Forget Sylvester Stallone's star-studded and steroidal action movie The Expendables. This Friday, the BIGGEST movie release is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, director Edgar Wright's Michael Cera-starring adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's manga-style, video game-influenced graphic novels about a Canadian slacker who has to defeat evil ex boyfriends to win his dream girl. In this extended interview, the 36-year-old Englishman, who is featured as the "Shotcaller" in Complex's August/September 2010 Style & Design Collector's Issue (look for the Lindsay Lohan, T.I., and B.o.B. covers on newsstands now), talks about changing the Pilgrim story (and potentially causing a fanboy riot), why it's fine that Cera seems to play the same role in every movie, who of his cast is most likely to stab you in the back, and his next adaptation project, Marvel's Ant-Man.
Complex: What was the biggest challenge for you adapting Scott Pilgrim?
Edgar Wright: I guess it was getting the level of reality right, but that was also what intrigued me to do it in the first place. Not only is it funny, but there's a level of action and fancy in it which you don't really see in mainstream films. I thought it would be really interesting to try and pull off in live action, because most comic books are striving to be really realistic. Something like Dark Knight will try to make Batman exist in the most real world possible. What was fun about this was creating this magical realism and insanity out of this mundane, everyday world.
Edgar Wright: The fans who saw advance screenings, I was pleased that they felt it's in the right spirit even though it diverges. The biggest thing is the time span is different. We established pretty early on that we were going to deal with all [seven] exes in the course of one feature film, so that meant the story structure and pace had to change a little bit. People make different choices. In the book, which takes place over the space of a year, Scott and Ramona's relationship is a long-term relationship, but in the film it's sort of a mad fling. He meets this girl and within ten days his world has gone completely crazy. It becomes like a bizarro version of the book. One should feed into the other and vice-versa. There's also the Ubisoft video game that gives you lots of options as well. It's nice that Bryan's book is the canon, then the movie and the video game can lead you in slightly different ways. Some fans will be surprised to know Bryan was happy with us going off book, as long as it fit what the characters would say.
Complex: How involved was Bryan?
Edgar Wright: We definitely involved him in the script reading process. Very occasionally he would say, "I don't know whether that character would say that." It ended with him kind of being our unofficial script doctor. Really he should be paid millions to do that, but he did it for free. Don't let the WGA [Writer's Guild of America] know, we'll get in trouble! If Bryan had been completely elusive I wouldn't have been done the film in the first place. He was down to get the little things right. Not only did we shoot in Toronto but Bryan also had photos he took in 2003 of all the locations [in the suburb where he lived]. We filmed exactly those places. If you see Scott's apartment, it's the same door that Bryan used. There was a point where New York had bigger tax breaks than Toronto. We got asked, "Do you want to shoot in New York instead of Toronto?" "No, that would be ridiculous." That's the opposite of what usually happens. [Laughs.]
Complex: Aside from being Canadian, why was Michael Cera right for the role of Scott?
Edgar Wright: For me there wasn't anyone else. I felt like Scott needed to be a real underdog. It just wasn't as funny with an actor who's more outwardly confident as a romantic lead or an action star. I'd much rather see Michael slicing 20 guys to death with a flaming sword than Shia LaBeouf doing it, know what I mean? Especially in this film, you'll see him do things you've never seen him do before. You've never seen him head-butt a man to death before.
Complex: Do you think it'll change how critics, who feel he plays himself in every movie, perceive him?
Edgar Wright: I think it will. But I think it's OK for people to have a comic persona. Most of our favorite comedy stars are the same in every film: Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, even Simon Pegg. These people are all versatile, but they all have an essence that you want to see. It's the situations that make it funny.
Complex: How was Michael with doing action scenes?
He was amazingly committed to this role, even in terms of a lot of the physical training he did. We had an eight-week camp for the film with all the actors, every morning. I did it with him for solidarity.
Complex: What was the most ridiculous scene from that training?
Edgar Wright: I think myself, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, and Michael Cera running around in circles and doing push-ups together, this amazingly unlikely bunch doing endless push-ups. You can see one of [the workouts] on the making-of [video], actually. Also having sword fights; we would have these sword tournaments. The person who was meanest and most vicious was Kieran Culkin. So if you ever have a sword fight with Kieran Culkin, watch out.
• CLICK NEXT FOR WRIGHT'S THOUGHTS ON THE SCOTT PILGRIM VIDEO GAME, THE ANT-MAN MOVIE, AND THE EXPLOSION OF 3-D MOVIES...
Ubisoft's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game.
Complex: Ubisoft's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (above) wasn't an after-thought to the movie, was it? Those kind of games usually suck.
Edgar Wright: This one they started a long time ago. The main thing we said was, "Let's make it like the books, do a game version of Bryan's artwork." The fans will absolutely lap it up because you get to play the comic version. It is based on the film—they had all the storyboards and Bryan and my brother Oscar, who was designing the film, worked with Ubisoft in Montreal with Paul Robinson, the pixel artist—but it's a tribute to the original source material of the '80s and '90s games that inspired the books. It's like the ultimate retro game.
Complex: What's the craziest thing you've done to get a girl?
Edgar Wright: I killed a man once. [Laughs.]
Edgar Wright: My thing to Marvel is, because he's a lesser-known character, let's make a great genre film, use the fact that he's not one of their most popular characters as a jumping-off point to make a great high-concept genre film. My idea was a lot different from the other Marvel universe they're using so far. It would tie in, like something else happening in the universe, almost like doing a film within another genre that just happens to have superhero elements.
Complex: Will Ant-Man get the 3-D treatment?
Edgar Wright: I don't know yet. I haven't really started working on Ant-Man outside of writing a couple drafts of the script. [3-D] would lend itself to the story and make sense.
Complex: Right, with the changed perspective of a man shrunken to ant size.
Edgar Wright: Absolutely. On an effects level, there's obviously been shrinking films before, but you could do something really interesting and trippy with the additional technology—really follow somebody as they shrink.
Complex: What do you think of the increase of films in 3-D?
Edgar Wright: When it's done well it's interesting, but not every film needs to be in 3-D. Avatar worked perfectly. The story was about having an out-of-body experience. He looks through his eyes at new hands—perfect reason to be in 3-D. How To Train Your Dragon is a good 3D film; the main thrust of it is the flying sequences. The idea of converting everything else just to get an extra $5 to add to ticket prices is a bit depressing.