We have all been in relationships where there are times that it seems we are battling our current significant other’s past flames. We struggle to overcome the expectations, worries and doubts a former boyfriend or girlfriend has brought onto the new love of our life. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, that battle is a literal one. Michael Cera (Superbad) is the titular character, who upon beginning a romance with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), must duke it out with her seven evil exes.
The film is based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular Oni Press series of graphic novels – six in total – and has been directed by the acclaimed Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead). The movie carries a light-hearted tone, as the fisticuffs are presented in a format akin to a video game, complete with power-ups and enemies having specific weak-points to attack. The movie also features a marvelous cast, including recent Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air).
Cera, Wright and Kendrick were in town recently to promote their new picture and I was lucky enough to sit down and talk to them alongside Sara Michelle Fetters of MovieFreak, Tyler Foster of DVDTalk and Bryden McGrath of The Daily.
Edgar Wright: What are you making there, Michael?
Michael Cera: Just a coffee.
MC: [sarcastically]: Sorry, are you waiting on me?
[everyone laughs again]
MC: I’m ready. Fire away. Coffee. First question.
Sara Fetters: We’ll let our UW student go first.
Bryden McGrath: This is the first time I’ve ever met movie stars.
EW: Are you from a college paper?
BM: Yeah, University of Washington, just down the street.
MC: We haven’t spoken before? I thought you looked familiar.
BM: No! You were here for Youth in Revolt, I know, but they had another reporter go.
BM: So, my question, about the soundtrack, I know Beck and Broken Social —
EW [referencing McGrath’s Oasis T-shirt]: Sorry Oasis won’t feature on it. [laughs]
BM: I know! That was the worst day of my life, ever.
BM: But I was just wondering how all of that came together, and whether that was your plan from the start, getting those kinds of bands.
EW: It sort of developed…there was definitely a snowball effect in getting amazing artists on across the board, but basically when I was first talking about it, I’ve been very lucky to be friends with Nigel Godrich for maybe ten years, and this was the first thing that came up that we…we always wanted to do something together, and this was the first thing that came up where, you know, there was going to be a big musical element to the film. Both of us are pretty hard on fictional bands in films, with a couple of exceptions, so we wanted to seem really real, or really diverse, so it was Nigel’s idea to get different bands to play the different artists. We talked about bands that were similar to Sex Bob-omb, and even met some of them, but it actually came to, in some of the cases, of getting artists to kind of play a part themselves, so getting Beck to do the Sex Bob-omb songs was amazing because he could actually…I think he enjoyed it because he could return to his fuzzier, kind of low-fi roots that he started with as his first demos, and first album. And then, you know, because it’s set in Toronto, just having the Canadian royalty of Metric and Broken Social Scene was just amazing…and then it just started to spread after that. Like the Patel Bollywood song, I was a big fan of Dan the Automator’s album “Bombay the Hard Way”, which is all Bollywood songs, so we got him to do that.
MC: Wow, I haven’t heard that.
EW: Oh, it’s great. It’s amazing. It’s just all remixes of Bollywood music. And we needed music for the Katayanagi Twins, and I’m a huge fan of Cornelius, so it was really…I have to say, if it was me on my own, and Nigel Godrich’s name was not involved, it might have been a bit more difficult, but Nigel is kind of like an all-access pass to getting you any great band across the world. And they don’t talk about, he did the score, and even just the people playing on the score was just incredible, because members of Broken Social Sheen…ah, Broken Social Scene — it’s a tongue twister if you say it fast — Supergrass, Air, it was…amazing. Kid Koala…
BM: I love all the original songs.
EW: Yeah. The soundtrack is — the irony is, the first draft of the script had a running joke in it where you never heard the songs. Or you’d hear a little bit of an intro, and then Knives would say, “That’s the most amazing song I’ve ever heard!” [laughs] But then as soon as Beck and Metric invovled, and Broken Social Scene, it was like, let’s hear these songs. [pause] That was a long answer. I feel like I just ate up half of the roundtable. I’m sorry.
Tyler Foster: I know you started work on the script before the comic was done, and the movie sticks very close to those first volumes that were written when you started writing. Do you think if the comic had been done, do you think it might have seemed like a more daunting task to turn it all into one movie, like it might have been too much?
EW: Probably. I think probably, yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think it would have been incredibly daunting with the whole series done. But in a way, sort of, the two things…because we worked with Bryan Lee O’Malley right from the start, the two things have started to affect the other. The books, in some small way, got affected by the film, and even the final book is slightly about Bryan returning to Toronto, ’cause he’d moved away from Toronto and went back while we were filming, and Scott Pilgrim does exactly that in the last book, and that was his reference for being…like a way of coming back to Toronto. So, I think it actually…we’ve kind of arrived at the same ending from different directions, and Bryan was involved the whole way. Bryan even…me and Michael Bacall wrote the script, and Bryan did the occasional polish, and there are lines that in the film that are his and don’t feature in the books. So it’d funny to me that if, sort of, if a fan was being particularly pedantic, saying, “that line doesn’t appear in the books!”, I’m thinking well, Bryan wrote that line, so… We thought of it as real Bizarro realities, because also the game offers a whole other different load of avenues. The book is always going to be the canon, and that’s what it’s based on. I’d love it if people saw the film who hadn’t read the books and said, “Oh, I want to read those books now,” and they’ll have another universe to explore, you know?
Brian Zitzelman: Michael, you tend to be best known for being a little understated in your comedy. What was the fun challenge of playing somebody so boisterous, kind of obnoxious —
BZ: I mean, that’s what Scott Pilgrim is in the books! He’s screaming his emotions all the time —
[hotel phone rings]
EW: That’s Scott Pilgrim on the line right now.
MC: Well, it was so much fun, and a little scary at first. At first, when I was reading the script, I was thinking, “How am I going to say some of these lines?”, ’cause it’s hard to imagine the tone of the film when you’re reading the script. Then when we got together and started rehearsing, Edgar showed me everything he had to show, and give us as much of a sense of the movie as we could get before actually starting it. Then it started to become a little more clear in my mind, what it was going to feel like. Acting with the other actors was really helpful too. But it was a blast to get to do that.
SF: What I love about this film so much is that it is a true ensemble, even though you’re at the heart of it for the whole film. The cast that you were able to assemble here is quite extraordinary. Were you surprised at all with who kept saying, “Hey, yeah, I want to be a part of this, I want to work with you on this film”? What was it like for you two [referencing Cera and Kendrick] getting to come to work every day and getting to see different faces?
EW: It was amazing…I can honestly say I cast everyone I wanted to cast and got to cast. I’d say 50% of the people I was either a fan of, or had seen in other things, so Michael I knew from “Arrested Development”. Actually, the first time we talked, Superbad hadn’t even come out, so I cast Michael for Scott Pilgrim on the basis of “Arrested Development” alone. I hadn’t even seen Superbad or Juno yet, because we started talking about three years ago, and Anna I saw in Rocket Science…[referring to Fetters]…did you see, he mouthed “I love that movie”. You can say that out loud!
EW: But that was before Anna was cast in the film, before Up in the Air, and even before the first Twilight, is that right? [Anna nods] The casting process has been going on for three years, and I think, that…I’m not sure that this cast would have come together with three months’ prep. I just couldn’t say enough nice things about everybody in it. Some of these people I had in mind while I was writing it, like, I saw Rocket Science and said Anna would be the perfect Stacey Pilgrim even before I met her, and other people like Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman, definitely were in my mind as I was writing, and other people, were either a revelation to me in terms of they hadn’t really done anything before, or I wasn’t expecting…you know, I can’t claim credit for the suggestion of Kieran Culkin. That was our casting director Jen Euston, and as soon as he comes in and starts talking… I’d seen him in other films, obviously, but I just thought, “Oh my God, that’s perfect.”
MC: I remember you showed me the Brie Larson audition tape too?
EW: Yeah. I didn’t know who Brie Larson was before she came into the room.
MC: And she was that character right away.
BM: Following up on that, kind of, the exes that came into the movie…this is for Michael and Anna, what was it like that talent? I know you guys have been around a lot of great actors, but Chris Evans coming in, and Jason Schwartzman is hilarious.
Anna Kendrick: Well, I don’t know, but for me personally, it was two things. One, I got to know the cast outside of filming. I never filmed with Chris or Jason — I mean, I knew Jason before, but I just sort of met Brandon Routh, and Chris separately, we never really filmed, but everyone was really lovely. But I think I can sort of say, within a kind of young actor community, are kind of royalty, you know, really well-respected, and not just the Chris Evanses and the Brandon Rouths, but Mark Webber and Alison Pill and Kieran Culkin. Maybe the rest of the world hasn’t seen Pieces of April or Igby Goes Down, but the cast certainly had, and I think there was lots of mutual respect going into it.
EW: I wanted to make a film that would make it easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
EW: I think if Kevin Bacon were in the film as well, we might have a winner.
TF: Knowing that the book is very personal to Bryan…I know it’s kind of pieces of his life, and I’m sure he was around and everyone met him a bunch of times, and things like that, was there anything that you…may have extracted from the book that you could tell was personal to him and wanted to preserve in the movie?
EW: [long pause] I think he found the whole experience very surreal. He would pretty much sit on set with a bemused smile. [laughs] Because, for example, aside from the emotional aspects of it that have a significance to him, even something like Scott and Wallace’s apartment is…he took a picture just walking around his neighborhood. He took a picture like of a little door that was somebody’s kind of, it was like a storage space underneath their house. He took a picture of that, drew that as Scott and Wallace’s apartment, and then six years later, we go back to that neighborhood, and…he had the photo, but he could not remember the address of the place. He knew vaguely where it was. So, I think that’s the kind of thing he would find amusing about it, a production crew — me and the location manager and the production designer — have this photo from 2003, and we’re walking around this neighborhood trying to find that door. And it took us about three hours, because they’d repainted the door. And then we recreated it. But I think you’ve got to put an audience member’s hat on. If you’re reading something, what you do is you take…you kind of read into it your personal experiences and stuff. And I certainly felt like a Scott Pilgrim type when I was a teenager. All kind of romantic engagements would be dealt with in absolutes. Any new girl I met would be the most amazing girl I’ve ever met! and every break-up would be the worst thing that had ever happened, it’s the end of the world! So I can totally empathize with Scott Pilgrim’s completely naive blind optimism and overreaction and exaggeration of everything.
BZ: The books have a very “read-at-your-own-pace” feel to them. There’s so many in-jokes, you can read a page and take ten minutes to do it. How did you transfer that, with all the little in-jokes…like, how difficult was it to find the right pacing where, the comic you can take your time. You’re giving them, this is how long this joke lasts, here’s this in-joke, here’s how quickly we have to get to the next one, or the next emotional beat. How difficult was it to find that right feel?
EW: It’s certainly like a balancing act to…I think certainly with comedy, I just don’t want to ever talk down with the audience. So, with some of those you have to pace the film as if you were a fast reader. And if you don’t get everything, or you missed a joke and stuff, then it’s absolutely all yours to watch again. I feel that way with the books, it’s like you said, you can take a day to read the book if you want to, or you can rip through it in half an hour, and there’s lots of extra little details to go back and pore over. And I thought about it like that. I thought about that a lot with the action as well, when I used to read Marvel comics as a kid, sometimes I would do exactly that. I would read the comic, read the all speech bubbles, and then when it got to a fight scene, so you’ve got like a double-page spread in Spider-Man of a fight scene, I would go pow-pow-pow-pow-pow [mimicking himself reading of the sound effect text without looking at the pictures], next! [laughs] And then later you would go back and go, “Holy shit, Todd MacFarlane’s amazing!” But the first time I would read it, I would rip through it in fifteen minutes flat, and then go back and appreciate the artistry and stuff. So we will be re-releasing the film slowed down…
MC: The slowed-down cut!
EW: The slowed-down cut will be in cinemas at Christmas.
BZ: Six hours!
EW: Somebody did that with Psycho! They did this thing at, I think it was at the Tate in London, it was called Psycho 24/7, and they slowed down Psycho to the point where it would take a day to watch.
MC: Come on.
MC: That’s really slow.
EW: But it was like being in a gallery! Because you could stand there for an hour, and just watch one shot of Janet Leigh’s face.
MC: It must have been amazing whenever there was an edit between shots. It’d be so significant, you’d be like “whoa!”
SF: So, I was curious, especially for you two [Cera and Kendrick] on this, now that the films been getting screened, and people are getting a chance to see it, at least, press screened and promo screened, and stuff like that, there has been sort of an argument that’s been presented that it’s a generational film, in that…if you weren’t a video game child of the ’80s, maybe the late ’70s, or then through now, then you’re not going to like the film, because you’re not going to relate to it. I’m not sure I agree with that, I’m pretty positive I actually don’t —
SF: — but I’m curious, especially from the actors, what you think, because it’s definitely something that’s been said a lot over the last week, as the film’s started to get seen.
AK: I think that’s silly. I think that’s just sort of silliness. When I saw this film coming together…when I first saw it, it wasn’t completely finished…but I was already so excited to show my mom and dad. And obviously, yes, they’re biased or whatever, but, like…my dad really loved Kill Bill, except for the violence!
AK: So, I don’t know, who wouldn’t like a really funny, fast-paced, colorful movie? And yeah, there are video game references, but if you don’t get that that little ding-dong noise that happened was from Sonic the Hedgehog, it doesn’t make you feel left out.
AK: Because the jokes don’t revolve around video games or comic books, they’re just enhanced, it’s done with a wink and a nod.
MC: That’s true. Yeah, there’s nothing in the movie that’s depending on the viewer’s previous knowledge of anything. You can kind of just watch it and it’s a film that tells a story, I think.
EW: To be honest, there are some video game references that are in the books, like the door with the star, which is a Mario reference, it doesn’t have any particular resonance to me. How I interpreted it when I read the book was that she represents the unknown, and this door is a leap into the unknown. So you can read into it whatever you like, and you certainly don’t have to have a Cliff’s Notes on video games before. And I haven’t played, I haven’t had a console for ten years, in my house! I’m kind of like a lapsed video gamer. At the same time, on the flip side to that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with speaking to people. In a way, I think you have to make films for yourself, and then hope other people discover them. I remember when me and Simon used to write, like, “Spaced”, we would always take our cues from “The Simpsons”. “The Simpsons” has a million esoteric references in it, but it never stops the show. Things don’t stop for, like, an allusion to The Birds, it’s just there if you want to see it.
BM: My parents would have loved the [spoiler omitted!] scene. I liked it, anyway. But, I was kind of wondering, Michael, if there was any pressure being Scott Pilgrim. I know, I think I read that you read the graphic novel beforehand.
MC: A little bit. But that was before we went in and started rehearsing…Edgar felt so confident, I think, and I just followed his lead on that.
SF [referring to the publicist]: Christina, I think, needs us to wrap it up, so…
Christina: One more.
TF: I read [to Edgar] in an interview that you did with another site, you said “Scott Pilgrim is a daydreamer, and I wanted the daydream to never end.” I thought that was interesting because when I talked to you were doing Shaun of the Dead, you said almost the opposite. You’d just come off the TV show, where everything was a dream that has to end at some point, and you wanted to make a movie more set in reality.
EW: Yeah, that’s true, and after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as crazy as they are, they do take place in a real world where people die and they don’t come back. But when I read the Scott Pilgrim books, it actually reminded me in a nice way of “Spaced”, and I wanted to return to that, do something…when you read source material like that, which is so full of magical realism…it’s just sort of a gift to make a film like this with a studio, and the kind of backing to be able to pull off some of the visuals, it was just a gift to do it. And I like that kind of idea that your interpretation of the reality of the film is kind of up to you, because, you’re watching Scott Pilgrim’s exaggerated version of events. He’s an unreliable narrator and a fantasist, and maybe…there’s a dream sequence about twenty minutes in where he walks into the bathroom and comes out to the school corridor…I should have just put a shot of a spinning top at the end.
TF: There is that one shot of Anna during that first fight, where she looks confused, for a split second, and that’s the only reference.
EW: Which Anna improvised, actually! A couple people have pointed out that the defining moment of the film is that she basically plays the audience.
AK: I know, just, I was the only actor who hadn’t already filmed a fight scene, so, by the later fight scenes, they’re all kind of bored! They had already shot the [spoiler?] fight, so they’re all kind of, “ugh, this again?”
[Cera and Wright laugh]
AK: And so I kind of felt…you have to let the audience know, “Yeah, it is that confusing, but just go with us.”