Wanted and Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar is aiming big for his first directorial outing, taking his cues from District 9 to create an epic Scottish superhero movie that will have a 21st-century Trainspotting vibe while being “as cool as X Men 2”, with plans to shoot this summer using a local cast and crew.
The award-winning Coatbridge-born comic book writer has tasted huge success with his work on characters including Spider-Man and Superman, his creative talent for original characters now translating to the big screen in the form of Wanted and the upcoming Kick-Ass, which is poised to become one of the year’s biggest movies.
Despite thinking of himself as “quite lazy”, Millar describes himself as having “this weird Scottish work ethic” and has several projects on his plate. In terms of comics, this year alone Millar wants to create three brand new comics as well as doing a big Spider-Man story for Marvel. In addition he’s gearing up to write and direct a superhero movie set in Scotland which he plans to shoot this summer, attempting to use exclusively local talent for his first film in the director’s chair and casting young unknown actors in the lead roles.
In first part of our extensive interview with Millar about all his projects, he explained: “The plan with the Scottish movie was that I realised that everything I’d written, even though I’m a Scottish guy from Coatbridge, everything I’d written was set in New York or Los Angeles. I just thought that’s quite weird; normally people will do something that is a wee bit to do with where they came from, so I thought that it was quite odd that I’ve never done that. It’s a lazy shorthand to always set something in America that everybody understands.
“I saw District 9, the South-African alien movie. I thought that that was quite interesting to see something that people don’t associate with South Africa, which is alien invasions, to juxtapose two things and make something quite interesting and quite odd, and I thought wouldn’t it be cool to do a superhero movie in Scotland.
“Not a cheesy BBC Scotland comedy kind of thing, but to make it cool, as cool as X Men 2 was or whatever. Not costumes and that kind of stuff, a 21st century Trainspotting kind of thing about people with superpowers and make it epic, make it big and grand in scope, try and do something that’s unexpected.
Millar added: “So my plan is to start directing that in June, June and July. We’re prepping it just now. We want to do it with an entirely new cast, people nobody have seen before, young people from Glasgow and Edinburgh and work with local teams. Everyone that works on the movie we want to try and keep Scottish and just create a superhero movie with its own unique flavour.”
Although Millar said he learned a lot from the directors he’s worked with on Wanted and Kick-Ass, he added: “Comics is an amazing training ground for directing.
“It’s so similar, because as a comic writer people think you just put the balloons in, but really you’ve a blank piece of paper and you have to tell the story visually: start with a close-up, pull-back and all the wee tricks that we employ when we make a film as well, so it felt quite seamless actually, the idea of going into film.
“It feels like comics, it’s a world I’m really comfortable with, and if you’re a geek you’re a geek, I’ve got as many DVDs as I’ve got comics. The house is just filled with stuff like that, so I’m in my comfort zone.”
Though some would see a gradual transition from comic books to movie-making over the past few years, Millar was keen to stress that he won’t be giving up the medium with which he made his name.
Talking about his shift into the film world, he explained: “Well, the thing is I’ve never ever seen it as a stepping stone, from comics, although it is quite a logical stepping stone for a lot of people.
“I’ve always done comics because that’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and a lot of my friends and family have said to me ‘Right, okay, now you’ve got Hollywood films and all that when are you quitting comics?’ and I was like ‘Never, I didn’t get into it to get out of it.’ This is what I’m doing for the rest of my life hopefully.
“I just love it, I really enjoy it, and it’s going so many rewards that film doesn’t have. If I write something, three months later it’s in someone’s hands exactly as I’ve written it. With movies there’s so many compromises and budget limitations and everything. It’s a collaboration in a way that comics are much more autonomous, it’s more like writing a novel or something, it’s quite personal.
“I’ve been lucky though with film. Timur Bekmambetov, the guy who directed Wanted, is an amazing director and made it look great. Matthew Vaughn’s come along and done Kick-Ass and it’s looking even better. I’ve fallen backwards into movies very accidentally, I’ve had no brilliant plan or anything, it just worked out really nice, and I’m going to try and do both.”
Millar talked about the process of the film adaptation of Wanted, and how as a producer on the movie he had a “J.K. Rowling kind of relationship” with the material because of the creator-owned deal he and the artist had for the comic book.
He added: “It was funny because they phoned me up and said ‘You know this thing you’re doing, Wanted, we really like it but we’d like to radically change it, we want to change half of it. I was just so pleased at the idea of getting a film made I was just like ‘Yeah, anything you want! Of course.’
“It was the first film I ever did, and it was such a great calling card. I mean really, if you’re lucky your first five films are rubbish, and that’s if you’re lucky that you’re getting five films. So to get a big film with Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and a brilliant director, and it makes $340m is an amazing stroke of luck, but probably 40 minutes of the movie was absolutely nothing to do with the book at all. The first hour’s identical, then it goes off and does its own thing and then comes back again at the end to being like the book.
“You compromise in film, it’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you write a black character that when it comes out in the movie it’s a white character and so on. It’s a collaborative process and everybody’s got an opinion, and if you do something in the studio system you have to defer sometimes.
“So it was a learning process, but I think it worked out great, I was really, really happy with it, and it also meant that I could go on and then have a movie career too, so on the strength of Wanted I sold maybe three other movies, and then those three will hopefully be good and a bigger career will emerge.”
- In the second part of the interview we have Millar talking about how Kick-Ass’s independent status was preferable to the studio system behind the likes of Superman - which he and Vaughn pitched for.
- Millar explained to us why he didn't set out to offend with Kick-Ass and and character Hit Girl.
- The comic book writer revealed more about new project Nemesis and how it will "invert" the superhero mythos.
- The writer also revealed to us that Wanted 2 will be going ahead with the first film's star Angelina Jolie.
- Finally he told us that without STV show Glen Michael's Cavalcade his comic book career and Kick-Ass would never have existed. How nice of him! He also talked about the status of American Jesus and War Heroes.