August 6th, 2010 1:05pm EDT
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is genre bending film that blends live action, comics, video games, and rockin’ tunes. Before the premiere, I had a chance to take part in a roundtable interview with the director Edgar Wright, Michael Cera who plays the main character Scott Pilgrim, Anna Kendrick who portrays his sister Stacy, and Jason Schwartzman who is the dastardly villain Gideon Graves.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, this film which is based on a set of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, follows Scott Pilgrim, a nerdy guy from Toronto in his early 20s. Scott falls for Ramona Flowers, the new girl in town, but unfortunately he finds out that he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat in order to win her heart. The path to victory is not an easy one for Scott, who encounters his share of trials and tribulations along the way. He learns however that he can use his video game fighting skills, his musical talents, and powers of deduction to help him outwit the various bosses in his path.
Q: Edgar, some directors might consider adapting the comic series Scott Pilgrim for the big screen a challenge. What was it about the project that appealed to you?
EW: That was what inspired me originally was that it was just an irresistible challenge to read those books. I was given the first book six years ago and it was given to me with somebody saying that ‘this is going to be your next movie,’ and it wasn’t, I did “Hot Fuzz,” so they lied. So it was just the challenge of bringing something like that to the screen and it was just a really interesting tone to have comedy and action. But also it’s very magical and romantic, and there’s a lot of music involved. I’ve always tried to do films that mix more than one genre, so it was a gift really to have a go at adapting it.
Q: How did you texture the live action elements into the film?
EW: It was a very conscious decision really early on to do real sets and real locations, even though we kind of art directed the hell out of Toronto. One of the great things that we had as a sort of a jumping off point is that a lot of the artwork is based on photographic references from real locations. Because he (Bryan Lee O’Malley) only started drawing the books in 2003, he still had all the photos from 2003. We could go around with the location manager with the sort of blurry pictures from 2003 and have him go ‘It’s that house.’
Q: What would you say separates this movie from other video game movies?
EW: The thing is with most video game adaptations is that they are trying to make them like legitimate movies from games, and some of the games are based on movies themselves, “Tomb Raider” is somewhat based on “Indiana Jones,” and “Resident Evil” is sort of based on the George Romero movies, so what happens when they are making a video game movie, like with “Prince of Persia” is that they jettison all of the video game aesthetic.
Because this was not based on a video game and most of this stuff was in the comics as well, it’s like let’s embrace all of those flourishes that have been with us for thirty years. It’s not just contemporary stuff. A lot of the video game references are at least kind of twenty years old. So that felt like a gift to be able to employ those techniques….In this film it’s a comedy and it’s magical, and it’s kind of the whole thing is slightly taking place in Scott Pilgrim’s head. It’s like how he would like to live his life, and this is how as a fantasist that you are seeing this film, as like this exaggerated daydream version of events.
Q: Michael and Jason, could you tell us a little bit about the training you had to go through for the action scenes in Scott Pilgrim? Neither of you guys have a history as action heroes in previous films.
Jason Schwartzman: You’ve never seen any of my other characters without their shirt on.
Michael Cera: Or any of my home videos….
JS: When Edgar invited me to come along on this wild adventure, one of the things that he was talking about almost immediately was the training that he wanted Michael and I to do and the fundamental skills that he wanted us to have, because his dream was to shoot it in a way that it would really be us fighting and doing the majority of the stunts.
So that entailed conditioning training that we were all in Toronto doing with trainers who were cruel. Edgar stayed with us every morning and trained. We would do medicine ball work, we would run on treadmills, we would play different callisthenic games, we would do leap frogs and all kinds of stuff. Then we would have a lunch, and each one of us after would break off and learn their particular skill.
I would not say that I’m a swordsman but I would say that we all got to a place where we were able to learn the choreography and feel like it was okay. It was definitely hard. The team that was around us was Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s team combined. So we had a lot of amazing, beautiful, incredible choreographers really being taskmasters on us, and it was just incredible to fail for them. (Looking at Michael) Wasn’t it hard but wonderful?
MC: Hard but wonderful, yeah. So much nicer to fail for them than anyone else I’ve failed for.
EW: (Laughs) You’re just being a bit modest because we used to call you Jason Swordsman on set.
JS: Yes I know I am being a bit modest.
Q: How about for you Michael, what was it like? Normally you play more timid characters but this time you get to kick some ass out there.
MC: I had to go along way. Even just facing a mirror when we were training in LA, throwing punches toward the mirror, I just couldn’t believe how bad it looked. (Throwing punches) Even to make these kind of actions look dynamic takes a lot of just doing them over and over for a few months.
Then the other thing that you focus on is building up enough stamina to be able to last while shooting one of those sequences all night, because it gets really tiring take after take. It really takes a lot out of you. You have to stay focused too because if you get tired and you only go fifty percent there is a chance you could screw up and get hurt or hurt somebody else. You really have to be alert the whole time. So the training was just a chance to prepare us for that I guess.
Q: Anna, what drew you to the part of Stacy?
Anna Kendrick: I am Stacy. I think the relationship between Stacy and Scott rings really true. It’s sort of snarky and she does take a little bit of pleasure in making him squirm in awkward situations but that really rang true to me, because I have that relationship with my older brother. Even when we reach out to say ‘I know you’re going through a tough time and I’m here for you,’ you have to follow that up with ‘But you still totally suck and I’m going to call you a douchebag in twenty minutes anyway.’
Q: Anna, with your experience in theater, how does it compare against movies? Do you have a preference?
AK: Jason and I were talking about this earlier actually. He brought up an interesting point about the fan’s experience of you on stage versus on screen, and how on stage it’s cool because this person isn’t anywhere else, but here right now performing. And when it’s on film…(looking at Jason)…I’m sorry I’m totally stealing your quote.
JS: I don’t mind I stole it from Kevin Kline.
AK: When they’re watching on screen they are watching a copy of you so that’s really interesting, but I think the great thing about theater is doing a whole piece start to finish and kind of riding the wave and riding the arc of that, making it different every night. The scene in Act 1 you were a bit more sensitive so you react to that and change your performance every night, maybe not in a way that the audience perceives but that’s really fun and makes things interesting.
Then when you’re on film it’s like emotional jigsaw puzzles. Well the thing we shot later in the film, I should give some options in this scene because I want to make sure they have whatever they need to match whatever emotion they end up using, or whatever take they end up using from that scene that comes later. That’s like really fun, it’s like a puzzle. Both experiences are different and interesting, and there are pros and cons to each but obviously neither is superior to the other.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” arrives in theaters August 13th.