The Motion/Captured Set Visit: Chris Mintz-Plasse Kicks Ass
McLovin no more as we interview him on the set of Matthew Vaughn's unconventional superhero film
I first met Christopher Mintz-Plasse on the set of "Superbad." When I arrived on the set, I was given my very own Hawaiian driver's license, complete with my photo on it, made out for "McLovin." At that point, no one I would have shown the license to would have had any idea what it meant. Now, though, it's one of those great little conversation pieces, something I still keep in my wallet.
Now, of course, everywhere Chris goes, he's greeted by that same name. McLovin. Understandable, since he was great in the role, and it's the kind of character that can define a young actor. Trouble is, Chris has a lot of things he'd like to do, and he's ready to demonstrate that he's capable of more than that one character. He seems to be picking his roles carefully right now, and if there's one part that could help put McLovin to bed, once and for all, it's the part he plays in the upcoming film version of "Kick-Ass."
Based on the hyperviolent comic book by Mark Millar, with amazing art by John Romita Jr., "Kick-Ass" tells the story of a kid who makes his own superhero costume and who goes out at night fighting real crime. In doing so, he draws the attention of Frank D'Amico, crime boss, played by the great Mark Strong. He pays so much attention to Kick-Ass that Frank's son decides there's only one way to get his father's attention, and that's by suiting up himself.
Enter The Red Mist.
[more after the jump]
When I was onset for "Kick-Ass" at London's famous Elstree studios, I found a few minutes to talk to Chris while they were setting up a different angle on the scene I've already described in my first set report on Ain't It Cool and my second set report here at HitFix. He was in his full Red Mist outfit, which makes him look sort of like the star of some deleted scenes from "Velvet Goldmine."
Keep in mind... this was more of a casual chat than a formal interview, but I thought it revealed Chris as a guy who seems serious about a career. After re-reading this, it doesn't surprise me to learn that Jodie Foster is one of his role models in the business. He paid attention to everything going on during filming, and I'd bet there's a pretty good shot we see Chris behind the camera at some point in the future. We're all over the place in this conversation, but at this point, Chris had been in London for a while, so he was hungry for news from home. This interview was conducted about a week before the premiere for "Role Models," to give you a point of reference, so it was last fall.
Motion/Captured: So "Role Models" was shot when?
Christopher Mintz-Plasse: That was shot November and December of '07.
M/C: Was that before or after you did "Year One"?
CMP: 2 months before, yeah.
M/C: And so "Year One" and then is this the next thing after?
CMP: This is the next one, yeah.
M/C: All right. So you're working pretty consistently for the last couple of years.
CMP: It's good because I get to work for like two months and I get a month off in-between kind of looking for the next project and then I finally found "Year One". Filmed that for a month and then I got two months off. Did re-shoots for "Role Models" and then found this next project and now I'm doing this now.
M/C: Are you involved at all in the re-shoots on "Year One"?
CMP: I was supposed to be but I'm filming this now so I can't go back to it. Yeah. They were supposed to write some more for my character but it's not going to happen.
M/C: I know that Judd was saying that there's quite a bit they want to do so...
CMP: Yeah, the test screen... there was one review on it on Ain't It Cool that was shit. They hated it.
M/C: It was rough. And I heard from Judd about that. He was like, "Take that down. You're killing me. You're going to screw my re-shoot money". And I'm like "Dude, this should help your re-shoot money."
CMP: That's true, yeah. It was a year before the movie's coming out.
M/C: That's the thing with the way that team uses the test screening process. They're great at it. I think you have to give the filmmaker room to fail a little while they figure their film out. I was talking with Jody Hill, who's about to start screening "Observe and Report."
CMP: That sounds like it's going to be great.
M/C: I'd imagine Warner Bros. is nervous.
M/C: I went and I saw about 40 minutes that Jody cut.
CMP: What did you think?
M/C: Fucking fantastic.
CMP: Oh, okay.
M/C: Loved it, but the problem is it's "King of Comedy," so it's dark and it's strange and it's very character-based, so I don't know what a test audience can tell them.
M/C: I don't know if it's ever going to be that kind of a movie, but what I saw was awesome. And I talked to two people who were at the test screening. They made them sign more paperwork and show ID's and do things that I've never heard of for a test screening. Warner is nervous and I don't think they want any early buzz on it. They really want to test it and secret and be very quiet.
CMP: It's nothing like Kevin James' new movie, right?
CMP: "Paul Blart"?
M/C: No. And that's the thing, I don't think people are really ready to see Seth as a true psycho. Seth is crazy.
CMP: Wow, I can't wait to see that.
M/C: It's really... the stuff I saw he has a date with Anna Faris in the movie. He's twisted and sick and a little date-rapey. And I'm curious to see how that plays with a...
CMP: That's so incredible.
M/C: So that process can be really scary and I know Jody's like knee-deep in it right now. I hope he talks to Judd about how to navigate it, because nobody does it better than Judd right now.
CMP: Well he knows exactly what he's doing. Yeah.
M/C: So I hope that whatever happens with you on "Year One," I hope they really find...
CMP: I guarantee it'll be... it comes out next year, and it's going to be a hit comedy. I'm sure... yeah.
M/C: Well, seeing [director] Harold [Ramis] on set, it looked like a really confident... he knew what he wanted.
CMP: I saw the ending battle scene cut together like while we were still filming the movie and it was hilarious. It was genius.
M/C: I think I saw a little bit of that the day I came here.
CMP: Exactly, yeah.
M/C: Do you know after this what you're doing or is this...?
CMP: No. Well, actually my best friend is writing a script right now that Paramount Vantage is looking at, and a bunch of producers are looking at, and he wrote it for me to star in, so if things get picked up with that maybe I'll do that. Maybe that'll be my first starring role.
M/C: Wow. So when you're looking at these things right now, obviously after "Superbad" a lot of people came at you to do the same basic thing.
CMP: Of course. I got a bunch of scripts where they wanted me to be the nerdy kid who's still a virgin, who gets laid in the movie. Kind of the same scenario. And I'm completely avoiding that right now. Like "Role Models" is a nerdy character, but it's working with Wain and Rudd and all those guys that I wanted to do, and that's why I chose the film. And also the character is like... McLovin was the confident nerd, so he didn't really know he was a nerd. He thought he was the man.
CMP: And in "Role Models," he knows he's a nerd. He's got no friends at all. He lives in this role-playing world that he loves and I think it's completely a different character.
M/C: So it's nice you're avoiding the traps. I see, especially with actors that have one like first big pop, I see how easy it is to fall into that. So we talked a little bit earlier about this, but when you first read this script, what went through your head?
CMP: I can't believe they sent it to me. I can't believe they sent me this kind of role, you know? It was an action-comedy film, and actually I first thought they were going to offer me the roles of, like, what Clark Duke is playing, his best friends, and they're not that big of a role. And my agent is like "No, you're auditioning for Dave, which is the lead." And I went in and I auditioned for Dave, and Matthew told me you have too much of a spark. You have too much charisma for the lead. The lead should be kind of dull, kind of boring. And as I went into the audition, like I told you earlier, he told me all about the sequel. He told me all about Red Mist, how this character like has this spark and he's like "You don't have the part or anything but I feel really confident with it" and so I left the audition, and then a week later I met with Matthew at the Polo Lounge. Does that, like, exist? I'm not making that up?
M/C: That's it.
M/C: And that's one of his favorite places, too.
CMP: Yeah, that's why he always goes there, yeah, and then from there he told me I got the part of Red Mist. I never even auditioned for the part of Red Mist, which is great.
M/C: That's awesome. It's interesting because there's that first big scene there, at least in the script I read, where at the comic book shop you come in and your guards are with you and the guys are even afraid to approach. I used to work in a video store back in the early 90's when I moved to L.A. and Sage Stallone used to come in all the time to buy laserdiscs. It was always the same scenario. He always had like the two guards.
CMP: And everyone was just too nervous to go.
M/C: And no one could talk to Sage. And you had to wait until he came to the counter and then, you know, only deal with him there. And it always struck me as such a lonely weird life.
CMP: Yeah, that's how my character feels. He wants them to come up and he wants friends, but his body guards and his dad just won't let him.
M/C: It's interesting because you're not a villain. You're not the hero, either, and in this script, almost nobody's played as just one thing or the other.
CMP: Yeah. And Kick-Ass is the hero technically. My dad's kind of the villain though. He's after Kick Ass the whole time.
M/C: Now you've worked with Mark in a couple of scenes so far?
CMP: The two scenes where I'm introduced.
M/C: How were they?
CMP: They were very kind of dull scenes. There wasn't anything crazy, but I just saw "Rock‘n'Rolla" and "Body of Lies." But "Body of Lies," I don't know if you saw that...
M/C: I did. He steals it.
CMP: He steals the movie.
M/C: Walks away with it. I don't think the movie's great, but he's awesome.
CMP: No, it wasn't. But, yeah, he's incredible. And I saw that and I'm like, "Why is he not a lead in every movie he does?" Like why was he not playing Russell Crowe's part in that movie? Now I can't wait for us like when we have our emotional scenes or when we have our big dramatic scenes. I'm really stoked right now.
M/C: Is that a big draw for you, like when you get to work with certain people? Is that...
CMP: Yeah, oh yeah. Well, Matthew Vaughn... right when I went through the audition, and I knew I could possibly get the part, I went out and watched "Layer Cake" and I fell in love with his directing. It was just too fucking great. And then I watched "Stardust" two weeks ago, when I was between Toronto and here, and I thought it was a cute movie. It was really well directed... geniusly directed... but it was very different for him to do "Stardust," where, you know, he does such a bad-ass movie on "Layer Cake" and then he does "Stardust" and he shows his range.
M/C: I think a lot of that seems like he was, kind of what you're talking about, not choosing the thing people expected. It seems like he's really determined that he's going to be able to do several different types of things.
CMP: Yeah, yeah.
M/C: And the process so far, I know you said you just sort of got here, and they're already kind of rolling. With an ensemble this size, was there ever a point where you guys all sat down and did a read together?
CMP: With pretty much everyone besides Nick Cage and Chloe, we had a huge table read in Toronto with me and Aaron, Lyndsy, Xander Berkeley, Clark, Evan, Matthew, Jane... everyone... and we just hit it off. And Matthew was telling us, he was like we had a bunch of rehearsals... me and Mark had a bunch of rehearsals, and he was telling us how rehearsals for "Stardust" took three or four hours, and he had to like direct all the actors, and he said the rehearsals for these were 30 minutes. He didn't know what it was. He didn't have to direct any of the actors or anything. Everyone just nailed it naturally.
M/C: It feels like he really cares for you guys and these characters... like he didn't want people to play them, but instead he really went out and looked for these people.
M/C: So it's going to feel kind of natural now... but obviously the crazy conceit in this movie is we're in a real world and all you guys are wearing these crazy costumes. Walking around in the costume do you get people looking at you... do you get that feeling like what it would be like to be out in public for real?
CMP: Luckily we haven't filmed in my costume in a public area yet, so no one has seen the... actually that's not true. We drove around in the Red Mist mobile and people.... I don't know. There were some people yelling at Harold. One guy was like, "I'd never drive a car like that"... the Red Mist Mobile. He's like, "That's stupid." I'm like , "Thanks, dumb ass," and then he looked and he saw my costume. I think people are liking it but I couldn't quite tell. I was trying to avoid contact with all of them. I was trying to keep my head down in the car. I didn't want people to see me, but I think people are liking it. I mean, you've seen it. The wig's pretty intense. That's the only thing that kind of worries me.
M/C: It's kind of like when the glam-rock thing happened in England in the 70's... kind of crazy and outrageous. That's what it kind of looks like when you're all in a room having this conversation, and you're in a crazy wig and Nick's wearing his "Phantom Of The Paradise" mask, but you're all dealing with each other as normal people. So it's a weird level of reality to kind of find. Is that something that you're finessing? How do you sort of adjust to the reality of that?
CMP: I just feel like the characters...well my character and Aaron's... and apparently this is what he felt like if he had to be a superhero... that he'd want this kind of identity. Because in real-life, he's got nice clothes, he's got the parted hair and he goes everywhere with his dad, and I guess he wanted his alter-ego to be called a rock star superhero, and he wanted that crazy hair and he wanted that really intense mask and that tight ripped bodysuit kind of thing. That's just what he felt.
M/C: It really works.
CMP: I'm glad you say that. That makes me feel really comfortable.
M/C: I do find a reality in this world. Like, whether it's Nick's choice to kind of do the Adam West thing, which is outrageous. Outrageous. It's so right on. But that's a choice that makes perfect sense. If you buy the... they've seen the same movies and the same TV shows that we have...
CMP: What if they don't buy it? What if it comes across as so cheesy and...
M/C: I think so often in these movies, like in "Spiderman" or "Batman" or whatever, they play the world like nobody's ever heard of a superhero? So you have to do this weird thing where they have no comic books, but you guys do.
M/C: You've seen and read the same things we have. So you're playing a very different kind of reality.
M/C: That's what I don't think we've seen on film before.
CMP: Yeah, that's a good point.
M/C: Just watching now, I'm impressed by Chloe. Have you seen any of Chloe in action? Have you seen any of the stuff they've shot with her?
CMP: I saw like a fake... not with her but like a scene that she's going to do... all edited. Her really intense action scene when she's running and gunning and blowing people's heads off, which is going to be insane. But I haven't seen any of her scenes yet.
M/C: I think I'm going to second unit when that's happening.
CMP: Do you know where that is?
M/C: It's in the warehouse set, the burned-down version, so it's some of that stuff.
CMP: Oh you've got to run over there and check it out.
M/C: I am. Totally. I've got to see it. And I think it's going to be rated R, so...
CMP: Yeah it's got to be R.
M/C: That's kind of crazy. This is another thing... I can't imagine this ever getting made with a studio.
CMP: No. No studio wanted it. That's the other part. Him and his buddies produced it, and that's how he wanted it. Because he was supposed to direct "X-Men 3," and they just didn't do it. They didn't want anything his way.
M/C: I was hearing all of that as it was happening and kind of in real-time we were watching it unfold. And then came Ratner. I don't know if you've read. This morning they announced... or they haven't announced, but we announced because we found out... Ratner is doing "Conan".
CMP: As in, "The Barbarian"?
CMP: Are you shitting me? That guy shouldn't even direct a Miley Cyrus video.
M/C: I don't get it. I don't get why you would ever hand something like that to him. "Beverly Hills Cop IV," I get it. The "Playboy" movie, I get that. But not "Conan."
CMP: Yeah, Matthew was supposed to do "Thor," too, but they didn't want to do it his way.
M/C: Yeah. His "Thor" was something else on the page.
CMP: It was a genius idea.
M/C: I can see why it would have been super expensive but beautiful.
CMP: Yeah, it would have been amazing.
M/C: In a way, I'm glad he's doing this instead of somebody else's material. Like this feels very natural, and I love the way it's evolving back and forth between the comic and the film and the film and the comic.
CMP: Yeah, and you've read the script, which is insane. I don't think the comic book fans know that.
M/C: Have you seen yet what "Red Mist" looks like on the page?
M/C: You haven't seen Romita's drawing of it?
CMP: No. Have you?
M/C: No. I know the next issue... number five... is when you make your appearance.
CMP: I think they took a picture of me, and I sent it over to them, which is also insane, so hopefully it looks a little bit like this.
M/C: That's going to be crazy. That's when the...
CMP: I think Hit Girl and Big Daddy look nothing like they did on the comic.
M/C: I saw... and actually it was Harry's order to me right before I left town... was "Find out if Nick's fat". I was like, "I doubt it". He was like, "Find out! Find out!"
CMP: We got your answer to that.
M/C: Yeah, because looking at him... and trust me, once Harry sees what they are doing, I think he'll be like, "Oh, I get it. I get it". But it's a really interesting cross-pollenization, and I think this is a unique moment. I think now audiences have seen enough of these movies that you can start to pretty much fuck with it and really twist what they expect. I think "Dark Knight" took it to a different level with them doing untraditional, and then I've seen about 40 minutes now of "Watchmen"...
CMP: Yeah? What do you think?
M/C: It's amazing.
M/C: Jaw on the floor. Like you can't believe....
CMP: I heard it's almost as good as "Dark Knight". You think it's going to be better?
M/C: I think it's going to be a very different thing.
M/C: I think the audience that sees "Watchmen"... it's really going to twist peoples minds.
CMP: So Zack Snyder did a good job?
CMP: Because I feel like in "300" he did not. Did not work for me at all.
M/C: I think this time out, one thing that really changed is that they built everything. It's all real.
CMP: Right, right.
M/C: It's all real, and I think he realized it might have been a dead-end with the hyper, hyper stylization on greenscreen, because it really felt like this time he put his actors in a place where they could feel it, experience it. Have you worked at all yet with like heavy greenscreen stuff?
CMP: No. Only except for, like, "Superbad," in the back seat in the cop car, but that's not like heavy-duty green screen at all.
M/C: I'm curious how different you'd think that is, because like here? You're in it. You're in the suit, you're on location, you're in sets, so it's got to help you.
CMP: Oh yeah. I feel like I've never done green screen like this. I feel like that would take away from so much of the acting, because you need your surroundings. Like I feel you need surroundings to help you out and I don't know... I feel like Billy Crudup in "Watchmen" did most of his stuff in green screen, right?
M/C: No, he was on-set.
M/C: But it was crazy, because they had Billy in an outfit. They had him in a body stocking, and they had blue lights on him so the other actors would have a blue light reflecting off them. So they had the hardest time looking at Billy and keeping a straight face. So they would act with him and he's supposed to be God basically, and here they are laughing. So I think for him it was kind of tricky.
CMP: It's hard not to laugh... to laugh with Nick when he's like in full Big Daddy mode.
M/C: Yeah, talk about having to really find the reality... because you would be dealing with this guy who is... you look in his eyes... he's nuts. This guy is really out there.
CMP: That howl. That scream.
M/C: It's something, and I didn't know what the sound was the first time it happened.
CMP: I know... like some animal's in here, yeah.
CMP: I don't know how he's... I've been screaming all day. I'm losing my voice right now. I don't know how he's not losing his voice doing that.
CMP: He's a trained actor. He's been doing it for years.
M/C: Been a wild man for a long time. Well, this is exciting, man.
CMP: Yeah, I'm so stoked.
M/C: And how long are you on this now?
CMP: I'm here until early summer.
CMP: Yeah. I do like two scenes....
M/C: Is this your first time in London?
CMP: Yeah, but this will be the first time I'm actually living out here.
M/C: And now, unlike "Superbad," now you're on your own, right?
CMP: I'm on my own. No parents here. I'm 19. Legal drinking age. At least, over here, thank you.
M/C: Hats off, man.
CMP: I've been heavy drinking every night so far.
M/C: Now you're staying where? You're at Key West right?
M/C: Yeah, that's where I'm staying.
CMP: Oh really? Nice, we should get some drinks tonight.
M/C: Yeah. It's kind of like a submarine when you're walking down those halls, man. It's a little intense.
CMP: It looks nice from the outside, but after you're in your room, it's pretty shitty.
M/C: It's like an economy inn.
CMP: It's so tiny.
CMP: I'm getting an apartment. I can't live there for two months.
M/C: That's great. This is a really cool town for filming and for being somewhere out of all the places I've traveled... I've been to like Prague and I've been to Australia and places like that... but this, to me, is one of the places where there's so much to do when you're on location and when you're shooting here and it's a different culture. Those experiences, above and beyond being on film, are things that will change you for whatever you do next.
M/C: Like that's an important step. You'll be able to travel on...
CMP: Yeah, it's an amazing experience to be able to live out here for two months. I'll come back a new man.
M/C: Yeah, I think so.
CMP: I hope I'm good in the movie, too. That and living out here... yeah...
M/C: It's just an exciting time, Chris, for you. I'm really happy to see it. Like I know when I first visited "Superbad," the first couple of nights you guys were working, and I talked with Shauna... at that point, she had this huge faith in you. "We found this guy and I really feel like we found somebody right at the start of things. I guarantee he's going to go on and do other work." And you hear that sometimes... and then it doesn't happen...
CMP: Yeah, right.
M/C: So it's really nice to see....
CMP: The good thing about being 19 is that I don't... I don't have to be working non-stop so I really do take more time with what I do.
M/C: Hey, you can be choosy.
CMP: Yeah, exactly.
They called Chris back to shoot more, and I headed over to the second-unit stage to watch some combat. I'll have more on that in my next "Kick-Ass" set report, coming soon.
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