It’s easy to forget that the entire world is not currently rabid about the upcoming film, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” adapted by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright from the six-volume comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Mainly, I forget they’re not all worked up because they should be. If there was any justice in the world, people would be camping out right now waiting for the film to open in August.
Maybe it’s just me. I mean, I have enormous affection for the work of Edgar Wright so far as a filmmaker. And I think the comic series is downright amazing. And, of course, I spent a day on-set, taking a look at just how they planned to pull off this incredibly sweet and silly series as a movie, and in the process, I got a distinct feeling that they’re up to something special.
For one thing, how often do you see people shoot films in Toronto and actually use it as Toronto?
O’Malley’s series is set in Toronto, and his artwork makes exceptional use of photo reference to bring the city to life. Instead of trying to make it look like someplace else, Wright’s movie goes out of its way to adapt the book and celebrate this oft-disguised city. A group of us flew up to spend an afternoon on several different soundstages, taking time to speak to the cast as well.
Today, we’re going to feature quotes from various interviews, with more of those tomorrow, and then later in the week, we’ll take a look at the sets themselves, and then we’ll wrap up with some time spent with Edgar Wright and Scott Pilgrim himself, Michael Cera, along with the film’s main villain, the most evil of the Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends.
If you aren’t familiar with the books or sure what the film’s about, let me sum up: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young guy in Toronto who is clinging to his care-free adolescence with both hands, even as the world moves on around him. He’s in a band called Sex Bob-Omb, and he’s just recently started dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a decidedly non-threatening return to the dating world after he was crushed by his last serious girlfriend. All is well, a blissful inertia, until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his dream girl. Before he can be with her, he is told that he will have to defeat her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends in combat, leading to a wild assortment of action scenes and band battles.
It’s a wild assortment of styles and influences, but it’s a relatively simple story, emotionally speaking. It boils down to a boy stuck between the girl he wants and the girl who wants him. Michael Cera has cornered the market on playing a certain type of character, and Scott Pilgrim offers him a chance to play something new, something looser and wilder and more confident. And both of the girls in his life are well worth the attention he pays them based on our time spent with them. Ellen Wong plays Knives Chau, the sweet younger girl who damn near worships Scott, and Wong seemed like a perfect fit for the character. Sweet, adorable, instantly likeable. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a pretty great dream girl, a figure of understandable appeal to Scott. She’s everything he’s not, and he desperately wants to be worthy of her affection.
So much of the success of the film is going to depend on the chemistry of the cast and how well Michael Bacall, the screenwriter, has captured the flavor of the books, so today, let’s start with a conversation with Alison Pill, who you may remember from “Milk,” where she played the curly-haired campaign manager. Here, she’s Kim Pine, the drummer for Sex Bob-Omb, and as soon as she walked into the room, one of the reporters asked her if she gets to deliver the line to Scott in the film, “I want to punch you in the face.”
She laughed and confirmed that she does indeed. Kim Pine has the distinct honor of being one of Scott Pilgrim’s ex-girlfriends in the film, and she said there’s not a lot of that in the film. “The Scott exes are less part of the story than the Ramona-exes.” As a fan of the books and a Toronto native, she was thrilled with the way the film captures her city. “I grew up in Toronto and my sister and I went to the regular Sunday night show at Sneeky D”s. I wish we had Sneeky D”s in there. We have so many other great Toronto landmarks but Sneeky D”s is missing.” In general, she was pleased by the landmarks that did make the film. “I grew up here and I had friends who worked at all of the places. Like the Beguiling, which is a store here, and Suspect Video and one of my friends actually worked at Suspect and The Beguiling.” Actually using those landmarks as themselves seemed to surprise her after growing up watching the city used as other locations. “It”s wonderful. It”s amazing. I mean we have such a great music scene and art scene and there”s just a great group of young people, you know, temping their way through their 20″s doing other amazing things. And I”ve been in… I spent like ten years working here without ever having been shooting in Toronto. And it”s so frustrating because it”s a great city. I”m looking forward to actually being able to use it as itself instead of being a bad New York.”
Asked what the appeal of Kim Pine is with fans, Pill laughed again. “She”s angry a lot and doesn”t like people? I think a lot of people can relate to that, especially like just within the indie music scene. We all hated high school and so we sort of have giant chips on our shoulders and I think a lot of people who find Scott Pilgrim will find that definitely relatable, you know?” Pine is, as I mentioned, a drummer, and we asked Pill about her own musical education. “I learned to drum and I”m very excited today. I learned when I was in New York. I sort of did some prepping, just learning basic stuff, like beating my couch next to my drum teacher, who”s this incredible guy named Charlie Green. And then we came here for 3 weeks of band rehearsal with Chris Murphy. And I grew up in Toronto during Sloan”s heyday, so like I was like ‘Oh my God, it’s Chris Murphy, oh my God.’ And so that was pretty cool. Today I”m not working really so I just brought my sticks and I have a drum bunker set up in this concrete studio space and Brian, who”s Beck”s keyboardist… we”re just going to get to jam for awhile because I”m kind of getting tired of playing the same songs. I didn”t really learn how to drum anything beyond the songs I play in the movie, because nobody was really interested in teaching me like how to really play. ‘Just make sure you know the songs and that you don”t look like an ass. Good, yeah. We”ll cover that first.’ But now I actually love it and I want to get better at it.”
Do the other actors actually play their instruments? “Yeah, Michael plays and Johnny plays. We”ve had some odd jamming sessions. We went to Chris Murphy”s studio and Johnny insists on plugging in this weird red flashing like police light. It was just like this little strobe. So we plugged that in and just played. I think we would be around the same level as Sex Bob-Omb as I imagine it.”
Asked about her favorite scene in the film, she said, “I feel like we”ve shot all these different movies. Like the first two weeks of shooting was all Stephen Stills’ apartment and band rehearsal, you know? So it was like this tiny little group of people and small set comparatively and it just looked like a Toronto apartment. And then we sort of kept ramping up further and further until now we”re here in this giant like craziest set I”ve ever seen with LCD crazy lights, you know? I would say my favorite was just the beginning of the movie like doing all the rehearsal stuff. It”s been amazing to see the rest of it happen but it happens so piecemeal. Edgar sort of has the whole movie edited in his head already, so we”re just sort of matching to what he has.” It’s funny she’d say that since Edgar’s been editing for months now, and it still logging in almost 20 hours a day working on the film some days. That sort of shooting can be tough on an actor, and sometimes, they’re not really sure what they’re doing. “I hope over the last 6 months Kim hasn”t changed. I don”t think so. It”s not like she like jumps around a lot and is hyper in one scene or anything. But it”s been funny to try and carry the through line. I think the main thing is the relationship that the band has because we have spent now all this time together, and I think that”s sort of what we keep returning to. And whenever we get to play together, it still sort of returns to that little shitty rehearsal space. So that”s good.”
As an ex-girlfriend to Scott, she has to have an opinion on his two new girlfriends, and asked to discuss her reactions to the two of them, she had this to say. “Knives is so much more irritating. At least Ramona”s cool, you know? It”s like…although I don”t think they fit together, it”s like she”s from New York, you know. She”s pretty relaxed. She”s not annoying as a high schooler.” All of her answers obviously had to do with the reality of the world, but it’s a pretty stylized and unreal movie, and we asked her about finding reality in the midst of something that extreme. “Well, it”s sort of funny to try and get that balance between just accepting the reality of my friend Satya flying in from the ceiling of the theatre and starting to do a dance with demon hipster chicks. It”s like, ‘So how do we react when he throws fireballs? Are we surprised? Does this happen a lot?’ It is nice that throughout Kim”s pretty unthrowable, you know? Not a lot is too much for her. I also think that Kim is just the most likeable character. I mean, Scott is like many guys his age. Selfish and self-centered and lazy and awesome, of course, and Stills is the most neurotic person ever. So I think there is a lot to say about Kim just kind of being around and being there to offer the sarcastic remark and take everybody down when they need it.”
We asked if she had a chance to speak to Bryan Lee O’Malley directly about her character. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. He had these weird little like kindergarten drawings for each of our characters. So she sits on my mantle at home. I have this little Bryan inspiration for Kim, and he and Edgar made up lists for like things to know about your character that were pretty awesome.” She wouldn’t share the specific things on that list, though, saying they were private. “We talked a lot… like he and [his wife] Hope both hate most people so I think that was the main thing. And meeting him and Hope was just awesome. She”s incredible. Just getting to hang out with them and getting to talk to them about the writing and about Kim and getting a sense of where he was coming from and what his experience in Toronto was was probably the most helpful.”
It’s a big cast, and many of the actors who are in it only appear for a few scenes. On the other hand, Pill’s in pretty much the whole film, and we asked about the way that sort of a shoot works for the cast that’s in everything. “It”s just so amazing. One of the great things about this cast is that we”ve been able to take actors of relatively the same age group that would never usually meet. You know like bridging the comedy/drama world that for some reason casting directors never really want to bridge or you get into one community and that”s kind of it. And so getting to meet like Aubrey Plaza and Mae Whitman and getting to know two awesome girls who are just kick-ass, it”s been nice. And just like, you know, Chris Evans teaching us all the high five because he”s dealing with like non-jocks and we”re like ‘Yeah! Missed it!’ You look at the elbow, okay? I swear. It works every time. It”s amazing. You will always get a full high five. And again, we would never normally be in the same movie.”
If you saw “Jennifer’s Body,” then you may be familiar with Johnny Simmons, who played Amanda Seyfried’s boyfriend in the movie. He was one of the highlights of that film, and in “Scott Pilgrim,” he appears as Young Neil, a Sex Bob-Omb fanboy who ends up in a triangle with Scott and Knives Chau. Right away, someone asked what his favorite scene in the film was to shoot. “The thing I”m 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.”
Since we’d already spoken to Ellen Wong, most of the guys in the group assumed that his favorite scene would have to involve the lovely Knives Chau and their relationship, which we asked him about. “Yeah, we did become really good friends. Our characters start dating in the books, and yeah we”ve made up little back-stories to our characters and little outtakes that we bring up to Edgar as a joke and kind of B-sides of stuff. So yeah, we have a really good time.” He told us that he also got a hand-drawn version of Young Neil from Bryan Lee O’Malley. “There were 10 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 I just have a copy of it. I think they”re going to do something special with the originals at the end like presenting them to us but I can”t remember what they were but there were some funny things at the beginning that he gave us. Of course I can”t remember one now, but yeah he gave us a little bit. He filled us in a little bit on it.”
When the subject of all the outrageous action in the film came up, he confessed his one regret about the film to us. “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 tried to get in on the danger. There”s nothing.” Asked if he ever appealed to Edgar for a stunt, he said, “I begged him. If there”s another one, I”m definitely getting a stunt.” Even so, he confessed a great admiration for Edgar and for the experience of working with him. “He”s awesome, yeah. He”s been hosting these double features. Like last week was ‘Team America’ and ‘Army of Darkness’, which were two of Bill Pope”s movies. He”s shooting this. So he works all day long, 14 -15 hours a day. And then on Saturday he goes into the editing room and Sunday he”s hosting movies, so he is just obsessed with everything to do with the film industry and it”s really inspiring to watch. Especially one of my favorite directors, you know, to be on-set with him and to see him that dedicated to something and being so tired that you want to use your Saturdays and Sundays to kind of take a break while he”s sitting there setting up movie theatres.”
He revealed a change between the book and the film when he said that Young Neil in the film actually gets to step into Sex Bob-Omb and not just watch from the sidelines. “I take over Scott”s position. I don”t know if I”m supposed to give that away or not. Scott throws me the base at one point when he goes to fight somebody and there”s this huge like slow motion shot that they shot at like 100 frames or something like that. But it goes through the air and young Neil”s going like… and grabs hold of it and we shot it like 10 times because the strap had to go perfectly over my head and at first they had this rubber guitar and it didn”t look right. So they brought the full Rickenbacker which is about 60 pounds or something.”
Someone commented that they thought he didn’t have any stunts in the film. “Yeah, well, I guess that”s a kind of… yeah, that”s my stunt. I could have gotten my nose broke. So it comes over and then we change it to the other one and then there”s this epic moment 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.'”
The best was the story that Johnny told about how he got the role in the film. “I was just leaving to New York to go film a movie called ‘The Greatest’ and I”d gone in at the last minute and it”s like there”s no way in hell that I”m going to get this. But I just went in on a whim and then like a year and a half later or maybe just like a year, somebody saying they were Edgar Wright friend-requested me on Facebook. And I was like okay whatever. We”d been waiting for feedback, you know? Nothing had come of this and for awhile 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 he friend requested me, and I”m like okay, yeah right, it”s Edgar Wright, you know, but it”s probably not. And we started messaging back and forth through the inbox and he sent me… like a month had gone by where we had been just talking and I said, well if you”re in L.A. if you want to meet up for coffee or whatever. And he was also friends with Jason Schwartzman who doesn”t have his real name set up so I figured maybe it really could have been the real Edgar. And he said yeah, let”s meet up for coffee. I”d also like to offer you the role of Young Neil. So then I called my manager, and I”m like is this like for real or is this a joke? And they didn”t know anything. And neither did the casting director, who”s Avy Kaufman. And it was like this huge mad scramble to figure 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 there”s Edgar Wright sitting there and the whole time we”re having this meeting and I”m just like holy crap it”s really you, you know? And I just got Young Neil, okay? But he offered it over Facebook. I thought that”s great.”
He asked us if we’d been over to the Gideon Fight stage yet, and we told him we had not. “It”s pretty epic. It”s like they have all the LED lights, you know, like the huge TV that they use for the advertising, whatever. And so there”s little sound waves going through that syncs perfectly with the music. So they had to shoot completely 360 so that all has to be perfectly synced each time, so they”ve got a system that basically runs the music for the particular part that you”re playing it and then the music syncs up with the lights just perfectly. Seeing Jason Schwartzman up there with his cane and his like white suit… it”s just insane, you know? There”s there gigantic pyramids that are built up next to each other for the Chaos Theatre.” Asked what the best part of working with Edgar is, Simmons said, “I think just how he inspires you to keep up with him. I heard that about Peter Jackson who he swims with. Just a mad scientist who basically never stops because he”s just so obsessed with what he does and it”s never going into work. It”s going in 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 into work or to set, it”s just coming here to do what a lot of people would really love to do and I”m lucky enough to get to do it, so that”s pretty much… that”s what I learned from Edgar.”
Based on what else we saw on set, I think that attitude was infectious, and I’m hoping it carries into the experience of actually watching it as well. We’ll see when “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is released on August 13.
We’ll have more for you from the set all week long right here at HitFix.com, including our chats with the women in Scott Pilgrim’s life tomorrow, both Ellen Wong and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. See you then.
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