SPOILER ALERT: The following interview contains spoilers about the "Kick-Ass" movie and comic.
On a bitterly cold October night in Toronto, Canada in the fall of 2008, CBR visited the set of "Kick-Ass" on the final night of shooting in the Ontario capital. The next day, the cast and crew headed overseas to finish the production in London, England.
"Kick-Ass" is, of course, Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s smash hit for Marvel Comics' Icon imprint which saw its first volume come to close this past Wednesday, January 27, with the release of "Kick-Ass" #8.
Crowded under pop-up tents in front of high-powered space heaters, the assembled media watched newcomer Aaron Johnson deliver the line fuelling the trailer for Matthew's Vaughn forthcoming Lionsgate film adaptation, "I'm Kick-Ass," in full green regalia after taking on three thugs in a donut shop parking lot.
At only 18 [he has since turned 19], Johnson appears to possess the perfect blend of authority, awkwardness and teen spirit that is required to bring Dave Lizewski to life on the big screen.
Later in the evening, Vaughn shared clips of 11-year old Chloë Moretz kicking ass as Hit Girl and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a.k.a. McLovin') decked out as Red Mist. We'll share our conversation with Vaughn tomorrow, but today we present the transcript of Johnson's sit-down interview with the media that happened while the young Brit devoured his dinner shortly after midnight.
So, how does it feel to be Kick-Ass?
Aaron Johnson: It's fun, man. It was quite a shock, because it was a real battle. I was just in the right place at the right time, and I got the job and everything. But yeah, it was quite exciting. It was kind of like a boy's dream. I get to dress up like a superhero and do an action movie. So, yeah, it's really good fun. And I'm enjoying it.
And I'm working with really great actors, as well. Chris Mintz-Plasse dressed up as Red Mist is so funny. It's just a really good experience. We've got a great director and a really good crew. It's quite a nice family.
What's your impression of Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughan?
I haven't got to meet Mark Millar yet, but I'm really keen on meeting on him because I love his work. I'm on the second issue of "War Heroes," and obviously, I'm following "Kick-Ass" and "The Ultimates." I'm just trying to keep up with what's going on, because I didn't really know that much about comics before I got the job, but then, after about a month of rehearsals, I started going through comic books. I started reading up on "Watchmen" and loads of other comics. But, yeah, I'll meet Mark Millar back in London, I think. And I'll be really excited to do that.
How does it feel to know what happens in the comic, before it actually happens in the comic?
Yeah, it's kind of strange. Jane [Goldman], the writer on this, and Mark Millar and Matthew really kind of created the end of the comic. I think Mark Millar had a different ending for the comic, but they've pulled together to make it work for the comic and the movie. So it's kind of cool that we're going to be sticking to the comic. I know with "Wanted," when I read it, it was miles away – completely different from the movie. It would be really great, if we stick to the comic book.
Since you mentioned him, can you speak about Red Mist and why he's your arch-nemesis?
I don't necessarily see him, at first, as an arch-nemesis, because I think the idea is that Kick-Ass and Red Mist are possible partners. And obviously, Red Mist is all a bit of a scheme in this. There's a bit of a twist in the end where he goes a bit evil, but it's kind of strange, because all of my scenes with Chris, we can't stop laughing. So I can't really see him as a bad influence or anything. That said, I suppose together, we're quite a bad influence on set [laughs]. We get in a bit of trouble.
In the scene we just watched, you're really moving around and getting lots of action. Have you been doing a lot of stunt training and working out? Or are you naturally agile and athletic? Did you play a lot of sports growing up?
I did do a lot of activities when I was younger. And I did a lot of dance, as well. So it's easier for me to learn the choreography. But we haven't done lots. Chloë [Moretz], who plays Hit Girl, has done about two months worth of crazy, hardcore training, but she has a lot of flips, and leaps and jumps. My character just gets the shit beat out of him, but we did a couple of weeks of choreography. Most of the stuff that we have to pick up on today, we just have to be like, "This is how it's going to go." And then you just want to keep it really kind of rough, as well. You don't want it to be choreographed. You want it to be manic. My character is not supposed to be a skilled fighter, so it's kind of good that they just chuck me into and I'm like, "What?" And I just start swinging around. You get better reactions that way.
Is it exhausting for you? Looking, again, at that last scene, it looks emotionally and physically intense. Is it draining for you?
No, not at all. That's what I love. That's what I enjoy. You'll see me walking around set and then when it comes to five minutes before – where everyone psyches themselves up, it's the same for the stunt guys – everyone has to get back into that energy. You just need a couple of minutes. Some actors would be, like, method, but I just find that no one can interact with you when you're like that and no one would ever talk, know what I mean? So I just psyche myself up and get back into the thought process and the energy of where I was. But I think that's why you need a director. You need somebody to really channel that energy.
What's your favorite part about playing a character like Kick-Ass?
I think it's great that I can play David Lizewski. He's an American, kind of quirky, original, normal guy but it's kind of nice that I can go from a vulnerable, naïve guy into putting on a mask. You've got all this confidence, but you've also got this kind of split personality. And it's just really good fun that you can play around with. I'm really enjoying that.
It's also really nice that I can do a lot of my scenes, like the ones in the high school, with Clark Duke, who has "Sex Drive" coming out. He's another guy who's just so straight-faced and so funny. I can't stop laughing sometimes. We've got such great actors.
Are you feeling any pressure? Readers really like this comic and they won't want you to come in and mess it up.
That's the only thing that worries me. I guess it's a lot to live up to, and I guess there are a lot of comic book fans that see it their way, and I don't want to take it away from them. I don't know. It does kind of worry me. I haven't really had to live up to that kind of pressure before. All you can do is believe in the people who are around you and who are working with you. These people are the director's choice and the producers', so you can only go with it and hopefully it turns out OK and I don't get beaten at Comic-Con.
How did it feel to put on the costume the first time?
Yeah, it was great. It was back in London with the costume designer. I had no idea that it would be like a wet-suit. It's got to be a sort of suit that he's bought on eBay and put together himself. And it was just [perfect]. I liked it because I knew my character wouldn't have a Batman suit with all the weapons and stuff – or a six-pack and stuff. It's cool and kind of different. That's what the character is about. He's really unique and different.
Is Kick-Ass the type of hero, you'd like to come and rescue you, if you were in a dire need?
He's not doing very well at the moment [laughs]. But I hate to see that the other four guys probably won't remember how bad it was. I guess it's strange, and it's kind of different. But I think it's quite cool, because the first time he gets beaten and he goes to the hospital and he gets metal back plate put in, it almost becomes like his superhuman defense, because he doesn't feel pain as much. It's quite cool, really.
Are you excited to see fans wearing Kick-Ass costumes at Comic Con?
I don't really think about it. My mind goes so quickly, I don't ever go back on things like that. It's kind of strange. I get a bit nervous when things like that happen. Even when the film comes out, I'll be sort of in hiding, to be honest because I'll be a bit too afraid to watch it.
Do you see Kick-Ass as a hero? Or is he a vigilante?
At the end of the day, he does become sort of the hero, because he goes back and helps out Mindy and sort of saves the day, in that type of way. He does the heroic thing of saving people's lives – trying his best, anyways, and I think that's kind of important. You get people like that in the news nowadays, people who jumped into their mate's stabbings at school. "What a hero this young teenager is." So I think he's doing the heroic thing, and I think it isn't a lot different from Spider-Man and all those sorts of things, because we're trying to make it real.
Sure, there are vigilantes in the real world, but because they dress up as comic book people, you see them as super-heroes, so it's really interesting.
It's also an amazing script and it's going to be very exciting. If you've seen "Layer Cake," and films like that, Matthew [Vaughn] is excellent. Just seeing some of the shots in the dailies, it's just so fucking cool. It's going to be cool because it's sort of got that gangster, edgy sort of style to it, but then it's also just kids running around in costumes and stuff – Kick-Ass and Red Mist in a Mustang. It's going to be fun.
Are you having any difficulty playing an American teenager seeing as you're British? Or is that just another challenge of the process?
Yes, completely. That's a whole other thing.
Have you been working on your accent?
I have a dialect coach, and she'll keep on top of it – hopefully. I hope she doesn't let it slip. But there are a lot of things that I am kind of worried about [laughs]. There's the accent, there's this awkward young boy that I'm going to play. I don't know. I'm sure there are many things that people can pick out and have a go at me for, but at the end of the day, that's entertainment. You have fun doing what you do, so...
It looks like you're having lots of fun, and you are pretty impressive during the fight scenes.
It's really cool. Getting beat up and then running around [laughs], but I really do enjoy it. It's good fun.
Have you been hurt at all, yet?
A few bruises, but that comes with it. I actually think that's kind of fun. I kind of walk around like, "Yeah!"
How hands-on a director is Matthew Vaughan?
He's excellent. He and Jane and Mark have worked on it for ages, so he really knows what he wants from every character. And it's very visual, as well. He just keeps on it and he really keeps you on your toes, as well. You don't want a director praising you all the time and saying, "Yeah. Yeah. That was really good." He keeps pushing you, so you improve, which, I think, is brilliant. He's really interesting. But I get intimidated sometimes. You can push a joke with him, but then you feel you may have pushed it too far. And then he'll shout at you. And then you're like, "Ah, fuck [laughs]. I better get back to work now." And the whole thing moves so fast, it's fucking brilliant. A scene like this, as well, will probably take about five days. But we all work hardcore six days a week.
For people who haven't read the comic book. What motivates Kick-Ass? What makes him tick?
He loses his mother, and then it's just him and his dad at home, for the moment. He's quite a lonely sort of guy, and nothing's really happening in his life. He's still a teenager and he's at the point where he starting to fall for girls, but he needs to break that confidence barrier. And he really grows into who he is going to become. He's really into comic books and everything. He just doesn't understand why nobody dresses up like a superhero. So he gives it a shot.
And then he accidentally comes across a fight and fails, goes to the hospital, gets rebuilt and becomes kind of a superhero who is kind of kick-ass. It's one of those things that you feel you're getting so close to. It was like the only thing that he could run away to. That was his place to hide. That was his place that was personal for him. He can't help but dress up and go back out there and see what he can improve on. He knew from the first fight, which was the first fight he'd ever been in, what he needs to do to improve. And he learns from his mistakes. And then he starts to grow up into a young man and go through that teenage barrier. So there are a lot of things he's going through.
What are your thoughts about people who actually go out in real-life dressed as superheroes in the name of justice? And in the name of YouTube?
I think that's just what happens in modern times, in present day. Everything is filmed on camera and put on YouTube, and that's how a lot of people become famous nowadays, on the Internet through MySpace and YouTube. Kick-Ass' superhero fame comes through the Internet, and the next time he goes back to the comic bookstore, they've made a Kick-Ass in memory of the guy out in New York. I think people support that sort of thing, as well.
When you were a kid, did you have a favorite superhero?
I think it was Wolverine, to be honest. I was running around trying to stick knives between my fingers [laughs]. Anything sort of like spikes, really. I liked Wolverine a lot. And the Hulk was pretty interesting. I liked the cartoons. And I liked the Human Torch too.
Are you signed on for Kick-Ass 2? Or do you think there is going to be one?
[Pauses] There could be [laughs]. There are sort of rumors about what they're going to do with it. I have heard sort of plotlines and stuff, but that's it. I've probably said too much.
What was your audition like? I understand you were one of the last guys to come in, but you came in and really knocked their socks off.
Like I said, it was really sort of being somewhere at the right time. I was out in L.A. because I was almost going to do another job, and I was doing tape readings and stuff like that, and then I was going on to another job, filming in New York, and on the morning of the day of my flight from L.A. to New York, they had a re-cast for this. And I don't know. I almost didn't go because I was on already on a flight and I had to get to LAX in like the space of an hour or something stupid like that. "Why am I going in?" But I did it and then I got in the car to go to LAX and they told me to turn the car around and that they'd pay for a flight later on in the night. It was on the weekend, so it was lucky and the film I was going on to was OK with it. I was to meet with Matthew that night, and if that went well, I was going to go for screen tests the next day. I think my flight got moved three times. It went from the morning to the night to the next day. From the screen test, I went on to the next job and found out there. It was quite strange and kind of random – just out of the blue. I went in and I was up against a lot of American kids. I think Matthew wanted pretty well non-British people [laughs].
The first scene was just me with Todd [Evan Peters] and Marty [Clark Duke] discussing superheroes, very casual sort of stuff – just him playing in a natural setting. And then we moved on to the reveal with Katie [Lyndsy Fonseca]. With Kate, you have to take off the hat and stuff like that. It was all kind of a blur to me. But Matthew and I just kind of bonded. I think he was a bit shocked that I was English, as well.
Did they know you were English at first?
No, I came in as an American [laughs]. But I don't know. For Matthew's ear, it sounded OK, but I knew it needed a lot of work. That's why I got a voice coach. But yeah, it just kind of happened.
Do you have any favorite scenes that you've filmed so far?
There are tons. All the stuff in the car is crazy. And the stuff with Chloë is nuts. It's so funny to see this pathetic teenager get bossed around by this little 11-year old girl with blades out to here. And saying things like, "Get here, you fucker. Come here, you fucking asshole." And I'm like, "OK. OK." Those are really fucking brilliant scenes.
I haven't done any stunts with Nic [Cage] yet. We did some rehearsals. So I met Nicolas Cage. He's really nice and funny. That's going to be really great to work with him. We've got a whole massive action scene where we fight with gangsters at the end. We're shooting guns and I've got a jet pack, so I'm flying around and stuff. That stuff we're going to do back in the studios. And we had some good stuff at the high school – really funny. And I had my glasses on and everything. And all the background artists were looking at me like, "What a retard." And that's kind of strange, because I've never really been in an American high school. It's just different. We had a massive canteen scene with me and Clark and Evan, and we're sitting there being really geeky and shoving food in our mouth and a jock comes by a throws up a football and splats our food all over us and the whole canteen gets up and starts laughing at us. "Oh fuck." Clark and Evan were like deadpan – I swear they were used to it [laughs]. But I couldn't stop laughing because I felt so bad. But it's all good fun.
When you read the comic, is it interesting to see them translate what's on the page to film? Like the scene you just did is directly from the comic book.
It's hard to get to caught up in it, because when I first got into it before we started, I wanted blond hair, I wanted to look like Dave as much as I could, but yeah, I read the scripts before I read the comics, and it really helps to map out what's going on. But the comics are nice, too, because it's almost like a little storyboard to show us what to do. But there are extra little bits that aren't in there. And there are parts of the comics that aren't in the movie – little small things that we kind of tweaked on. But it's nice, because you get a real feel for what Matthew and Jane have seen. So the comic is like their planning underneath the whole script. So it's quite nice that we're going along with the comics. We'll possibly finish before it's even finished.
"Kick-Ass" is scheduled to be released by Lionsgate on April 16, 2010.