Film Interview: We Get Heroic With Super Filmmaker James Gunn

We Get Heroic With Super Filmmaker James Gunn

Devin D. O'Leary
6 min read
Thank You, Masked Man
James Gunn as Clark Kent
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James Gunn started out his career writing the trashtacular 1996 Troma film Tromeo and Juliet. By 2002, he was penning the family-friendly hit Scooby-Doo for Warner Bros. In between, he found time to script the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead . He’s currently racing around the country promoting his latest writing/directing effort Super . In it, a pathetic fry cook adopts the mantle of a violent superhero after his wife dumps him for someone more interesting. Though shot on a shoestring budget, the film boasts an impressive cast, including Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Liv Tyler.

Gunn, weary from his manic press tour to promote
Super , found time to speak with the Alibi about all things superheroic.

You started out working with Troma. You shot up to big-time Hollywood with Dawn of the Dead and Scooby-Doo . Then you floated back to more indie stuff with Slither and now Super . Is that a matter of choice?

Yeah. Without a doubt. The choice is to bounce back and forth. I talked a lot about it with Rainn [Wilson] and Ellen [Page]. Rainn does “The Office,” but he also loves to do theater and smaller projects. And Ellen, especially, if you look at the movies she does, she’ll do an independent movie and then she’ll do a big huge movie and then she’ll do an independent. I think everyone on this movie [shares that philosophy], even Kevin [Bacon]. I think that you have a thirst to do something that you’re passionate about, that’s edgy and different. But you also like to make some money every now and then. That’s a good thing to do to. So for me it’s about going back and forth. I don’t think my next movie is going to be like
Super .

Even when you’ve been working on smaller films, you’ve attracted some big-name talent. Is that a question of finding passionate people or getting lucky or what?

I write character-driven scripts. By the time a big studio movie becomes a big studio movie, the character-driven-ness has usually been wrung out of it. I can say that’s true about the
Scooby-Doo movies and it’s even true about Dawn of the Dead to some extent—that the part of it that’s really character-driven is not the thing that’s focused on with a big movie. But with smaller scripts, it is. And that’s something that actors are attracted to.

Rainn is particularly great in Super . He’s asked to do a real range here of comedy, drama, pathos. Was it hard finding somebody who could pull that off?

It was really difficult finding someone who I thought could do that. I originally had financing for this film back in 2004, and the reason the movie didn’t get made was because there were a lot of actors who wanted to play the role, but we couldn’t agree on someone who would be able to do the dramatic part of the role, the comedic part of the role. Who was goofy enough you could imagine he’d be picked on by his fellow cook at the diner, and who was big enough you could imagine him kicking ass. The only person who I really thought was able to do that was John C. Reilly. And John C. Reilly was not considered a big enough star by the people who were financing it to get the movie made. At the time. Today, he is. But back then he wasn’t considered that. So I just couldn’t do it. This was always true of
Super . I was never gonna do it half-assed. It’s a very unusual film. It’s a very dark film, an edgy film. And I wasn’t gonna do it with substandard actors. I wasn’t gonna make it less violent. It is what it is, and I knew if I was gonna make the movie, I was gonna make it the way I wanted to.

Seems like Hollywood, certainly as evidenced this summer, has taken over the superhero genre. When you sit down to write a superhero movie, how do you make it different from what Hollywood is doing?

Super is a superhero movie. It’s called Super . It’s got a guy dressed up in a costume. But I just don’t think of it as a superhero movie. It’s the story of Frank D’Arbo. The story of Super is really about the interaction of these four characters—Frank, Libby, Sarah and Jacques—and how their lives intersect with each other. The fact that [Frank] wears a superhero costume is gravy. I think that’s really where the difference is. It isn’t a superhero movie. It’s a general character-driven, anti-genre, dark film.

But you are a big comic book reader?

Huge. Yeah. There is an aspect where I’m playing with the conventions of what a superhero is, especially the morality. We see Batman, he puts on a cape and a cowl, and we take for granted that he knows who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves to get beaten up and who doesn’t. Then he goes around beating the shit out of people. In Frank, I think we see somebody who’s taking that onto himself, and then we question exactly who does deserve to get beaten up and why. What gives you the right to do that and where is the justice, exactly? It’s about really questioning that.

Since this is the big summer of superheroes, is there anything you’re particularly excited about seeing?

I don’t know. It really depends on what I hear about them. What is it:
Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America ? Of those, the one I’m most excited about is Captain America , because the trailer looks the best. I actually saw the new commercial for Green Lantern last night and it looks better than the original trailer. But I’m still very scared of that one. Thor ? Listen, I’m not a big Thor fan. He bums me out, frankly. I’m really into The Avengers. I have every Avengers comic book. I read all the books and I gotta pretend there’s not a god hanging out with these guys? Superheroes are stupid, but somehow my suspension of disbelief doesn’t go to Asgardian gods. So I’m not a big Thor fan. But I’m excited about the movie.

Super opens Friday, April 29, at Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE). There will be a “sneak preview” on Thursday, April 28, at 10:45 p.m. sponsored by Burning Paradise Video and Albuquerque Comic Expo. Awesome door prizes will be awarded to the best superhero costume.

Thank You, Masked Man

Rainn Wilson puts crime on notice in Super

Thank You, Masked Man

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