Warren Ellis On Red, Bruce Willis And A Possible Sequel
The acclaimed writer discusses his thoughts on the movie and the possibility of a second outing for Bruce and co…
When Warren Ellis first penned Red, a brutal graphic novel about a retired CIA agent who goes on blood-thirsty rampage when an attempt is made on his life by his former employers, he surely couldn’t have envisage what Hollywood would make of it. The star-packed big screen adaptation, as full of laughs as it was imaginative violence, was a surprise highlight of 2010, full of great performances and memorable action. We caught up with Ellis and find out what he really thought of the film and whether those rumours of a sequel are true…
SFX: What are your memories of the Red going into production?
Warren Ellis: I remember it all went extremely fast. We cleared the option, then John and Eric [Hoeber, screenwriters] wrote the first draft fairly quickly. Everything started happening I guess around September or October , then Bruce Willis came on board and that’s what really put it in motion. This film wouldn’t have got made without Bruce Willis, he became the real engine behind it. And then I seem to remember it went like lightning; Bruce came on and all of a sudden we were shooting by the January or Feb . I seem to remember everything going in four or five months from Mr Willis coming on to us shooting.
How involved were you in the process?
I deliberately get myself apart from the process. I didn’t want to be that arsehole who just perches on the shoulder and says “this isn’t like the book”.
Were you open to changes being made?
Well, if you sell someone the right to adapt, then it would be rude to not let them if you see what I mean. I was interested to see what they did with it. Obviously if I hadn’t been open to that I wouldn’t have sold them the option.
So there’s no room to be precious with these things?
Not really, there’s really not. Once you sell them I mean quite specifically the right to adapt, you can’t really complain about how they adapt it. If it was going to bother you, then you shouldn’t have sold it!
How do you feel about the direction they took the story?
Well as I’ve said, Red is a short book, 56 pages. If you shot the book, your film would be about half an hour long, so I always knew they were going to have to do a massive expansion of it. But they kept the spine of the story, and the new characters they created came directly from the themes of the book which are all intact, so I’m happy. I think they did a terrific job of it really.
Did you enjoy the film?
It was fun. I got to watch it with my daughter at the London premiere.
What did you make of Bruce Willis’ performance?
Well he kind of inhabited it really didn’t he? It was one of those things where he just kind of walked off the page. How did that happen?!
Were there any other stand-out performances for you?
That’s so difficult isn’t it? I thought John Malcovich killed it, and I tell you he’s not what you expect when you meet him. When you hear John Malkovich you expect this fairly scary guy – he’s the sweetest man on Earth, he is such a sweet guy. Everyone on the set loved him, he’s just the nicest bloke you ever met. And of course Helen Mirren, she was amazing. It’s actually hard to think of a bad performance in that film. I really like what Karl Urban did as well. At first I didn’t even realise it was him in that Bourne film. Nice bloke too, very down to earth. It seems weird but when you meet an actor who seems big on screen, you don’t necessarily expect them to be big people. He genuinely is a big bloke. I can totally see him doing Dredd, I think that was very smart casting.
Did you get much time on set?
I don’t like to spend a lot of time on set, because when you visit a set you quickly realise you’re the only person there who’s not working. It actually gets a bit uncomfortable after a while, so I was only out there for a couple of days. Particularly on Robert [Schwentke, director]’s set, people were working. I was at both units, first and second unit, and I mean Robert is not a slave driver but he sets a tone – you’re there to do the job. Everyone is perfectly happy, but everyone knows exactly what they’ve got to do.
The second unit was the stunt unit, Mr Willis and his crew doing the fight scene in the CIA office. I missed Karl that night; they were shooting with the stunt double, but Bruce Willis sets the tone. He is there to do a job, and he is very, very focussed. And after a while, you’re just sort of like a spare prick at a wedding, and you’re getting in the way of people cos you’re the only person who’s not moving and not working. It was fun, but any longer and I think I’d have been making a nuisance of myself.
And now there’s going to be a sequel?
Now John and Eric are writing a sequel. They’ve been commissioned to write a sequel, but that’s a fair distance from “there’s gonna be a sequel”.
So it’s only a germ of an idea at the moment?
Well, Summit are cautious, because they’re self-financing and they don’t have money to burn, because there’s only so many Twilight films they can make, they’re running out now. They’re cautious people at Summit.
Even though Red performed well at the box office?
I know we cleared 90 million, we’re crawling towards 100 million in the US and around the same in the rest of the world. The film didn’t cost a lot to make and they’d covered most of the budget in foreign sales before it opened, so we did well. But they’re still going to be cautious and a lot of it is going to be contingent, I would imagine, on whether the cast want to come back.
It looks like they were having so much fun…
It seemed to be a huge amount of fun, they really did kind of get together, and there was an intent to be more ambitious than perhaps they had to be with a film like that. They were doing a lot of extra stuff. And it was a very ego-less set. I mean for the amount of big performers there, everyone said it was remarkably ego-less. Partly, this sounds horrible, because of their age, partly because these are people that are past all that and are just there to have fun with the job.
Is there any indication of where the plot could go in the sequel?
No, none at all. It’s in their hands, at this point they don’t even need to call me as there’s no Red 2 book to base it on. It’s all going to be flying off from what they did on the film so I’ve got no idea at this point where it’s going next.
Red will be released on DVD on 14 February.