It’s been nine years since Robert Rodriguez quit the Directors Guild of America to independently join forces with iconic artist/writer Frank Miller. Their initial mission: turn one of the most revered graphic comic series of all time, Sin City, into a faithful, hard-R-rated movie brimming with Miller's hard-boiled noir. A near literal translation of the books from inky black frames, stark compositions, hyper violence, and acidic dialogue, the 2005 film gave Rodriguez and Miller the chance to create something outside the studio system that audiences had never seen before. Grossing $158 million worldwide on a $40 mil budget, their experiment paid off in bulk.
Almost a decade later, Sin City's fans finally have another star-filled celebration of crime, sleaze, sex, and death. Uniting some of the first movie's best characters (Mickey Rourke's Marv, Jessica Alba's Nancy, Rosario Dawson's Gail) with a batch of new faces (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with its interweaved plotlines, is both a sequel and a prequel. It's also, hands down, this summer's most violent mainstream flick, increasing its '05 predecessor's skin and carnage tenfold.
Complex spoke to Frank Miller about how his long-awaited Sin City follow-up aims to kill with a bolder, three-dimensional look and a stellar ensemble cast that's truly sinful.
Why'd you choose "A Dame To Kill For" as the right Sin City story for the sequel?
It was next in the series and we decided not to use it in the first movie because it’s so involved and long. We decided to build the second movie around A Dame To Kill For. We used it and some short stories to make the final movie.
Right, like "Just Another Saturday Night." You also wrote two new segments for the film. What made you want to not only return to this world but create something new as well?
That was something [Robert] and I said to each other about a day or two after finishing the first one. It was delayed all these years by other people.
Yeah. I don’t buy that it was any of your fault. We can only imagine the fuckery that goes on in making a film like this.
[Laughs.] Yeah... You can only imagine.
What was it about these two new stories that you felt could work within the construct of A Dame To Kill For?
Well, with "Nancy’s Last Dance," the idea came to me right after I finished her earlier story in "That Yellow Bastard" and it takes her to her next stage of her development where she becomes someone else entirely than the innocent, abused child or the exotic dancer. She becomes a much more serious character and goes through holy hell to get there.
All your characters go through holy hell!
It’s what I do best.
Working with Robert Rodriguez over the years, how has the dynamic changed? Obviously the actors are more comfortable with green-screen work, and you guys pushed the visuals this time into a 3D space, but what did you feel didn’t hit the mark last time round that you needed to perfect this time?
Well, I’m not gonna start picking apart a movie I worked on ten years ago but what we did achieve with the first film was the heavy lifting. We got used to what Sin City was, what kind of place it was, and what kind of people inhabited it. In A Dame To Kill For we’re able to explore it much more deeply. People are already familiar with the main characters and they get to meet a whole bunch of new ones but with a much broader picture of what the city is like.
Seeing it all move and come to life, was there anything you wanted to try? Like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we did this?”
Well, since it’s "Nancy’s Last Dance," we certainly wanted to see more dances out of her! Throughout [A Dame to Kill For] there’s an amplification of the emotional intensity. We already know not only who Marv is but that he’s going to die, so when he reappears in a story that takes place earlier there’s a doomed quality that makes him, to me, a much more interesting character.
You directed The Spirit back in 2008—would you like to direct again?
If I had my way I wouldn’t even be talking here. There’s lots I want to explore but right now I’m having such a ball on Sin City and my comics, I can’t complain.
True, and you’re lucky to work with a director who's translating your vision rather than adapting it to the point that you don’t recognize it anymore. That’s gotta be special.
It is. In fact, I think it’s practically miraculous. I first sat down to do Sin City when I was in a very foul mood about Hollywood in general and I said, "I’m going to do the comic book I always wanted to do, and I’m going to do it in such a way that no one will be able to translate it into a movie." Then along came Robert Rodriguez showing me exactly how he’d do it.
And he made a short film to test it for you, right?
Actually, we did that together. He invited me out because he had a couple friends and a skeleton crew to just test out a few pages. His two casual pals were Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton, and we shot the opening of the movie that became Sin City. Partway through that Marley Shelton came to me and said, “Well, Robert says you’re the guy to talk to about Sin City.” And I said, “I suppose so.” [Laughs.] She said, “Why are you hiring this guy to kill me?” I got to do what every author dreams of doing, to tell her entire backstory. Now nobody wants to hear backstories—except, I found out, actors. That's one more more reason I enjoy working with them so much: they really want to hear all the goop.
Speaking of actors, between the new cast and some of your old friends that came back, who really surprised you this time round? Who really nailed the vibe?
Quite an extraordinary lot, everybody from Eva Green to Josh Brolin to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I can tell you the biggest surprise was Jessica Alba. She showed up and she was no longer the same actress. She had increased her repertoire and her skills at least eightfold. When she first showed up I gave her a hug. It’d been eight years. I said, “Hi, Jessica,” and she very coldly said, “Hello.” And then she walked on the set and all I could think was, “What’d I do to piss her off?!” [Laughs.] Well, it turns out I hadn’t done anything. She was already in part and she stayed in her part throughout the entire shoot. It was remarkable to behold.
After all of your work with Robert Rodriguez, Zack Snyder, and even your own foray into filmmaking, what’s the greatest bit of knowledge you’ve learned about the moviemaking process?
Well, two things. One is to be completely relentless and determined in what I want. And the other is that there’s nothing I love more about filmmaking than working with actors. They’re intelligent, hardworking people who bring an awful lot to the picture and I often find myself either reworking a line or reworking the emphasis of a scene due to the performance.
That’s great to hear. A lot of writers/artists are afraid to have their characters brought to life with someone else’s personality, words, or take on it.
Well, most of them work in Hollywood with very big studios and these very big staffs. They’re all there designed to dismember whatever the author is done. I get to work in Texas with Rodriguez. We share the same goals. The cast shows up and they want to play these characters. I get the best of all possible worlds.