'Sin City' Press Conference
Innovative filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller teamed up to direct Sin City, one of today’s most cutting-edge movies in terms of stylistic presentation. Rodriguez recently joined cast members Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson and Benicio Del Toro for a press conference about this unique movie. Here are some of the comments from that Los Angeles event.
Question: How difficult was it to make this movie?
Rodriguez: I said (to Frank), “Let’s not change anything. There won’t even be a screenplay. We’ll just shoot right out of the book.” And Frank was like, “What? What planet is this?” He was so thrilled. But it was probably the hardest I’ve worked on a movie. I thought it was going to be easy, Just copy what’s out of the book and there you go. I think somewhere near the end I realized it’s probably because it’s sort of a trilogy all realized on the same day. It’s kind of like doing three movies at once.
Question: How did you and Frank work together as directors?
Rodriguez: It was very complimentary. I really want him to be a director, rather than just there as writer or as a producer…I wanted it not to be Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City.” I loved the book so much I wanted it to be as close to something that he would do as a movie as possible. I tried not to do any contradictory directing. If he told an actor one thing, I wouldn’t tell them the exact opposite. It was more like a tag team. He let me handle all the visual stuff. He was really there working with the actors, knowing all the characters so well. He was able to tell them things I didn’t know about the characters because it’s not all in book. A lot of it is in his head, and they loved being able to know where the character was going in future volumes or what he was thinking when he put it together.
Question: Did you have to clean it up a bit in terms of political correctness to make it an R-rated movie?
Rodriguez: We had no problems with the MPAA. Frank never drew them (his graphic novels) with the intention that someday they’d be on a movie screen. That’s what was so pure about them. Some things were adapted. Mostly I really wanted to keep it true to what was in the book because it was that pure.
Question: Nancy (played by Jessica Alba) was a topless dancer in the book, so why was make her an exotic dancer?
Rodriguez: Some of the decisions were to keep the sexiness of something but not necessarily be like it is in the book.
Question: Jessica, were you willing to do everything? Your character does wear some clothes yet in the book she’s topless.
Alba: Oh, she was bottomless too. (laughing) I wanted to do this movie because Robert Rodriguez was directing it, first and foremost. I didn’t really know it was a comic book. I just ask my agents every month, “What’s Robert doing? So I auditioned the old fashioned way. At that time I looked at the graphic novel and I saw the pictures (laughing). I then found out that she was a stripper and she was bottomless and topless. You know, nudity was an option. We could have done it if we wanted to. Obviously it would have been more authentic. But I felt like dancing around with a lasso and chaps was going to be sexy enough. I think being nude for me would have been distracting. I really couldn’t be bottomless in front of my dad. He would really… I don’t know, he’d disown me or something. He’d freak out.
Question: Speaking of dad, Jessica -- the relationship between your character and Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis), was that weird or uncomfortable?
Alba: Nancy doesn’t think of him as a father. She thinks of him as her knight in shining armor and her soul mate from the beginning. She’s kind of an old soul…and so I don’t think it’s creepy at all.
Question: Ladies, how was it to portray these women in such skimpy outfits?
Murphy: This man knows how to shoot women beautifully and light them in a way that their bodies look unique, and you can’t see any of the parts that we don’t want you to see. But those parts don’t exist in me, of course. Kidding!
Rodriguez: But you all were great about coming in and saying, “This is my costume? Okay. I’ll try it on.” And you loved it and it put you in character. That’s why I really think their work stands-out.
Question: What about the violence against women?
Dawson: If you’re asking me if women are going to want to see this specifically for that reason, I think absolutely. All the women who are working in Old Town, we take care of ourselves. We’re very in control of what we are, we know what our assets are and we make money off of it. We call the shots, which I think is very powerful. I think it’s a very even keel sort of strength between the men and the women. The guys get their balls ripped off. The girls threaten to do it – and will
Murphy: I agree there’s a great balance to Frank’s work. There are also several moments such as with Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Carla Gugino’s character, when she was crying and he was saying women just need to get it out. What is the dialogue exactly? She says, “I need a cigarette.” I love that part specifically because I find it true. I’m proud to be a woman and femininity is part of one of my greatest strengths and assets.
Question: Robert, can you talk about some of the actors you originally had in mind?
Rodriguez: I had just worked with Johnny Depp so I thought about him for the part that Benicio played, but this movie he was doing kept getting pushed. Then I saw Benicio at the Academy Awards with his long wolfman hair and wearing his tuxedo and I went, “Oh my God, that is Jackie Boy right there.”
Del Toro: He (Robert) said something really strange, “Don't cut your hair.” And my hair was pretty long. And then he showed me he had done a trailer of the opening sequence of the movie and it just looked amazing, you know?
Question: Were you familiar with the books?
Del Toro: I wasn't familiar with the books. I was familiar with Frank's work in Batman and stuff and since then, my preparation was really talking to the Wizard about…he got that nickname, I gave (Robert) that nickname…We just walked in and everything was green and I had seen how it looked already cause he had shown me the beginning of the movie, the opening sequence. It was like being in the office of the Wizard of Oz.
Question: What about casting Clive Owen?
Rodriguez: Frank draws the character of Dwight with so much character in his face and you couldn’t go to like a really young actor that has that kind of weight and presence. I looked at the BMW commercials because that’s the only place I’d known him from. I’d always wanted to work with him from those. It just seemed he a very mysterious presence. And he was terrific.
Question: Clive, how did you feel getting cast as Dwight?
Owen: Robert had sent me the graphic novel and this 10-minute thing he’d already filmed, and I found it hugely exciting. I wasn’t familiar with Frank’s work at all. I read that graphic novel and I thought it was the wildest, most imaginative thing. I was just thrilled to be asked to be a part of it.
Question: What was it like working with Frank and Robert?
Dawson: Frank -- it was great having him there. My Uncle Gus is a comic book artist, and we’d go out for beers and hang out. We’re sitting there having a beer talking and all of a sudden it would turn into talking about blue pencils and paper textures, and I’d just be completely ignored in the background.
Del Toro: One at a time. That’s it basically. I’m kind of like attentive to putting a face with the director. I for the most part I trusted him (Robert) because he hired me. But I did have conversations with Frank.
Murphy: It was like having a historian there all the time. It was wonderful.
Owen: I think having Frank there was almost essential. He’s the guy who conjured up this sort of crazy world. I think this guy is a genius. I was blown away by it. I felt like at the end of that movie that I’d been taken to some extraordinary place I’ve never been before. I think that Frank’s vision of that world is that.
Alba: It was very self-indulgent because we got to talk each director’s ear off about our characters and we kind of really liked talking about characters we play and ourselves because we’re all kind of narcissistic.
Question: Which part did Quentin Tarantino (billed as “guest director”) direct?
Rodriguez: Originally I thought there’d be more shorter stories in this movie as well, when I first told him about it. And then it ended up being the longer ones. I told him, ‘Well, you can direct one of the sequences.’ Frank originally issued them in small issues. That’s why you always see these characters die every 10 minutes because he always wanted you to come back to the next comic book. So I had to do an issue which was where Benicio and Clive are in the car together and Benicio’s got the gun barrel and he’s talking. That’s the one where Quentin’s idea was to have him speak in an outer voice where his voice-over was actually speaking out. He did something like that in Reservoir Dogs. Then Quentin “All this monologue that you were going to do in voice-over, you should do it on the set. Can you learn it real quick?” And Clive really impressed the hell out of Quentin. That’s still all he talks about is the fact that he went away for five minutes and came back and did the whole monologue there on the cuff.
Question: There’s some reaction to the amount of violence in this film, even though it was in the book. What would you say to people who will criticize the over-the-top violence?
Rodriguez: I guess that’s that it’s so over the top and stylized like in the book. That’s what helped temper it, it’s so black and white, so abstract, so representative, that it’s much more…easier to watch. I think if it was realistically rendered. It’s the color that really changes it. I never got any flak for Desperado. At a time when people were criticizing guys like Quentin for violence in films, for cutting an ear off off-camera, I was mowing down people in my films and no one ever said anything about the violence because of the tone.
Question: What else are you thinking about putting into the DVD?
Rodriguez: We shot the full stories of the books, and I knew we could truncate it down, knowing that we weren't going to lose any scenes. Eventually they would all be available for people to see. So the DVD will come out with the theatrical cut, and then there'll be a separate disc that's got the individual episodes separated with their own title card. . . It'll have all the material back in. So it'll be like the experience of picking up the book, where you pick up one story and you read it from beginning to end. And it'll have all the material in it. They’ll be another 20-minute film school, because there are so many things. And I’ll have another 10-minute cooking school to be Sin City breakfast tacos. I’ll show you how to make a homemade flour tortilla, and it's the best meal you can probably ever learn.
(Read Diana Saenger's reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.)