Frank Miller's Long-Winded reddit AMA Answers: The Man Does Not Hold Back
Frank Miller, artist, cartoonist, co-director, and lover of comics, took to reddit to premiere the trailer for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
Then he stuck around to answer some questions from the reddit community.
Obviously Batman’s a very popular character. In the spirit of his 75 year anniversary, what do you think it is about this paranoid, obsessive crimefighter that makes him so likeable?
It’s a variety of things, really. But mainly it’s in a way he’s a superhero naked, in that he is plainly out for revenge, so much so that he actually dresses like a villain, and throws bad guys through windows, there’s all kinds of rough and tumble stuff. I was also in love with the idea of a character that could not fly. The man needed a car to get around. And he got by on wits and skill alone. That’s why I couldn’t resist having him beat the crap out of Superman just once, i had to see that just once. You kind of have to be of a mind to like that sort of a character. But Batman is also so personable. You could do him 20 different ways, and they could all work. He’s like a giant diamond. You could slam him against the floor, throw him against the ceiling, but you can’t hurt it. Everything from the Adam West TV show to my stuff and dozens of others, Jerry Robertson, each contributed to this ongoing myth that has survived and been revitalized on an ongoing basis.
Did you have any input on casting Eva Green? It seems too great a coincidence that she’s in 300: Rise of an Empire, and the star of A Dame to Kill For.
Haha. You know, I can’t say I had any role in her work on 300, much as I admired it, and I remember jumping up and down like a little kid about her taking on such a powerful and deadly role in Sin City.
What was working with Mickey Rourke like? He just seems fascinating.
Working with Mickey Rourke was one of the adventures of a LIFETIME. The man is unlike anybody I’ve ever met. When Robert Rodriguez had the idea of casting him, all I could think was “you mean the skinny guy from Body Heat?” and then we met him in a hotel room. And we saw and waited and when he knocked the door, he was practically knocking it from its hinges. He was carrying this dog, i think you’d call it a dog, i thought it looked like a deformed rat, and he sat and talked about his therapy for 20 minutes. We never discussed the role. I remember writing on my little notepad: That Mickey Rourke. He is Marv.
Then he got up and left the room, and incidentally, that rotten little dog had peed all over Robert’s hotel room couch.
But Mickey and I went through all the stages that I think he puts every director through. It would start out with him mocking every word I say, disagreeing with all of it, then gradually I would earn his respect. This time, though, he and I worked much more as a team and I could feel that the work was going more smoothly, there weren’t as many extra takes, and he seemed to be much more comfortable in the role. I think it’s a hard character to bring nuance to, but he managed to make the character completely believable and add additional layers of nuance to it.
What is your prize possession comic book wise and not comic book wise?
My prize possession, comic-book wise, would have to be a drawing that Will Eisner did for me once, that I’ve got in a very safe place. It’s on a light table, it’s a drawing board with a light board so you can trace off of it. And his was built sometime in 1920, and the irony is that his is less than 1/4 the size of mine. And there I was, getting this gift from this legacy, and realizing that I had a big studio full of all this equipment, and he did all those books on this tiny little handmade, handcrafted little piece of nonsense. But I think he probably did every single thing he ever did on it.
And for non comic book possession: I’d rather not say.
My question is how did you get involved co-directing the first Sin City? How was your experience working with the fantastic Robert Rodriguez, the cast, and staff?
Robert Rodriguez approached me. He really wanted to do it and saw how to do it. I didn’t want to do it and didn’t see how to do it. So he pursued me, he met me at one point in Hell’s Kitchen and showed me what he had in mind, and my answer was “no” because I didn’t trust the process. To me it was all Hollywood (keeping in mind I was talking to Austin, and there’s a lot more to recommend working in Austin). Anyways the next stage was about a week later, when Robert Rodriguez phoned me up and said “hey Frank, why don’t you come out for a weekend, I’ll fly you out, we’ll do a scene with a few friends. If you like it, maybe we’ll do a movie, if you don’t we’ll have a cool DVD to show our friends.”
So I went out there, his so-called friends were trained professional actors, and for a freelance scene, and we shot it in 10 hours, and partway through the shooting, which was all going well enough but the female lead I didn’t believe she was getting it right, she came over to me and stared at me with those big actress eyes (they really are very hard to take your eyes off) and they said “Well I always wanted to ask- why would I hired somebody to kill myself?!” I ended up talking to her for about 10 minutes, and telling her things i told NO ONE. I told her the entire backstory of the character, and she brightened and went back out and did 3 times the acting job she did before. I went over to Robert and kicked him in the shins, and that really established to me something that I hadn’t realized before. I had been mostly nervous about working with actors. I mean, I knew I could put pictures together and tell stories, but a cartoonist’s life is a very solitary one, at least while you’re working.
And movies are quite the opposite, you are surrounded by people and the most prominent among them are the actors. And what I was surprised and delighted by was that I get along great with actors, in fact I love them. I love working with them and they love wring with me. And I feel like i’ve made a whole pile of new friends. And when we did the sequel, one of the things that made things go so smoothly was that the actors (who were a hard working bunch) had integrated the characters - they had gotten used to them. It was no longer a matter of reminding Marv who he was every time he showed up or having King show up and be walked through her part. All the old characters already had their parts down so I could concentrate on the new ones. But at the same time I did the day-to-day work of adjusting actors when it felt like they were offsript or if they lost track of the part of the story they were in- John Ford said it best, which is that “80% of his job was telling an actor where and when they were.” Which is, to my estimate, pretty accurate. That once the actor knows who he is, then it’s a matter of reminding an actor that this is the scene BEFORE they get shot, or the scene where they are on the run from the cops, because (having worked in minor roles as an actor) I could see how lost you could get with those bright lights shining on you. It’s a very understandable need to have a calm voice tell you, especially a voice you can trust, tell you where and when you are, that can really make a difference.
What’s something we don’t know about you?
Well you know as little about me as I’m willing to say. I don’t feel that my personal life is one that I care to share. If I walked around sharing all my personal secrets, then I wouldn’t be much of a mystery, would i?
I love old Irish ballads.
Will you have a cameo in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For? And what do you think about Eva Green’s poster for the film being censored by the MPAA?
I’ve met a few comic artists and writers that were surprised that various celebrities asked for THEIR autographs. Some examples included David Bowie and Gene Simmons - have you had any similar experiences where a celebrity asked for your autograph?
Lastly what is your favorite written and drawn comic book story?
Oh yea, two cameos in fact. One very minor, where I get buffeted by shards of broken glass and another Robert Rodriguez and I do it as a surprise, as two thugs who end up committing suicide. It’s very short, it’s very sweet and it’s very funny if you know us, because we both stay very much in the character we perform on film. We perform as we are making the film.
I think anyone who has a problem with seeing Eva Green’s breasts should probably see a shrink.
Yes but usually for relatives. My nephew would like a copy of Sin City signed, or a given page that was their favorite signed, that sort of thing, and yeah, with Dark Knight, everybody asked me to sign that. I think there are only about 3 copies out there of Dark Knight that I haven’t signed.
That’s tough, because we are talking about 75 years of history. I list among them Will Eisner’s The Spirit, the title was Sans Serif (I remember reading it when I was al title kid on my bicycle, I would go out on Wednesdays and buy comics at the local drugstore - back then there were no comic shops, and I found a strange comic that was just unusual, it was a different size,a different price, and I picked it up out of curiosity, I wound up stopping under a streetlight and reading the first story in it which was san Serif and I was immediately transported. I thought “Who was this new guy? He’s brilliant, I can learn so much from this guy.” And the copyright on it was 1947. He was that far ahead of his time back in the early days of WWII. He was my mentor and we got to know each other quite well over the years and he taught me a great many things. We had a 25 years argument. Every conversation, we’d be arguing about things like the use of word balloons or panel gutters, and these things that were nothing to most people, but we would argue in very loud voices, him being a Bronx Zoo and me being an Irish Catholic, we were very loud arguers. And every argument would end with him ramming his hand against the table and standing and saying “I don’t know why I even *talk * to you anymore. That went on for 25 years) I dearly love him and I can’t describe how much I learned from him.
Which legendary comic hero would you like to do a story for?
Again, I get back to Captain America, because I find him such a wonderful anachronism. And also, I feel that he features virtues that my country has either lost or misplaced for a very long time. Especially at a time when the country is so clearly threatened, a hero like that is outstanding. I remember telling people at Marvel, just a few days after 9/11, that I hoped they realized what they had there, because Captain America’s reaction to 9/11 would have been pretty direct.
What sparked the idea for Sin City?
I always wanted to draw comic books. I decided I would draw them when I was six years old, and read them avidly. Then I turned 12 or 13, and I lost all interest in reading Spider-Man and the other ones. The stories seemed silly to me, and meanwhile I’d fallen in love with detective comics. So combining the 2 interests to me seemed quite natural, so I started doing tough guy comics. So when I moved to New York in order to break into the business, they would all at me as if I brought in a dead rat and say “All we do are guys in tights, why are you showing us this stuff?” and here I would be working so hard on getting the art right. So I had to learn how to draw superheroes, and I did them for must have been 18 years or so, and when I started getting invitations from Hollywood, it was always as a screenwriter and always frustrating, because I equate writing a screenplay to creating a fire hydrant with a block’s worth of dogs lined up to pee on it. And so when I finished my stint in Hollywood, I hadn’t drawn in 2 years and I decided would simply indulge myself doing the comic I wanted to, so I would be doing the guys in trench coats. Only now there was a market for it. I didn’t know that, but I knew I wanted to try it. And it succeeded.