Kick-Ass: Jane Goldman interview

As Kick-Ass arrives in the UK, co-screenwriter Jane Goldman talks about adapting the comic book, her secret writing lair, and whether the film's critics are really that outraged...

Jane Goldman, in conjunction with director Matthew Vaughn, enjoyed solid success a couple of years’ back with the underappreciated Stardust. But it’s the pair’s new project, a movie version of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass that’s been garnering the headlines. And as the film makes its UK bow, she’s been telling us about writing the film…

I’ve not sat through a superhero film where the script is so vacuum-packed. There’s 117 minutes, and barely a wasted minute in it. How many revisions did it take to get it down so tightly?

The advantage of me being involved as a co-producer as well and being on set is that we’re constantly tweaking things even as we’re shooting. So it’s really nice to be able to continue the revision process even on the set.

So, if someone says a line, and you think of a better one, you can change it right there. It’s great.

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That’s quite rare in film, though, isn’t it? It’s more of a television sit-com ethos?

Yeah, I guess it is. But normally with film, it’s normal for the screenwriter to never be seen again after finishing until the premiere. But it is an unusual situation, and for that I have Matthew [Vaughn, director and co-writer] to thank.

The collaboration with Matthew is obviously very tight, and Stardust is a film we’re very fond of too. How do the pair of you conceive the projects and go about writing them? Are you in the same room, firing e-mails across the world?

We normally get together first and discuss the structure, and really have the blueprint altogether. Then I go off and write in my little lair, and then we fire e-mails and speak on the phone almost constantly. It’s like a constant presence in my life! All my friends and family think that Matthew’s always there with us. In a good way!

What’s your lair like? Have you got a Roald Dahl writing hut at the bottom of the garden?

It is at the bottom of the garden, actually! Although it’s not quite the same as Roald Dahl’s! It’s really weird because my house is very ornate, but my writing lair is very, very blank. It’s white, the furniture is white. It gives me nothing to look at, so I just have to concentrate!

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Easily distracted?

It’s easier that way. I’m not too easily distracted now I’ve had practice, but I write with nothing to look at. I used to rent an office that just had a view of a wall!

Given that the creative collaboration is with the director of the movie, does he get casting vote?

If we disagree on something? I think that I would always ultimately defer to him, of course, because it’s always the director’s movie. But that said, I don’t think it’s ever come to that. Maybe at edit stage, but that’s correct. But one of the things I really enjoy about our collaboration is that when we do disagree on things, it always ends up with one person winning the other round to their way of thinking.

You do it the old fashioned way with mature arguments rather than fighting?

Yeah! [Laughs]

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The work that you’ve done with Matthew, you’ve also got The Debt coming up, it’s all adapted works.

Yes, they are, and the next one I’ve done is too.

Woman In Black?

Yeah, Woman In Black. They’re all adapted works.

Is there a particular reason you adapt?

I really enjoy the challenge of adapting. But there’s no mysterious reason for it, it’s more that these great projects keep coming up that inspire me, or inspire me and Matthew.

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And I think the nicest thing to be able to do is follow your heart as a writer, and work on projects that excite you. And so far, all four projects since I started screenwriting have been adaptations.

Is there a reverence issue there? The interesting thing with Kick-Ass was that Mark Millar didn’t have his ending for the comic book when you started writing the film?

He was still at an early stage. There is always a reverence issue, and I’m no different from any audience member that if someone’s adapting a book or comic that I like, I really don’t want them to screw it up. But at the same time, I think that I’m always happy to see something where… I don’t tend to be a nitpicker when I’m watching movies, so as long as something is true to the spirit of the original, that’s very much what we got for. You try to never do something that the original author wouldn’t have done themselves.

But it’s the nature of thing. You do have to make it film-shaped.

How much time did you spend with Mark Millar and John Romita Jr on Kick-Ass?

John not much because, obviously, he’s over in the States. Mark I’ve known for a while anyway, and he was about plenty, which was nice. He and Matthew had a good chat. Mark was very cool about it, and said he just wanted everyone alive at the end of the first book, because he wanted to do a follow-up book.

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One sequence that really struck me was the Big Daddy background sequence. The amount of sheer storytelling that you got through in about a minute of screen time there. How do you go about doing something like that?

We wanted to tell it in comic book form, as we thought his back story was very important. And it seemed really natural to have it in that form. It was a story where we went back and forth between it being slightly more complex than that, and slightly less. In the end, I think we hit the right balance.

I think it helps that you can tell stories with visuals like that, because I think it gives the right balance. You can tell a lot in shorthand. If you actually have to show a flashback, you can’t use snapshots like that, and that’s one of the great advantages of using that comic book approach.

Did Nic Cage steal the drawings?

I don’t know!

I would have done.

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Yeah! I would have. A lot of people on the set were lusting after the picture board that John Romita did. That was the really killer display!

The film has been attracting one or two comments from newspapers at the moment, and the question that’s being asked is about the character of Hit-Girl. That character is coming in for a lot of criticism, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything you’d like to say to the critics of her?

You know, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I actually question how genuinely outraged they are. I think it’d be a different issue if they were genuinely outraged. A lot of it is the business of selling newspapers!

I obviously have to ask the sequel question, not least because there’s been quite a lot of talk about it.

There has been a lot of talk. Well, obviously Mark Millar’s doing his sequel to the books which was always his intention. I’m very much with Matthew on this in that you don’t want to jump the gun. You certainly don’t want to talk about sequels before the film has come out. You have to wait and see.

What I will say is that we all enjoyed working on the film so much that we’d leap at the chance to do a sequel.

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It is something you’d come to sooner or later if the film hit big?

I honestly don’t know. Ultimately, that decision would be Matthew’s. We wouldn’t want to leave it too long, especially as Hit-Girl would be such a major part. You don’t want Chloe to be much older than she is now, so the logical thing would be that. As I say though, there’s no sense in jumping the gun.

Have you been approached by Hollywood for big franchise movies yet?!

Not a big already established franchise. Certainly, I think it’s conversations that Matthew’s had, but I think the franchises are pretty much nailed down with what they’re doing at the moment!

And with that, our time was up! Jane Goldman, thank you very much…

Kick-Ass is out in the UK now. Our review is here.

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