In my first “Kick-Ass” set visit article, which was posted over at Ain’t It Cool, I was talking about being on-set for the one scene in the film where all the real-life superheroes are together in one room, in costume, at the same time. Let’s recap who was there:
The Red Mist. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, famous from “Superbad,” looking to redefine how people think of him. The most outrageous of the costumes, looking like he wandered off the set of “Velvet Goldmine.”
Hit Girl. Chloe Moretz. Huge iconic character. When you see the purple wig and the leather battle armor under the schoolgirl exterior, and the sneer this 11-year-old rocks with all the authority of a young truck-drivin’ Elvis, you will understand. Hit Girl is a star.
Kick-Ass, of course, played by Aaron Johnson, and he’s the one this entire film rides on. If the audience identifies with him and really feels like they know this kid, then they’ll take this fairly dark and crazy ride with him. I think Aaron’s work that I saw reminded me of what young Michael J. Fox did so well… he’s playing a kid who is sort of not quite in control, but there’s a precision to what he does in that performance.
[more after the jump]
And then there’s Big Daddy. Or Damon, as he calls himself when he’s walking around like the rest of us. Let’s go back to the end of that first article, as Nic Cage comes walking into the room where the other actors were already on-set and ready to go. My first thought when I see him is “Phantom Of The Paradise.” The costume looks like someone’s homemade attempt to duplicate the black-sculpted body armor look of the new Batman movies, but the mask, especially when you see it in profile, is absolutely a nod to “Phantom.” There’s no missing that crazy pointed beak face thing. So just seeing Cage, I start to smile. It’s not what Big Daddy looked like in the comics, and Cage isn’t trying to look paunchy or fat the way the character was drawn. Instead, he looks like a guy who takes this all really, really seriously.
So Chris and Aaron step outside the apartment set to wait in the hall for their cue, leaving Chloe sitting in the window of the apartment, her back to the “alley” below, and Nic Cage sitting at his desk, in his full costume, typing away on a keyboard that’s not really hooked up to anything.
“Holy Himalayan…” That’s all Nic managed on the first take before they stopped because of a technical issue. I could barely hear him, because as soon as the scene started, Matthew called cut. So everyone moves in, takes care of the problem Matthew spotted, and then it’s back to the start. Once they’re rolling, the clapper comes in to mark take two, and…
“Holy Himalayan gill-breathing reindeer, Hit Girl, the DNA from Frank D’Amico has still… not… been downloaded.”
And at those pauses, deployed so precisely, I had no choice but to snort. Keep in mind, this is the first time in ten years I’ve laughed at anything during a take, but it’s because I wasn’t prepared at all for the voice that Nic Cage was using.
Adam fucking West.
It’s a great choice. Totally motivated by character. After all, if you’re Nic’s age, what was the voice of a superhero while you were growing up? Who was probably the single most formative influence on you as a superhero fan in the ’60s? Adam West was a huge influence on me, and I was too young to watch the show the first time around, so I can only imagine what it meant to Nic as a kid. And, by extension, his character. Damon is motivated to be Big Daddy because of personal loss and tragedy, so why wouldn’t he identify with Batman? And if he identifies with Batman, why not take it one step further and actually sound like him, too?
Now, keep in mind… before I arrived on set, I was sent an e-mail explaining that I had full access to the set, but I was going to have to keep away from Nic Cage while there because his working process demanded it. Okay. Fair enough. Knowing that, though, I was a little surprised to see Cage walking towards me, taking off the helmet, right after Matthew called cut. I thought he was going to yell at me for laughing during the take, no matter how quiet I was, and for a moment, I envisioned Cage actually having me thrown off the set while he was working.
Instead, he put out his hand and introduced himself. I did the same, and he asked what it was that made me laugh. I could feel Matthew watching me, curious to see what I’d say, so I explained that the choice to use Adam West’s cadence was so crazy but so inspired that the laughter was involuntary.
“And I gotta say,” I continued, “I love the ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ mask.” He gave me a sharp look, then looked at the mask again and smiled.
“You think so, eh?” He held it sideways for me, so the profile was visible again. Unmistakable. “Do you know that film well?”
“I do,” I said. “It’s one of my faves. I love De Palma, but that’s one of his that I have a special affection for.”
“That’s the film that made me want to make movies,” Nic replied.
Before we could talk more, Matthew called for another take, and Nic went back to his spot. Each time they did a take, he would run a different riff on the “Holy something something, Hit Girl” line, some of them completely outrageous, some of them fairly normal. The scene unfolded all the way through a few times, as there’s a knock at the door and Big Daddy goes to answer it. Kick-Ass and The Red Mist are at the door, and Big Daddy invites them in to talk. This is an uneasy moment for these masked characters. None of them are really sure they can trust the others, and sure enough, there’s a double-cross that leads to Hit Girl going out a window and Kick-Ass and The Red Mist being dragged out by some giant goons who work for Frank D’Amico, the gangster whose actions led to Damon and Mindy taking up their superhero personas in the first place.
The staging of the action was very formal in some ways, but in other ways, Vaughn gave the actors room to find small character beats, and as a result, each of the takes was pretty radically different in tone and tempo and feel.
As Vaughn called cut so they could move the camera for the next round of shots, Nic walked back over to where I was. I could see he had something on his mind, something I assume he’d been thinking about for a while.
“Okay. Let me ask you something. What year was ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ released?”
“Uhhh… 1974, I think?”
“And what year did ‘Star Wars’ come out?”
“Do you think the design of the Phantom had any influence on the design of Darth Vader?”
“Well, sure. All in black. Helmet. Breathing device on the chest. Cape. De Palma was a friend of George’s back then. I can totally see that being an influence.”
He smiled and, without saying anything else, headed back onto the set. I felt like I’d passed a test of some sort.
I was impressed by watching Chloe do her own stunt each take, rolling backwards out the window as someone opened fire on her. There was a stuntman dressed and ready to go, but Chloe was determined to do it herself. She’s undergone a ton of training to get ready to play Hit Girl, and it shows. She handled herself like she was the stuntperson, doing the fall so that it looked terrible while still being safe.
The room was smaller than Matthew anticipated, so the staging of the scene didn’t quite work during the wide master shots. As Matthew moved in for individual close-ups over the rest of the morning, he kept restaging the action, trying to make it faster, more explosive. Much of what I was watching them do was physical, all about selling a bit of close-up combat. Not a lot of character in that one moment, except in the way they each responded to what was happening.
In particular, Kick-Ass was someone I kept watching closely. Or Aaron, I guess, although when you don’t know someone, you can simply see them as the character, and that’s sort of what happened. I thought he was very interesting, completely alive and engaged in every moment. It’s a reactive scene for him, as he realizes who was trying to help him and who’s been lying to him, and even without a ton of dialogue, he has to convey that betrayal quickly and completely, and I thought it was telling that Vaughn didn’t really have to tweak Aaron’s performance at all. He was consistent, take to take, and Vaughn seemed determined to modulate everyone else’s performances to match the reality that Aaron was playing.
Finally, they had to call lunch and reset so they could try another angle on the scene after lunch. That’s where we’ll call a break as well, and next time, we’ll have an interview with one of the stars of the film, the first of several we’ll run over the next week and a half.