SAN DIEGO - Saturday was a strange and sort of wonderful day in Hall H, and it felt like panel after panel had somehow slipped one by the programmers. I love it when the films that play in Hall H are the things that need attention, not the things that have already had more than a little hype ahead of time. For many people, the "what the heck was THAT?!" discovery of this year's Comic-Con was Joe Lynch's "Knights Of Badassdom." I thought the entire panel was entertaining and funny and confident, and it seemed to convince the tough audience sitting around me as well.
There's no denying the high concept of "Knights" is pretty much as niche nerd specific as possible, and that can be tricky when a distributor is thinking about how to sell something, but the film benefits from having a cast that is suddenly very high-profile and easier to sell. You're looking at a lot of overlap from different types of fandom, plus a sort of cumulative marketability that comes from the sort of cross-platform buzz you can generate with these people involved. If there's one thing I learned from this year's convention, it is that television draws huge crowds, bigger than the movie panels this year, and should not be underestimated as a commercial force.
We saw the trailer twice during the panel, and while there are huge undeniable horror overturns and while it's very funny in places, Lynch was very clear when describing what genre he feels the film belongs in: "I would call this an adventure film. It's a genre that combines thrills and spills and chills. You look at Goonies or Ghostbusters or whatever, and you get to put it all together. I got to do a little bit of everything in one film."
Take a look at the trailer for yourself:
Moderator Anthony Breznican was joined by director Joe Lynch and his cast, including Ryan Kwanten, Jimmi Simpson, Danny Pudi, Michael Gladis, Summer Glau, Peter Dinklage, and Margarita Levieva. So you've got "True Blood," "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" and "Party Down," "Community," "Firefly" and "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," and "Game Of Thrones," as well as the oh-so-lovely Lisa P from "Adventureland." That mix made for a fairly full Hall H as they started by talking about how Lynch put that cast together.
"To be totally honest, this is a testament to the script by Matt Wall and Kevin Dreyfuss. I read it and there was LARPing and Heavy metal and monsters. So… yes. And that's why these actors were all drawn to it. It's a summer of hanging out, throwing lightning bolts, and getting blood all over the place." I've known Lynch for a while now, and he's a great salesman for his own film, his enthusiasm evident as he talked about how he envisioned it. "The two films that really inspired me when I read this… it has a culture not everyone is familiar with and some people look down on. Not everyone will embrace this. The best thing we could do was respect the LARPing communities. Rick McCoy and Adrianne Grady run the LARP Alliance community and we reached out to them and promised to do it right. We made sure the rules were right. All of our LARPers are real in game. That was the tightrope to this project. These guys brought their own costumes. We wanted to make sure it was as faithful to the community as possible. If one person picks up a foam sword at the end of the film, we've done our job."
Are you confused by that paragraph? If so, that's something they're going to have to work to overcome before the release. LARP means "live action role-playing," and it's basically "Dungeons & Dragons" taken to the next obvious step. The filmmakers are aware that not everyone knows what LARPing is, and they were careful to build the film with that in mind. Kwanten talked about how his character is the window into the world. "Joe is very much the subjective point of view of the film. He's the one going into this world, thinking I'm not sure I really buy this. He comes in with this air of pessimism. He's just broken up with the love of his life. He very quickly realizes these guys take it very seriously, and the more seriously they take it, the more funny he finds it. Then things gets serious, and there's blood and guts, and he has to pick up the pieces." He laughed at the thought of the mayhem. "There's a real tortured soul mentality. He needs his roommates to pick him up and put him back together."
One of the ways he starts to heal is through his encounter with Gwen, played by Summer Glau. She described her character, saying, "Gwen comes with her cousin who is really hardcore. She doesn't take it all the way seriously. She can go in and out of game. She's very fun-loving and she can dive in and take it seriously. She can also be reserved and cool. That's why she and Joe can bond at the beginning." Like Kwanten, she laughed as she discussed the film, saying it was a special experience for her. "I enjoyed it. We were smiling a lot."
By far, the biggest reaction in the room for any of the actors was for Peter Dinklage, who was already well-liked as an actor before he signed on to play Tyrion Lannister in "Game Of Thrones," but who now seems to moved up to full-fledged cult god status. Describing his character, he said, "Howie's the opposite of Tyrion. He's miscalculating. His nickname is 'Hung,' for reasons you can guess. It's very fraternal. Ryan and Steve Zahn are the roommates. My character may be not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he takes it too seriously. He blurs the reality a little bit. With a little help from narcotics. He's irresponsible. Very irresponsible."
Lynch jumped in to follow up. "But a hell of a swordsman. When everyone got to Spokane, we had a LARPing boot camp. We had these classes where everyone was sitting there with foam swords learning the rules. Then it was just 'Go play. Go LARP.' And then Peter killed every single cast member in one fell swoop and then hit the craft service table. Danny would be worried about details of his cleric character, Steve would worry about how many lightning bolts he had in his pouch."
Margaritte Levieva has probably the most extreme role in the film, as the demon who is summoned accidentally during the LARPing, and it's also a bit of a dual role, as she explained. "The succubus gets invoked, and my character is Joe's ex-girlfriend. That's the form the succubus takes when she arrives. It was a lot of fun." She talked about all the gore in the film and the various body parts she was required to eat, describing them as "Sweet syrup and rubbery gooey substance. We actually did a scene where I had to eat [someone]'s heart, and they gave it to me and I ended up biting through it." She actually named the person whose heart she ate in that scene, then quickly realized she had just ruined a plot point for everyone in the room. She apologized, then went on to describe her approach to playing a people-eating beast. "Creating a creature that… as an actor, you play some roles that you've played before, but when you play a creature, you can create it and there's a lot of animal work in there. There is some growling." I like the name Lynch had for her character, the "SuccuBeth."
Danny Pudi, who must have just left the "Community" panel before joining us in Hall H, had this to say about his own character. "I play a character named Lando. It's hard not to think right away, rogue… thief… scoundrel. He's definitely out for himself. i didn't know much about LARPing until I got to Washington, and they taught me the rules. With this character, they never see where he lives, so I believe he lives in the woods. This is all he's got. He's like Henry David Thoreau."
Jimmi Simpson is one of those character actors who is instantly recognizable when you see him, even if you don't know his name. "I play a lot of terrible men, generally. But I wanted this guy to be different, and Joe and I decided he wears a headband. So he's a terrible man with a headband." Indeed, in that trailer, you can see Simpson's headband and it is a hilarious touch. He went on to further describe the guy he's playing. "Kwak's the DM. He kind of runs the LARPing world. In most circles, there's a guy who takes money out of his own pocket to get the event going. He's a little bit of a terrible man, and this is his chance to be the king. Every few weekends, he gets to do this. And this is a bad weekend to do this. And I don't like Ryan's character."
Kwanten laughed at that. "Well, Ronnie's the kind of guy who lives and breathes this world, and what does he do in the real world? In the LARPing world, he's king. And this world is so ridiculous."
Simpson replied, "You're cool and you get the ladies." And while that's just the two actors joking with each other, it's true. That's the appeal of LARPing, that ability to recreate yourself in whatever way you choose.
Michael Gladis, who is so good on "Mad Men" and so highly visible in "L.A. Noir," talked about his own involvement, summing it up succinctly. "I'm the Red King. King Diamond. I used to listen to Manowar in college, and I was a LARPer in high school. That's how I got the role." Asked what sort of a king he is, and how he inspires his armies to battle, Gladis continued, "My guy is on the 'Henry V' end of the spectrum."
Lynch interjected, "It's like making 'Braveheart' with foam swords. We had three cameras set up, and Gladis just turned into Orson Welles, and this monologue is just pouring out of him. You could tell they were really worked up. It was a sight to behold."
Gladis continued, "To their credit, those LARPers are the best scene partners in the world. They were always there for us."
Lynch started laughing, almost apologetically at first. "We messed up a lot of LARPers. And they took it like champs. Zahn showed up one night on his day off, and there was a bunch of stuff going on, and at 2 AM, here comes Zahn with a bucket of cherries he picked on his day off just to share with people. Who does that? Part of that was the LARPers, and they would just stay to watch. We had people come from Florida and New York, and they stayed the whole summer for us."
The clip they showed next comes from an early moment in the film, as Ryan Kwanten is still deciding if he wants to be involved or not, and Dinklage decides to school him in the fine art of LARPing combat. It's a very funny scene, and sure enough, Dinklage wields his weaponry with aplomb, stripping Kwanten of his sword before "beheading" him, all as Glau watches, bemused and unreasonably hot in her warrior girl costume.
Joe introduced his co-director on the film, a foam LARP sword that he named "Edith," and explained, "One of the things about production that's tough is that you do all your days first, then switch over to shoot nights, so at the end of the night, everyone would be worked over and exhausted, and I'd raise the sword and yell 'HUZZAH!', and everyone would rally."
As you can imagine, a Q&A with this sort of line-up on the stage was spirited and gave everyone onstage a chance to jump in at some point. One person asked Pudi was Abed, his "Community" character, would think of the film. "I think Abed would have been in this movie. This is the year of D&D and LARPing for me." He talked about the "Community" episode where the study group played D&D, one of the best of the season. "That was awesome and informative. He'd love this movie, and he'd be great at keeping track of who's really dead."
Ryan Kwanten played modest when someone asked him about how he manages to move from character to character "I don't do too many things in my life well, and this caper called acting… I keep fooling people like Joe into giving me a job. We get the chance to go out and make crazy, mad films like this. It's a pleasure."
As Kwanten spoke, panel moderator Anthony Breznican shook his head, annoyed. "You know, I had my wife convinced you were CGI," he said to Kwanten, which got a laugh from everyone on the panel.
Glau described the production as "Six weeks of summer camp. I learned a lot. It was really fun. I felt really honored. It was like no other movie I've ever done."
Dinklage added, "I liked working with everybody but Jimmi."
"That was going to be my joke," Simpson complained, "but…"
"Whoa," Dinklage said, stopping him. "I'm not done. That's what I'm talking about." He took a pause for laughter from the audience. "Now I'm done."
Glau and Levieva talked about working together and how much they appreciated each other on-set, while Michael Gladis professed to having a shameless man-crush on Danny Pudi. Kwanten mentioned what he considered one of the highlights on the film. "To act with a 14-foot succubus, that was… its one thing to read it on the page, but they got the guys from Spectral Motion to make this massive beast, this creatures that we actually got to act with."
Lynch said that for him, the highlight of the entire experience was watching the sign language translator in the front row of Hall H do the sign for "creature," which seemed to consist of raising her arms like Frankenstein and waving them menacingly. He went on to say that "There are a lot of scenes with a lot of actors, and we'd shoot this wide shot, and they're all playing to real things and real creatures. It was so important to have that on set with dead bodies and body parts. Dream come true."
By far, the most unconventional jump during casting was made when they hired Dinklage. As he said, "The script was great. It's really rare to come across a script like this that's original and funny, and I'd never done anything like it before. That's my personal criteria for doing something."
Even so, it was a huge stretch for them to cast Dinklage in the role, since, as Lynch explained, "The role was written for a 6'4" fat Asian man. I was thinking, how are we going to find this person? And as soon as I heard 'Dinklage,' it was immediate. Hell, yes. It fit so perfectly."
They were all asked what they would dress up as if they chose to wear costumes to Comic-Con, and they went down the whole panel answering. Jimmi Simpson picked Master Chief from "Halo," Kwanted claimed either Han Solo or Astro Boy, Gladis named Gort from "The Day The Earth Stood Still" as his pick, and Danny Pudi offered up either The Flash or Mowgli because it was so hot on Saturday. Levieva said she'd never done the Princess Leia slave girl outfit and would love to try it, and Glau picked She-Ra, leading Dinklage to say, "Summer just took mine."
Appropriately, the panel ended with a question from the audience in which a fanboy asked Glau who would win in a fight, her character from "Firefly" or her characters from "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Whatever you think the answer to that would be, the real winner was the film, because people walked out of the panel suddenly interested in this little under-the-radar indie film, and I can't wait to get a look at it myself. They're off to a really strong start, and this was a confident debut, handled well by the cast and by Lynch.
Everything: Comic-Con 2011
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