Scott Pilgrim press conference: stunts, comic books, Ant-Man and more

Ahead of the release of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Michael caught up with the cast and director to discuss the making of the film, and Edgar Wright’s forthcoming Ant-Man…

We here at Den Of Geek aren’t too perturbed by the lukewarm welcome Scott Pilgrim Vs the World received over in North America. We know the film’s good, and suspect that UK and European audiences might be a little more in tune with its mixture of kick-ass style and down-to-earth drama.

We shall soon see, as writer-director Edgar Wright and the cast were recently in London for the flick’s continental premiere.

While he was here, we had the chance to sit with the assembled talent in two mini-press conferences, held in Soho. In an overwhelming turnout, we were treated to the precious time of Wright, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha and Brandon Routh.

To make things more manageable, the group was split into two, but we’ve been kind and stapled both together in this handy transcript.

Ad – content continues below

All concerned were clearly knackered from the relentless promotional schedule, but the disarmingly young cast (Wright’s a veritable old-timer at 36) were full of pep, and displayed a surprising amount of modesty when faced with rooms full of journos and banks of microphones.

We heard of the intense shoot, the complicated stunts, and just how far they would go for love, as well as finding out why Jason Schwartzman had lipstick smudged on his cheek, and what Michael Cera’s favourite YouTube videos are.

I think we can safely say that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is innovative and unique. What were the major challenges in delivering the film version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wonderful graphic novels?

Edgar Wright: I guess the challenges of bringing it to the big screen were the same ones that attracted me to the books. The books are an amazing mix of comedy, romance and action. And then on the big screen, the same elements, with music as well.

Everything that I found interesting about the book, and why it felt fresh and unique, was irresistible to adapt.

Ad – content continues below

To all of the cast, what were your own thoughts and concerns as you were portraying these characters and bringing them to life on the screen?

Anna Kendrick: I guess that I didn’t have a specific concern about people being too attached to Stacey Pilgrim, but I definitely read the script and the comic books wondering how the hell anyone was going to pull this off.

Luckily, that was not my job. And when I got to set, there was a scene that was already cut together, half finished, which was the Lucas Lee fight, where Michael fights Chris Evans with skateboards and stuff.

And all of a sudden, something that I couldn’t even comprehend snapped into focus, and I was just really excited about getting to go into that world and that tone and that style.

Kieran Culkin: …the end? Sweet. I don’t know that I had many concerns, but I do know that Wallace Wells was a favorite in the comics. To a lot of people he was a very loved character, so I did feel a bit of pressure to not blow it for the fans of the comic. But I don’t know what else to say as far as concerns…

Ellen Wong: I don’t know. I think, for me, I was definitely really nervous and I felt kind of intimidated by the whole thing going into it, too, because it was all a new experience for me, to be working on a film, and to be working with the amazing cast, and Edgar.

And I was worried, really worried, actually, that I wasn’t going to be able to, I guess, give Knives the justice that I think she deserves. But I think what was key for me to let go, was just to know that with her character, she is very uninhibited, and everything that she does feels very pure and raw, and that’s what makes her different from the rest of the characters. She’s untainted in that way.

Ad – content continues below

So, with that in mind, I just kind of let go. I just tried to have fun.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: It was kind of daunting to step into the role of Ramona, just because she’s the kind of character in the books that I feel, for a lot of the fans, no real person could live up to, and unfortunately I’m a real person. [laughs] So, I just had to hope that I could bring enough to it to make it work, and bring what I saw in Ramona to the big screen, and it would hopefully make sense to as many people as possible. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to please everybody, so I just really tried to focuse on the human aspects of her, and try to bring that to her, even though she’s so guarded and enigmatic.

Edgar, how did you get your head around everything? It must have been an extraordinarily convoluted process…

Ed W: Just a lot of pre-planning, really. I went into this as… a bigger budget than Hot Fuzz, and wanted to come to work every day knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I had it plotted out completely before we started filming, and as well as a lot of my regular crew and editors.

I was working with world-class professionals. Cinematographer Bill Pop and stunt coordinator Brad Allan were amazing. We just worked out a lot of stuff, and also, for the cast, I was able to show them a lot of material, so they could get their heads around what it was going to look like.

We’d already shot a test in July 2008. We shot a test of a fight scene between Scott Pilgrim and Patel, with two stunt men. So, there was a lot of supplementing material to be able to show the cast. We had the music.

Ad – content continues below

So, there was a lot of planning. It’s not something I could have put together in three months. It was a good year’s worth of prep before we even started shooting.

People have been talking about superhero movies like it’s a trend, but it’s become more of a genre. What attracted you to this genre, and how’s it going with Ant-Man?

Ed W: One of the things that attracted me to this, was it wasn’t really like other comics. The actual comic itself is like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t a superhero film. It wasn’t a more generic sci-fi tale.

It was something that was essentially taking the trials of young love and presenting them as a visual metaphor. Essentially, the inspiration for the book, for Bryan Lee O’Malley, was the idea that, when you date, you tend to demonise their exes. Whether that’s true or it’s just in your mind, it snowballed from there, the idea. I love that aspect to it, that it wasn’t just like a comedy or an action film.

Essentially, deep down it’s a date movie. It’s a story about young love and rites of passage. That’s what really attracted me, that it was something a little bit different, from just another superhero film.

And speaking of that… [laughs] I’ve been working on a script with Marvel for a couple of years now. I basically haven’t worked on the Ant-Man script for two years, since I’ve been working on this solidly. But it’s one of the things that I’m going to return to writing once this is all done. I’m going to get back into writing towards the end of the year.

Ad – content continues below

As Edgar said, it’s a date movie, and there’s a lot of fighting for love. Anna, what is your opinion? Is love really worth the fight?

AK: Hmm! I’m pretty lazy. I don’t know. I didn’t fight in this movie, and Kieran didn’t fight in this movie, and basically, all day we’ve been reminiscing on those days when we were sitting comfortably and watching our fellow actors be pulled around on wires. We were very supportive, though.

Fighting for love… Sure, yeah, absolutely. I don’t know… Any physical work, I’d be like, “Eh, you’re not that great.”

KC: Psychological warfare?

AK: Psychological warfare. I am excellent at that.

KC: Well said.

Ad – content continues below

There’s so much boundless energy throughout the whole film. How did you keep spirits high during the shoot?

Ed W: For me, a lot of espresso. The cast are all incredibly enthusiastic and energetic and very professional. It was a marathon shoot, as well. There was no easy scene to do, really.

There was always some element – if not action, then music. Lighting effects, in-camera effects. So, there’s always something interesting going on. I hope that we made the set fun, or at least gave people the forum to have fun with it.

Did he make the set fun?

MEW: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that he was so hard working, and so energetic, that if any of us lost energy, it would just be ridiculous, because we weren’t working half as hard as him. So, I think he set a really good standard.

Ad – content continues below

One of the major things about this movie is the stunt team, and they’re not very often talked about, but what were your experiences with them?

Ed W: The stunt coordinator and choreographer, Brad Allan and Peng Zhang, are both from Jackie Chan’s team. And I’m a huge Jackie Chan fan, so that was a real thrill. And, basically, they had acrobats and mixed martial artists from all around the world. People from Beijing, people from Australia, people from the States, people from Toronto where we were filming. It was really inspiring to have those people around, because, the way that these stunt teams work, is that, for every lead, there’s two or three stunt people concentrating on different special skills.

I think they were really great with the actors as well, because most of the actors doing fights hadn’t really done any action before. The irony is, that Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, who had done big action films before, are both… Chris Evans is too lazy in his scenes, he leaves it to his stunt men… and Brandon Routh never actually physically touches Michael.

So, the irony is that everybody else, who had never done a fight scene, had to do stuff.

The music really stands out, and it’s one of the best soundtracks of the year. How did you work on the soundtrack?

Ed W: We worked on the soundtrack for about two years. Myself and Nigel Godrich, who I have been fortunate to be friends with for the last eight years, and he’s produced Radiohead and Beck and Air and Paul McCartney and all sorts of artists.

We had this idea that each of the fictional bands within the film should have a different artist doing them. So, it was sort of like casting. It was like, “Who’s going to play this band? Who’s going to play that band?” And we just, basically, cherry picked our ultimate fantasy list of bands to do it.

Ad – content continues below

And Beck did the songs for Sex Bob-Omb, Metric and Broken Social Scene, two Canadian bands, contributed… Cornelius from Japan. Dan the Automator. It was just an amazing roster of talent.

And I’m really pleased with the songs that we have in the film, and I’m really pleased with Nigel’s score, because it’s the first score that he’s ever done. I think it sounds amazing.

There are some very impressive fight moves on display in the film, and some wide shots where you can see it was obviously members of the cast involved. What training was involved, and how much did you all relish the physical aspects of the roles?

Brandon Routh: I don’t really do any fighting in the movie, hand-to-hand, except for punching a girl… I learned to play bass. That was my fight training for the movie, which I did for three or four months.

Satya Bhabha: Michael and I have a pretty extensive kung fu fight, and it’s pretty much, for the majority, it’s us. A good 85-90% of that.

There are a few flips and stuff where we had the most incredible stunt guys in the world help us out with. We trained for a long time. I started going up in December of 2008, and I didn’t shoot until June of 2009. I wasn’t there the whole time, but we were back and forth quite a bit. And we were working with Jackie Chan’s stunt team, so, if anyone’s going to put you through their paces, it’s them.

Ad – content continues below

Michael Cera: Jackie Chan’s a famous action star…

SB: Thank you. And it was a lot of fun.

MC: We all started doing some training in LA in November, the people who lived in LA. Then we got to Toronto in January and we did two months of training, where we were learning choreography and conditioning. Putting ourselves through this really terrible regime, where you wake up early and exercise…

SB: Sweat out espresso in the morning.

MC: But it was amazing, you know. It was really great to be around this team of people that you never really expect to have the chance to be around and watch them work. They’re so disciplined and focused and devoted. So, it was nice to be around them.

Jason Schwartzman: Like Michael said, we trained, and personally, I also had to get some rudimentary sword fighting experience under my belt.

Ad – content continues below

And that was incredible, because we had this team, and within that, we each had our own personal trainer, who would train the evil exes for whatever their style of fighting would be, if they had one.

It was incredible. I’d spend hours with him, and he would teach me the piano scale of sword fighting, I guess, the little things to feel comfortable. And I would do that for hours and hours and hours. And it was super fun.

I couldn’t defend you, if someone came in right now and there happened to be a sword around. Between the four of us, we’d be able to trip them, and confuse them, and try to make them laugh.

SB: The three of us would run away and Brandon would finish the rest.

Were you aware of the comic books before you got involved in the project? And how hard is it to bring the flat 2D character into punchy 3D?

SB: I wasn’t aware of the books. I’d read them after I’d heard that I had the part. And they were really fun reads. I’m not a big comic book fan, in general, but I really enjoyed them.

Ad – content continues below

I actually didn’t feel in any way restricted by the fact that we had this pretty clear blueprint of these characters, at least their physicality, because connecting the dots from one frame to another frame, there’s a lot of room there for experimentation. I think that a few still images is actually a really great and helpful way to approach developing a character.

BR: I didn’t know about the books until after meeting with Edgar to talk about the project. But I enjoyed them immensely after doing so. It was fun. The characters are so based, for me, at least with Todd Ingram, based so much on the description of him, his abilities and his dialogue, which is very colourful.

So, I didn’t really pay too much attention to the physical likeness. I did, but it was more about the dialogue and the way he handled himself. And how other people described him.

Michael, which of the evil exes did you most anticipate fighting? And how far would you go for love?

MC: Two very difficult questions…

BR: All the way, right?

Ad – content continues below

MC: Um, I don’t really have a favorite ex that I was looking forward to the most. I was really excited about me and Satya’s scene, because we had been working on it for a while, and we’d had a lot of hand-to-hand combat.

And Jason’s was very challenging, with the swords. It was a whole different type of fighting. So, those were both really fun. And how far would I go for love? Um.

BR: [Whispers] All the way…

MC: …All the way. I feel like if I start trying to think of something romantic that I’ve done, my microphone would fall asleep.

Michael, are you looking for some less nerdy roles in the future?

MC: No, I hope to find any available nerdy roles and snap them away.

Ad – content continues below

We’re very interested to know how Michael is in real life – could you guys describe him?

SB: Violent. Aggressive. Nasty.

MC: Violent but deadly.

SB: Muscle-bound.

BR: He’s one of the nicest people in Hollywood that I’ve met. That’s what I…

MC: You sound so stupid!

BR: [Laughs] Aside from that comment… One of the first things I noticed, anyway, coming to the set., was for this success that he’s had, to have his head on his shoulders as well as he does, was really cool. And he’s genuinely, extremely funny. Fantastic in this movie. So many of his little touches of humor that I keep finding new things to laugh at him for.

JS: Brandon said it correctly. And you did too, Satya, just in a different way. The only thing that I would add, was that, one thing I really like being with Michael is you get to learn about a lot of new stuff. Because he’s very interested in things like movies and music. But not always obvious things or easy to find things. Especially YouTube things.

He knows so many hard-to-find things on YouTube, and interesting interviews with people. He’s turned me on to so many great David Letterman things. Things that are a bit harder to find, and a bit more specific. So, I like being around Michael, because you get exposed to a bunch of new things.

What was your take on the soundtrack?

MC: Amazing. It was amazing getting to work with Nigel. We recorded some vocals with him for the Sex Bob-Omb songs, and he was around on set coaching us. He was incredible. It was really exciting that he was part of the film.

SB: I worked with Dan the Automator, who’s from Deltron 3030, Handsome Boy Modelling School, Gorillaz… He composed my song. That was also fantastic.

We ended up recording it at Capitol Records Studio 2, which is where Frank Sinatra recorded a lot of his stuff. And there was Ray Charles’ piano in the room. So, there were ghosts of geniuses past that helped me get through it.

It was a lot of fun, and I think that the music in this film was one of the most important parts of it. And it really stands alone. The soundtrack is an awesome album.

JS: Mark Webber [Stephen Stills in the film], I am so impressed by Mark Webber, who had never played guitar or sung before in his life. And he had to replace Beck’s vocals in the songs. Beck produced the original demos, but Nigel recorded the vocals over that. Can you imagine never singing before, and the first time you’re singing is in front of Nigel Godrich. Pretty intimidating.

SB: …to replace Beck!

JS: Yeah, right. That’s heavy. As a question to the cast. If there was ever a Radiohead concert, would you ever say, “Nigel, Nigel… evil ex number one!”

SB: I mean, I never met Nigel, but, hell, yes. Are you kidding? I also love Brandon’s song, written by Metric.

JS: That’s a great song.

BR: I’m sad they didn’t… It’s only Brie Larson’s [Envy Adams] vocals. It’s not our instrumental.

JS: Aw, really?

BR: I can play that song really well, too.

JS: Aw, buddy…

Jason, what is that on your face? [Referring to some ink smudges on his cheek] And the moustache, is that for a new role?

JS: No, what I have on my face, is, it just says “Michael Cera”. That’s all. Simple.

MC: Michael Cera is a famous action star.

JS: And then it has a kiss below it. And this is really just a symbol of the fun that we’re having, and the overall Scott Pilgrim experience. I’m wearing it like a badge.

And this moustache is a personal choice. And it’s really just, you know, when you have facial hair, and you’re shaving… at least me… it’s always fun to shave off my beard in parts of face, in different orders. Like, sometimes I’ll shave the moustache off, and just keep that, and it’ll look like a surgeon general. And sometimes I’ll shave off the goatee and leave it more like a steam captain, and have a little corn pipe and go “choo choo”. Or I’ll have a Backstreet Boy, just a thin little highlight around my chin. And I just do it mainly to make my wife laugh. But she’s quite fond of it, so I leave it for her.

MC: And you want to be the first person to have a Geordi La Forge.

JS: Yes! And Michael has an idea for my next moustache.

MC: It could only work on Jason, I think.

JS: I’m willing to be the guinea pig for this kind of idea. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, La Forge has those glasses [motioning around his face]. Michael wants me to have the moustache version of that. Which is, I would shave my head, but leave just a strip of it back here, and then I’ll shave my moustache off here in the corners and then grow this out straight to my sideburns, but I’ll shave off my sideburns, except for the part where… Basically, like a giant seam around my face. So I’m excited to try and do that. And that’s basically what I’ll be doing in the off-season.

Well, we all look forward to the Fun With Shaving DVD.

JS: Yes! I will release it! Hopefully, I can find distribution.

Michael, what’s the oddest thing that you’ve found on YouTube?

MC: It’s actually a really tough question. Do you remember anything?

JS: Um… funny or just bizarre?

MC: Chimp attacks!

SB: Oh, dude…

MC: Terrible to watch, but I can’t look away. Like there’s one, this guy was okay, but he worked on a chimp sanctuary. He brought them food, and picked bugs off their back, and was accepted among them, generally.

And they have a video of him, he kind of makes a noise to this chimp, like a greeting, a grunt. And the chimp does not like it, and it really bothers him. And he comes over and starts jumping on the guy, and carelessly hitting him, but you can just tell it’s the most painful thing the guy’s ever experienced. And then the chimp grabs him by the arms, and was pulling him around like a rag doll, and threw him off the island into the water. The guy got thrown into the water. And I’ve seen that one about 400 times. There are 400 views on YouTube, and they’re all me.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is released on August 25th. Read our review here.