Set Visit: Green Hornet Interview with director Michel Gondry
Green Lantern isn't the only green superhero out there. THE GREEN HORNET will be released this January and I got a chance to visit the set in Los Angeles. We checked out his car, Black Beauty, saw a set that a car had just blown through and got to chat with director Michel Gondry. He talked about getting the band Anvil on board, being a fan of the television show and whether or not the fanboys will be kinder to this one then they are to things like BATMAN and other, more well-known superhero films.
THE GREEN HORNET will be released in theaters on January 14th.
You worked on this project years ago when it was at Universal can you talk about that?
The first script that I got to work to when I moved to Hollywood. In fact I went here for a couple of years working. It was in í97 and it didnít work out. I worked on a draft of the script. It was a great idea but the studio did not support the idea. So I was happy to see it coming back and it has been in the hands of many directors in between. It was sort of doomed.
Were you a fan of the TV series?
Well at the time I was really beginning so I was happy to have a project that was something good. What I liked was when I was asked again by Seth and Evan was that they bring back the spirit of the action comedy that I didnít see for a while now. There is a sleek and immenseness in the super-hero movie that I am not really a big fan of. Itís very much about the attitude and everything is as to be a like super posed. As the approach of Seth and Evan was much human and fun of course.
What was your thought when you brought your idea of doing the action sequences split screen, with one going fast and one going slow, to the producers?
What was my thought? Well I was trying to find a way to enhance the fight and use a technique that has not been used before. So basically we shoot at a higher rate. We shoot with one camera and then we separate and sometimes one guy is going faster and the other guys going slower and then the guy who gets slower gets faster and etc. Itís sort of like you buy a time from the future and then you have to reimburse it. So what it does is it really makes the transfer of energy when somebody hits somebody else so the guy who hits the next guy goes very fast and then the guy when he receives the hit he goes faster. Itís like if I hit you.. bam! (He demonstrates.) First your slow and Iím fast and then when I hit you I become slow and you become fast so I can give you my energy. I can transfer like electricity in some ways. And all that with the camera moving, which makes it quite hard to shoot but it is pretty spectacular.
So where will we be seeing that in the movie?
Oh when Kato fights mostly. There is two, three sequence where you see that. Eventually Britt acquires this capacity.
Were there any other inspirations for that stylistic approach to the action sequences?
Well I wanted to make them hyper but not pretentious. So itís sort of a the feel is real and its intense, sometime painful but at the same time the human elements remain prominent.
Can you talk about bringing ďAnvilĒ in for the opening scene ad how that decision came about?
Well I went to see the documentary about ďAnvilĒ and I absolutely loved it. At the screening I was at they were playing at the end and I want to make fun of heavy metal but the documentary was so touching. That guy was so touching and we had a club scene and I really thought it would be a perfect place for them.
Can you talk about working with Christoph Waltz and what he brings to the role?
Well Christoph really brought sort of a layer of humor that is very specific to him. So heís still mean but he has a lot of weakness and it makes a villain who is really interesting. Heís charismatic but at the same time he goes through mid-life crisis so that is pretty relatable.
Can you talk about some of the super-heroes and super-hero films and those conventions that you wanted to play with in this film?
Well there is a world to create thatís one thing. When we put in the real world and shoot it in LA on the realistic so there is no super power or costume. They create their own costume. But there is still a leap of faith to have like this guy can do so much that they do. Mostly through destruction I have to say.
Was there a commentary that you wanted to make on those types of films?
Honestly when I do a movie I donít do them in reaction or in commentary. I do a movie Iíd really like to see, first of all. We are all a bunch of guys with different tastes working together on this movie we manage to through our differences get the best of all the world. Sometime we disagree on the type of humor but we find a solution that is better than the first proposition. So thatís something, Iím not sure if Iím answering the question?
Has Jay (Chou) jumped in with any ideas about directing since heís shot music videos before?
He has some ideas you know but he is pretty quiet. A pretty quiet guy but has a quality of coolness. So if he has one word to say he always says it the coolest way. So we always laugh because we say what should I say to him or donít say anything heís going to be cool anyways.
This is a very mainstream film compared to your other films Ö
I hope so.
ÖDo you feel any pressure with the fan-boy base surrounding this and how are you dealing with that?
Well you mean the fan of THE GREEN HORNET? Well we want to make the best film ever, of course. But like I donít think we need or owe a response to the criteria that some people want us to respond to because itís a different form of this materialÖ.
(We then moved to a different location and continued the interviewÖ)
ÖOh, respect the will of the fan and so like THE GREEN HORNET was a radio show and then it was a TV show in the Ď40s shot on film and then it was a TV show in the Ď60s with Bruce Lee and then there have been some comic books but in terms of comic books they are all over the place. Sometimes Kato was a girl and sometimes itís just about Kato. So its not like there is an amazing and the main thing, that could be seen as an burden is the heaviest thing to carry is the legend, which is what makes the TV show so memorable. It was so like the first role in America for Bruce Lee, of course for what he became there is a weight to carry but Jay was very clear that he would never try to emulate Bruce Lee. So that was very important. We wanted the fight to be awesome. To be the right level of violence and credibility. But other than that its set to work out but I think he plays very well as this super hero I would say because he is very human but you feel the steaks and you feel that his life is in danger. And its all based on this reason he has to his father who raised him in his shadow and all his motivation is sort of upside down in comparison to an archetype super hero movie where itís a revenge or somebody killed your father and this one is the other way around though. He goes out and acts as a bad guy because he does what his father would have hated for him to do and then later he realizes that that was bad and there is post redemption for his father.
Does Cameron Diaz get to get in on the butt-kicking action?
Not in this one because she doesnít know in this one about their identity so she is not in the action sequence but she is sort of the brain of the operation. Because she is a crime specialist and she is obsessed with this TV show as well. Basically because they want to pose as criminal they ask her how criminal becomes famous. She makes a suggestion and then they execute it. Brit asks what would be the next move of the Green Hornet and she does not know that they are the Green Hornet. She says, oh I guess they are going to attack some big guy, on his own turf and then they go and do it. She gets more and more confidant into this role because basically sheís always right and it helps her execute her plan.
Does Britt Reid ever exploit that he is a newsman for anything as the Green Hornet?
Yeah, well he exaggerates the news and he pushes them to report all this stuff. He wants to be on the front page, yes. Not everyday but as much as possible.
This is the first movie youíve done with a 2nd Unit, how has that been for you adjusting to that?
Itís great because you donít do anything and you look at the dallies and theyíre awesome. So itís good. We use some pre-vis or some technique of storyboard but the crew that is doing 2nd unit is really excellent. They certainly know how to blow up a car or find a creative way to take out bad guys.
Have you found anyways to blow up a car that we havenít seen before?
I donít know? I hope so? I think you are going to stuff that you have not seen before. Not necessarily in the explosions. The explosions are really, really awesome and they are some, quite a good amount of them. But there are other scenes that will surprise you.
Do you like working with Vic Armstrong (SUPERMAN II), who has so much history working on films like?
Yes to tell you because he is all for doing things practically. We donít rely so much on blue screen. There is going to be some blue screen and some computer elements but at the minimum. We want the physicality to be fair and the violence and action to be serious. So we get this quality in the action sequences.
Have you had a favorite day of shooting on this film yet?
When we first watched the teaser trailer the other day. We are pretty excited. No, many times. Sometimes itís just a simple scene between Britt and Kato. The chemistry and there is bonding that happens, those days are exciting. Or when we Ö actually we found a very cool way to destroy the car. The Black Beauty is destroyed slowly pieces by pieces and it is resident to the last second. So there was a day when we shot some insane stunt, destruction and the effect was really good.
Does it make you feel protective of this character now that you are directing it is there a feeling that this version is yours?
I donít want somebody to get my job. Itís hard to tell; I guess I would feel weird if somebody else does it.
Are you concerned about film critics who might call you directing a big- budget super-hero film is selling out of your independent roots?
Thatís too bad that they feel that way. Itís harder to do a movie if I have to get their permission everywhere I go. I think the jobs that some of these guys do, they have their blogs. The best blog I read was ďSeth Rogen is the worst actor ever and who ever hired Gondry should be fired!Ē It was awesome and I framed it. I mean what do you want me to say? Some people are against me making movies all together. You know it works like that. Some people donít believe in you to start with. When you start you are not that successful and that is a good place to start and then become more successful. But then they donít want to be proved wrong so they keep telling people that you are a terrible director even if other people are saying you are not.
How much freedom do you have on this film to experiment?
Oh much more freedom then I was expecting in fact. It is interesting because Neil Moritz and I are so different. Sometimes I will propose an idea and Neil will say, ďI donít get it but shoot it anyways.Ē We shot some stuff that he wasnít sure about because to him it is too real but I think as everyone else looked at it, they thought it was cool. There is a sequence where Britt is trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to understand the situation and we shot it in away that was really funny and absurd. But you have the physical representation of his brain in action and you end up with the most absurd tab low, where his father is involved, how his father was killed and it is pretty surrealist and major. When we shot it everyone was like, oh that is my favorite shot. Of course if I had come to the first meeting I had and told them I was going to do this they would have never hired me but now that Iím here I can push for some of the things that are more exciting.
Do you feel more freedom with this property because it isnít as widely known as Batman or Spider-Man?
Yeah, I think it is a blank slate, not a complete blank slate but as I was saying before it has been through so many forms, the radio show and the comic books. Except for Bruce Lee/Kato, that is a bigger thing that we have to deal with. We went to many different directions to look for the car and in the end we decided to stick with the same car as before. With each time a new Batman or a new Spider- Man film comes around they want to reinvent it. The whole universe so it fits the time better. We thought that the biggest mistake we could make on this film is not use the same car. We said, lets take the car, which in itself is a cost because you never use the same vehicle.
What kind of gadgets can we expect beyond the Black Beauty?
Well itís going to be a surprise. I mean there are things that I noticed in the comic book like flashlights and very emotional set up but Iím making a movie. There are times when the run around with masks but it is pretty organic. But Iím not being obsessed with the comic books. My brother when he was a kid collected Ö in French we had Marvel but I think it was called Strange and I didnít like that. What other genres or properties would you like to try? Science Fiction I would like to try.