Last October, Spawn creator and legendary comic book writer and artist Todd McFarlane gave us the lowdown on his dark, R-rated vision for the upcoming Spawn film, which he'll be working on alongside Blumhouse Productions. News was quiet on the Spawn front until May of 2018, when it was officially announced that Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx had signed on to play the titular character. It's a huge deal for McFarlane, who will be first-time directing this new take on his seminal character, although this was something that he had been working on for roughly five years.
Recently, we got some time to speak with McFarlane not just about his vision for Foxx portraying Spawn in what he's calling a "supernatural thriller," but his insight on how 2018's surprise horror hit A Quiet Place highlights the direction he wants to go in when it comes to laying out the story for Spawn.
There were rumors about a Spawn film possibly being a thing, but it’s got my mind spinning now that Jamie Foxx is attached to it. How are you feeling about this?
What feature director gets to say that their first casting member is an Academy Award winner? But the skills that Jamie has, you say it with a big smile and you bow and then you run as fast as you can and hope they don’t change their mind. [Laughs]. Obviously, after getting together years ago, I just knew that there was never any doubt that I would be able to get him. I would hear him on TV and radio and interviews over the years, knowing that he would drop the word Spawn in his conversation unprovoked. He had never forgotten Spawn. When I got done with the script, I had told my people that we’re going with Jamie first and if he says no, then we’ll talk about everybody else. Lucky for me, he said, "Yeah, let’s do it!"
How did the two of you first link up?
Somehow the conversation came about from his end—“Jamie’s got this cool idea about Spawn”—and so we were on the phone and then he ended up coming to our office and then we’d just talk Spawn, Spawn, Spawn, and then I started talking to him about this sort of dark, R-rated version of it. I would always try to tell him that with the version I had in my head, you can do it for the next 25 years. You don’t age out of it, like where a lot of ways that they shoot superheroes, you have to eventually go get a younger actor because there’s a lot of physical stuff. The Batman franchise is a good example where we now have three to four actors.
I would always try to tell him that with the version I had in my head, you can do it for the next 25 years.
I like consistency, and so if I can create an idea where maybe the consistency would be Jamie willing to be in the character role for 20 years and then it’d be done, it would be cool.
You've specifically said that this film isn’t going to be an origin story. Do you have enough ideas to where you could have 20 years, however many Spawn films?
I’ve been doing the Spawn comic book for 27 years, so could I do 5 or 10 years of movies? That's easy to actually do. Five movies over the course of 10 years would be 10 hours worth of ideas. I’ll get 10 hours worth of ideas. Shit, I’ve got 100 ideas, 100 hours.
In a perfect world, it would be nice for us to be able to just make enough impact so we can start to do a super creative franchise and just have some fun for years to come. Maybe even expand the universe. There’s a lot of characters in the Spawn mythos that can branch off into their own, too.
Was what Jamie talked to you about for a Spawn project in any way similar to the idea that you had in your head, or have any of the ideas he had morphed into this project that you’re working on now?
Well, not specifically. If I recall, I think that he was still thinking sort of action superhero, PG-13. I was sort of hooked on let’s go dark and let’s go R-rated. Here’s how Hollywood works — and the last 20 years, have I had lots of people phone me about this Spawn movie? Of course I have, but they all wanna do the same thing. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’ll be proven to be wrong. They just wanted to put it back into a PG-13 movie, spend 85, 100 million dollars on it in some super villain versus superhero thing, just put it into the formula. Spawn has never been a guy that fits comfortably into the formula. Especially as the years have gone by, I envisioned him to be a little bit more of a mature story. I don’t think the audience as a whole that stuck around for 26 years wants to go back to something that’s 20 years old, right? Why do that all over again? If you want that version, go watch the 1997 version.
You’re with Blumhouse, which has a horror/thriller audience. Are you going to be marketing specifically to them or are you going to be trying to get more of the comic book lovers out there, whether they’re familiar with the product or not?
I’m hoping that we can mix and match it a bit. I’m hoping people will look at Spawn and say, “Hey, that’s interesting. That’s different.” I’m not gonna take better or worse. I’ll leave that to every individual, as they go, that’s different and it’s interesting and it’s not exactly the same as a $200 million-blockbuster formula.
It made me feel good to hear you talk about this film in terms of how something like A Quiet Place builds its story, where you’re just thrown into it as opposed to needing to have previous knowledge. Because you’re working with Blumhouse, I’m inclined to keep calling it “horror,” but it feels like it’s going to have more of that type of storytelling...
Yeah, I call it a supernatural thriller. Horror can connote something else, you know. That word has a broad meaning, so supernatural thriller to me is where we’re gonna go.
Hollywood has a default of always wanting to give the audience all the information, and I don’t believe that. I’ve always thought for years and years having developed stuff at home or whatever, I have always thought that they overthink that part. A Quiet Place did a brilliant job of just going, “day 88, day 89,” and then showing you a couple of newspaper headline clippings so they brought you up to speed in 30 seconds. They’re just like, “There. Read a couple headlines. Now you get it. Some bad stuff is happening.”
With Jamie Foxx being the first concrete piece of casting information we’ve received, how far would you say you are in regards to pre-production? Have you even started? Is there any timetable of when you’re gonna start filming?
Yes and yes. Yes to all of it. So we have been doing some pre-production, yes. Do we have a pre-production schedule? Yes, and do we even have a shooting schedule? I know right now, I know the number of days and I know what we’re shooting on those days. Now again, as I tweak the script and re-write some stuff depending upon who some of the actors are and some of the things that we do, then that will all change but are we all moving towards dates? Absolutely.
I just haven’t been tweeting and posting all of it because it’s more what I would put into the bucket of logistics, right. So logistics and then business is super un-sexy, right?
Can fans expect that this film will be out in 2019?
We’re hopeful. That’s the plan but I’ll give you the thing that you’ve probably heard before: This is Hollywood. So you know, things happen.
Finally, let’s say in the future this is a box office success and there’s talk of a sequel: Do you plan on being at the helm in the director’s chair and writing a second Spawn film?
I would say in all honesty it’s an unknown. I enjoyed writing the script, so again, do I see myself doing more writing in Hollywood? Yes. I’ve never directed a full-length feature film so am I looking forward to it? Absolutely. I need to scratch this itch of saying I think I can direct something, and then from there, I’ll be able to decide whether I want to do it again and again and again. If not, the worst that’ll happen is I’ll just go, “Oh, no, no. There’s a smarter director, a better director. Let me help with the story. Let me help with the producing end and develop not only more Spawn stuff, you know, other properties and stuff and just putting in ideas into Hollywood." Just creating. I’m a creator. I’ll figure out how to create somehow.