Monday-Tuesday, January 20-21, 2003
DAREDEVIL'S MARK STEVEN JOHNSON AT L.A. CONVENTION
By Rob Allstetter/The Comics Continuum
LOS ANGELES - Less than a month from release, Mark Steven Johnson continues to whet the appetite for the Daredevil.
The director made another convention appearance, Sunday at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Sci Fi Convention, and brought along special footage to show an overflow crowd.
Johnson showed three clips: a music-montage; a scene that was cut and won't in the movie - a discussion between Father Everett and Matt Murdock in church; and a scene in which Daredevil pummels a thug in front of his daughter.
"What inspired me in this movie was a character who is really realistic, who doesn't always have all the answers" Johnson said. "Who screws up and gets his ass kicked. But he still keeps trying.
"The movie's heavy, you know? It's not a pop, really light movie. There's fun in the movie, but this is a heavy, gritty, realistic movie. That's what attracted me and that's what I set out to make.
Following the clips, Johnson fielded questions. Following is part one of an edited transcription.
QUESTION: What led up to you writing and directing Daredevil?
JOHNSON: Like everybody here, I just grew up on these comics. I've been reading all of them -- especially Daredevil, my favorite character - all the Marvel titles, since I was 9-10 years old. It was funny, because when I was a kid, I was always, "Like when are they going to make these movies? Why aren't they making Spider-Man? Why aren't they making Hulk? Why aren't they making Fantastic Four?" And they never did, and it was always frustrating for me. I really wanted to see a Daredevil movie.
And in way, my way to see it is that I get to make it. It's something I've had a passion about doing for a long time. I'm just someone who really, really love this character.
QUESTION: Why Daredevil?
JOHNSON: I always felt Daredevil was the most realistic of all the characters. There's something about that makes him stand out. He wants to do the right thing and he kept finding himself making mistakes. He's so human. He kept screwing up, but kept trying. He really wanted to find justice, but, at the same time, he wants to take justice in his own hands. So there's a great divide in his own character.
As a kid, kids would believe in Santa Claus and I knew that was bullshit, but I was hoping there was a Daredevil until an embarrassingly late age when I realized he wasn't a real guy. You know, "Why isn't he on the news when I turn on the TV?"
QUESTION: Why did you choose Ben Affleck?
JOHNSON: Being an unlikely choice myself for this movie, but being a fan, I really wanted to find somebody who grew up with the character and really loved it. And Ben has. Those of who you have read Kevin Smith's book and seen that Ben wrote the foreword to that. I know he felt touched by the same stuff I was growing up, especially the Elektra saga and all the Frank Miller work.
I really wanted to find somebody who: A.) was a fan and B.) I thought could handle it physically. I know from some of Ben's other movies he doesn't seem like a logical choice. But I think you'll see he inhabits Matt Murdock really well. He really got into the character and is really very soulful in the film.
And I also wanted -- going back to realism, which is the benchmark of this movie - somebody you thought could take of himself. Somebody who was physically imposing. Ben, with his boots on, is 6-foot-3, and could go out and night and be a vigilante and abuse his body. I think it was a great choice for the role.
QUESTION: Jennifer Garner can handle a lot as well.
JOHNSON: A lot of actresses say they do their own stunts in the movies, but they really don't. I mean, insurance-wise, they can't do it, so it's a lot of bs.
Jen really does. She literally does all the stuff you see her do. It's really amazing. To her credit, when she got the sais, she took the sais and just got obsessed with them. She'd walking around the Alias set, just twirling, twirling, twirling. She shipped them when she had to travel somewhere. She couldn't have them as a carry-on, as you might imagine. Her trainer said that she learned in 13 weeks what it took him 13 years. She's physically amazing.
And I also think she has a pretty soulful quality as well about her work.
When I met Frank Miller, I was, of course, nervous about getting his approval. Because Jennifer's not Greek and she's not in the red Elektra outfit. Frank said he didn't care, that he just cared about the soul of Elektra. He was really moved when he met her.
It was really great while working on the film in New York to have Frank come down and see her. He actually got choked up and said that she was absolutely perfect. He said, "Look at her eyes." She has this wounded quality about her eyes, even when she's about to fight someone. And he said, "She's perfect." It was an exciting moment for me. It was important to have Frank's approval.
QUESTION: Sam Raimi loved Spider-Man just like you do with Daredevil. Was it the same thing in getting the movie?
JOHNSON: Sam has had success in this genre before. I had to have a full-body cavity search to get this gig, believe me. I chased this movie for six years.
First, I had to sell Daredevil. He's not Spider-Man. He's not The Hulk. And he's not known throughout most of the public. And then when they got that, I had to sell myself. Since I had some success as a screenwriter, they said, "We'll let him write it." And then they would find some director.
What I did, while I was writing the script, I was working on storyboards, conceptual drawings and cueing music, everything I could, so that when I turned in my screenplay I could say, "Here' my story and what it will look like." So they could see I had a vision for this thing other than just writing it.
QUESTION: I saw Stan Lee in the trailer. Are there other cameos?
JOHNSON: Yeah, there's Stan Lee, Kevin Smith's in it, and there's a cameo that we got Frank to do. If you look close, he's a Bullseye victim. I think Frank would like it because his cameo got an R and we had to cut it several times to get a PG-13.
I wanted to pay an homage to all the people that had their hands in the books, so there's characters with name like Jack Kirby and Gene Colan. And Bill Everett - the priest you saw is named Father Everett. Kevin Smith has a cameo and his character's name is Jack Kirby, the forensics person. It happens a lot and you can watch for it; there's literally dozens of references.
QUESTION: Why did you change the Bullseye costume?
JOHNSON: It's funny because when I sat down with Joe Quesada from Marvel. And he showed me some costume designs of Daredevil and Bullseye and he started showing me these radically different costumes. And being a lifelong fan of the comics, I was like, "Joe, what are you talking about? They're going to be exactly like the comic."
And then he taught me something I had to learn the hard way. Which is that people who look a certain way in a costume in a comic book do not look so great in person. Especially that Bullseye costume. Boy, that is a bad-looking thing.
Let me tell you, we tried everything. We had an Elektra costume in the red with the sash and everything. There are certain things that really don't look good on film. And you really get to a point, where you know, as weird as it sounds, and I especially had this problem, you realize you're actually honoring the comic book more by making changes sometimes, but always keeping the spirit of the comic alive.
So, with Bullseye, I couldn't do that costume. I tried. It didn't look good, So I thought what would be interesting for Bullseye in the film version and stay true? Keep the Bullseye, but make him this punk, Sid Vicious punk, Alex from Clockwork Orange, with this killer vibe. And a guy who's so good, so untouchable, as an assassin, he has this scar tissue of a bull's-eye on his forehead to say, "OK, you want me? Right here."
Colin Farrell plays the character with this very punk vibe, too. That was obviously a drastic change from the comic with the costume. But believe me, that was after lots and lots of trying things on film to find something we could live with.
QUESTION: Can Daredevil be a franchise?
JOHNSON: I hope so. I don't know. Let's see how this one turns out. We said all the time that this movie started out as an under-the-radar movie. Spider-Man's so big. People didn't know who Daredevil was. I told people I was working on Daredevil and they'd say, "You're doing the Evil Knievel story?"
With Daredevil, there was really zero awareness and we have a smaller budget and smaller effects budget. It's grown. I realize in the next four weeks, it's going to grow even more.
What I would love to see happen is, obviously more of these, get the costumes closer to the comic book, bring in more of the characters I love from the "Born Again" story and the "Guardian Devil" story.
And to one day do a TV show, something like Smallville, and go back and do Daredevil: Yellow as a television show. Get a younger cast, show Matt Murdock in college, meeting Foggy. I think that would be a great idea. That's something I would hope to have happen.
QUESTION: How about Daredevil meeting Spider-Man?
JOHNSON: Wouldn't it be awesome? Unfortunately, I can't see it happening because they're at different studios. I would love to do a crossover. I think it's the coolest thing.
Maybe with X-Men? X-Men's Fox. We're Fox. I think it would be genius.
QUESTION:Will we see how his radar sense works?
JOHNSON: You definitely will. The radar sense we can up with is that he's blind, but he can see soundwaves passing over objects. So when he's in Josie's Bar and fighting, he doesn't see bullets coming at him, he sees the sound streaks that the bullets make, funnel clouds. And he can smell when the gun is being fired, that sort of thing. It's a big part of the movie.
QUESTION: How did you get Colin Farrell?
JOHNSON: Colin, I saw in Tigerland. It's a great movie, you should check it out. It's this small movie and he blew me away. Since then, now he's in a movie with Al Pacino and he's all over the place. I always had this vibe of playing him differently because we really didn't know much about that character. You can kind of do whatever you want with his background. And I really liked the idea of having him come from another country. And Colin is Irish, from Dublin, and has never been Irish, so I had him do this Irish punk vibe.
QUESTION: Is Stick in this movie?
JOHNSON: Stick is not in this movie. It's one of those choices. I had so many characters I had to be careful. I loved the Stick character. That was something that Frank contributed that was so genius, but it wasn't the Stan Lee/Bill Everett version. For me it was tough, but when I wrote in but then at one point I thought, "You know, I thing this kid has gift, this disability and his father is murdered. I believed that boy learned how to deal with those powers get got himself." I was afraid he'd come off as Mr. Miyagi or turn out to be one of those sensei types we've seen so many times.
QUESTION: Would you be interested in another Marvel movie?
JOHNSON: I would like to see more Marvel movies. There are some I would like to see. I was dying to see a Daredevil movie and I would love to see a Captain America movie, I'd love to see an Iron Man movie, a Ghost Rider movie. If I can help get them made, absolutely.
I'm trying to convince Kevin (Smith) to write for the next draft if there's another Daredevil coming, for him to write the script. I've put three years in on this movie and need a break. Maybe he can even do the "Guardian Devil" movie. That's one of things we're talking about.
QUESTION: Matt Damon is close to Ben Affleck. Will he be appearing in the movie?
JOHNSON: Damon? No, he's not in it.
QUESTION: Do you think "Born Again" could be a movie?
JOHNSON: "Born Again" was what I originally pitched to Fox to and it still may be. "Born Again" I think would be a fantastic film, absolutely. It was always like a first choic. The tough part about doing "Born Again" (as the next film) would be that there's always the feeling out there I think of, "OK, who's the next bad guy?" Just logically, it's the case of who's going to be the next person Daredevil is going to face. In "Born Again"'s case, you're actually going backwards. Last time we gave you Bullseye, Elektra and Kingpin and now we're just giving you Kinpin. Know what I mean? So you have to wrestle with that.
What you could do is take "Born Again" and made a big part of the story so it includes another character, like Typhoid Mary, or make it a Karen Page story. Or make "Guardian Devil," which kind of has elements of "Born Again."
Ellen Pompeo, who plays Karen Page, in the first movie we didn't have room to give her much time. She's pretty much, "Do you want coffee?," and then you'd go to a second movie and she's like this drugged-out prostitute porno actress. It'd be quite a leap to make from this movie.
QUESTION: There's going to be an Elektra movie?
JOHNSON: There's talk of that. Not to give too much away, but there will definitely have to be some form of resurrection to get Elektra -- or a prequel. Panel by panel, it's pretty much Frank Miller what happens to Elektra in this movie.
QUESTION: What's more important to you, the visuals or the characters?
JOHNSON: There's been a lot of great special effects movies where you don't give a shit. And you walk out, you go, "Who cares?" That's why I wanted to show that one scene. It's not in the trailer and people will never see it, but that's at the core of the film. It's a heavy film and hopefully we're bringing some heart, some emotion and some soul to a big movie. This is a super-hero who puts on a costume, but you actually care what happens to him.
That was a conscious decision from frame one. When you go and see the movie, you'll see in the credit sequence alone, Daredevil -- again being heavily influenced by all my favorite comics with this character -- he's up on a crucifix in a church, and he's bleeding to death. And this is just the credits sequence.
As you're following him up the church, you're following a blood trail and you find Daredevil. And he works his way into the church and the priest takes his mask off. And that's where the story begins. You push into his eye and "They say your whole life passes before your eyes when you die. And it's true -- even for a blind man." You pull out his eye and now he's a boy.
So you already know, "Oh my god, I don't even know this guy and he's already dying." Hopefully, that's something different.
QUESTION: How does Daredevil compare to Spider-Man?
JOHNSON: Sylistically, hopefully you've already seen it's quite different. It's a much darker movie than Spider-Man. It's not primary colors. It's more gritty. We did a bleach bypass on the film, so it's more rainy tone to it. It's more hardcore and a little bleaker.
There really are two different worlds with Daredevil and Matt Murdock, as well. It's almost like a Jekyll and Hyde existence in that these two worlds that he's trying to juggle collide. And how's he going to handle that?
Just through the look of the movie and the tone of the movie, which you saw a little bit of here today, I think it's a very different movie from Spider-Man.
QUESTION: You're a kickboxer and were you involved in the stunts?
JOHNSON: No, but I did definitely, when I was storyboarding, included my own fight looks I wanted for the movie. I really wanted to show that unlike a lot of movies, especially martial arts movies, where a guy gets hit 50 times and nothing happens ... it's like, doo, doo, doo, doo, WHOP! And what's so special about that one punch? Why did you use it earlier?
So I really want to show in this movie that there's repercussions to the violence. That when people get beat up, it hurts. And imagine having hyper-senses in a fight, what it feels like for Matt Murdock. It's 10 times worse.
Like you see in a scene when he has a fight in Josie's Bar and he comes home at night and he comes home to his apartment, it's like in Ninja Scroll, where he pulls a tooth out of his mouth and it goes down the drain and he's taking pain pills. That's what it would really be like and that's what it would do to his body.
QUESTION: How about Daredevil facing the Punisher?
JOHNSON: It would be cool, wouldn't it? Remember that great one that Frank Miller did, when they were facing off with each other? That would be awesome.
Again, they're different studios, though. They're very close to making that movie. It's at Artisan. I'm not sure who's going to distribute it. We'll see what happens?
QUESTION: Were there concerns about casting Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin?
JOHNSON: There was a lot of concern about that choice, believe me. Being a fan, I want my Kingpin to look like he does in the comic, more than anybody. And I met with a lot of big, fat white guys. It was ridiculous. I met wrestlers who couldn't act and I met great actors who were not that big.
What a lot of people forget about the Kingpin is that he looks like he's fat, but it's pure muscle. In a hand-to-hand fight, he'll snap Daredevil in half. Another problem is that Affleck is 6-3. He's huge by movie standards. He's three inches taller than (Arnold) Schwarzenegger, you know what I'm saying? So when you see these so-called big men, they're not that big. Ben's bigger than they are.
So to find a guy that big, that strong, who had the voice, the presence, had the look. The truth is, and the purists would have to agree, if Michael Clarke Duncan was white, he would be a dead ringer in every conceivable way. And that was one of those times where I thought, "This is ridiculous. The best guy for the role is him." So it's one of those changes you have to make that is more truth to the spirit of the comic.
And I do believe when people see him, they'll believe that nobody else could play the role except for Michael Clarke Duncan.
QUESTION: In the comic book, Elektra is the daughter of a Greek diplomat. Does that translate to the film?
JOHNSON: In the film, she's the daughter of a very wealthy Greek tycoon, a shipping magnate. And he's been in business with the Kingpin and he wants out and that's where we pick him up in this story. His story is that he wants to get on with his life; he's getting tired of looking over his shoulder. And then Ben Urich is getting down to the Kingpin's story. He's tracing this legend of the Kingpin and if he really exists and who is he.
And Elektra's father wants out. He says, "I don't want to be part of this any more." And he puts his own life in danger. Because you don't walk away from the Kingpin.
QUESTION: I think a comic-book movie written and directed by the same guy is going to work.
JOHNSON: Right on. That's nice of you to say. After they read the script, they went, "Yeah, we're gonna make this movie now." And then I was in danger of losing the directing gig. That's the way it all went down. And it was really just by beating these guys into submission and trying to get them agree to let me do it, and proving that I could get the cast together. It was really tough. Even now, and I'm nearly finished with it and I think, "I can't believe I actually got make a Daredevil movie." I'm waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder on the set and say, "You. Out!"
So definitely, I was concerned about it. It was a really, really tough sell.
QUESTION: The mask is different. It looks more like Zorro and less like Batman.
JOHNSON: Being a purist, I wanted to have a mask that would go all the way down, but until you see it on an actor's face… Wow! That looked terrible on Ben. It just did. He looked horrible when it came down on his face. And this looks so much better on him and it made him look more heroic. It's just one of those things that you don't know until you see it.
QUESTION: It has a martial-arts feel.
JOHNSON: That was my goal. I was always frustrated with the Batman movies because he was so stiff. He looked cool, but the cool thing about Batman is that he knows every martial art from around the world. He's the ultimate bad-ass.
So I said that the most important thing (with Daredevil), yes, he should be sculpted and look great, but he should move like the wind. This is a guy, when hears a bullet coming, he's got to get out of the way. He has to move like lightning. And you'll see that, really, in Josie's Bar, where he goes there and tears it apart when he's going after this rapist who's in there. It's just, "Wow, this guy can really move in that costume."
QUESTION: Who did the web site?
JOHNSON: You like it? They've shown us stuff along the way.
QUESTION: There's a test you can take.
JOHNSON: I suck at that test.
QUESTION: In San Diego you show a clip, where he goes into a tub. What is that thing supposed to be?
JOHNSON: I thought that if this guy could hear blocks away, if he could hear everything, he'd needs to go to sleep. He needs a couple of hours to himself. So it's a sensory deprivation tank, is what it is.
It's pretty much like a coffin, but when that thing shuts, he can't hear anything. It's full of water and he puts salt pellets in it to heal this wounds. And that's how he sleeps. And that way he can't hear people crying for help, sirens… That's the only way he can get any peace.
It's weird. It's kind of creepy. It's like he's dead. That was my thought. It's almost like he's already trying to die.
QUESTION: How's this sound: Eliza Dushku as Black Widow in the sequel?
JOHNSON: Eliza Dushku is great. She'd be a great choice as Black Widow.
QUESTION: Who does the music and how involved and important do you think it is?
JOHNSON: Graeme Revell is the composer. He did The Crow. Graeme's a genius. But I actually wrote the script with my headphones on listening to music. So the soundtrack and also songs for the movie … I burned CDs and gave them to the actors and told them to listen to this to get the character and think about what I'm doing.
So to me, it's integral. Especially in a movie about sound.
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