DD Int: Mark Steven Johnson
All the stuff you may have heard about Mark Steven Johnson, director of DAREDEVIL, being a huge fan and a regular guy just like you or me, is absolutely true. A real down-to-earth kinda guy who actually asked the publicist for a few more minutes when time was up cause he was having so much fun talking about the movie, the comic, the characters, etc. What's more, he's a huge fan of the internet so maybe he's reading your comments as we speak on JoBlo's Discussion Forums. Here's more from Mark:
What are the advantages and disadvantages to directing a comic book movie when you're as big a fan as you are?
It's a tough thing. Cause as a fan you want to put everything in. You wanna stay as true as you can to the comic book. Then at the same time you've got to make the movie for the mass audience whose never heard of DAREDEVIL. And that's the juggling act. When I first started out, I was a total geek. I wanted everything to be like the comic book. Bullseye's gonna have the Bullseye costume and Daredevil will have the Daredevil suit exactly like the comic and Elektra's gonna be in Elektra red - everything.
Kingpin's gonna be white...(laughs). These things obviously change when you get in the reality of making a movie. Trying to find the right person and what looks good on film as opposed to a comic book page. That's a tough thing for me. Cause I'm one of those pissy fanboys who would bitch about the X-MEN costumes not looking like the comic book. Now here I am doing the same thing. But you don't know until you see a guy in leather jammies with horns. Like the Daredevil "yellow costume" - it's a great idea until you see it - it's a nightmare. So I just kept coming back to the reality of it. I just wanted to make the movie feel realistic. I think ultimately that's just the best thing to do.
Did you want Ben Affleck for Bullseye at one point?
I didn't. Ben was interested in playing Bullseye but I wanted him to play Matt Murdock. I actually met with him under the guise of a Bullseye meeting, then I shanghaied him into being Matt Murdock.
Was it hard to convince him?
Yeah, you'd be surprised. At first I wanted Ben to do it, but he couldn't because of timing. Cause he was doing another movie that wanted to rush into production. So I had to meet with some other actors - that I'm big fans of and that I wanted - but it takes a lot of balls to put that costume on. It really does. The chance of looking silly is huge. And I don't have that track record of, "oh, he's Ridley Scott." It took a lot of courage and a lot of people don't want that responsibility. To be honest, coming in as the villain is safe. He can come in there, ham it up and then leave. Steal the movie and have a blast. But there's no weight on your shoulders. It's all on Ben's shoulders. And these movies, like a BATMAN movie, you spend on all your time on the villain. This movie doesn't. It's all Matt Murdock.
What is it about Ben? He doesn't seem like your ordinary action hero.
That's what I liked about Ben. I mean you look at him physically and he looks like he could really handle himself. He's a big buy. He's not a tiny actor who's 5' 7", he's a big fuckin guy. I liked that and I liked that he's a fan. Cause I'm a fan. I'm not the logical choice to direct this movie. And I kinda liked the fact that we were underdogs going into this. That nobody knew who DAREDEVIL was. It wasn't SPIDER-MAN, I'm not Sam Raimi. We didn't have a $140 million budget. For a big movie we were actually pretty small. I liked that. And I liked somebody that really cared and wanted to do it. So when he and I got together, it was like shorthand. Just like two comic geeks talking a lot about things we both really love.
SIMON BIRCH doesn't exactly instill confidence in a movie studio that you're the kind of guy to direct a comic book movie... What did you have to do to convince Fox?
It was tough, I was like Willy Loman, going door-to-door trying to sell myself. What I did basically was to sell myself as the screenwriter. I said, 'let me write it and I'll prove that I'm the guy who can direct it.' Meanwhile I'm knowing they're probably going to bump me and go get Ridley Scott. What I did was I sat down and wrote the script and as I was writing the script, I was doing drawings, storyboards and conceptual drawings. Then I hired a real good artist to do some beautiful work for me the way I saw the movie. Then I would burn CDs of music I thought fit the movie. So by the time I turned in the script I said 'here's the script and here's the movie.' This is what it's gonna sound like and this is what it's gonna look like. So they saw I had a real vision for this thing.
But even still then, when it came down to 'we're really gonna make this movie,' they spent all this money and they're gonna give it to the guy who directed SIMON BIRCH? I was really in danger of losing it. They were really going to take it away from me and get a big name director. So I was so incensed, I jumped up on my motorcycle and rode to the Fox lot to meet with one of the executives on the movie. They said, 'he's busy, he's not expecting you and he has meetings all day.' And I said 'I'm not leaving. I'll wait.' So I waited for hours...for four hours. I'm in the lobby PACING, just freaking out. Every once in a while the assistants would come and look and say, 'he's still here?,' like I was some maniac who was gonna attack their boss. And I waited and waited and waited and finally they said, 'OK, he'll see you.' I went into his office, shut the door and locked and just went off for 30-minutes straight. Just ranting about how I'm the right guy and why it's a big fuckin mistake if they don't let me do it. At the end of the day it's what it took.
You were never sure you were gonna get the job, Ben was up in the air, what about Jen?
It was hundreds of women that we looked at from unknowns to very famous actresses...everybody. It was just a matter of narrowing it down to the people we thought were the best physically. And Jen was the best physically. Also who had the chemistry with Ben. Cause there were a couple people we thought would be great and then you put them with Ben and nothing happens. You just don't know. And Jen (Garner) and Ben got together and we were like WOW. Everybody could just feel it. They had this incredible chemistry together. It was really magical and we knew it right away.
Frank Miller, who created Elektra, I invited him to the set in New York and we were really nervous. I hadn't met him and I didn't know if he'd like what he'd seen - she's not Greek and she's not in the red costume and I thought he might hate her. But he met her and he got real emotional. It was really cool to watch. Frank got really choked up. I go, "you really like her?" He goes, "she's perfect." "Really cause she's not Greek, this isn't the costume you drew..." He goes, "it doesn't matter." He took out his "Elektra Lives Again" book and he put his hand over it so all you could see was the eyes. He said, "look at her eyes, look at her eyes - that's all that matters." And she does. She's got this wounded look. Even when she's fighting Bullseye to the death, her eyes are terrified. Not just terrified but wounded. Like a wounded animal look and you really want to take care of her and protect her. And that's what makes you love her.
Most times directors are going over-budget but you actually got more money. That kinda raised the bar for you. Did you have to fight for that or was it because of SPIDER-MAN?
It helped. It put more pressure on us. Cause Spidey is Spidey. You can't compete with SPIDER-MAN. He's an icon. The whole world knows who SPIDER-MAN is, like BATMAN and SUPERMAN. Nobody knows who DAREDEVIL is. But when (Fox) saw the possibility of what the movie could be, when they really knew what they had...they didn't understand it until it all started coming together. Then they started loosening up the purse strings a bit. Cause SPIDER-MAN's CGI budget was $40 million. That was my below-the-line of the whole movie. We can't compete. I'm really happy with the effects we have in the movie. Our visual effects budget was $6 million. $6! In a weird way, we're a low-budget movie for these kinds of movies.
What is the trick in broadening the fanbase for a movie like this?
That's certainly one of the reasons why I wanted Ben. Selfishly, I just knew it would get some visibility. Ben Affleck, what is he doing?... I've just been trying to educate people to how cool this character is. He's not like other characters. He's got a great dichotomy. A great divided self, this lawyer who's supposed to be doing the right thing during the daytime and then becomes a street vigilante. It's a real different vibe. That's what I'm really proud of during the movie. I think we succeeded in that and I think we succeeded in kind of a post-9/11 hero in a way. Not trying to save the world in any way, just trying to keep his piece of the neighborhood safe. And he screws up and gets his ass kicked and makes mistakes. He doesn't always do the right thing. I think that's really interesting stuff. It's not "here's your purse." It's not Spider-Man swooping down, grabbing the purse and giving it back to the old lady. It's not that simple any more in this world. It's not black and white.
Are you committed to both write and direct a sequel?
Yeah yeah. I talked to Kevin Smith about possibly writing the second one. Actually adapting his run of the "Daredevil" comics. I think he's into it but I don't know if that's what we're gonna do. If he doesn't then I'll write it. Otherwise, I'd be interested in Kevin writing it, cause I'm a big fan of his.
You talked about pissy fanboys, what do you think their point of contention will be with this movie?
I think...uh, that's a good question. Black Kingpin maybe, but they're really coming around on him. I really feel the tide turning on that. I think they really understand he was the best person. I think costumes. You always get killed on costumes no matter what you do. You just will. Bullseye not having the costume. Daredevil not being in tights. Elektra not being in red. You're gonna get those. I think that's probably gonna be the biggest thing. I think Ben is gonna win over a lot of people. I think they're gonna be really happy. I remember when Michael Keaton was cast in BATMAN, they thought it was the end of the world, the fans. You couldn't ask for somebody more diametrically opposed to what Bruce Wayne was. I think that it's the same thing with Ben.
Did you follow the internet community as you were filming?
Yeah cause I'm a geek. I'm one of them, I couldn't help it. Kevin, Kevin Smith, said to me, he goes, "do yourself a favor and don't read the internet when you're making this movie cause you will go insane." Of course you're right but you can't help yourself. You just take a peek.
What was the biggest shock you read on the internet?
Just the misinformation. People hear rumors and they print them like they were true. And they don't even know what the truth is. That's the way it is. They judge the movie based on what they heard from a friend or saw in a still frame from the movie. They think that we're going to be winking at the audiences like the Schumacher BATMAN. You know they just run with it and expect the worst. And I understand it cause they care about it and want it to be good. I'm the same way, you know. Kevin says it doesn't matter that it's one 12-year-old kid with 20 different screen names, he owns my ass. I'll still log on and see what this kid's writing about me.
What was the draw of DAREDEVIL for you as a young kid?
The handicap. As weird as it sounds. Both SIMON BIRCH and DAREDEVIL are about handicapped heroes. I love underdog stories and he was the ultimate underdog to me. I dug that he couldn't fly or didn't have Hulk's power or didn't have mutant healing or shit. It was so cool cause every time I read about him, I had to worry about him. That's why, very consciously, the first frame of the movie you meet him and he's already bleeding to death. He's already dying, in really bad shape. A very conscious decision to make sure you really care about this guy. You have to worry about him cause bullets won't bounce of his chest. That's a real hero to me. It's not that heroic if you're infallible. I never had to worry about Superman. But I gotta worry about Daredevil.
What about the DVD?
Oh, it's gonna be bitchin. The DVD is gonna be insanely cool. There's twenty minutes of this movie that got cut. There's a whole subplot that got cut out of the movie. Coolio's in it and (laughs) but no he's great. He's a guy who's charged with a murder of a prostitute and it's a whole subplot where you get to see Matt Murdock be more of the blind detective. Using his senses to go to the murder scene... Really great stuff but for time reasons got cut. But when you watch the DVD you can watch this version, then the branching version which is another 20 minutes of the movie. It's not better it's just different. I'm a big DVD fan so I put it all on there.