Legendary superhero Green Hornet--famous from an original 1930 hit radio series--gets new life, as Seth Rogen dons to mask and goes after the bad guys. Mulit-talented Rogen also co-wrote the script. His hot screen lady, reporter Lenore Case--played by the ever vivacious Cameron Diaz--gets to kick some ass too. Seth and Cameron sit down with Buzzine for an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview.
Izumi Hasegawa: Cameron, what was like working on this guy-heavy set? And is it true that you are the best stunt driver and you just didn't get to show it?
Cameron Diaz: I can only comment on one of those. It was awesome working with them. So much fun. I didn't realize it was such a huge action movie because I came in the first week of shooting and the last week of shooting, and all of my bits--there was no action. So I went away to be in another movie with a lot of action and I came back, and when I saw what they'd done, I was like, "Wait a second. How did this happen? How did I not know this?" Before we started, I went out and I took the Black Beauty for a spin, so I should've put two and two together...
Seth Rogen: It's true, yeah. I drove it too, and I don't drive it in the movie at all. They just wanted us to have fun.
IH: The characters in the film seem to be very aware of the existence of comic book-style storytelling and clichés and tropes. Was that aware nature of storytelling important to you in the storytelling and in the performances, and in the making of the film?
SR: Yeah, we kind of wanted it to be a world. The kid is a comic book superhero fan, obviously. To us, the simple thought was, who's the kind of guy who's likely to become a superhero? Probably someone who reads comic books and is a comic book fan, or is at least aware of them. But in the writing, we kind of wanted to subvert notions that are in a lot of these comic book-type movies--things you'd find in a lot of early origin stories of comic book characters. I think, in order to play with those ideas, you have to be very aware of what they are in the first place, that they exist, and to acknowledge them to some degree. So for us, we wanted to dance on the line between being a comic book movie and commenting on a comic book movie.
IH: Did you go all the way back to the radio serials and watch all the episodes of the show? How much of that did you take in and how much did you have to tune out to do your own thing?
SR: In the beginning phases of writing the script, we did a ton of research just to accumulate ideas. The way we write is we start by making tons of lists of ideas and thoughts and things that we'd like to include into the movie. We tried to listen to almost all the radio serials. They're a little outdated, I guess. Back then, just hearing footsteps for 30 seconds straight was really suspenseful and interesting; the creaking of a door opening was real cinema at that time, but it's a little hard to sit through hours of it at this point for me. But I'm very stupid. We went back to the radio show and the serials that were in movie theaters and the TV show, and we really tried to include ideas from all these things. The Zephyr is in there, and little tips of the hat to the previous incarnations of it. The whole notion of me getting shot and having to conceal that from the police is from an episode of the TV show. We tried to update that for the movie.
IH: Seth, can you talk about the Chinese words in the car?
SR: I left any and all foreign language work on this film up to other people. I did no research. I don't know what that stuff says. I trusted Jay (Chou). Jay was like, "Just something in another language." I said, "Okay. Just don't make it too dirty," and that was pretty much it.
IH: Can you talk about casting Christoph (Waltz) in the film? And what does the fist-touching gesture mean?
SR: It means something different in every country. But we wanted the villain to be just a character more than anything. We wanted him to be sympathetic. Our fixation wasn't how to make this guy scary. We wanted, more than anything, to intellectually understand why someone would be so fascinated with killing another person, basically. So that's really how we approached it. We wanted it to be funny. And when we saw Christoph's previous work, it had elements of danger, but at the same time was very entertaining and had very funny parts. That's really why we thought he would be a good guy to do it.
IH: Seth, you mentioned subverting the origin story. The body count on this film struck me on this film. Going back to Britt's great, great, great uncle, the Lone Ranger, there's a tradition of good guys masquerading as bad guys, figuring out how not to kill people as they go through the episode. It seems as though that wasn't...
SR: We didn't quite figure that out, I guess. We ran out of stunt guys. You see zombies eventually. We thought, "It's an action movie." I'm a fan of it. I always thought that it was funny that, on the old A-Team TV show, they would shoot 400 people and none of them would die. I think, if you're going to make a violent action movie, you might as well just go for it. It's not explicit. It's not in any way meant to inspire people to do anything crazy. It's not supposed to instill any horrific images or anything like that. It's all for the point of fun and just big action more than anything. It's funny because we actually watched a lot of action movies leading up to this, thinking, "Can you kill people in one of these movies?" What we were fascinated by was how many people die in your average [film]. In Transformers, Optimus Prime getting thrown through one building would kill 4,000 people, and there's no mention of it at all. No one cares. No one says anything. I don't know if that's the best logistical cue to take. You don't see any bodies on the ground.
IH: What about the guy at the autopsy?
SR: Oh yeah. Those guys die. They were terminally ill anyway. There's a whole side-story. We cut it out.
IH: How do you respond to the intensity of fan expectation on something like this?
SR: I like to use the word "speculation." Once that car showed up, it all seemed okay.
IH: As a comic book fan, Seth, was part of the appeal to The Green Hornet that there isn't a lot of mythology to it? It's just a name people recognize, but there's not a lot of stuff to really look at?
SR: I would have no real interest in just doing a very literal interpretation of pre-existing material. I see a lot of these comic book movies that come out now, and you almost feel like anyone could pick up the first few editions of the comic book and take it to a DP and say, "I want to shoot this," and then six months later you have the origin story of those superheroes. That really didn't interest us in any way. We really wanted to be able to inject our own sensibilities into it and our own sense of humor, and at the same time, the things we love about superheroes and comic books ourselves. So yeah, it was very appealing that there were a few benchmark, iconic things that people knew about The Green Hornet. Kato and the car, the gas gun... That's pretty much it. The song. Lenore. The DA. It was like the kind of stuff we knew, we wanted to include. But it was fun because we could integrate them into the story however we wanted, and reintroduce them in a way that was organic to our characters and not the previous versions of things.
IH: Building on that, are there bits that you save as you're writing this version just in case you get to do a Green Hornet 2 and maybe Mr. Franco survived that blast?
SR: Exactly. It's like Dark Man. He was blown out into the river. No, we're not the kind of writers to save ideas. If it's remotely good, we shove it in there; nor are we confident enough to assume that there will be a sequel. Anything that seemed good, we put in.
IH: Cameron, you beat up two men in the film. How was that to do? Was there a lot of rehearsal, and did your own experience help that?
CD: It was a lot of fun. We actually had a lot of fun with that scene. I clearly can beat up both of them in real life, so we had to gage how capable Lenore was and whether or not she had any moves. We thought she'd know self-defense a little bit...
SR: And she's good with an umbrella. She's like The Penguin, kind of.
CD: So we just had fun with that. Basically, I got to beat them over the head with an umbrella for nearly half a day.
SR: You whacked us pretty good quite a few times. I think we broke a few umbrellas.
CD: Couple of umbrellas way down. But it was all for the greater good. They took it like men.
SR: Like whiny men.
IH: Seth, can you talk about how much comedy you were willing to bring to this without slipping into parody? Was there a fine line there?
SR: It's a hard rule to articulate, I guess. There was no, like, "As soon as this happens, you've just crossed the line." You just had to generally be aware that the comedy should come from the characters and that it all should feel real, and it shouldn't feel like we're being funny just for the sake of being funny but it should feel like something that would maybe actually happen with these people. We really tried to approach the structure of the story in a somewhat traditional action-movie sense. It was just how the characters related to one another that we hoped the humor would come from. I remember there were some things we talked about. I remember with the car, we were like, "Inspector Gadget's car is too far." That was our benchmark. We were like, "When it starts to become Inspector Gadget's car, we've crossed the line." So little things like that we would come up with, mostly arbitrarily, and we would break those rules constantly. But it was just fun to say, more than anything. In editing was more where we would figure it out. Sometimes a joke in the wrong place would make an otherwise dangerous scene feel completely not dangerous because you just think, "If he's making a joke there, then what's the threat?" But at times, it could just be the wrong joke, and it needs to be a more situational-based joke rather than a comedy writery joke. The editing was where we were really able to play with all of that.
IH: Seth, can you talk about scoring James Franco in that small part?
CD: Seth has something that he could use against James, so he used it.
SR: Me and James were married briefly in Antigua a few years ago, and I promised to keep it under wraps. No... Sometimes you just ask someone to do something and they say yes, it really works out as easily as you could hope. That's one of those situations. He just liked the scene and was excited to work with Christoph, and we promised that we could do it in a short amount of time. He came, and it was great.
IH: I believe, in the original shows, the Green Hornet always got the girl, but not in this film. What was the thought behind not letting him get the girl here?
SR: We wanted to play off these notions in these movies, and someone always ends up with the girl, actually. It was our instinct that Kato should wind up with the girl, and Cameron, actually, had the amazing idea that no one should end up with the girl, which was really funny. I think it serves the friendship between me and Jay more. It was actually a really funny joke that we would then all talk about--that we think there's this huge competition going on, and there's literally no competition. Neither of us have a chance at all. She doesn't even know that we like her really. To us, that kind of became a funny play off of the traditional love triangle you might find in one of these movies.
CD: And it relieved the story of having to wrap up that storyline, which is usually what kills the end of a movie.
SR: Oh yeah, if we would've had to, in the third act, have some romantic moment, it would've just been a killer.
CD: And it takes Lenore from then having to choose between the romance or taking care of the villain. It just relieved the whole movie of that burden, which I think we can really fall into a lot, especially in things like this. It just felt really outdated, like they always end up with the girl. So what is the girl there for but just to serve them? She's actually an integral part of how they accomplish what they accomplish, of course, unbeknownst to her. But nonetheless, that's the purpose of her in the story, rather than just being eye candy and having to wrap that up. That's so boring.
SR: That's a really good and simple way of putting it. Often, when I watch these superhero movies, as soon as the romantic story starts, I want to kill myself. So we thought it would be best to minimize that as much as possible.
IH: Cameron, can you talk about working with Jay while shooting? And what was the dynamic like between takes?
CD: Jay is actually an amazing magician--phenomenal. So he entertained us a lot with his magic, with cards and sleight-of-hand. That was something we were all very impressed with, and I think also adds to the whole grace of Kato and the mystery of Kato. It's what Jay brought to that, and we were all just floored that he didn't speak a word of English before he started. He worked about a month leading up to filming, but he still did his lines phonetically for the first week or so. Then, all of a sudden, he's just speaking English, and it happened so fast.
SR: He started improvising and I thought, oh man, what the hell? It took me 15 years to be able to do that.
CD: And then his ability as a dancer, as a performer, the way he learned choreography for the fights and just the grace of being a dancer. As a magician, he'd come up with things on set where there's this one moment when he flicks a pen off the top of the briefcase with the latch and it flips over. He could actually get it to do that. So there were all these things that his talent as a performer, as a dancer, magician really leant so much to this part and gave so much to this part. Every day, we were like, "Jay is really talented and really cool," and then he just looks really cool. So we were all very impressed by him.
IH: Who is the America's Next Top Model fan who put Analeigh Tipton in the film?
SR: She just auditioned, actually. We didn't know that until she got there.
Columbia Pictures' 'The Green Hornet' is released on January 14, 2011.