Mark Millar on Kick-Ass 2, Jim Carrey, Nemesis and more

The creator of Kick-Ass talks to us about his new film, the Jim Carrey controversy, Nemesis and lots more...

A few weeks ago, we heard what Mark Millar had to say about Kick-Ass 2 while it was still being filmed at Pinewood Studios. But how has he felt about the project since? What on Earth was Jim Carrey’s sudden distancing from the movie all about? And what is Millar, now a celebrated and in-demand comic and movie industry figure, up to next?

James managed to find out the answers to those questions, and lots more, with this brand new interview with the man himself…

Please NB: There’s a mildly spoiler-y exchange in the middle of the interview that mentions the conclusion of Kick-Ass 2 and Man Of Steel 2. It’s been clearly marked in case you want to avoid it.

So, Kick-Ass 2 has a different writer and director to the original. Did that make you nervous?

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Maybe a little, ahead of time. I hadn’t seen any of Jeff’s work and I asked Matthew Vaughn, who hand-picked him, if he didn’t think Kick-Ass was too British to go to an American. And he said no, honestly, this guy’s really good. And I’ve learned to trust Vaughn, he knows what he’s doing. He’s not done a bad movie yet, as a producer or director. And then the screenplay came back and it was almost pitch-perfect – there were a couple of small notes – but it was pretty much perfect straight out the gate.

So as it turns out, there was no reason to worry. I think that the British and American senses of humor are actually really close these days. 20 years ago maybe not, but now we love Entourage, they love Ricky Gervais, so I think the two have merged into one sensibility now, and Jeff just got that.

Because the first movie was really well-reviewed and well-liked over here, but in America the response was… maybe not bad, but perhaps more tentative?

Yeah, in the end we only made $100 million dollars. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but people were saying to me, “Oh, that’s awful, Iron Man made $600 million!” and I was like “yeah, but we cost a ninth of what Iron Man cost!” – and then on DVDs we got $140 million, so we knew by September 2010 we were doing a sequel because the advance sales on the DVDs were huge. So the profit was almost $240 million on a $12 million investment, so we knew it was happening.

And like a fool I was answering correctly when people asked about a Kick-Ass 2 movie, saying “yeah, yeah, we made loads of money, of course it’s happening!” not realising there’s a game you play in Hollywood where you pretend you’re not doing one to jack up your price with the studio a bit. But I know that now, so when people ask about Kick-Ass 3 I’ll just say, “I hope so”…

Like when people wondering whether or not Robert Downey Jr. actually would be back for Avengers 2 and 3 after his contract ended.

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Yeah, exactly. I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be doing a sequel to his road trip movie [Due Date] you know? Of course he’s going to be doing Avengers 2 and 3!

The original Kick-Ass came out in 2010, which was the same year as another indie comics movie, Scott Pilgrim. The creator of that, Bryan Lee O’Malley, said that making the movie influenced the way he ended the comic, so I was wondering: did the process of making Kick-Ass 2 have any effect on the Kick-Ass comics?

No, I kind of had the end marked out in my head from the beginning, and when you see the comic you’ll see the symmetry with that. It can only really go one way, because it’s a book about a guy with no superpowers trying to fight crime, so it has a very logical conclusion. It’s not necessarily downbeat – I think the third one’s a lot more upbeat than the second – but I knew the ending and I reverse-engineered the middle part of the story from that. I like to know the destination  before I start writing, Stephen Moffatt or Alan Moore style.

A lot of people do ask if I think of Chloe and Aaron while I’m writing, but I don’t think I do, I think of the little doodles. I can never visualise it except as four panels on a page, which is probably why I’m not a screenwriter. Even when I have a bash at doing a screenplay I have to draw it out like it’s a comic! 

Kick-Ass 2 does have a lot more of Hit-Girl in, and her and Dave’s stories run parallel this time around. A long time ago you told us that project that became Kick-Ass started out as being about Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and didn’t really work until you made it about Dave. So having dropped that idea once, how do you feel that it’s sort of come back around?

Oh, pleased. I always intended Hit-Girl to be a big part of Kick-Ass 2, and that’s why I ended up doing that Hit-Girl mini-series. I had Johnny (Romita, Jr., Kick-Ass co-creator and artist), but he was also working for Marvel which meant it took us 27 months to release 12 issues, which was just agonising for all involved. And originally we had Leandro Fernandez to do the Hit-Girl comic, but even though I love Leandro and his stuff’s really brilliant, when it came down to it, it just felt so disrespectful to Johnny to have someone else drawing his character. So I apologised to Leandro, paid him for one issue out of my own money and we waited for Johnny to be ready. It meant we had this weird situation where Kick-Ass 2, which would end up as acts two and three of the movie, came out before act one, which was the Hit-Girl series. It’ll all make sense when you read them in the trades!

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But yeah, Hit-Girl’s story was always really important to me. I’m not sure if I’m that interested in doing a Hit-Girl solo series or movie because she’s been created within the confines of Kick-Ass, and there are so many things we can do with that take – small things, like how she grew up watching Van Damme movies and now she’s in high school where they’re all talking about Demi Lovato or something, and she has no point of reference, and suddenly she’s in with people who are pop-culture savvy, and wear make-up, and she’s at an age where she should be like that but she isn’t because there’s no mom figure showing her how to put bunches in or whatever. And just that idea, of a girl without her mother, seemed so sad to me that I thought it was a really interesting angle for a story.

That arc in the movie is one of my favorite things, actually, because Hit-Girl is this character people think is really cool, and yet she has these very familiar and grounded problems about fitting in that pretty much all of us have had at some point.

Yeah, and the underlying moral is just to be yourself, I mean that’s what Kick-Ass was always about on some level. A guy who’s an outsider making that work for him. And here it’s the same for girls as well. 

*** Possible spoiler-y bit begins ***

The journey they go on has changed a little in the movie. I don’t want to spoil the ending but there is a marked difference – the comic’s a bit Empire Strikes Back, whereas the movie has a more solid conclusion.

Yeah, although does it? To me it’s inconceivable that we wouldn’t do another one after that ending. I actually see it more as sending both characters off on their final journeys rather than an end-point. We did shoot the ending as it was in the comic, but whenever we watched it, it felt too downbeat, so it got cut off and changed. I don’t know why it worked with Harrison Ford, but for us it just didn’t feel right, so we’ve pushed back that stuff, which you’ll know if you’ve read the comic, into the start of the Kick-Ass 3 screenplay.

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That change was actually Matthew’s call, and his instincts were right. When you look at this summer it’s actually been pretty grim. You’ve got Man Of Steel ending with a neck snap… and if Kick-Ass 2 had ended the same way as the comic it would’ve been another sad movie. I actually think the reason this is going to do well is because you’ll walk out of it feeling really good about yourself, and wanting to see it again.

*** Possible spoiler-y bit ends ***

Changing tack slightly, just to tackle the big news story around the movie’s release… Jim Carrey. What’s your take on what happened there?

Okay, so here’s what I think happened. Jim has been a massive advocate of gun control for a long time, but the gun lobby has been bombarding him for months, saying you’re in a movie that’s full of gunfire. And the picture they keep putting up is that one of Colonel Stars and Stripes holding a gun and laughing. They haven’t seen the movie so they don’t know it’s empty, obviously, and that’s even what attracted him to the character.

But I think those guys just got to him, because they were tweeting at him every day saying, “You’re a Canadian! Get out of our country!” and I think he’d just had enough. You know, he was just sitting in his house, he just did it by himself saying “I’m sorry, I’ve got to disassociate myself from this movie.” and it became an international shit storm! And I contacted Matthew and he knew no more than I did. So for the first hour it was a bit of a panic, and then after that it was just weird. Because you know, you’ve seen the movie and it’s no more violent than the first, and Jim loved the first so much that he dressed up as Kick-Ass. So it just seemed weird for him to be saying this. It was a bit of a curve-ball, but what it’s done is give us a free publicity boost equal to, they estimated, around $30 million. So maybe there’s a silver lining! 

And just off the subject of Kick-Ass 2, can we get a couple of project updates?

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So first, is Kapow coming back?

I honestly don’t know at this point. I’m doing so many things – three movies back to back, all my comic gigs… and Lucy, who organises it, and Sarah, are doing movie stuff for me at the moment, so they’re busy… I hope it’ll be back because I loved it, they were my two favorite conventions ever, and we’ve got such access to people. Maybe we’ll move it later in the year. I hope so, but we’ll see.

And will Clint be back, or is it wrapping up for good?

We haven’t made a final decision yet, but it’s just been going along for a few years now. It didn’t take off in the way we hoped with the mainstream, it’s mainly been selling in comic stores, which isn’t what we wanted for it. I think the market’s just changed too much for it to work as we wanted, as a kind of outreach for comics, and now people are happy to go to comic shops and bookstores. It’s never lost money, but it never made money either so it almost doesn’t justify the work that goes into it! It might get folded into the Titan comics line somehow, but we’ll see.

And finally, Nemesis 2. Any idea when that’s coming out?

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I don’t know, unfortunately. Steve (McNiven, co-creator) is tied into his Marvel deal and he makes so much more money from Nemesis that he’d love to do it, but he’s under contract for another year or something. He said he could maybe do a page a week, but that means it’d take two years to get done, so I told him not to worry and that we’ll wait until he’s out of his contract and we can do it properly. It’s a bit of a pain because I’ve already written it, but no one else can draw it because it’s Steve’s thing! But yeah, as soon as he can get to it, it’ll happen.

Mark Millar, thank you very much!

Kick-Ass 2 is out in US cinemas now.