From Shaun to Scott: Edgar Wright interview
The ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ director tells Tom Huddleston about learning to fight, being hormonal and life as The Blink Nazi
How would you describe ‘Scott Pilgrim’ to the uninitiated?
‘It’s roughly equidistant between “Ghost World” and “X-Men”, which for a studio film is completely bananas. But that’s what attracted me to it. A lot of recent comic book adaptations have gone two ways: either they’re striving for some kind of realism, like “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight”, or they’re very stylised and gritty, like “Sin City” and “300”. This was an attempt to embrace the magical realism of comic books – I wanted it to be a real pop art explosion. But there’s a reason for that; it’s not just a stylistic tic. What you’re watching is the movie playing inside Scott Pilgrim’s head. This is his exaggerated version of events.’
Scott is hardly your regular comic book hero…
‘He’s something of a fantasist. The idea of fighting your new girlfriend’s ex-lovers, “Street Fighter” style, is the ultimate geek wish-fulfilment. He’s definitely an unreliable narrator, but I empathise with him. Scott isn’t a bad person but, perhaps due to spending his entire adolescence gaming, he’s something of a solipsist. He doesn’t really think about the feelings of the people around him. So the film is less about him getting the girl and more about him facing up to the consequences of his actions. He has to grow up, basically.’
Did you see yourself in the character?
‘I definitely went through a period when I was a teenager when every girl was The One and every break-up was the Worst Thing That Had Ever Happened. Scott Pilgrim is that kind of guy, wildly hormonal. But he’s also very easily distracted, like a bird attracted by the nearest shiny piece of foil. Right now it’s Ramona Flowers, but the next minute it could be a burrito! When he meets Ramona, the seed is immediately planted in his head that she’s his dream girl, straightaway he falls in love with her without question. Then it becomes about having to deal with who she really is, and what she’s been through. Is he man enough to accept that she’s got a history?’
It must have been a lot of fun to cast…
‘I can’t say enough nice things about the cast. I got the best of the current crop of young comic actors, an entire ensemble of scene stealers. A lot of people have commented on the fact that I cast a lot of people with big eyes. If you’re a fan of eyes, if you’re into ocular porn, then you’ll have a blast with this movie. But I needed people with very expressive faces, eyes you could get lost in. I was known on set as The Blink Nazi, because I would try to get them not to blink during takes, to achieve the feel of Japanese anime.’
How did you go about achieving such a distinctive visual style?
‘I was working with people who really forced me to raise my game. We shot for six months, which is a long time, plus we were almost making an entire animated film in post-production. The special effects are very bespoke, we wanted to give it a very hand-drawn feel. They’re not generic digital effects. It was a bigger budget than “Hot Fuzz”, and I wanted it to look like it cost twice as much as it did. You go to some summer movies which cost $200 million, and you just think: Where the fuck did that go? So I wanted to make sure it looked like there was a lot of money on screen.’
Does premiering a movie at Comic-Con (the annual preview event for studio movies in San Diego) add another layer of pressure?
‘The film went down amazingly there, and some say it’s just preaching to the choir. But if they didn’t like it, we’d have heard equally loud boos as we did cheers. So it was like jumping straight into the fire. But it was crazy, people were dressed up not just as characters from the comic, but as characters they’d seen in the trailer. People were dressed in Jason Schwartzman’s white suit, which they’d only seen in production stills. Pretty impressive!’
As you said, this was an unusual project for a major studio. Was Universal generally supportive?
‘There were questions along the way, but this is definitely the film I wanted to make. For instance, they asked if we should explain how Scott learns to fight. I always said no, I thought too much explanation would kill us, but it’s a legitimate question. There have been recorded cases of people learning how to fly a plane after playing a flight simulator, but there’s never been a case of someone learning to fight by playing “Tekken”. But in the film the idea is that if you play enough games you’ll be able to fight like that in real life. Though I wouldn’t recommend any of your readers trying it!’
Read our 4-star review of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’
Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston
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