HT Talks To . . . Frank Miller
Frank Miller: Renaissance man. He's had legendary runs as writer and artist on the comic book Daredevil (including the creation of Elektra) and the historic miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (about a geriatric Caped Crusader, a pubescent female Robin, and a sexually ambiguous Joker). Miller also scripted the two RoboCop movie sequels. Around this same time, he also thought up his predominately black-and-white crime anthology, Sin City, which he would ultimately direct, with Robert Rodriguez, for the big screen. The movie is now available in a stunning special edition from Dimension Home Video. Remarkably serious yet surprisingly soft-spoken, Miller recently honored us with an invitation to his New York City studio.
How did you come to write your first movie, RoboCop 2?
I got a call from Jon Davison, the producer, saying that they were stuck for a sequel, and I came up with the most ridiculous script in the world. It would have been a five-hour movie.
Was RoboCop 2 also your acting debut?
It was, actually. I tend to die in all my parts. I'm very proud of that.
So, when and where did Sin City originate?
In the Hollywood Hills in California. I sat down one morning, decided I was going to ignore everything else, do exactly what I wanted to do, and see if people liked it. I had no idea if anybody would buy it. And I told the publisher, "If this loses money, I'll pay." So, it came out, and it sold very, very well.
How happy were you when Sin City received Mickey Spillane's seal of approval?
That's kind of like having Moses tap you on the shoulder and say, "Well done!"
In the new extended cut, we get to see Marv's mom. It's a Wonderful scene, but we've lost Marv's family resemblance from the comic.
Yeah, I know, but that actress is so wonderful, we just had to keep her the way that she was. Otherwise, it would have looked silly. She's a real person.
For the movie to happen, how critical was it for you to be the director as well as the writer?
It was crucial. I was willing to co-direct, but I was not willing to be just the screenwriter. And Robert came in and offered me everything I wanted.
Was your experience as director what you thought it would be?
No. It was a brand-new adventure. I was like a little boy in a whole new fort. I had a sketchbook; I was constantly drawing the shots that we used. But the thing that blew me away about this process is, I love actors. I had no idea that actors were as sincere and intelligent as they are.
How important was the casting aspect to you?
Absolutely critical. And we got a superb cast. Robert has great instincts when it comes to casting. Mickey [Rourke as Marv] was his idea. Bruce Willis was his idea. In other places, I would come in and raise a fuss and fight for a certain actor or say I wanted something in particular.
Who was one of the actors you insisted on?
Well, when we were trying to cast Gail, we were in California, and I said, "We're not getting it." These are wonderful actresses: They're beautiful; they're sweet; they're line-perfect. I said, "Robert, get me a New Yorker!" And, so, from Alphabet City comes Rosario Dawson. And she owned the part as soon as she walked in. I think Rosario can pull off anything.
In the end, how close do you think the film comes to your original vision of Sin City?
It's a new creation, but it's the most extraordinarily faithful adaptation of a comic ever done. And I adore it. I love it. I don't think it's slavish.
So, was it a Long road from that original idea to this finished movie?
In some ways, it was a strangely short road, because Robert and I were shooting about two months after he first approached me. And then we shot the entire movie in 45 days.
I have a whole group of friends who don't even read comic books, and they all loved the movie. I keep hearing: "We love Marv," and, "We love the babes."
The babes are memorable. And Mickey Rourke hit it out of the park, a combination of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. I also think that Bruce Willis did a very calm, studied, beautiful performance as Hartigan. And Clive Owen just broke every woman's heart.
Hartigan seems especially tough. he's all about restraint.
At one point, I was joking in Nietzschian terms to my actors: I pointed to Bruce and said, "You're my Apollo." I pointed to Mickey and said, "You're my Dionysius."
Your story "A Dame to Kill For" is going to be the basis of the next movie?
I'm weaving a new story in through it. But this is not going to be a three parter. This is going to be one big story.
What's the status of the film adaptation of 300?
They're stating to shoot now. And [director] Zack Snyder is doing a ruthlessly faithful version. I saw all the drawings; I saw all the models being built.
What did you think of his version of Dawn of the Dead?
Thought it was cool.
You and Darren Aronofsky developed your 1986 story Batman: Year One into a potential movie, and now many of your original ideas appear in Batman Begins.
I just wanted a good movie, and I think we got one. I was treated extremely well by Warner Brothers when I wrote Batman: Year One for the movie. And then, of course, Chris Nolan came along, and Darren left the movie, and they had to replace everybody. But they treated me very, very well. And the fact that they used the bit where he takes the heel off his boot and summons the bats—I felt totally vindicated by this world. That was straight from Batman: Year One.
As was the final scene, which teases the introduction of The Joker. Similarly, much of what was good in Daredevil was clearly inspired by your work on that title. What did you think of Elektra?
I didn't see it. All respect to Jennifer Garner, who's a lovely, poised woman and a very good actress. When it comes to Elektra, all I can say is that she's my sweetheart and I'll always love her. When I heard she had a teenage sidekick, I got a little squirrely.
Yeah, I did a review of that one, and, well. . ..
[laughs out loud]
Who would you see as the ideal cast for a Batman: The Dark Knight Returns movie?
For Carrie Kelly [Robin], I'd want to find an unknown, someone who was kind of like Natalie Portman in The Professional. As far as Batman goes, I guess the most annoying choice I could make would be Schwarzenegger, because I think the idea of a Germanic Batman is just terrifying. [inspired impersonation] "You've got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them to make myself crazy." It would have been Eastwood, 20 years ago. I'm sick of this brooding, petulant Batman. I want somebody who, when he comes into the room, you know he's in the room. In my mind, I originally cast David Bowie as Joker.
Being so popular in the comic-book world, have you had any bizarre fan moments?
I love my fans. I find them to be really intelligent and literate. I want to take this opportunity to speak well of them because they're an unusually articulate bunch of people. Sometimes even eloquent. And, you know [laughs], they pay my rent.