Following the critically acclaimed STARDUST, screenwriter Jane Goldman has teamed up once again with director Matthew Vaughn for an adaptation of comic book KICK-ASS. And her involvement went further than just writing the script…
Kick-Ass is the story of a normal teenager who decides to don a costume to fight crime. How did you get involved in the project?
Matthew and I were involved early on, before the comic was even written. Mark [Millar] had actually only just started writing the comic and he was so excited about the way it was taking shape that he asked me to put him in touch with Matthew Vaughn. He thought it was something [Vaughn] might like to direct, and he was right! [Millar] had the first issue written, a fairly written next three issues and just the arc beyond that.
How do you adapt a story that hasn’t been completely written?
It became a very symbiotic relationship. We pretty much had our structure and our character arcs and everything nailed down before [Millar] finished. He just kept us updated and we just kept him updated. It’s such a strong and compelling concept, and I was so excited about exploring the idea of a character who is a genuinely young everyman, not a cartoon geek. A regular kid who likes to read comic books with a teenage sensibility.
If you look at a typical superhero movie, there is never any mention of superheroes being a form of entertainment. [Kick-Ass] takes place in a world where all the people who want to be superheroes are influenced by the same superheroes we’ve all grown up with. You have Big Daddy who is clearly influenced by Adam West’s Batman, but his costume is more influenced by modern Batman.
So is Kick-Ass a hero or just a vigilante?
In his mind he’s a superhero! But what defines a genuine superhero is their superpowers. And he obviously does not have superpowers. Certainly society would regard him as a vigilante. I have respect for him as a character, and if he were a real person I think I would be touched by his misguided notion he was a superhero.
It’s well known that every studio in Hollywood initially turned the project down because of the comic’s extreme violence. Did you ever think of toning it down?
There’s a fine line between realistic violence and comic book violence that we tried to tread. We certainly didn’t feel that in practical terms it was necessary to tone it down, but at the same time it was never our intention to be deliberately provocative or shock. The violence is a part of the story. In a way the comic seems more violent because it’s right there on the page and you’re kind of lingering on it, whereas when you have moving images things happen and it seems more organic to the scene.
You’ve now adapted two celebrated works, Stardust and Kick-Ass, and are about to start work on adapting Susan Hill’s horror novel The Woman in Black. Where do you draw the line between creative license and being faithful to the material?
The priority should always be to serve the story and to give a unique voice to each character. It should never be about trying to put your own stamp on it. Although I think that’s something that happens in the process of writing the story. It’s really about making source material work as a film first and foremost. Especially when you’re adapting something like a comic book, and there isn’t a lot of room for character development.
During the writing of Kick-Ass, did you find yourself deviating from the comic?
There were kind of bigger structural points that, interestingly, I think, ended up changing the comic as well. Very early on Mark had a couple of ideas that were really way out there that Matthew felt would work great in the comic book, but wasn’t a route we wanted to go.
Structurally we wanted to bring all of the characters into the story more closely. We wanted to make [the character of] Red Mist the same age as Dave [aka Kick-Ass] and have them relate to each other on that level. Initially Red Mist had been an older man and just another comic book fan. In the end, Mark decided not to go that way with the comic either.
You’ve obviously developed a great working relationship with Matthew Vaughn. What’s your collaboration process like?
We don’t ever write together, but we speak on the phone and get together all the time. Matthew works first on the structure on his own, and gets that down on paper, and then we talk through that in detail. Then I go off on my own and put together a first draft and then it’s just a constant back and forth where we try out different things. We revise and we polish until we both have a draft that we’re really happy with.
Do you find Kick-Ass to be a by-product of the modern, cynical view of superheroes?
It’s certainly not intended as a cynical view or a parody. It’s really just asking a ‘what if’ question of a particular character. Matthew and I both love comic books and we love superheroes, and it’s only ever intended to be a look from another angle at that world. The idea is that teenagers, particularly teenage boys, have a very skewed logic and the question is, ‘What if a kid decided this would be a good idea-which it patently is not-what would happen?’
So where can the superhero genre go next?
I have no idea! I’m always interested to see what people do. You could do a more realistic superhero but it could be a bit depressing. ♦
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 16 (March/April 2010)
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