Christopher Mintz-Plasse discusses the pains and pleasures of returning for ‘Kick-Ass 2’

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE – The last time I saw Christopher Mintz-Plasse before arriving on the Pinewood Studios set for “Kick-Ass 2,” it was roughly 3:00 in the morning, and we had just finished recording a podcast where we discussed Rob Zombie’s “Lords Of Salem,” which we saw at the film’s midnight screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

Chris was in Toronto to shoot exteriors for the sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s 2008 adaptation of the cult hit comic series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., and he’d never been to the festival. Talking to him about the film as they were getting started, he seemed optimistic. I met Chris for the first time on the set of “Superbad,” and at that point, he was brand-new to filmmaking, figuring out what he was doing as he did it. There was an intuitive approach to his work that served him well on that film. One of the reasons that McLovin became iconic was because Chris seemed to be that guy. It didn’t look like acting. It was just a case of casting doing 2/3 of the job.

I think if you’d asked Chris on the set of “Superbad” if this is what he was going to do with the rest of his life, he would have been hard-pressed to answer the question. I think if you ask Chris that question now, the answer would be an emphatic yes. At some point, he decided that he was going to take things seriously, and he dedicated himself to really learning the craft. He walked into “Kick-Ass 2” as serious and as focused as he’s ever been, and he threw himself into playing The Motherfucker in a way that should translate into a performance that is equal parts hilarious, disturbing, and even sad.

When I talked to him on the set of “Kick-Ass 2,” much of the conversation was loose and informal, but I finally sat him down for our “official” interview, and the first thing I asked him about was how he felt about the character when he read the script and saw all the horrible places they were going to ask him to go.

“The main appeal was that… I’ve talked to Chloë about how she’s Hit-Girl and I was Red Mist and those are two roles that we created and it’s going to go down in superhero history. Those are our roles. She had an opportunity to do another movie instead of this and she chose this because she’s like, ‘Hit-Girl’s girl is my baby. I want to be that person.’ I was like, no matter what I have to do it because Matthew Vaughn is producing. I’ve got to come back with Aaron and Chloë and that’s my role. I can’t let anyone else take it. I can’t let it die. That’s my creation. And when I saw where they took it, it was exciting, but it was also nerve-wracking because I had to challenge myself in many different ways as an actor. You met Lee, who’s actually my acting coach on this, and I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this performance without her. Man, she’s incredible. I was very nervous at first, but working with her, we sat down weeks before shooting and just went through the whole script and, scene by scene, figured out what I had to do. She’s fantastic.”

See what I mean? He’s more focused right now than he’s ever been before on digging into a role and transforming himself. There are scenes that I was shown in rough form that push him to places that many young actors would be uncomfortable with. For him costume in the film, much of it is modified bondage gear that he finds in a box of his mother’s things when she dies. There are some early moments that are creepy as he’s trying things on, and there’s a scene later in the film that replaces one of the comic’s most justifiably infamous moments where The Motherfucker looks truly pathetic, and Chris doesn’t approach any of that in half-measures. He’s all in. I asked him how he handles these scenes where you can’t have any ego about what you’re doing. “It’s embarrassing, but I am in the moment, and so you can’t care. I was just walking around that set like I didn’t care with my dick out.” Figuratively, I think. Or hope, anyway.

If you want to take notes on how to throw yourself into a role completely, look no further than the work Jim Carrey does in the film as Colonel Stars and Stripes. No matter what Jim’s saying now about the film, when he was on-set, he was 100% committed, and it really shows. “Those were all his ideas. What a weirdo. Jim looks insane, and he is insane in this movie. He came up with the broken nose. All that shit was all his idea. It was just so fantastic to work with him for me because the ’90s was like, you know, comedy for me. ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and ‘Ace Ventura’ and ‘Liar Liar.’  All those movies shaped what I was in that era. To see him work… god, I wish you got to come to set when he was there. He would just let the camera roll for like 20 minutes and he would do 20 different variations of one line. And you’re sitting there like, ‘This is exhausting,’ but you get so much footage that you can use and the performance is so beautiful. In a way, it kind of inspired me. When they yelled cut, it inspired me to go like, ‘No. I want another one for myself.’ It’s nerve-wracking to do that as an actor because the director says, “We got it. We need to move on for time,’ but it’s your performance, and watching Jim do that, I learned in many ways to do it for yourself.”

I told Chris that Carrey rarely allows press to be around when he’s working. He’s very protective of his process. Even when a friend of mine directed him, the set was closed just because that’s how Jim works. Ultimately, I can respect that. To be a collaborator on this and to be able to be in those moments with him is a rare opportunity. Chris said, “I only had one scene with him but it was an intense scene.  There’s a lot of choking and hair grabbing and hitting in the face, and I’m fucking nervous. This is Jim Carrey that I have to choke. He’s like, “Go hard.”  He’s like, “Get into it.” So I’m literally choking Jim Carrey. Like if you were to ask 13-year-old Chris Mintz-Plasse if he believed that that would happen ten years later, he would shit himself. It was a surreal moment.”

I talked to him about how far he, Aaron, and Chloe have come since the first film, and made note of the ridiculous physical transformation Aaron went through. “He’s got scenes doing one-armed pull-ups in this goddamn movie. He’s ripped.” I mentioned that the action looks far more demanding this time, and that it seems like Aaron had to get to that place to be able to do what is asked of him in the movie. As I mentioned in my set visit yesterday, I watched Aaron and Chris shoot the same fight scene for something like 11 hours straight, which would be demanding on anyone. “I think they’re going to do one very wide shot later today from the fight yesterday with the stunt doubles, but, yeah, Jeff is all about the intensity and the close-ups on these fights. He was telling us to do the fight at half speed ’cause all he wants, he wants to capture the moments of the faces in between each hit, which is great. I think the action in this one is a lot more badass. It’s a lot more like an action movie, whereas the first one was an origin story. There was great action and there were very subtle moments of blood and gore except for Hit-Girl in that one, but this one is like a straight-up in-your-face fucking insane action film.”

I asked him about the approach to choreography that Jim O’Dee has taken as fight master for the film. There seems to be a concentrated effort to have these fights be carefully constructed but not look that way at all.

“We were physically exhausted and that’s good because there were two other fight scenes with Kick-Ass that go on downstairs right before that happened. It was good to get into it and not have to act tired, since we were honestly being tired, which played really well, I think.”

Chris had a crazy schedule last fall, shooting part of “Kick-Ass 2,” then flying back to the US to shoot every episode of a sitcom called “Friend Me” that he’s starring in with Nick Braun, then back to London for “Kick-Ass 2” again. “It’s really fun because it’s something that not a lot of people get to do. It’s insanely exhausting, but if it wasn’t for my acting coach… like right when I land, we meet and we just work on it ’cause I’m in sitcom mode, you know. You can’t bring sitcom mode here. It’s the complete opposite. It would be disgusting. I’m excited to be done with it all. I’m so proud to have all of the TV show under my belt now. That’s a huge accomplishment, you know? And to have ‘Kick-Ass 2’ under my belt, too? It is going to be an exciting year in 2013 for me.”

We talked about Olga Kurkulina, who is playing Mother Russia in the film.
“Did you hear there was a moment when she was doing like the insane action scene in the streets and she was shooting cops and throwing barrels that exploded? She was this huge badass, and Jeff goes, “Cut,” and runs up to her and he’s like, “Olga, that was amazing.”  She says, “Thank you,” and then does this little curtsey like this sweet little twelve-year-old girl. “Sure, I just like shot 15 people, but here’s a curtsey for you.’ She didn’t speak hardly any English.”

I brought up Andre the Giant, who Rob Reiner told me had to learn his part phonetically because he spoke so little English. “Yeah,” Chris said, “it’s a crazy process.”

I reminded him of how excited he’d been at the start of the shoot and asked him if he had any idea how much demand would be placed on him during the film, both physically and emotionally. “No. This has been the most demanding project I’ve worked on, mainly because of the suit. I was thrown into a shark tank wearing this thing, which added so much weight to my body. It was fucking exhausting. Fighting in this, it’s…” He just shook his head as the muscle memory kicked in. “I can’t breathe in this thing. The helmet is pressing into my fucking forehead.”

I told him that I could still see the indent between his eyes where the helmet had been pressing on him all morning. He laughed. “It’s just like, flying from L.A. to London and then having to shoot the next day, it’s draining. I was really excited for this and I still am, but it’s a lot of work. Going from this to a sitcom… two completely different things. That’s physically draining as well just ’cause the hours are short and me and Nick Braun are in every scene. We work every hour in front of that live studio audience every week. That was exhausting as well.”

I could see how excited he was about the show as he talked about it. “It’s going to be on CBS. It’s hard for sitcoms to be great… like ‘Seinfeld’ was probably the last amazing sitcom. But I think it has the potential. It’s season one, and season one TV shows are always just trying to figure out what it is. We’re in that process.”

He went on to talk more about the way the show developed while they were working on it. “At first, it was really hard ’cause we worked with Pamela Fryman who did all the ‘How I Met Your Mother” episodes, and we just loved her, but she had to go work on that show. And then Fred Savage came in, and he was great, but it was a new process because we hadn’t worked with him. It took some time to figure it out, and by the end we loved him. Literally the lead actress on the last episode, one of the last takes, says, “I figured out how to act on this show.” She said those words to me. That just got me excited about if there was a season two because we were just all starting to get it and it would be a shame if we didn’t come back. I think it has a chance to be, you know, given more episodes and more writers coming on, it has a chance to be like ‘How I Met Your Mother’ or ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ like a very successful sitcom. This is my last journey out here, and I’m just so excited to be done with both these things, and I’m excited for people to see ’em in 2013.”

If you follow Chris on Twitter, you may already know about his band, but for those who aren’t, he definitely has a love for playing, and he and his band play often. “At first it was to give me an outlet, ’cause just doing one thing can be very troubling and it can take a lot out of you mentally. There was one moment that really sucked me out of the movie industry. When my grandfather passed away last year, I had to walk the red carpet when I had just gotten that news and smile, and I remember feeling so fake in that moment. I know it’s not about the acting, but that’s part of the movie industry.”

“It really took something out of me,” he continued, “and so then I had my band to go back to. The good thing about music is there’s no acting involved. I’m myself behind the drum kit. I’m not playing the Motherfucker. Everything is honest and true. We’ve been together for four years now, and Sony Records seems interested in us. So come January, knock on wood, they say they want to sign our band and hopefully I can tour up until this comes out, then promote this, and then do the TV show again, and then record another album and balance it that way.”

I told Chris how far it feels like he’s come as a person since we met on that “Superbad” set all those years ago. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “That was a crazy experience for me.” I told him how excited Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson were when they first told me about this kid they’d found. “I just want to work, and I’m starting to now realize that I can work with people who I love and I can work with people that make me laugh and that I can work on projects that are worthwhile that I would want to see. Then I don’t have to work if I want to work with the band, you know? I can take some time away and be with my best friends. It’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.”

He laughed and told me that he didn’t remember me coming to the “Superbad” set. “I was such a little weasel back then, dude.” I told him that Shauna Robertson, Judd’s producer at the time, had come up with a very fun way to invite me to the set, and I showed him, since it’s one of those things that is always in my wallet. 

“That’s amazing. Look at you. You’re a different guy, too. That’s fucking great,” he laughed, handing it back. I told him that I see a huge difference in all three of them now, and that they’ve all seemed to avoid the pitfalls of the industry, particularly for young actors. “We were talking about it yesterday,” he said. “Chloe’s a little woman now. It’s crazy.”

I told him how on the first film, Vaughn really gambled on a cast that was not made up of giant movie stars, and now this second film feel like a chance to show everyone that it was no fluke that it worked. “That’s true, and we’ve got an unproven director with Jeff. He’s a great guy and that’s what Matthew was gambling on.”

To some degree, sequels are almost always about stasis, keeping everything the same. “It’s hard making a good sequel,” Chris agreed. This film breaks most of those rules. The characters do change. The status quo gets severely shaken up. They are not the same people at the end of the film. “They leaked pictures of my costume and some of the fans hated it because they didn’t understand it, you know? They didn’t know that this is several years later. They didn’t know that Red Mist is no more. When they see it in context, I’m hoping that they eat it up.”

Here’s hoping, indeed. “Kick-Ass 2” opens everywhere August 16.