LOS ANGELES (Back Stage) - Whether it’s suburban zombie farce, British buddy-cop satire, or a pixel-powered comic book adaptation, director Edgar Wright forges genres all his own.
The 36-year-old director of fan favorites “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” returns to the director’s chair with “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” which hit theaters August 13.
Wright’s take on the much-beloved comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley tells the story of young rocker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) on his quest to win the heart of angsty Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). To earn Ramona’s love, Pilgrim must defeat her seven evil exes in video game-meets-Bollywood showdowns.
With Wright at the helm, “Scott Pilgrim” is a high-octane sensory assault that balances outlandish visuals with the very real moments of a young man learning to love. While critics embraced the movie, audiences avoided it. The film debuted at No. 5 with estimated weekend sales of just $10.5 million.
DO YOU FEEL THAT COMIC BOOKS ARE JUST STORYBOARDS WAITING TO COME TO LIFE? HOW DID YOU MAKE THAT TRANSITION FROM PAGE TO SCREEN?
Edgar Wright: I guess a storyboard is a regimented format like a comic book. On the page, you achieve dramatic effect through layout, which you can’t always do onscreen. So to do that, we used split screen a lot to make it look like a comic book experience. With a comic book, you can look at two things at once or you can take in more information than just one shot at a time. Then there are a lot of things that people are used to from cut scenes in games. It’s a funny idea that cut scenes in games are aping films and the idea of a film aping the games aping the films.
FOR A LOT OF YOUR FILMS, THERE IS A PARTICULAR SENSE OF NOSTALGIA. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GENRES THAT YOU LOOK TO FOR YOUR SOURCE MATERIAL?
Wright: There are definitely references in “Scott Pilgrim,” but the references go beyond just films, because, you know, you’ve got the comic itself, and then there’s music, there’s video games, there’s animation. In terms of nostalgia, it definitely hits on things that you remember from your youth.
THIS FILM SEEMS LIKE IT’S DESTINED TO BE A FANBOY FAVORITE. WHAT ABOUT THIS MOVIE MAKES IT APPEAL TO THIS AUDIENCE?
Wright: It’s not just for fanboys. It’s also something that I think that girls will enjoy too. The characters are teens in the wrong world. They’re not in school, they’re just out of teenagerdom, but they’re not quite adults. Pilgrim is certainly not an adult yet, and he’s really emotionally immature.
MICHAEL CERA OFTEN PLAYS THESE TYPES OF CHARACTERS. YET IN “PILGRIM” WE SEE HIM GET TOUGH. HOW DID YOU BRING OUT CERA’S INNER BUTT-KICKER?
Wright: I think sometimes people would take it for granted what an extraordinary performer Michael is. For me there was never any other contender for the role because I thought of who I’d want to spend an hour and three-fourths with. I’d want to see somebody that I am excited to see him in these situations. And Cera was it. That and the fact that he’s both kind of the unexpected choice and also the perfect choice at the same time. He’s incredibly expressive and he even looks like the character. Pilgrim is not a jock; he is not a superhero. That is what is so great about Michael: On one hand, he brings this unique, Everyman feel to it, and on the flip side he rocks out and he kicks ass and sometimes all three in the same scene. He’s relatable and funny just after being thrown through a wall or blowing another band member off the stage.
Wright: Michael has a persona and he’s just very playful. He just has a very interesting sort of timing, always fascinating, and he always wants to do alternate takes with you. He’ll do a scene just mucking around, and if he’s in a scene with another performer that he’s having fun with, you get very different results.
DO YOU SET OUT TO MAKE A CULT MOVIE OR DOES IT JUST KIND OF HAPPEN ORGANICALLY?
Wright: I think if you kind of try and chase trends, and you try and make a cult movie, you’re probably doomed to failure, if you’re really trying to push buttons. I think the sort of cult movies that genuinely develop that following are born out of obsessions, whether it’s David Lynch, or Quentin Tarantino or “Donnie Darko”—they’re from really pure obsession and they’re highly idiosyncratic. Same with “Shaun of the Dead.” We wrote a film that we wanted to see, but we didn’t know what necessarily the appeal of that would be. With “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” — and people never believe me — they’re both really quite personal films in a strange way. “Hot Fuzz” is the idea of being a member of the police in a small town, and I am literally from that town; that town in the film is my hometown. I think it is those things in movies that bring out something personal and relatable, which then touches a chord with people.
WHAT WAS PERSONAL ABOUT “SCOTT PILGRIM” FOR YOU, AND WILL AUDIENCES BE ABLE TO RELATE WITH THAT?
Wright: Well, I think “Scott Pilgrim” has an element of wish fulfillment in it. Scott Pilgrim lives in a world where he gets punched and he gets right back up again. He’s living his life like a game. He has both the power and the irresponsibility. That’s not going to help you in real life, but in this film it will. I almost feel like the whole film is an elaborate daydream by Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim is the kind of kid who’d be looking out the window, doodling some logo on his book and dreaming of being the bad ass, the star of the movie in his own head. It’s a metaphor for the way that young people exaggerate. A small argument will get upgraded to a huge fight in the telling, and this film is almost like that. The film is like this “Oh my God, did you hear Scott Pilgrim’s huge fight last night?” and literal reconstruction of these wild exaggerated tales.