SIN CITY - Q&A with FRANK MILLER, ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, JESSICA ALBA, BRITTANY MURPHY, CLIVE OWEN and MICKEY ROURKE
Movie Interview by Ania Kalinowska
With Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke at the London press conference - 23 May 2005
Frank Miller, you wrote most of these graphic novels around 1990-91, and ever since then various Hollywood people have been trying to get you to agree to do a movie. Significantly, you waited until you got the right person. Tell us a bit about that process of saying 'No' to Hollywood?
FRANK MILLER: Well once you get used to saying 'No' it gets easy. I said 'No' to Hollywood all the way; I said 'Yes' to Austin. Robert had a whole different approach to how he wanted to make the movie. He had a vision for how he wanted to produce it, and it became irresistible. And then of course he introduced me to the actors and I was smitten.
Robert, famously you elected to divorce yourself from the Director's Guild. It shows the passion you had for this project and the fight that you wanted to work with this man [Frank Miller] come hell or high water. Tell us about that?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It was a pretty quick decision...
FRANK MILLER: I was there man, it was instantaneous!
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: You know, you're in Texas, you're in your train that's going very fast down the track, and we were really excited to make the movie everyone could feel it, and then suddenly some guys from LA are standing in front of the train waving their hands yelling 'STOP!' It was a surprise, I didn't know that it was against the rules to have two directors; I thought I had seen several directors in other movies before, but they had a rule and their argument was that I was established and Frank wasn't. But I told them he directs better than most of the directors in Hollywood. If you look at his books, he was already a great filmmaker; he was just using paper instead of a camera. Visual story telling was the same whether on a page or on the screen, and that's what I wanted to prove by just translating it directly to the screen. I thought what he was doing was so much bolder than anything we were doing in cinema; I wanted to make that happen in cinema. Rather than make it a long process and try to change their rules it was easier just for me to leave. It wasn't a big deal.
[Importantly, this move exempts the film from being nominated for accolades like the Best Director Oscar.]
Clive, were you aware of Frank's graphic novels or was it something that you had to introduce yourself to before filming?
CLIVE OWEN: No I wasn't aware of them at all. Robert called me and presented the idea of SIN CITY. He sent me a bunch of the novels, he showed me the 5-minute test which showed how faithful he was going to be to the source material...he told me he was currently working with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, Quentin Tarantino was going to pop in for a few days...so I thought about it for about a second and jumped onto it of course.
When you're working on green screen to this extent is it a bigger leap of faith in the directors than normal?
CLIVE OWEN: It's weird for a day or two; you're so used to using your location, and when you turn up on set, that's a very big part of what you're shooting. Suddenly you're on green screen and you've got nothing, you're in a void. The good thing is that all that's going on at that time is the actors' performance; that's all that Robert and Frank are concentrating on. The astonishing thing is seeing the finished product and being totally blown away, and thinking that I had no idea that's the movie I was in. There's a lot of fascinating stuff that happens after we're finished acting.
Jessica, for you was it a case of feeling vulnerable or a case of having the ultimate trust in the directors?
JESSICA ALBA: Both. We were so specific in everything. It was trusting that you can have a performance that's so specific and that feels so contrived but at the same time you're being genuine and in the moment. So it was a little nerve-wracking.
Jessica, which were the harder of the disciplines you had to learn, the dancing or the lassoing?
JESSICA ALBA: The lasso for sure. Its like doing many things at once; trying to lasso and keep your rhythm, and also we didn't know what rhythm it was going to be so we had many different songs while I was lassoing in leather traps while it was like 90 000 degrees, so they were like sticking in all the wrong places. Robert always sets a great environment to work in so even when I was doing something overtly sexual it never felt gross. It felt very artistic, I felt I was doing something that was gonna turn out cool.
FRANK MILLER: We worked this girl so hard; I couldn't believe she was able to hold out for hour after hour dancing. And then once, when Robert said 'Cut', she simply and elegantly fell on her belly!
JESSICA ALBA: It was my last day, about 4 in the morning, everyone was gone, and I just fell over! It was such a long day.
Brittany, apparently you're regarded as the Green Screen Queen now; you have been quoted as saying it was the most bizarre acting you've ever done. Tell us more?
BRITTANY MURPHY: Well I play the barmaid at the local pub, and everybody goes there. Everybody was in the finished product but I was the only real actor there at the time!
FRANK MILLER: Except for that large green guy...
BRITTANY MURPHY: Yes there was this gentleman wrapped up like Gumby...but I would never call myself the Queen of Green Screen! That's a very kind comment, thank you.
Mickey, it looks as if you're happily back in the mainstream again. How come it's taken you so long (because you've been sorely missed!)?
MICKEY ROURKE: I had some things I had to fix! I didn't know it would have taken me 14 years to do it. But you know it was never really fun back in the day to work with directors that were older than you, like authoritarian, I had a problem with anyone talking to me like that. And then you get these young guys here, and they don't give a f***. Like I say about Robert, he swims in water that nobody else has swam in and I respect that.
What was it like for you to do such a different type of movie?
MICKEY ROURKE: The most important thing is that I wasn't bored. Most of the time I didn't know what I was doing, I just listened to Robert and trusted him. He did everything so well...
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Mickey used to use the Johnny Cash version of Hurt to get into character. If you listen to that song, that's how he did Marv. We got some remarkable work from him that way - that's his time machine, his transport to that character.
Frank and Robert, who decided who was going to direct which scene?
FRANK MILLER: At first we planned to do separate scenes according to the three separate stories, but it was such a brotherhood between us as we were making the movie. At the end of it all it was and is impossible to separate us on this job!
You think you'll work together again?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah it's very easy - we're the same guy!!
Robert, apparently there are two SIN CITY sequels scheduled, filmed back to back. Can you confirm or deny that?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: There are actually 7 books; I know we're going to do a second one for sure. It's based on 'A Dame To Kill For' which takes placed before these Sin City stories, so a lot of the characters will come back to be in it. It will also make this movie more complete. But there are a lot of the stories that I like so we'll see what we can do.
Frank and Robert, can you comment on your shared love of film noir and in particular the chivalry aspects thereof? Where does that come from?
FRANK MILLER: I think that chivalry, honour, friendship, romance are all part of film noir, as is the inner darkness of usually the central character and certainly the villains. What people often get wrong about Noir and the reason why so many modern noirs fall flat is that they ignore the inner darkness and they just really light it, so you end up with spookily innocent stories. But the great noirs get inside your head so it's really crazy. And that to me is Noir; without sin there is no virtue so sin city is there to find virtue.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: I've also always been a big fan of Noir; I almost made Kiss Me Deadly back in '97. I was just afraid that it would be too nostalgic. What I liked about Frank's material - although it is in that tradition of Noir - it was so updated, so savage and nude, it wouldn't feel like a nostalgic trip. That felt like the movie I should do.