On The Green Hornet set visit, Michel Gondry was a wanted man. He had to contend with directing an action sequence, and a squad of journalists. He came over for a minute, and spoke to us briefly revealing that his favorite superhero film was Superman III, and after shooting a take, had to wait for things to be re-set and came over and gave us a couple minutes.
As an art-house director to this point in his career, we were curious about his interest in genre, what it was like working with the biggest film of his career, his feelings about this becoming a franchise, and possible involvement in future sequels, and – of course – Dave Chappelle. My talk with Gondry after the jump.
(note: this interview was conducted with a few other online reporters)
Question: Does Cameron as Lenore get in on the butt-kicking action?
Michel Gondry: Not in this one. Because she doesn’t know in this one about their identity. She’s not in the action sequences, but she’s sort of the brains of the operation. She’s a crime specialist, and she’s obsessed with this TV show as well. Because they want to pose as criminals, they ask her how a criminal becomes famous. She makes suggestions, and they execute them.
Question: Does Britt Reid exploit the fact that he’s a newsman, like how Spider-Man would take photos of himself and sell them?
Gondry: He exaggerates the news. He wants to be on the front page.
Question: The front page every day?
Gondry: Not every day.
Question: This is the first film of yours where you’ve had a lot of second-unit-directed action. How are you coping with that?
Gondry: It’s great, because you don’t do anything, and then you look at the dailies and they are awesome. We used some pre-vis and storyboards, and the crew that is doing the second unit is really excellent. They certainly know how to blow up a car, and come up with creative ways to take out bad guys.
Question: Have you thought of any way to blow up a car that we haven’t seen yet?
Gondry: I hope so. I think you’re going to see stuff you haven’t seen before. Not necessarily with the explosions. The explosions are really awesome – and there are quite a good amount of them. But there are other things. They’re surprises.
Question: Is it exciting to work with someone like Vic Armstrong, who comes from that era of big practical stunts?
Gondry: It is, because he’s all for doing things practically. So we don’t rely so much on blue screen. There will be some blue screen and other computer elements, but at the minimum we want the physicality to be [emphasized]. So we get this quality in the action.
Question: Have you had a favorite day of shooting, where you went home and said, “I can’t believe I got to do that?”
Gondry: Many times. Sometimes it’s just a simple scene between Britt and Kato, where there is a chemistry and there is bonding, and I get good performances out of [Rogen and Chou]. And actually we find a very cool way to destroy the car. The Black Beauty is destroyed slowly, piece by piece… it’s resistant to bullets. We shot some insane stunts and destruction.
Question: Could you see yourself making a sequel to this, or is once enough for you?
Gondry: So far we have not physically fought. We have a good time, which is very important. It’s very long shooting, though.
Question: Does it make you feel protective of the character? Do you feel like you have some sense of ownership?
Gondry: I don’t want somebody to get my job. It’s hard to tell. Yeah, I guess it would feel weird if somebody else does [the sequel].
Question: What would you say to the film critic types who might not be so comfortable with the idea of you doing a big-budget superhero movie?
Gondry: That’s too bad they feel this way. It’s hard enough for me to get a movie. If I get ghettoized, what do I do? The best email I received, or blog I read, was “Seth Rogen is the worst actor in the universe, and whoever hired Michel should be fired.” It was really awesome. I framed it. What else do you want me to say? People are against me – and some people are against me doing movies like this. There are people who will believe in you to start with. You start with not that much success – which is a good start, and then become more successful. But then they don’t want to be proven wrong, so they keep insisting you’re a terrible director, even if more people comment that you are not so terrible. They try to demonstrate that they were right from the beginning, and they are hoping for your decline.
Question: I have a huge affection for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Would you ever consider shooting another concert film?
Gondry: Well, I would like to do more with (Chappelle), but he is very volatile. He was very interesting, and it was a learning process for me to enter this community and understand them with my accent. They have a way to speak among themselves, and… I have a really hard time to understand them. Then I realized I needed time for people to forget about the camera. It was very interesting. Since then, I did a documentary on my Aunt called Thorn in the Heart, and it’s being released by Oscilloscope next year. She was a teacher, and has a very weird relationship with her son. What I like about about working on a concert movie like (Block Party)… when I went to shoot my first film, I was so prepared; I had done all of the frames and the storyboards. Then I realized I was too prepared; I didn’t let enough magic or accidents happen. When I went to do Block Party, nothing was ready except a vague concept. So I was completely naked with the subject, and trying to create tension and create a story with what was happening.
Question: That’s got to be the fun of recording a live show.
Gondry: You have to push it to make it happen. Like, for instance, the kids (from the Central State marching band). Clearly, they were part of a marching band, so I said to Dave, “Go and play with them.” We started like that. Then we started to imagine that they would come to the concert, and then we had to convince the principal of the school to let them go. So all of this suspense was created. And at the end of the first day of shooting, when we found out they would go to Brooklyn, many of them had never been to New York in their life. It was this explosion of joy, and… suddenly I had the best thing I’d ever shot. It’s really exciting to shoot this way. And it’s a good learning process to do movies to leave room for accidents, and to go a little off track, and show you something unexpected.
Question: How much freedom do you have on a project of The Green Hornet’s scale?
Gondry: Much more freedom than I was expecting. It’s interesting because Neal Moritz is so different, and sometimes when I propose an idea he says, “I don’t get it. Let’s just shoot it.” We shot some stuff where he was like (growls), because for him it was too weird. There is a sequence where Britt is trying to piece together the puzzle to understand the situation, and we shot it with no words. It’s really funny and absurd; it’s a physical representation of his brain and action. And he ends up with the most absurd tableau where his father is involved… and it’s how he was killed… it’s sort of surrealistically imagined. When we shot that, everyone was like, “Wow, that was my favorite shot.” Of course, if I had proposed this idea when I first met with them to get the job, they would never hire me. But now I’m here, and I can push for some of the things that are more my signature.
Question: Do you feel more open to do that with this property because THE GREEN HORNET has not been as widely seen over the last thirty or forty years?
Gondry: Yeah. It’s a little more of a blank slate. It’s not completely blank, but, as I was saying before… except for Bruce Lee as Kato is the biggest thing we have to deal with. We tried to go in a different direction with the car, but at the end we all looked at each other and said, “Let’s use the same car.” Each time a new Batman or a new Spider-Man, they want to reinvent the whole universe. And we thought that maybe the best take we could have on this one is to not reinvent the car, just have the same car – which in itself is a concept. You never reuse the same vehicle; too many people want to make their imprint on each aspect of the film. But when we found the Chrysler ’65 Imperial, and we parked it on the lot at Sony, they said, “Yeah, that’s our car.”
Question: What about gadgets beyond the Black Beauty?
Gondry: Well, that’s going to be a surprise.
Question: Did you find yourself reading more comic books once you got the film?
Gondry: You want the truth? No. I mean, there are things that I noticed in the comic book that I liked very much, like flashbacks and the very emotional setup, but I’m making a movie. There is all this time when they run around with their masks, but it feels pretty organic. I’m not being obsessed with the comic book. In fact, my brother, when I was a kid… in France we didn’t have Marvel; it was called Strange. I didn’t like that. I was more into… one-page comic book series.
Gondry: Not Tintin. Tintin is a little racist. I was put off by that. But there is this Japanese science-fiction comic book called YOKO TSUNO, and I really like science fiction. And there is a huge tradition of Belgian and German comic books that has nothing to do with American spirit. There was this magazine called PIF GADGET, where they had a new gadget in each issue. It was actually Communist, but you would not really see it.
Question: Now that you’ve taken on a big American comic book property, are there any other genres you’d like to put your spin on?
Gondry: Science fiction I would like to do.
Question: What particular type of science-fiction appeals to you. Do you prefer more fantastic stuff or hard science?
Gondry: If it’s the future, it’s the future. I don’t like the future mixed with the past; it creeps me out. It’s like I don’t like vampire movies, I don’t like zombie movies; there are too many rules and codes. To me, they are very limited in what you can do. It’s hard to understand why there are so many vampire movies.
Question: No TWILIGHT for you?
Gondry: I didn’t know what it was until they were all freaking out about the [box office] numbers. I’m really disconnected.
Question: What about something like LORD OF THE RINGS?
Gondry: I really like Peter Jackson, but no.
And with that Gondry is taken back to set.
The Green Hornet is scheduled for release January 14, 2011.
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