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The Spirit - Frank Miller interview

The Spirit

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FRANK Miller talks about overcoming his initial reluctance to write and direct The Spirit, as well as his newfound joy for working with actors…

Q. Why did you decide to direct The Spirit?
Frank Miller: I was asked to be the writer and director of The Spirit. At first I found it too daunting because [Spirit creator] Will Eisner was sort of my mentor and so I refused it. But after three minutes of careful thought I decided that nobody else could touch it. So, I set about first protecting it and then exploring it and what I perceived as Will’s intent, which was to create something new and exciting and vigorous… not some stodgy old piece of memorabilia. I didn’t want to do a rusty old monument to The Spirit. I wanted to do something using modern technology.

Q. From the footage we’ve seen, there’s lots of violence and lots of women in various states of undress. Is the film not just for teenage boys?
Frank Miller: I think the film is for teenage boys and teenage girls, and older men and older women. I think that women fascinate women as much as they fascinate men. It would be a waste of material to put all of these beautiful women in black sacks! I would hope that as the dregs of the ’60s finally go down the drain, that we could enter a post-feminist era where we could realise that part of a woman’s power is her beauty and enjoy it for what it is.

Q. How easy was it to learn to collaborate in the realisation of your vision when you’re more commonly used to working alone?
Frank Miller: When I first worked with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City I was completely taken off guard by how much I fell in love with actors and what an immediate rapport I seemed to strike with them. I think the moment was on the first day of the shoot when Marley Shelton walked up to me and said with her big, big eyes: “Why would I hire someone to kill me?” I talked to her for about 30 seconds and realised that I said things to her that I’d never said to anybody because it’s not in my character. But she went out and her performance was twice as good. So, I went over and I kicked Robert in the shin and said: “I’m in!” That’s when I made up my mind to be a director. To me, the deepest pleasure of directing is getting to work with the cast and seeing what they create – but then taking all the credit!

Q. How difficult do you think it is to translate the drawn image to the movie image?
Frank Miller: You don’t! All you do is try to strike at the same nerve that the drawing did. Then, in the CG background and stuff you use the physical artwork that’s existed all these years. But when it comes to figurative drawing, I ‘aint fixing her [motions to Eva Mendes].

Q. How hard was the no water underwater scene to achieve?
Frank Miller: It was hard to achieve only in that we shot it with a special camera that I’m still convinced was developed by the Pentagon. It shoots a thousand frames per second and Eva was suspended by wires. She never complained. But I kind of noticed this purple thing happening on the end of her glove. And I pulled the glove off and all her fingernails were bent backwards. I said: “Eva, what are you doing? I don’t want people injured on the set.” But all she said was: “I didn’t want to slow things down.”

Q. How did you go about keeping the spirit of The Spirit without having a certification that’s too high for audiences to go and see it?
Frank Miller: We were setting out to make a movie that was based on The Spirit, and done with great love for The Spirit, but it’s not a translation and it’s not replication. We did in within the boundaries of our times and to be true to the heart of what Will Eisner did. It couldn’t be too mild but it couldn’t be extreme, and it had to be about people more than anything else.

Q. What were the specific Spirit stories that you incorporated in the movie?
Frank Miller: The specific stories that made the core of this movie were three. One was Sand Saref, the second one was Bring In Sand Saref, which is basically a two-parter. And the other one was another story called Showdown, which was nothing but a bloody fight between The Spirit and The Octopus where it was demonstrated that both of them could withstand inhuman punishment, which led then to figuring out how to justify that. And that’s where the original part of the screenplay takes shape because the relationship between The Octopus and The Spirit is at the heart of the story. It allowed me to make The Spirit a man who is existentially confused about why he came back from the dead.

Q. How do you think Will Eisner would have reacted to the film?
Frank Miller: Here’s how I think Will would react to it [mimics Will’s voice]: “You know, Frank, he never picks up a gun, so that’s good; the chicks were great, and I’m going to sell a tonne of books!”

The Spirit opens in UK cinemas on January 1, 2009

Read our interview with Samuel L Jackson