The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around almost 30 years to the day since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird dreamed up the heroes in a half shell. Yet, I had never before heard of these pizza-loving dudes referred to as the Greek Temperaments until I sat down with Megan Fox and Will Arnett at San Diego Comic-Con last month.
In a fun and lively discussion, I talked with the two human stars of Friday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about just what comprises the personalities of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo, as well as why they have endured for so long. Fox also hints at a unique relationship between her April O’Neil and Michelangelo in the movie. Meanwhile Arnett, who plays journalist Vernon Fenwick, deeply ponders a great query for his post-Lego Movie fame: Batman or Ninja Turtles?
So a lot of people have been talking about what is different about this movie—what longtime fans might feel about it. What do you guys think will be most familiar for those fans?
Megan Fox: There is so much. I don’t feel like it strayed very much at all.
Will Arnett: One of the great things, a real testament, was actually today. Megan and I saw the movie a while ago. We’ve seen various incarnations of it before even the FX were done. I felt like what one of the great things was seeing it so incomplete, and still liking it, and still buying into it, thinking, “Wow, this is a really a fun movie,” and a lot of the things that is going to be cool and make it fun isn’t even done yet. But now that the movie is done and seeing it, and seeing it in that [Hall H], watching Kevin Eastman watch that—who created it—and talking to him backstage, and talking to him backstage after it played, and how excited he was—I know he doesn’t own it, the fans don’t own it, whatever. Nobody owns it! But to see him excited about that in a real way was a great moment for me.
That kind of made me feel like we did something okay. You know, if he was in tears and ran out of here with mascara streaming down his face, and I don’t know if he wears mascara—[Laughs] That’s not my providence. But, yeah.
Megan, I’ve heard you speak very specifically about Lord of the Rings in the past, did you have equally intimate knowledge of April O’Neil?
WA: What, you talk about Lord of the Rings?
MF: Yeah, man. I get down with Lord of the Rings. My movie room is full of memorabilia.
WA: Woah. Shit.
MF: [Laughs] Those were novels, those were Tolkien novels, so, I don’t think you can really have the same sort of knowledge about the Turtles that you can about Lord of the Rings, because there is just so much more of it. I mean [Tolkien] created a language; there is just so much more there. But I definitely am familiar with [the Turtles].
But I am not one of those people—I will say that I sort of fall in that nerd elitist, like overly critical and judgmental, group when it comes to Lord of the Rings. And I’m like “the Ents should have been scarier! Why did they do them like that?!” Because I knew so much about it as a kid. But I’ve never been judgmental of Turtles for some reason. I just love them every way that I’ve seen them and every way that they have come.
What is the appeal?
MF: Of the Turtles? They’re just—it’s lighthearted, it’s fun. Yeah, it’s weird, they’re teenage mutant talking [pause] ninja turtles.
WA: There’s something captivating [about them]. One of the questions we had today in the panel in Hall H was “why won’t the property die?” Literally, the guy asked why won’t it die. And it’s not a bad question, because you have to say, “Why hasn’t it gone away?” So many things are in vogue and then they fall out, but for some reason, Turtles keeps coming back.
There is something about them. There is this sort of intangible thing about these characters; they’re such distinctive characters, yet together, they kind of form a unit. They’re brothers, which is great, and everyone loves that aspect of it—
MF: They’re outcasts and they’re also heroes.
WA: Yeah, and because they’re so different and so distinct, and they compliment each other, it is sort of like the ultimate example of teamwork, if you will. There’s something great about that that I think people respond to apart from just the good versus evil.
That’s the Marvel template you just described.
WA: Make no mistake: I’m a genius. [Laughs]
In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, April has a unique bond with Raphael before the rest of the Turtles that gets the conflict going. Is there a Turtle that your April makes a connection to in this one?
MF: When we were filming, there was a connection with Raphael, because they sort of—I’ve always been on this thing that the Turtles are based off the four Greek temperaments. And Raphael is a choleric temperament. And that is sort of how we were playing April. So, there was this bond, but also this opposition, like a brother and sister fighting, that we had. However, what took over the movie, and what you’re going to see a lot of, is there is a bond with Mikey. There’s a bond with Mikey. [Laughs]
WA: Yeah, there’s definitely a bond with Mikey. There’s a thing. I think if anything Vern had more of a—he and Raph looked at each other the wrong way. That’s mainly because Alan [Ritchson] drove me nuts. No, I love him. [Laughs]
Was it easier to work with actors playing Turtles than maybe working in the abstract sense with Transformers?
MF: Definitely. Yeah, there are people like Shia [LaBeouf] who can get real vulnerable and intimate while talking to a stick with a tennis ball at the top, but it’s hard. It’s so much easier when someone is sitting here and can adlib with you and improv with you, and push you, and pull away. You react just because someone else is reacting with you. So, it’s a lot easier and so much better.
What did the other three Turtles represent in the Greek Temperaments?
MF: There’s choleric. There’s phlegmatic, which I’d say is Donatello. There’s Sanguine, which would be Mikey, and there is melancholic, which is Leonardo. This is what I’m saying. I haven’t had that confirmed by Eastman, but that is my theory.
WA: Let’s get him in here!
I’ll have to look that up.
MF: Yeah. You can take a test and find out who you are, actually.
Will, who would win: Batman or Ninja Turtles?
WA: [Lowers Voice] Bat-Turtles. [Laughs]
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be in theaters on Friday, August 8th. You can check out our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review here, and we’re hosting a screening of the ORIGINAL TMNT movie in NYC on August 22nd. Details here.