Interview with Kick-Ass 2’s Jeff Wadlow
Kick-Ass 2 Director Jeff Wadlow sits down with Den of Geek to discuss adapting not only NSFW Mark Millar comic books, but also Matthew Vaughn's much loved film. Discussions include real life superheroes, Jim Carrey and everything in between.
Adapting any sort of comic book property is a challenge. Adapting one as brutally violent as Mark Millar John Romita Jr.’s Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl books while simultaneously following up Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 film is something else entirely. Yet, that is just what writer/director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) attempted in his sequel to the (mostly) beloved geek cult classic. It’s been three years since the first film was released and Wadlow, hired directly by Vaughn on his script, was able to sit down with Den of Geek to discuss the process, real life superheroes and overall comic book mayhem. Den of Geek: Normally when making an adaptation, there is an intense focus on translating the source material. But sometimes, you also have to deal with creating your own film based on what Matthew Vaughn (Writer/Director of the first Kick-Ass film) already laid out with the first film. Did you find it difficult to make it feel like this was your movie? Jeff Wadlow: To Matthew’s credit, he wanted a writer and director to make the sequel who had a voice. He could have just hired a bunch of writers to crank out a script and gone and found a music video director, whose job it would have been to just emulate Matthew’s voice, but he didn’t want that, and hats off to him. Not only cause I got the job, but I think it’s a testament to him as a filmmaker to understand the importance of having a voice and having an opinion about the story you’re telling that’s personal, so I never thought about copying Matthew’s tone or the flipside of that: intentionally making sure my tone or my voice was different than his…I just told the story that I wanted to tell and trusted that, since I loved the first film, what I did would be a love letter to the fans of that film, but also that I’m a different filmmaker and I’m the writer and director of this movie. It would be like asking a painter to recreate a painting that’s in a completely different style than theirs. You can only do what you do, and I can only make the movie that I can make, and I was fortunate that Matthew said, “Make your movie.” DoG: I personally never read the comics, but did read that there were some changes you made to certain characters, like the team of Remembering Tommy; what brought on those alterations? Wadlow: Adaptation is a process. To Mark Millar’s credit, the first thing he also said to me was, “You have to make your movie.” We all know those films that were slavish to adapting their source material, specifically some comic book movies, and I think we can agree that they often suffer as a result. Mark said, “I just want a great movie, so change what you gotta[ change, do what you gotta’ do.” It’s basically the same thing Matthew said to me, so there are changes. In Mark’s comic, he can have as many characters as he wants, he really doesn’t have to worry about servicing them. As a filmmaker, you’re going to pay an actor to be there and you want to service their character, and it’s much more about telling a singular story instead of having other characters there so you can branch out and tell other stories. In the comic, there’s Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes, they’re two different characters, and that didn’t make sense for the movie, so now he’s Colonel Stars and Stripes. Remembering Tommy, it’s kind of cool that they’re in this outrageous 1990s comic book armor with their pads and weird floating head pieces, but it just doesn’t make sense in the real world. They would fit in more at something like a renaissance fair LARP-ing. I’ve seen this documentary about real world superheroes. Not comic book fans, but people who do dress up in costumes and try to make the world a better place, and I was looking for opportunities to reference that, and I thought that Remembering Tommy, they’re not doing this because they’re comic book fans, they’re doing this because they lost their son. The way Mark wrote about it in the comic was so emotional and gut wrenching, so I wanted to do something that felt a little bit more grounded for their characters. DoG: I saw the documentary too, the one on HBO, right? I noticed you had a character in Kick-Ass 2 that resembled one of the film’s subjects; Insect Man, the homosexual crime fighter who refuses to wear a mask. Wadlow: Totally inspired by that character, his name is Z in the documentary. I was so impressed by that guy, and I thought it was such an interesting idea not to wear a mask. Yeah, that’s absolutely an homage to him and what he represents. I think it’s such a powerful idea to incorporate into the film. DoG: The film deals well with the smaller characters, giving them lots of weight, specifically Insect Man. Though Hollywood is generally proactive in the LGBT community, it feels like every gay character is the same stereotypical persona, but not him. Wadlow: Yeah, he’s even the best fighter in the group, thank you. DoG: In general though, you had an embarrassment of riches with this cast. Beyond the returning actors, you have Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, John Leguizamo, Benedict Wong, Lindy Booth. etc. Now, you’re obviously good at what you do, but did it ever get overwhelming dealing with all that talent? Wadlow: No…look, it was an embarrassment of riches. I remember there was a day where I had pretty much everyone there, and I like to consider myself an actor’s type of director; I like to talk with my actors, talk about the scene, and really dig into it. I’m not just setting up a camera and saying, “Yeah, go do your acting thing.” You just can’t really do that when you have 15 of your actors on set, so that was slightly disappointing for me because I would have loved to sit down with them and talk about the scene, but at that point time is money. DoG: Jim was just fantastic in the film, I found him to be brilliantly restrained. We all know what a great actor he is both dramatically and as a comic, but I often get scared before I see a performance of his, fearing that maybe he was going to take things too far. Did you feel you needed to rein him in at times or did it all work perfectly right off the bat? Wadlow: Jim had a lot of ideas in the beginning that didn’t necessarily sync up with what’s in the comic. I had long conversations with him on the phone, and then he really started to click in. When I talked about him being this former mobster who wanted to be a superhero, he started to really feel that a bit. It’s sort of like Rocky Balboa, but instead of becoming a boxer he decided to become a superhero. Jim really likes that a lot and he really dug into that. Then he would come to set with different ideas for the dialogue, and then there was just straight-up improvisation when we started rolling. Between those three things, the script, tweaks to the dialogue, and improvisation, we were just kind of finding the character. To me, my job as a director in that situation, and often when you have to help an actor find their way, is to show some restraint myself and let him do his thing. “Let’s see what happens.” But always keep the larger story in mind, so that we don’t get lost in that world. Let him do his thing, but always look for nuggets that will help us tell our story. He was great, and if there was ever a moment I felt he was doing amazing stuff, but I wasn’t getting that one thing that was going to make the emotional point that we wanted to be making with the scene, I would say something to him and he would give me some version of it or exactly what I was asking for. He always made sure that I had choices and that’s his gift to those scenes; that he gave me so much material to work with, that in post we were able to really strike that balance. DoG: Balance is an important thing to the Kick-Ass movies. A lot of films will be jam packed with violence just for the sake of it, but it actually plays a pivotal role in these movies, because it’s there to contrast the real consequences these young heroes take for granted. Were there times that you felt you maybe were going too far with some of those visuals or conversely, too playful? Wadlow: You kind of have to find your way, right? It’s not that dissimilar to the way I shoot with Jim. You have to have options and make sure you push to get things done on set, because I can always pull them back in post. If you don’t have it you can’t make it, but if it’s there, you can always take it out. That’s the way I would attack the action sequences. There was a cut of the van sequence where you don’t see the bodies go into the car. Ultimately, it wasn’t satisfying; it wasn’t showing you the consequences of these violent actions. These guys were bad guys and they deserved to suffer the consequences of their actions, and you want to see that as a filmgoer. So I was always making sure I had these options, so we could find that balance in post. DoG: Thank you for your time Jeff, can you tell us what’s coming up next for you? Wadlow: I’m writing X-Force for Fox, which is an X-Men spin off, and I’m developing a movie for Sony called Go Fast about the boats that smuggled cocaine from Columbia to the Dominican Republic. 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