To give you some background on the long history of the character, George W. Trendle and Fran Striker first created "The Green Hornet" for an American radio program in the '1930s. The character would eventually go on to star in his own film serials in the '1940s including '1941s The Green Hornet Strikes Again! starring Warren Hull as the famed hero and actor Keye Luke (Charlie Chan in London) as Kato. While comic books depicting the heroes adventures began printing in the '1940s and are still going strong today it was the '1960s version of the character as played by actor Van Williams on the popular ABC program The Green Hornet that fans remember best. This is partly due to the fact that it was American audiences first chance at seeing martial arts phenomenon Bruce Lee in action as Kato. The show ran as a companion piece to ABC's other hit super-hero series, Batman, which the characters actually made a cameo appearance on once. However despite considerable interest in Lee, the show was canceled after just one season.
Rumors of a big-screen version of the property first circulated in the late '90s with names like George Clooney and Jason Scott Lee (who actually played Bruce Lee in the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) attached but those plans eventually fell through. Talk of adapting the character began again in 2004 when filmmaker and comic book guru Kevin Smith was announced as the film's writer and director. Smith mentioned names like Jake Gyllenhaal and Jet Li for Reid and Kato, respectively, but eventually the popular filmmaker backed out of the project, instead choosing to publish his script as a graphic novel.
Then, in 2008 Sony Pictures announced that they had secured the rights to the character and were moving forward with a film based on Rogen and Goldberg's script and starring Rogen in the lead role. Hong Kong action/comedy star Stephen Chow was originally planning to direct the film and star as Kato but eventually left due to creative differences, allowing room for Chou and Gondry to enter the project. In fact ironically, Gondry was in talks to direct the film when he first came to Hollywood in the '90s when the project was at Universal. Eventually Diaz signed on as Lenore and Nicolas Cage was in talks to play the film's villain but also backed out at the last minute due to creative differences, which allowed recent Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz to step into the villainous role of Chudnofsky.While there have been several different variations on the character throughout the years and the different mediums, the film is taking a rather classic origin approach to the material. Last fall we had a rare chance to visit the set of the film in Culver City, CA. and talk to some of the cast and crew about the exciting new project. First up, we met with the film's producer Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious) who began by giving us a tour of the film's massive set. We started on the Sentinel set, which is the fictional newspaper in the film that Rogen's Reid owns. Just imagine that the Sentinel is to The Green Hornet what the Daily Planet is to Superman. But when we visited the set it was after the crew had shot the film's finale, which takes place in the newspaper building so the set was virtually destroyed and had literally looked like a tornado had ripped through it.
"I just can't believe we destroyed it like this," Moritz explained. "Ultimately, in the third act it becomes the main set piece. There's an incredible car chase that goes through the office of the newspaper. Brit Reed and Kato are trying to download something. Brit has no idea how to download. The Black Beauty comes screeching across this big marble lobby and the bad guys are pursuing them. They run straight into a glass elevator. Half the car is in half the car is out. The elevator starts going up and it hits the third floor. The car literally gets cut in half. They crash through the entire Sentinel media being pursued by the bad guys to try to get into Brit Reed's office." "None of this was set dressing," the producer went on to explain. "All of this was done for real. The half car, which we built, came through here at an incredible speed and just took all this stuff out. We shot off real missiles."
We then went to a set that was built on a separate stage but would eventually represent a printing press inside the Sentinel. On top on of the press was The Black Beauty, riddled with bullet holes and Moritz explained the sequence and how they shot it. "We have this whole martial arts sequence that takes place on the top of this. In reality, this printing press is probably double the height of what exists. We shot a lot of that at the LA Times printing press. We built this and the paper in here actually moves. Our guys will actually fall through the paper while it's moving. Then it breaks and papers are falling all over the place while this fight is occurring. It's a very difficult thing to do, to have the real place where we're shooting it, shooting it here up high and then putting our actors in it as well. So we shoot a lot of it second unit and then out first unit comes in. Coordinating all of it together is very difficult."
Moritz explained that twenty-five Black Beauty's were made for the film and about twenty-three of them had been destroyed. "We took the original from the show which is the 66' Chrysler Imperial. We have kept the look, but have updated it technological wise," Moritz said. The producer went on to explain Gondry's unique contributions to the film. "The lights that Michel Gondry designed are incredible. These things actually kind of cause you to faint because of the way they shoot spiral. Honestly, it really does do this to you. We put in the most powerful bulbs that you could ever find. During this whole chase we follow the headlights quite a bit. It's just a really unique look. The look of the movie is probably very different than from what people will expect. Obviously when we hired Michel to do this movie, it wasn't the most obvious choice but I think that's what is lending really a freshness to this genre." He continued to discuss what makes this super-hero film different from others. "The key to The Green Hornet is he comes up with the idea that instead of being a good guy pretending to be a good guy, he's going to be a good guy pretending to be a villain."
Moritz finished up our tour in Kato's workshop, which seems like it acts as The Green Hornet's "Batcave" in the film. The producer explained that this set is where the characters of Britt and Kato first meet in the film and he went on to describe a bit of the scene. "The day after his father dies every morning there's a cup of coffee delivered to Britt Reid next to his bed. Every morning that is the thing he looks forward to the most. He doesn't have that much going on in his life and he really looks forward to that cup of coffee. The day after his father dies he wakes up. He goes to drink the coffee and it's the worst coffee he's ever tasted. He can't believe on the worst day of his life, his father's death somebody made (that coffee). So he marches across this huge lawn into the big mansion and starts screaming at everyone. What he learns is that he himself has fired everyone who has worked for his father and that's why his coffee isn't there. He tracks down this Kato character. Kato makes him this cup of coffee and he says 'Kato tell me your story.' That's how their relationship starts. What he finds from there is that Kato is an expert at working on his father's cars and was never appreciate by his father just like Britt felt he was never appreciated by his father either so this becomes his workshop where he takes his father's favorite car and turns it into the Black Beauty."After that, we had a chance to check out what they were filming on set. On this day they were shooting in the living room of Britt's house and filming an early fight scene between Kato and Britt. We watch the two actors as they have a few words for each other before Chou serves a kick right to Rogen's midsection and then we watch his stunt-double go flying into the next room. We had a chance to speak with Rogen between takes and asked the actor if after talking about this project for so many years, if he is excited to finally be making it? "It's unbelievable, it's really exciting. It's been really fulfilling. I can't believe we got to do it. We got to make the exact movie we wanted to make. We got Gondry as the director, we got the cast that we never would've dreamed of, it's one of those things where it's almost like every time we had a set back, something much better ultimately would arise. We're in a really good position now. We're really all extremely happy and everyone's getting along, which is great. We feel like we've really accomplished something because so many people said we never would do it, more than anything."
The actor spoke about Stephen Chow dropping out of the project and how the chemistry between he and Chou is different than it would have been if Chow took the role. "Yeah, it's a lot different. It's fine. We say that constantly. We wrote a lot of different versions of the movie depending on different cast members and directors, things of that nature and me and Evan were just talking the other day about how happy we are that it turned out like this. We think that the dynamic between me and Jay Chou, you know, being around the same age we seem like peers, so you see where we start becoming super heroes. There's like a real youthful exuberance to it. I think the fact that we're around the same age makes my treatment towards him and his attitude towards me much funnier than it would be if he was way older and I was way younger for example, I think it plays a lot more like a natural dynamic that people know in their day-to-day lives than kind of this older guy younger guy thing. It was an odder dynamic that way so it worked out a lot better this way."
Rogen went on to talk about Chou and why they thought he would be perfect for the role of Kato. "He's just unbelievably cool. I mean, he's like Steve McQueen kind of. It's like everything he does he does super cool. And he's funny. That's the other thing. What's funny is we actually auditioned for the first time with each other over Skype and I think he was in Taiwan and we were in L.A. and it was very awkward and the timing was off and there was a delay, but it was funny. He was just funny you could tell. We flew him here and we auditioned together and he just was super cool. He was everything I'm not and it was very clear that, and it plays in the joke that he should not be the sidekick. Like it's cool, it's clear when you put the two of us together that he is the leader. Like he is the leader. He is cooler, he is smarter, he is much more physically adept than I am and it played into the whole joke that we have for the movie, basically, that he shouldn't be the sidekick, you know?"
While the bulk of the original source material is set in the '50s and '60s, this film will be set in present day and Rogen defended that choice. "We knew we'd get one shot to make our version of a super hero movie, and to us, it just needed to be as relatable to our experience as possible. We don't know anything about the past, really. We knew a lot about present day so, we thought in order to not divert an effort that could be used to writing a good story and jokes into researching what it was like in 1960, we just decided to set it now. This is what we know and we feel like it's already a modern story. Our approach to it could probably not really logically occur in the '60s, I would imagine."
Fans of The Green Hornet character are aware that the fictionally he is a descendant of another super-hero, The Lone Ranger, however since the film rights to that character are owned by another studio, there was some question if that would be included in the film or not. When looking around on the set of Britt's house, we noticed a Lone Ranger poster hidden in the corner along with several Lone Ranger comics, so we asked Rogen if the rights had been cleared to include the character in the film. "Boom. Lone Ranger. We got one from prop clearance. They got it in. I mean we honestly, it's one of those things where we weren't sure who owned it. Someone heard Disney owned the rights to it or something like that, but the way these things get compartmentalized, you know, that (poster is from) the comic book and someone else owns the rights to that. So we were able to get that in. We got it in there. It's a nod. A subtle nod."The actor discussed the film's approach on reintroducing the character to the world, "Yeah, we approach it as an origin story. When you find me, I'm in no way the type of person that would ever care to stop a crime or be equipped to stop a crime. We really wanted to chart in a way, the evolution of just your normal everyday dude into what the world views as a super hero. If we could make that a logical and enjoyable journey to watch, then that to us was really interesting." We asked Rogen if he had had a chance to speak with the character's creator George W. Trendle? "We did talk to, never him specifically, but some of his family and the Trendle's were here. They're extras in one of the scenes actually. So yeah, we were able to talk to them a little bit about it, about the movie, their expectations, desires, and our kind of questions as to how it all came into being in the first place. It was pretty interesting."
Rogen continued by discussing working with his co-star Cameron Diaz and her role in the film. "She's great. She plays Lenore Chase who is Brit Reed's secretary. Her role throughout the movie has a very distinct evolution that I probably shouldn't ruin here and now, but she's fantastic. She's a true delight to work with. She's really funny. She's just great, we couldn't believe we got her to be in the movie. It was a real pleasure every day. It was surreal. It's one of those things that's crazy too ... I'm talking to Cameron Diaz right now?"
Moritz had mentioned to us that actor Nicolas Cage was originally in talks to play the role of the film's villain but had to step down due to creative differences and the producer revealed that those differences involved Cage's determination to play the role as a Jamaican or Bahaman gangster. We asked Rogen about Christoph Waltz stepping into the role and the actor talked about revising the part for him. "When he came on, it was at a very open place, the character. We had kind of been formulating a version of it that we were not entirely pleased with. So when that dissolved ultimately, we saw it as a real opportunity to kind of get back to a version of the character that we were more interested in all along. Which was definitively not from the Bahamas or any Bahamian region. Then we start talking to Christoph and we were giving him what we initially liked, the idea, the whole take of the character we initially liked, and he really, thank God, liked that idea also."
"But then as far as the specifics of how the character spoke went, there were actually a lot of different versions of that because we had been through so many different versions,' Rogen continued. "We just had Jamaican-ized the script, then de-Jamaican-ized it, so that was a whole process. There were a few, key little speeches that Christoph liked and had said, 'This is what I really like, this type of language I think would be great to carry throughout the whole character.' Largely through the course of a day, Evan and him sat down and rewrote almost every scene that he has in the whole movie. Throughout the different scenes, as the shooting comes up, we re-approach it. We talk about it and new little quirks come up as we were filming. Christoph likes to include some of those, and we're very open to it. He had a very strong take of what he liked that we had done and we wanted to provide him all the tools to create the best character that he could with that. So it's really exciting to watch and he seems to be enjoying it. It's always great when you can collaborate with someone who is open in the same way you are. He's written a lot of stuff that I'm very happy I'll get credit for, ultimately."
While the movie is a deconstruction of the modern super-hero film it has one element that most adaptations have not been able to introduce successfully, the sidekick. "It's so hard now to do straight I would imagine, no pun intended, but I think that is because anyone that's seen Batman & Robin can tell you firsthand it's inherently a funny dynamic," explained the actor. "I mean, it's weird, just the term sidekick is ridiculous. The fact that they're a team but one guy is inherently above the other guy is ridiculous. I think the fact that Evan and I are part of a ripening partnership is part of the reason we were able to explore that idea because we know inherently you can't be partners if one guy is above the other guy. So I would imagine that that's why it hasn't been done because no one has done this tonal approach to one of these movies. I imagine it'd be hard to really accurately explore their relationship without it getting somewhat funny because the most realistic version of that is funny."Rogen continued to discuss the hero/sidekick relationship and how it applies to Britt and Kato in the film. "To us, it was always The Green Hornet. That was what we were trying to emulate in a lot of ways. We watched the show as we were preparing to pitch the thing and it was like, you didn't need to try to base it on anything, it was based on The Green Hornet relationship. It was based on the Kato/Britt relationship, the hero/sidekick relationship. I mean, I think with Pineapple Express for example, we did look at more of these 80's action movies and tried to play into that. But for this it was all very inherent in the source material and in pretty much every hero/sidekick relationship in every comic book basically. So that, if anything, is what we talked about. We looked at all these hero/sidekick relationships, how they play out and how you expect them to play out, which is so just ridiculous."
Finally, the actor revealed that while doing research for the script they noticed something very important about the character that Jay Chou plays. "Kato doesn't have an alter-ego name, he's just Kato. I mean, it's so ridiculous," joked Rogen. "Like they didn't even give him a name? He doesn't have a name? He never calls him anything. He doesn't introduce him to people. It's not like this is Kato, also known as Kato." Rogen continued by discussing the relationship between Kato and Reid further. "It doesn't even seem weird because it's the hero/sidekick relationship that the alter ego has this manservant. It's just how it is but when we really started to think about it we thought, how would you actually feel in that circumstance if you were both of these guys, you know? How would that play out in the middle of this really stressful situation of trying to be a superhero? That's what really just seemed endlessly entertaining to us and that aspect of it was not difficult to write."
Be sure to check back with us later this week for part two of our visit to The Green Hornet set where we spoke with director Michel Gondry, the film's villain, Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, and even had an opportunity to watch a few clips from the film and take a ride through the streets of Los Angeles in The Black Beauty!