Earlier this week we took you behind the scenes of Sony's upcoming super-hero film The Green Hornet. Last fall we had a rare chance to visit the set in Los Angeles and watch the production first hand. While there we were given a tour of the set, watched some filming and even had a chance to speak with the movies producer, Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious), as well as the star of the film, actor/comedian Seth Rogen. The movie features Rogen in the title role and is based on the popular character from radio, TV, film serials and comics. The movie attacks theaters on January 14th 2011 in 3D and promises to be an exciting and hilarious deconstruction of the modern super-hero film.
In the second half of our visit to the set we had the opportunity to speak with the films director, visionary filmmaker Michel Gondry(Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), as well as the actor who plays the film's villain, recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds). We also had an opportunity to get a sneak peak at some of the exhilarating footage from the film as well as take a ride around the streets of Los Angeles in the Green Hornet's car, The Black Beauty!
Shortly after we spoke to the film's star and co-writer Seth Rogen, he returned to the set to finish rehearsing a fight scene with co-star, Jay Chou, who plays Rogen's sidekick in the film Kato, a role made famous by Bruce Lee.
This gave us a chance to speak with the film's director Michel Gondry who is better known for his groundbreaking music videos or off-beat comedies like (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dave Chappelle's Block Party than he is for making big-budget super-hero films. But ironically, Gondry was attached to direct an early version of the film over a decade ago at another studio. "It was the first script that I had to work on when I moved to Hollywood. In fact, I was here for a couple of years working on it. It was in '97 and it didn't work out," explained Gondry. "I worked on a draft of the script. It was a great idea but the studio did not support the idea. So I was happy to see it coming back and it has been in the hands of many directors in between. It was sort of doomed," the director said. "At the time I was really beginning so I was happy to have a project that was something good. What I liked when Seth and Evan asked me again was that they bring back the spirit of the action comedy that I didn't see for a while now. There is a sleek and immenseness in the super-hero movie that I am not really a big fan of. It's very much about the attitude and everything is to be like super posed. As the approach of Seth and Evan was much human and fun of course."
Gondry, who himself is a self-admitted Superman III fan, talked about his desire to make the best film possible while not really being concerned with pleasing fans of the famous character. "Well we want to make the best film ever, of course but I don't think we need or owe a response to the criteria that some people want us to respond to because it's a different form of this material," he explained. "The Green Hornet was a radio show, then it was a TV show in the '40s shot on film and then a TV show in the '60s with Bruce Lee. There have been some comic books but in terms of comics they are all over the place. Sometimes Kato was a girl and sometimes it's just about Kato. So it's not like there is an amazing fan-base out there." But the director did discussed one concern he had about taking over the property. "The main thing that could be seen as a burden or the heaviest thing to carry out is the legend of Bruce Lee, which is what makes the TV show so memorable. It was the first role in America for Bruce Lee. Of course for what he became there is a weight to carry but Jay was very clear that he would never try to emulate Bruce Lee. So that was very important. We wanted the fight to be awesome, to be the right level of violence and credibility."
Gondry discussed in more detail Rogen's character's motivation and how it is different than other super-heroes that we've seen on film before. "It's all based on this reason he has to his father who raised him in his shadow. All his motivation is sort of upside down in comparison to an archetype super-hero movie where it's revenge or somebody killed your father. This one is the other way around though. He goes out and acts as a bad guy because he does what his father would have hated for him to do. Then later he realizes that that was bad and there is post redemption for his father."
The director also commented on the film's villain Christoph Waltz. "Christoph really brought sort of a layer of humor that is very specific to him. So he's still mean but he has a lot of weakness and it makes a villain who is really interesting. He's charismatic but at the same time he goes through a mid-life crisis so that is pretty relatable." In addition, he told us a little bit about Cameron Diaz's character, Lenore "Casey" Case. "She doesn't know in this movie about their identity so she is not in the action sequence but she is sort of the brain of the operation," explained Gondry. "Because she is a crime specialist and they want to pose as criminals so they ask her how a criminal becomes famous. She makes a suggestion and then they execute it. Britt asks what would be the next move of the Green Hornet and she does not know that he is The Green Hornet. She says, 'Oh I guess they are going to attack some big guy on his own turf' and then they go and do it."
While on set we were told that the heavy metal band Anvil, who had been the subject of last year's popular documentary, Anvil! the Story of Anvil, would be included in the film. "I went to see the documentary about Anvil and I absolutely loved it," said Gondry. "At the screening I was at they were playing at the end and I wanted to make fun of heavy metal but the documentary was so touching. That guy was so touching and we had a club scene and I really thought it would be a perfect place for them." But fans of the band should not get too excited as we were told that they get blown up early in the film. "Yeah, they die in action basically. I think it's the hairy death that every heavy metal musician dreams of," Gondry joked. They get burned while playing. The drums explode, symbols melt and the guitar is striking a chord when the amplifier blows his head off."
After leaving the set we were brought into a room and were told that a special guest was coming to speak with us. It was none other than Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. The actor, who had not even been nominated yet at that point, was kind enough to come in on his day off and sit down and talk with us. The Austrian born Waltz, who has been working as an actor for almost thirty years, just became internationally famous last year for his award-winning role as Nazi Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The actor began by discussing his experience working on the film and his concerns about joining the cast. "They were fantastically open in considering my suggestions or ideas. In a way it felt like it was not quite all nailed down to the floor when I joined and I felt it was on purpose. This is something that I've never done before, " explained Waltz. "This is a group of people who come from stand-up comedy and they have a completely different approach. I'm very bad with improvisation, I hate it and that's their forte. That's their modus operandi and mine is not. Mine is studying script, being very academic and trying to be important and they are very easy, quick and, you know, witty. So it took a little adjustment on my side but then I sort of caught on to it."
The actor continued to discuss his relationship and what it was like collaborating with Rogen and Goldberg. "I really like Seth. He's such a smart kid and you know what? The other day, I discovered that I am only one year younger than Seth and Evan together! That was a shock," joked Waltz. "They are fantastically smart, surprisingly experienced and surprisingly mature in producing these somewhat immature things. That's important because if you had too much immaturity it would be unbearable. But they are so smart and Seth is so funny, so quick, so intelligent and so likeable. I really genuinely like the guy," he finished. Waltz also touched upon the writing process and how the two writers developed his character once he took the role. "We played and then Evan sort of put it on the screen. Not on paper, they don't work with paper. Then we looked at it again to see if there were enough and then it was okay."
We asked the actor to tell us about his role and just who Chudnofsky is, other than the film's villain? "Well, I am hesitant to say the least and I loathe to be precise, explaining my characters. Because, you know, most of it happens when you watch it. It's not done when I do it. It's done when you see it and when you see it again; you discover it wasn't done the first time. So I hate to give instructions how to view what I do," Waltz explained. "I also don't like to read novelizations of movies. Would you like to miss out on a dinner and have it told to you?" We followed up by asking the actor to confirm that his role is the villain of the film? "Well yes, I mean that's self-evident but in this case, it's comic book quality. I'm not really all that familiar with comic book culture. Not because I'm such a high brow intellectual and bloody European ... but I am," he joked. "No, I'm not but it's just something that I was never into. Not because of any superiority," assured Waltz.
"That was interesting because it was, in a way, unfamiliar. I have never played a part like that, and that was one of the reasons I was interested," Waltz continued to explain. "I first read it and I didn't get it. Then I spoke to my agent who had read it at the same time and he said, 'Yeah ... you know what? When I read it, I thought, he's not going to get it.' So we were on a wavelength there. Then he said, because he's a genius agent, he said, 'Look, I'll put you on the phone with Michel Gondry." I talked with Michel Gondry and it became a totally different thing. That gave it a totally different spin for me. I thought, oh that sounds good. Then I spoke to Neal H. Moritz and he kind of shot out the catch phrase for me. He said, 'we're looking for... this is a villain in his mid-life crisis.' I loved that. I thought well, OK. Let's leave the comfort zone and just risk it. Why not? "
"Well, you need the villain. If you don't have a villain, the good guy can stay home," joked the actor. "I don't know whether or not I should disclose this little secrecy, but I just declared my ignorance to my advantage. I turned it around. I stick with my ignorance because that would make it, maybe, unusual," he continued to explained. "If I jumped into the cliché, everybody will have seen it before. If I stick to my ignorance a little bit, maybe it will turn out different or maybe a slightly new aspect to a comic book villain." We followed that up by asking Waltz if his character would be more of a throwback to the classic Bond villains and less of the common comic book bad guy? "I'm not sure about the Bond villain. To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure about the villain. I'm not sure I want to be the one with the subscription for the villains. If it's a funny part, if it's a good part, the villain is usually the most interesting part (of the film). But it has to be a smart thing," declared Waltz. "Just dumb cliché villains with a Russian accent, big muscles and a mean face, I don't know? My Russian accent isn't that great, the muscles aren't that big and the mean face is not enough. You know what I mean? It gets very boring and can be tedious stuff."
After we were done speaking to Waltz, Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry showed us a special "sizzle reel" that the editorial crew had put together. While the production was not yet done with principle photography, Gondry explained that it is something he likes to do on all his films so he can show the cast and crew a bit of all their hard work before the production wraps. At this point most of the footage that we were shown can be seen in the recent trailer that was released a few weeks ago but we did get to see one scene in its entirety. In the clip, Rogen's Reid is discussing with Chou's Kato how they would go about being super-heroes and they create the plan to pretend to be villains. We were then shown a montage of imagery from the film including Rogen in the Green Hornet's costume. Rogan looks pretty good in the suit and playing in the background during the reel was the classic "Flight Of The Bumblebee" music that was used on the original radio show and the TV series in the '1960s.
Finally, before leaving we were given a real treat, we were allowed to ride in one of the actual Black Beauty cars used in the film. Along with a police escort, so we wouldn't scare any of the locals, we drove around the streets of Los Angeles in the gorgeous black 1966 Chrysler Imperial. The model that we were in has giant Gatling guns mounted to the front hood, which is why we needed the police escort. The Black Beauty is a very loud car due to its souped-up engine but served for an extremely smooth ride. So villains ... beware the sting of The Green Hornet because he is going to be fighting crime at a Cineplex near you this January 14th!