Before coming on board Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Mark Webber had already written and directed his own feature, the 2008 drama Explicit Ills. He’s also previously co-starred in a variety of films including Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. In Scott Pilgrim, he’ll be playing Stephen Stills, the lead singer and guitarist of Sex Bob-omb, the struggling rock band that includes Scott (Michael Cera) on bass and Kim Pine (Alison Pill) on drums.
Speaking with Webber on the set of Scott Pilgrim last July, we talked about various topics like him learning to sing and play guitar, what he’s learned about directing from Wright, the pain/thrill of doing stunt work, and his future projects.
Hit the jump to check out the interview. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theaters on August 13th.
Before we begin, here’s the trailer. Watch it again for the very first time:
You can read the full interview below or click here to listen.
MARK WEBBER: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean he’s…that’s the best thing, that was the best thing about directing my film was that I was able to take everything I’ve learned from other directors that I’ve worked with and actors and stuff, and Edgar’s style is pretty much a little bit the opposite of mine in some ways. I mean, his sense of timing especially with his comedic sensibility is really kind of phenomenal and I’ve been learning a lot. And just the way he composes shots and with this we’re really lucky just how much we were able to shoot and how many angles and coverage and things like that. I mean it’s really, as a director, a dream situation to be in. And just his endurance and his positivity and his stamina for how long we’ve been up here and how he just really sets the pace in a really positive way is really inspiring.
Can you describe your character Stephen as you see him?
WEBBER: He’s like a lot of typical musicians that I know. He’s very focused on the music and just the music. And also has some extreme insecurity and anxiety about if he’s ever going to make it. And in terms of performing, when he really, luckily, is able to kind of get out of that anxiety a bit, but he’s very anxiety-riddled and very focused on the band and has a very big dream of making it.
How’s your character differ from the comic? Has there been any changes to it or is it pretty much in line?
WEBBER: It’s pretty much in line. And that’s what’s been really amazing about this is that the cast with Edgar and we’ve really been able to remain really true to the books. And yeah, there’s certain qualities—he’s a bit grumpy and that anxiety and there’s like these key overall emotions that you try to have and then figure out who’s this guy as a real person. And that just comes from having a really good director and really good actors to interact with, you know?
I’ve heard that from all the other directors, that there have been little bits of sort of back-story that we don’t really know about from the books from Brian. Did you get anything about your character?
That we wouldn’t know that you want to tell us?
WEBBER: I don’t know if I allowed.
Johnny [Simmons] already ruined everything. (laughter)
WEBBER: You know, there’s one thing and it’s a big thing and I’m concerned that maybe it comes out in the next book, so I really…
WEBBER: I probably shouldn’t say.
A lot of us are reading the books and enjoying the experience. It’s kind of weird being here at the moment we are because we kind of don’t want to ruin things for ourselves.
WEBBER: Yeah, yeah.
Obviously there’s a big ensemble, there’s so many people coming in and out of the movie, but within that there’s the core ensemble of the band. Can you talk about sort of the dynamic between you guys as a group?
WEBBER: I mean it’s really amazing. I worked with [co-star Allison Pill]. I did a movie called “Dear Wendy” with her. It’s where we first met.
That’s a great film.
WEBBER: Thanks. And then we went on and did a play together—a Neil LaBute play called “The Distance From Here”, so me and Allison were friends. And then so coming into it I knew at least I had that. And then getting to know Michael has just been amazing. He’s just a really great guy and Johnny’s amazing. He’s one of…a really great young actor who is really fun to watch and be around, so we all really get along so well. And we’re like a real band. We spent pretty much all of March, before we started shooting, kind of having band practice. We all show up at our rehearsal space together and learn how to play the songs and like real bands do, we fight and argue and it was great. It’s been one of the best experiences about this thing is how much everyone really enjoys each other’s company.
Johnny complained that he didn’t get to do a stunt in the movie and that everybody else gets something to do. What work have you done that’s been sort of a … because I would assume that’s sort of a new experience of doing that sort of thing?
WEBBER: Yeah. No, totally. I actually just last Friday came in to practice with what my stunt is which is being I’m on stage at the Chaos Theatre when we get blow off-stage by the twins. And I just finally got to put on this harness that I’ve seen Michael and everyone else in and everyone talks about it being incredibly painful and uncomfortable. And it is. I have huge bruises on my stomach now. But it’s really a lot of fun to be strapped into this thing and being lift up and pulled 30 feet in the air and spinning around and having to somehow control it and act on top of it has been quite an experience. It’s fun. It’s really fun.
Since Stephen is the lead singer of the band, was that a little nerve wracking because I know that singing can be kind of scary for some people?
WEBBER: Yeah, it was incredibly nerve wracking. I mean it was the biggest challenge for me to that I’ve had on this film for me to overcome. I never really…like I’ve sang “Happy Birthday” in front of people. I mean that was the extent of my singing in front of an audience, so I had some vocal lessons and it was made very clear to me early on that I had the shot to be able to go an re-record these vocals and if it was good enough we would use my voice. So it’s the type of pressure that like I really want and like really look forward to as an actor. It’s something to really sink my teeth into and I had a really good coach and then I came up here and had an amazing recording session with [music producer/supervisor Nigel Godrich], which…
WEBBER: …yeah, and that was a really big deal for me and it’s just a testament to just how good of a producer he really is. I mean I guess apparently early on we were going to be in a big fancy studio with a bunch of engineers and he kind of cleared that all away and we actually recorded the songs and the guy Jimmy from Metric like his home studio and just me and Nigel. So it made me very comfortable that there wasn’t a lot of other people around and he was able to really…we became friends and he really helped me go there and it worked.
Were you coached by [Canadian musician/consultant] Chris Murphy as well?
WEBBER: Yeah for the guitar.
What was your musical background like before? Did you have any kind of musical background? I seem to kind of vaguely remember you might have done something or no?
WEBBER: No, no real musical background at all actually, yeah. So yeah, I’ve never played guitar before either.
WEBBER: So I had guitar lessons in Los Angeles before I came out here and then worked with Chris Murphy. He was, you know, our coach every day in the rehearsal rooms. And yeah, he’s there every day when we’re on-set doing the musical sequences.
You say that if you were good enough they would let you record your own vocals. For a band like Sex Bob-omb, how good is good enough? (laughter)
WEBBER: That’s the best thing I had going for me (laughs) is that I didn’t have to sound like Thom Yorke, which I constantly had to remind myself. You know, it’s pretty good. It’s all right. He’s trying.
We were talking to Allison earlier about sort of reacting to the supernatural elements and how sort of just of part of that world it is. So how is that for you as an actor trying to react to that naturally?
WEBBER: It’s tough. I mean it’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. And that’s another one of the big challenges about this is that…but the cool thing is that when we go to shoot our coverage, we’ve generally been able to see….I mean there’s been so many little bits from just like storyboards being cut and edited together that we can watch and then we get to watch portions of the fight and we can kind of see where things are going and get a sense of what we have to react to. Before, it was just us looking at a pink X on a screen. And Edgar’s been really good about really reminding us what’s going on. “There’s a giant fireball coming now!” and things like that.
Even in the comics I’ve always kind of Steven as he gets really excited about recording their music whereas I mean I think you’re pretty easygoing. Do you become kind of gruff in the film? Or how do you play the character?
WEBBER: Yeah, no definitely I do get…that’s where I go. I mean I definitely…I mean that’s his…if you had to pick one thing that kind of embodies his persona all the time, that’s it. But for me when you’re taking something and making it like a real-life character, you don’t want to be just one-note the entire time and it’s about the reason why he has a tendency to get so angry and controlling is because of his anxiety and a lot of insecurities about himself as a musician and as a person, so. And I can do that pretty well, too.
Talking about the band you formed with Michael and Allison and I guess Johnny sometimes. I mean if you guys actually physically had to play songs live would you be able to do that? Or is it in the playback to make it look like…
WEBBER: Well, Johnny played before and Michael played before and Allison is like now an incredible drummer. I unfortunately am… (laughs) I’m thankful we have playback. (laughs) I’m thankful that Beck and those guys recorded the music. I mean I would never…I’ve gotten over the months gotten much better and can actually kind of play but if it were just on me, it wouldn’t be a good situation.
You’ll play at the wrap party right? (laughs)
WEBBER: We might. We might. I mean Michael jokes about it. He talks about how we should play our opening song at like the premiere or something like that. And at that point I definitely would be able to nail that song for sure.
Everybody’s talking a bit about Chris Murphy and you mentioned recording at Metric’s home studio. For the concert sequences and things where there’s other bands coming through, have you guys been tapping into kind of local bands, local music scenes?
WEBBER: Yeah, what’s been really great for me is that I met Kevin Dru from Broken Social Scene and he’s been around and I met Emily and I met Feist. I went with Kevin to a church somewhere and saw this amazing performance. I forget who this guy was, but he used a lot of like…he just recorded everyday people’s voices and interviews and then like played this orchestra music along with it. And just being able to hang out with Kevin and kind of talk to him about the music here and I’m a big fan of his, so it was cool that these guys are around. It’s really great. It’s been a lot of fun for me. It makes me feel that much more like I’m a local musician kind of trying to make it in the scene you know to be around these guys that I respect and admire and just kind of hang around them and soak up little bits of stuff from them.
WEBBER: I go back and forth. I, for the most part, really, really enjoy it. And it’s presented its own challenges for me. But it’s really like I remind myself of how many times I’ve been on the set of a first time director who really just doesn’t know, and he knows down to pretty much the facial expression that he’d like you to make. And it really suits…that style suits itself for what we’re doing here, you know? So I actually really appreciate it and it’s been really good to have someone who knows exactly what he wants.
Are you guys involved in the video game—the companion video game they’re making for this film?
WEBBER: No, I just heard about it.
So have you been asked to do voices?
WEBBER: No, not yet. I would love to. That would be like a dream come true.
Are you a gamer?
WEBBER: I used to be. Not as much now, but I guess the way that Brian was talking about how he wants us to be kind of reminiscent of like…what is it like kind of like Street Fighter where it’s not…
WEBBER: Yeah. Which sounds really cool to me.
Do you plan to keep playing music once the movie’s over?
WEBBER: Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten bitten by that bug. I mean that’s the great part about doing what I do is that you essentially been able to have like months to learn how to play guitar and sing and I mean it’s great. It’s a new skill-set that I want to keep working on.
Can you describe Stephen’s look a little bit? Are you Stephen today or just Mark?
WEBBER: This is a combination of both. I mean, my beard’s a little bit bigger now just because I haven’t worked in like 6 days, but it’s pretty much spot-on how he looks in the book. It’s pretty amazing how we all kind of transform and really look like the characters.
Spend a lot of time in makeup to get that look or was it just someone doing your hair or…?
WEBBER: Not as long as some people had to. But it’s been really amazing what the makeup artists and the hair people on this film have done and the wardrobe and it’s very much like you can open up the book and it’s like, “Wow.”
Do they have you tied up and if you decide to make another movie have you been inspired to try to do another movie now after working on this one?
WEBBER: I really want to…I’m working on writing a screenplay. I really want to continue to direct and haven’t had an incredibly a lot amount of time to do that up here. I might go do a movie called “The Can” with Jesse Eisenberg after this in the fall in Texas. And that’s it.
Are you based in New York or no?
WEBBER: I was for a long time but now I live in L.A.
Has [author Bryan Lee O'Malley] given you any insight into your character’s name? Is that just a joke to have a Stephen Stills and a young Neil in the same group, or did you go back and see some CSNY because it’s kind of an inspiration or…?
WEBBER: Just that he really is actually a big fan of Crosby, Stills and Nash and that I think if Bryan were to answer that, I mean it is a joke in a way. And that’s what so really great about what he’s done with this series is just these little jokes. And even stuff very specific to Toronto and the scene up here. I actually never heard to Sloane until I got up here and met Chris and started listening to his music and then realized, oh yeah he wears a Sloane shirt. You know, these little things—like right. It’s been really fun.
How did you get involved with the project since Johnny told us that he got in through Facebook?
WEBBER: Oh really? (laughs)
WEBBER: Wow! I guess mine was old-fashioned. I just got the script from my agent and read it and really loved it and went in and auditioned for Edgar and yeah, that was it.
Thank you very much.
WEBBER: Yeah, thank you. Really good to meet you guys. Take care.
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