Apparently, you can get offered a role in a major motion picture over Facebook. Don’t believe me? Just ask Johnny Simmons. He was able to land the role of Young Neil (third from the left in the image above) in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with a valuable assist from the popular social networking site.
In addition to wielding the power of Facebook, we spoke with Simmons about his jealousy of not getting to do any stunts in the film, although he then told us a pretty cool move he got to do involving a Rickenbacker guitar. We also talked about his thoughts on the music in the film, working with Wright, and how the books along with advice from author Bryan Lee O’Malley helped set the baseline for the character.
Hit the jump to read the interview. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theaters on August 13th.
Before we start off, watch the trailer. It will give you a sense of the film and fill you with delight.
You can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio of the on set interview. And just to be clear, this interview was done with a number of other online journalists who were also on set with me.
I was wondering how you handled that transformation to that character?
JOHNNY SIMMONS: Um, I just, they just kind of put me in different clothes, really.
This isn’t your costume, right?
SIMMONS: No, this is Johnny right now.
Just wanted to make sure. What’s your favorite part of this film?
SIMMONS: Uh, the thing they’re shooting right now, the Gideon fight. Jason Schwartzman’s like one of my favorite actors, for sure. So, that would have to be, the Gideon fight.
How close is your character to the book?
SIMMONS: Yeah, it’s pretty close. It’s never really established that me and Stephen Stills are roommates. It’s one of the biggest differences. Which I think is kind of a big deal, so. Yeah, it’s pretty close.
What’s it like working with, I mean you and your character and Knives sort of strike up a weird relationship. What was that like on the set and also working with her?
SIMMONS: Yeah, we’ve become really good friends. Our characters start dating in the book, and um, yeah, I think we—and we made up little back stories to our characters and little outtakes that we’d bring up to Edgar as a joke, and you know, kind of see different sides of stuff. So yeah, we have a really good time.
SIMMONS: I got like a list of things at the beginning. There were ten things that Bryan made for each one of us, and he drew us our own personal picture of our character that was in color. And uh, I just have a copy of it, I think that they’re going to do something special with the originals at the end, like presenting them to us. Um, but uh, I can’t remember what they were. But there was like, there were some funny things at the beginning that he gave us. Of course I can’t remember one of us now. Yeah, he gave us a little bit, he told us a little bit.
I don’t remember Young Neil getting into the action at all. Is it the same here or is it a little more involved with some fights?
SIMMONS: Everybody has a stunt except me. Every single person has a stunt, but I don’t have a stunt, there’s nothing. No wire, no pulling. I try to get in on the danger, but there’s nothing.
You didn’t go to Edgar–?
SIMMONS: I begged him. If there’s another one, I’m definitely getting a stunt.
How was it to work with Edgar?
SIMMONS: He’s awesome. Yeah. He’s been hosting these double bills, features. Like last week was Team America and Army of Darkness. Which was [cinematographer] Bill Pope’s, you know, two of Bill Pope’s movies. He’s shooting this. So he works all day long, fourteen, fifteen hours a day, then Saturday he goes into the editing room and then Sunday he’s hosting movies. So he’s just obsessed with everything, you know, to do with the film industry and it’s really inspiring, you know, to watch. Especially one of my favorite directors. To be on set with him and seeing him that dedicated to something, and being so tired, where you would want to use your Saturday/Sunday to kind of take a break, you, he’s sitting there setting up movie theaters.
That’s his break?
SIMMONS: Yeah, that’s his break, which is pretty cool.
Your character’s name is based on Neil Young, so do you get to play any music–?
SIMMONS: I do, I take over Scott’s position. I don’t know if I’m supposed to give that away or not. Yeah, that’s a big one, I don’t know if that’s supposed to go in or not, but yeah, I kind of, Scott throws me the bass at one point when he goes to fight somebody, and there’s this huge like slow motion shot that they shot with the [can’t hear] I think they shot it at 100 frames or something like that, but it goes through the air and it goes, Young Neil just goes like—[laughter] And he grabs a hold of it, and the, we shot it like ten times because the strap came, had to go perfectly over my head, and at first I had this rubber guitar and it didn’t look right. So they brought the cool, like it’s a Rickenbacker, which is about sixty pounds or something.
I thought you said you didn’t have any stunts?
SIMMONS: Well, I guess that’s kind of, that’s my stunt, there you go. I could have gotten my nose broke. So, it comes over, then we change it to the other one and it’s just like this epic moment. And at the end there’s a line that Scott says that says, ‘Neil, you’re awesome at bass. You will now be known as Neil.’ It’s a cool moment, yeah.
Was the movie your first encounter with the Scott Pilgrim books, or had you read them previously?
SIMMONS: I hadn’t read them.
So was the script your first–?
SIMMONS: Uh huh. I read it about a year and a half ago, or two years or so. I was just leaving to New York to go film a movie called The Greatest, and I go on in at the last minute, and it’s like there’s no way in hell that I’m going to get this, like, I’ll just—but I just went in on a whim, and like a year and a half later, or maybe just like a year, Edgar—somebody was saying they were Edgar Wright], you know, on Facebook, and I was like yeah, whatever. And we had been waiting for feedback, you know, nothing had come of this. And for a while it was on hold or something. And I was focused on The Greatest and Jennifer’s Body, and then I kept asking about this film in particular. And uh, he friend requested me and I was like yeah, it’s Edgar, but it’s probably not. And we started, uh, messaging back and forth through the inbox and he sent me, like a month had gone by when we were just talking, and he said, I said well, you’re in LA, if you want to meet up for coffee or whatever. And he was also friends with Jason Reitman, who doesn’t have his real name set up, so I figured it could have been the real Edgar. He said yeah, let’s meet up for coffee. I’d also like to offer you the role of Young Neil.
SIMMONS: So then I call my manager, I’m like are you, is this like for real? Or is this a joke? And they didn’t know anything. And neither did the casting director, who’s Avi Kaufman, and every—it was like this huge, mad scramble to find out if this was a legit guy or whatever. So I’m going to coffee with him the next day, still thinking this is all bullshit, you know, and um, there’s Edgar Wright sitting there, and I’m like—so the whole time we were having this meeting, and I’m just like holy crap, it’s really you and I just got Young Neil, okay. But he offered over Facebook.
Do you see any similarities in yourself and Young Neil, or how did you–?
SIMMONS: Um, yeah, I’m sure there’s similarities. I play guitar, so we had to learn bass, and Chris Murphy is our coach, from Sloan, and that was pretty easy to step into. I had to learn every song, because they didn’t know which one I was actually going to be playing. Yeah, I guess I’m kind of goofy and simple—I, he’s described with simple minded and layered t-shirts. I guess I fit right in with the—except no layered t-shirts today, I’m just going plain white.
Are you doing it all live or did they have someone in the studio already? How did they do the music as far like is a lot done on set or–?
SIMMONS: Yeah, they, I thought that was going to be kind of rough, because you have to match everything up and the lights have to be exactly in sync with like, for instance, have you guys seen the Gideon stage?
SIMMONS: Are you guys going to get to see it?
SIMMONS: It’s pretty epic. It’s like, they have all these LED lights, like the huge TV, what they use for the advertising so there’s little sound waves going through that syncs perfectly with the music. So, they have to shoot completely 360, so that all has to be perfectly synced each time. So they’ve got a system that basically runs the movie for the particular part that you’re playing and then the music syncs up with the lights perfectly.
SIMMONS: Yeah, pretty much. With the big stages they had to do that, so. The Gideon one’s the most difficult because it’s got so many lights and so many different angles where it would have to be perfect synced up. Whereas at, I don’t know, another, smaller venue, there wouldn’t be you know, crazy lights going on.
They have it already recorded them? They have the music already recorded?
SIMMONS: Yeah, prerecorded. Nigel Godrich was the guy who recorded it, and um, who was like the radio head.
Were they actually songs from the book?
SIMMONS: I don’t know exactly if they were the exact same, but Beck wrote those, which was pretty epic.
Your scene with the guitar, is that your favorite in the film, or–?
SIMMONS: Yeah, I think that would be the funniest of my stuff, probably. That would be, that’s the funniest bit I thought so far. Yeah, that’s probably my favorite filmed, other than the Gideon. Maybe with the guitar coming over. Seeing Jason Schwartzman up there with his like full, his cane and his white—and he’s, it’s like insane, you know? There’s this gigantic pyramids that are built up next to each other in chaos theater. All these, or hipsters with—and then, I’ve had these for a long time, my Converse, and they’re supposed to be lame kid that’s chaos theater and every one of the has black shirts on and Converse, and I was like, I’m not cool according to Scott Pilgrim.
Do you, when you’re getting into character are you looking at just the script, or are you going to the book and using that as well?
SIMMONS: Um, yeah, probably both. I mean, it’s pretty laid out, just by the ways that Bryan had drawn the character. If you just, it’s pretty easy. That’s what I was looking at when I auditioned, was he—the thing I kind of liken him to is, it says simple-minded, layered t-shirts, and that’s just enough because it’s very easy. You just put on like a goofy sort of face and then try to zone out as much as possible when you’re on the set, and be scared of just about everything. Like, and that’s all I think about whenever I’m up there. It’s like everything is, everybody’s kind of like—you know at a party, he’s got this party scene, he’s holding a drink and he’s just kind of looking around like shit. Oh man. I have to talk to somebody right now or else they’re going to know I’m not cool. You know, just like it’s pretty, just zone out.
What have you got after this?
SIMMONS: I don’t know. Jennifer’s Body, I go back for that. It’s going to come out a month after I get back, or three weeks. That’ll be pretty crazy. Um, yeah. And then The GREATEST will be out in March. And then I’m just kind of in between. I’ve really been lucky enough to work with a lot of cool people the last year and a half, so, I’m kind of uh, I’m really looking for something cool. You know?
What was the best thing about working with Edgar?
SIMMONS: Um, I think just his, how he inspires you to go, to keep up with him. Like, I heard that about Peter Jackson, who he’s friend with. Just a mad scientist who, basically never stops because he’s so obsessed with what he does and it’s never going in to work, it’s going to have fun and do what you love and just be a geek and sort of geek out, you know? And I think Edgar inspired me a lot in that way, to kind of, you know, it’s not really going in to work or set, it’s coming here to do what a lot of people would really love to do. Lucky enough to get to do it, so. That’s pretty much, that’s what I learned from Edgar.
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