-it just felt wrong. You never want to see those characters get older. But hopefully we can do it with different stories. We have an idea for World's End. I'm kind of glad we've had a break because people start to second guess you. And you want to try to subvert things. I love Mel Brooks and the Zucker Brothers, but on the Hot Fuzz press tour, the only question would be, "You've done cop films, you've done zombie films-what's next?" I don't want to be that easily put into a box. We'd always bristle when people would use the word 'spoof.' They are comedies and they are pastiche, but I hope at least the finished product feels like a film in its own right. Even if they have very silly titles-Shaun of the Dead is a particularly silly title. When we were making it, people would say, "You're not really going to call it that?" I couldn't imagine it called anything else!
Were you tempted to find roles for Simon and Nick in Scott Pilgrim?
No, I didn't want to. I felt like I wanted people to be excited about the next time we work together with them as the lead. I felt like them doing a one-scene cameo in Scott Pilgrim would be doing them a disservice. It would just be paying lip service--we shouldn't do it because people think we ought to, we should work together because we want to. In fact, I even said to the casting director that I didn't want to have any Brits in the film at all. I wanted my first North American film to have all North American actors. One Brit slipped through without me knowing. Satya Bhabha is actually from around the corner from me in London, but he completely fooled me in the audition.
Were you on Simon or Nick or your fellow Brits' enemy list?
I think they understood. The crazy thing is it's almost like Lord of the Flies. Jason Schwartzman and Chris Evans are the oldest people in the film. There are no adults in the film. Unlike the comic, you don't see anybody's parents. The film's actually casting age-appropriate for once, which not a lot of films do. It was amazing shooting it because everybody was between the ages of 19 and 28.
Did that make you feel unjustly old?
I definitely felt like the older brother. I hope I wasn't a dad figure, I'd like to be the older brother.
Or the cool uncle.
That makes me feel a little nervous.
I read you might be brainstorming ideas for a sequel called Scott Pilgrim vs. 2012?
I'm not joking. The Internet is gossiping.
That's bullshit! [Laughs] I can comprehensively say that that is bullshit.