In James Gunn’s “Super” (review here), Rainn Wilson plays a mild-mannered man who reacts to the “evil” in the world by donning a superhero costume and fighting crime. Of course, it’s never that simple when you’re dealing with Gunn and Wilson. As deranged as Gunn’s previous films have been (particularly his early roots at Troma), Wilson is an equally unpredictable mind, crafting an onscreen persona that continually subverts expectations.
Together, their collaboration has produced one truly demented film, one that takes superhero theatrics to supremely dark, twisted places. We sat down with Gunn and Wilson to discuss the dementia that led to one of SXSW’s goriest, most unhinged films.
The Playlist: What was the genesis of “Super”?
JG: It was basically just, what would it really mean to be a superhero? We watch Batman all the time, he’s putting on a cowl and going around, deciding what’s right and what’s wrong and beating people up, and it doesn’t really make him any different than anyone else. So it was really just, what if someone went around and actually did that? What ended up coming out ended up being a lot more complex, a lot more personal than I had expected. It really was about one man’s relationship with what he perceives as God, and love, and relationships. In the end, the movie feels more about those ideas than it does about a superhero.
Rainn, were you ever overcome by the power of the costume, and how it could pull you away from a more dramatically-realistic place?
RW: I really don’t get lost in my characters in that mythical way of actors losing themselves. But when you’re in a spandex outfit with a cowl and big boots and body armor and a shotgun in your hand and your face splattered in blood, it’s pretty easy to get in the mode that you need to so you can be a badass vigilante.
JG: You were having a lot of fun at the end of the movie, killing people.
RW: I loved it. I may never get another chance to blow people away and bash them in the head. This may have been it for me.
Ellen Page is fantasic as Boltie, the “kid sidekick” as she describes it. Given the perversion of her character, was she ever once a genuine “kid” in early drafts, and not the 22 year old she ends up being?
JG: Actually, in the first draft, she was 25. Ellen’s actual age was 22 when we did the movie so I changed it to 22, because if anything, Ellen looks younger than her age. She was always supposed to be a twentysomething. And she always raped Rainn. And I think if she were an actual kid and raped Rainn, that would be a lot more disturbing.
The film’s got a lot of choice cuts on the soundtrack. Can you describe how you decided the music you used for certain scenes?
JG: The song that’s over the animated credits is a song called “Calling All Destroyers” by a band named Tsar. Great song, great album, not too many people know it. And I was listening to that song a lot when I writing the script, so I wrote those opening credits to play over that song from the very first draft. Other songs, like Eric Carmen‘s “It Hurts So Much,” which plays when Frank first gets beat up, I changed the scene to fit that song later on.
Rainn, what was it like working with Kevin Bacon in establishing the relationship your characters have with each other? It seems like, despite being the antagonist, his character Jacques doesn’t want to make it seem like he’s bullying Frank.
RW: The important thing for me is that Frank is believable and relatable. It’s a crazy journey, a big crazy arc that he goes on. And you gotta believe it or there’s no movie. The important thing for me with Jacques is that, he’s a real-life villain. He’s a terrible person. He’s a drug dealer, probably runs a prostitution ring, and abuses people. He’s probably killed people in the past. He’s just a bad bad guy. Frank is a normal guy, he’s a short-order cook. He may not have even graduated from high school. I wanted to play that, essentially, what happens when an everyman bumps into an actual badass, and eventually gets up the courage and insanity up to take him on
JG: I think what’s interesting is that, yes, Jacques is all of these things. But he also wants you to like him. And he does everything he can to make Rainn to like him at the beginning of the movie. And he’s not used to people not liking him. And there’s a strange sort of integrity to the character of Frank that he does not give in to that like a lot of people would.
James, what’s next for you? I know you were working on a very dark script called “The Belcoo Experiment.”
JG: It’s a screenplay that still exists, I’m happy with it. It’s a movie I was going to make right after my divorce, I was going to ship out to Brazil and it was a very very dark script, and I couldn’t face it at the time. So I went and worked with some porn stars on “PG Porn.” I do have a movie coming out with the Farrelly Brothers. It’s a movie called “Movie 43.” It’s a whole bunch of short films, I have that coming out, and I just finished a new screenplay. What happened with “PG Porn” though was that Viacom freaked out on us. We put out the musical version and it was too dark for them, even though they had okayed the script. So we didn’t have the money anymore. We did have four more scripts, though.
"Super" plays tonight at SXSW and opens on April 1st via IFC.