By CARA BAYLES AND COURTNEY COX
In indie comic sensation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the protagonist battles his love interest’s seven evil exes. So we dispatched two writers to conduct dueling interviews: actors Jason Schwartzman and Anna Kendrick vs. actor Michael Cera and director Edgar Wright.
MICHAEL CERA + EDGAR WRIGHT | COURTNEY COX
Did you have to compensate for an audience that has never read the comic book?
Wright: You have to make it as a movie. You have to assume that people haven’t read the books. It happens with all adaptations. I think only the Harry Potter or Twilight films where you can assume that everyone’s read it. But you still have to make it work as a movie and it does diverge from the books in a number of places. That was always our mindset, that it has to work as a film and maybe have the pace and structure of an action movie.
The pacing stood out. It moved along so quickly and catered to the attention span of today’s audiences.
Wright: People keep mentioning ADD … I started wondering, maybe I have it.
Cera: Well this movie was almost a two minute YouTube clip.
Wright: I’ve always been a fan of comedies and films that don’t talk down to people. Audiences are a lot smarter that what they are usually given credit for. One of my favorite films of all time is Raising Arizona, and it’s really funny and it’s really broad in places, but it’s never dumb. I’ve always been impressed with films like that.
What was the training like?
Cera: Every morning, twice a day we would do it. Mornings and afternoons, we would wake up and run, that would be the first thing, for about an hour or two. We have this amazing guy kind of run the training. We would do pushups and sit-ups and just disgusting things. Just really exhausting stuff. Then we would go and get lunch together, we’d rehearse a few scenes, then we would actually do some choreography training. We did that for about two months. Everyone was equally embarrassed at first, completely inept, and then got better and better. When it came time to shoot, we all were very familiar with one another and trusted each other. I was feeling like, ‘Oh this is going to be really good, they’re all really good.’ It was nice.
Was any of it improvised?
Cera: This was pretty improv-free. It’s very tightly scripted.
Wright: We had the book and there was a lot of dialogue from that, and also because of the pace of the film as well there were a lot of scenes that end with a line that was answered in the next scene. So you usually always have a beginning and an end of the scene, it’s very tight. This line is then, you know you have a set up at the end of one scene and then the punch line is the start of the next scene, so in that sense it made it very tightly controlled. I would hope that I would sort of within that still, the performance would feel like we had enough room to have fun with it, but we would rehearse it and if there were jokes that came out of rehearsal we would put them in. Sometimes we film stuff and it sort of goes off and then in the editing you would do another draft. Sometimes the funny stuff will be good, but ruin a joke later on, and so you just kind of have to do another draft when you’re back in the edit again.
What was it like for you to work on a film like this and also playing a different type of character?
Cera: I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. I didn’t have a game plan going in. I didn’t know what I was going to and then rehearsing really helped for that. Got a sense of what we were doing, how were we going to play everything. And then when we got onto set we really kind of worked out a lot of what we were going to do. We rehearsed the first scene of the movie in that set, in the kitchen, we had done that a few weeks before we started, and that was the first thing we shot so it wasn’t like we were just jumping it, it was like ‘Okay, we know what we’re doing here, we just have to actually do it. And you know, you kind of just get thrown in and go with it, I’ve never worked that way though before where you don’t really always run through an entire scene you just focus on a moment and then the next moment and then just move forward slowly. It was fun.
Did you shoot in Toronto?
Wright: Yes we were in Toronto for Toronto, you know with American films doesn’t happen that often. Most times Toronto is doubling for New York or Boston. What’s a Boston film that has been shot in Toronto? Four Brothers or something like that? I think that’s right isn’t it?
Cera: But that might have been Toronto trying to be New York. It was amazing being there, ’cause not only were we shooting Toronto for Toronto, but the locations we were shooting in sometimes were the places where we were hanging out. Especially this particular intersection, there was that record shop which we would go in to next to a cinema we would go into, it was weird kind of frequenting the places that were actually in the film. I’m from Toronto. It was great, I grew up outside of the city and this was the first chance I really got to really know the city and I love it.
From the comic, what were the most important elements for you guys to preserve?
Wright: I think we got the tone of the humor right, and you don’t want me to diverge from the plot, and you have to make sure that what the characters are doing is true to the art in the book. The creator was great with that because he read every draft of the script and he would watch all of the casting and auditions. We used him as our sounding board on a daily basis, to the point where he kind of said, ‘It’s OK guys, I trust you.’ We would badger him a lot.
Did you feel a responsibility to preserve the integrity?
Wright: Yeah, the book has a lot of fans and you don’t what fans of the book to come out and see the movie and not like it, so absolutely. You kind of try and do two things: film it so the fans of the book will be happy with it and for the people who have never read the book will be happy with it. So that’s the goal really.
There were a lot of new things that I have never seen in a film before. That video game stuff was really innovative I thought. And I love the DDR.
Wright: You know that game in there doesn’t exist. That’s completely fabricated. We just made it up, like, wouldn’t there be funny if there was a fighting version. It’s looked pretty cool right? Complete fabrication.
Was it fun for you to do?
Cera: It was difficult. I think it was one of the most difficult things I think I had to do. I had to have perfect timing with Ellen, we had to be on exactly the same beat. Same foot, everything.
Wright: Yeah, that was a tricky scene.
Let’s talk about your writing process.
Wright: The script was written in the course of about 5 years. When we first starting writing the script we had two books we the script for three because the writer would write it in longhand before he drew the books and we picked his brains and he hashed out sketches of where the plots would go for the final three books. So some elements of the script and the film are based on his original sketches which don’t really have any bearing on the finished book. Like the way the twins scene pans out is a little more similar to his original ideas then what he actually eventually drew. So it was quite nice in a way that even though when they do diverge it’s still kind of really organic to his process. I think Brian, when he watches the film, tends to laugh the most at bits that aren’t form the books.
What were some of those parts?
Wright: There’s a bit of dialogue in the first time Scott meets Roxy where she says …
Cera: ‘I’d love to postpone, but I just cashed my last rain check.’
Wright: And he says, ‘What’s that from?’ and she says ‘My brain!’ She does like a southern accent for no apparent reason.
Cera: We came up with that sitting on the totami mats.
Wright: In rehearsal. Southern accent: ‘I’d love to postpone, but I just cashed my last rain check.’ Stuff like that.
What’s that like to watch it with an audience for the first time?
Cera: It was amazing. It played so well. People were, like, screaming, it was like a rock concert. And afterwards people really loved it and were really warm. Big applause. It was nice, I was crying all night, like, I went to bed and cried, stuck my head into the pillowcase. Like inside the pillowcase.
Wright: I was big into comics when I was a kid, as teenager and games. I kind of lapsed a little bit in my 20s …
Cera: Because of the drugs.
Wright: Like black tar heroine. And you know, S&M. I’m kidding of course.
Wright: I hadn’t had a console in my hands in ten years. I had to get it out of the house because it was taking up to much time — it was just a black hole of productivity. So, Scott Pilgrim made me feel very nostalgic to the games I grew up on. So, I feel like the references in Scott Pilgrim are all at least 15 years old.
JASON SCHWARTZMAN: + ANNA KENDRICK | CARA BAYLES
So what brought you guys to this? What drew you to this movie?
Schwartzman: Very quickly, Edgar Wright. I love “Spaced” and Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and always wanted to work with him… didn’t think it would ever really be a possibility ’cause everything he makes is English, then found out about this and was able to meet with him and he included me in it. It was just like a total thrill ’cause I just feel like there’s not that many people who have a real style and are really smart and people that you go, “Yeah, I’m gonna go with this guy.” And then, on the acting side I found out Michael Cera was in it. I’m a great admirer of his work and Edgar presented this opportunity for me to not only work with him, but to be his nemesis and fight him. It just seemed like we would have a really fun time. And we did. That’s the best I’ve ever answered that question. It usually takes up 30 minutes.
Kendrick: You know, I had the same feeling. I was a fan of Edgar’s and was equally excited and surprised that he was making a movie with an American cast. A Canadian and an American cast.
Schwartzman: A North American cast.
Do you guys like Boston?
Schwartzman: Yeah, oh yeah.
Kendrick: This is practically home. This is where kids from Maine pretend that they’re from. I’m from Maine. Portland. That’s why when I say Portland, Oregon I specify because I’m from Portland, Maine.
Doesn’t compare to Toronto?
Kendrick: Right. There’s less fighting … well, less fun fighting. Less hilarious fighting.
Schwartzman: More blood.
Kendrick: The bars… There’s some insane statistic, I think Boston and Portland, Maine have like one of the highest bars per capita rate? The rate of bars to people?
That’s definitely true of Boston.
Kendrick: Same thing’s true in Portland. There’s like more bars than people. It’s crazy.
So you guys mentioned the fighting. Was it hard to visualize the comic book and video game effects?
Schwartzman: Not really, because like … can I make a strange reach, an analogy? Have you ever been to a restaurant and before the menu is pictures? Where there’s like, you can have the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and it’s like a photo of a plate taken above it with like some …
Kendrick: Like Denny’s.
Schwartzman: Yeah, exactly. Signing on to be in this movie was like ordering, I’ll have the Scott Pilgrim. So you see everything that’s in it. And you know everything that’s in it. But when you see it, it’s … like when that plate of food arrives you’re like, this is the real deal. Whereas with most movies it’s just like having a menu, working with Edgar is like having a picture menu because he is so articulate, and he explains everything to you with words, but also with video reference. And, in fact, Michael and I’s fight scene was already shot in a warehouse with two stunt men dressed like us and edited together, so they knew what all the angles would be and what they needed out of each angle. And Edgar would show that to us before the fight, and then we would shoot the scenes. Michael and I would shoot the angles and then they would somehow shoot it into the computer, so we would watch Michael and I fighting in one angle, cutting to two stunt men, cutting back to Michael and I. So he’s like “OK now we’re going to get this piece, now we’re going to get this angle of you with the sword like that.” And it’s amazing because usually in a movie, and I’ve heard in fight movies, too, they’ll do like a three minute long scene from this angle and then a three minute long scene from this angle and Edgar would never do that. We’d do it in little sections and we knew only what we needed to get. So Edgar would say “In this shot, all I need is the sword to come down and you to look up, and then when you turn around, that’ll be this shot.” He’d be super, micro focusing. It was an amazing way to work. I never felt in the dark or overwhelmed or, “I’m scared, I don’t know what the fuck is happening.” You know exactly where you are. It’s like drinking hard alcohol. You know exactly where you are.
Kendrick: You’re mixing metaphors. I’m loving this.
Schwartzman:: Yeah, I’m mixing metaphors, I mean like when you drink wine you can have three of four of them and not feel anything and then all of a sudden you can have like three or four bottles and not feel anything … just kidding, three or four glasses … and not feel anything and all of a sudden you turn around, you sit up, you stand up to go to the restroom and you’re drunk. And it caught up with you in a weird way. Alcohol, you shoot it and it goes zzzzjjjjhhhhh! Okay, I’m there. Zzzzjjjjhhhhh! I’m there. That’s like word-for-word Edgar.
Kendrick: It’s like doing like, painting a painting over a painting.
Schwartzman: Exactly! Exactly.
Kendrick: And you just have to see, oh, well what’s missing here.
Schwartzman: That is the metaphor!!!
Had you done a fight scene before?
Schwartzman: Mmm mmm. Not on camera.
Schwartzman: Mmhmm … mmm … mmhmm!
Schwartzman: I’m an LA southie.
Yeah? You want to tell us that story?
Schwartzman: Yeah I can scrap with the best of ’em. Women, I mean. Men, I’d get destroyed.
Had you guys read the comic before?
Kendrick: I’m such a loser; I have to be told about cool and interesting things, so I did not …
Schwartzman: Everyone has to be told about cool and interesting things! That’s how we find out!
Kendrick: You know what I mean. All the good music that I have is like somebody else’s recommendations and stuff. So I wasn’t on the Scott Pilgrim train, but got on very quickly after Edgar sent them to me.
So are you like geeking out for this stuff? Do you read everything to get into that world?
Kendrick: Oh! Yeah. Absolutely, definitely. I certainly understand the feeling or the argument for not reading it and just trying to make it your own from what’s on the page of the script, but for me, I get excited about the source material.
Had you read it before?
Schwartzman: Sorta. I had met with Edgar in Los Angeles. It wasn’t really specific at that time, and I asked him what he was working on and he said “I’m adapting these books Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and you should read them. They’re great.” And I went out and bought them and I read them but I didn’t think, “maybe Edgar had me in mind, I’m not sure,” but when I read them I didn’t think I’d be a part of it. But I was just reading it because someone I really loved recommended something. Recommended.
Schwartzman: Michael Cera read them, though, right when they came out.
Kendrick: Yeah that’s what I mean
Schwartzman: He’s on the pulse.
So you started out on the stage, right?
And you are in a bunch of bands.
So do you guys like the stage or the set better?
Schwartzman: Well, I have two bands, or I’ve been in two bands. One was called Phantom Planet, and my latest was called Coconut Records. Phantom Planet, even though I was one of the song-writers, I played drums on stage. And that’s no problem, I could go play drums right now. Not that I’m that good, I just mean that I don’t get nervous for some reason to play drums maybe because I’m so far back on the stage. I just am really happy to play drums and I loved being with the audience and I loved playing in clubs because then usually when you’re done you just go and have a drink with everyone in the crowd. I love when you see a band play live and you have that moment when you’re like, “Oh my god I’ve been following this record, now this guy’s in my town. I’m in this room with him. He is not anywhere else but right here.” You know what I mean? Like, “He’s not at a photo shoot, he’s not … this is the fucking singer in front of me.” A movie, the person’s not there. But singing, I sing on Coconut Records stuff and I played a few songs once with my little brother and I hated it. Just because standing up there, trying to communicate that way is a real art and I just realized, “I don’t know if this is for me.” Maybe one day it will be, but I like the stage in terms of drumming, I don’t know if I like the stage in terms of singing. I’ve never really acted on stage. But sometimes I’ve performed on camera and it’s seemed stage-y.
Kendrick: My personal experience on stage is, it’s just so great like getting to be able to do a piece from start to finish and riding the wave of a story and a person, because it feels different every night because it’s honest every night. And that’s really special. Whereas film is more of a Dr. Frankenstein experiment where, you know, you think “Well, we did those takes in the coffee shop where I was a little more this way so maybe I need to give a couple more options in the scene after that so that if they end up putting this take in, it will make sense that I’m doing this …” and that’s really fun. It’s almost like, it is like a jigsaw puzzle, an emotional jigsaw puzzle. And that’s really fun to experiment with something immediately. And try something different immediately. It goes without saying that it’s impossible to say which is superior because one is not superior but they’re definitely are very different experiences and they both have pros and cons.
Schwartzman: We know that we just rocked that answer.
Yeah, you really did. Good job.
Schwartzman: I can tell, I know what Anna’s thinking in her head and I know what I’m thinking, which is—you asked, but you had no idea you were going to get such fucking gold.
I know! I know.
Schwartzman: You were just panning and you know what? You got a nugget. Sorry—two nuggets.
You’re a vegetarian, right?
Are you a vegetarian?
How did each of you feel about the portrayal of vegans in the film? Do you think that’s accurate?
Schwartzman: It can be. I was vegan, and I basically still kinda am although I am a little bit more easygoing. I don’t eat meat, though, or anything, but some vegans can be … I mean, vegans are people … self-righteous people and not self-righteous people.
Kendrick: It would be cool if vegans did have super powers. I would be vegan if it meant I would have super powers.
Schwartzman: I don’t typically like negative humor, but I do like when someone points something out by exaggerating it a little bit, and in this film there’s a lot of exaggeration. Everything is exaggerated, vegans included. And I think it’s really smart and really funny.
Is that one of the things that drew you guys was the dialogue? I mean it’s so sharp and fast …
Schwartzman: Yeah, I mean to me, it was just as I was reading it, I felt really alone ’cause I was thinking, I don’t know anyone who really talks like this. Are people talking like this these days? And am I just renting too many movies? Am I staying in too much? Will there be a new generation of humans that I don’t understand? Will I be out of touch?”
Kendrick: ‘Cause some of the dialogue on paper is crazy. I was really expecting to see all these really talented performers figure out how they were going to make that dialogue work, and they all did beautifully. And that was something really exciting to see, something on paper is almost worryingly unique. And to see talented people make it feel like it was real and it existed in the world of this film.
Schwartzman: And that’s really true, that’s like that is so much Edgar like shaping it, ’cause I was like “Edgar how do you want me to say this line?” You know ’cause some of it… “Where do you… what do you want?” And he was so… it’s like sometimes I think about this with records. There’s like two different kinds of artists or whatever. Two different kinds of people… well many different kinds… but specifically for this example, someone like one musician, they have a song written and they go in and play it and they just kinda see what happens and find all these amazing moments and mistakes and “Ah, I didn’t mean to slide up to that weird note,” or someone like Brian Wilson hears sounds in his head and then gets a bunch of musicians in a room to exact and bring to life the exact piece of music he hears in his head. Edgar, in this instance, is like the Brian Wilson, where it’s like he knows every note, he hears it. That doesn’t mean he’s not open to actors being free and having fun and playing with it, but within reason. He had a real clear frame of what key each of us should be playing our music in.