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Interview: Avi Arad, Gary Foster, Mark Steven Johnson for "Daredevil"

By Paul Fischer Monday February 10th 2003 12:54AM
Avi Arad, Gary Foster, Mark Steven Johnson for "Daredevil"

The comic book is taking leaps and cinematic bounds to the big screen, and following the huge success of Spider-Man, audiences are eager for the much anticipated Daredevil, featuring Ben Affleck as the blind hero. The film also stars Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau, and Joe Pantoliano, along with Ireland's Colin Farrell.

Twentieth Century Fox has a lot of faith in this multi-million dollar fantasy epic, so as well as previewing the film's initial trailor before a select, but packed media, the studio trotted out stars Affleck, Garner, Duncan and Pantoliano, as well as writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, and producers Avi Arad and Gary Foster. During a break in shooting in Los Angeles Angeles' Biltmore Hotel, an eager press wanted to get the low down on the film. Our man in LA Paul Fischer was there to help ask a plethora of probing questions. Here are the major highlights, mostly featuring big-namers Affleck and Garner, who only participated in half of the junket. The pair were shooting a glamourous ballroom scene and were appropriately attired.

Question: Avi, first of all, can you talk about a a little background on the road Daredevil has taken to the big screen? Avi Arad: I'm very happy to be here and we're finally making our first super-human movie. Daredevil, as you know, is a regular man. A man with a heart, a man that is trying to do things right and use his humanity really to win. We've been waiting to make this movie for a long time, we're getting the right team. I'll tell you a little anecdote. We were just in Japan celebrating another movie - another guy in a costume - and Sam Raimi was asked by the press, "What would be the next Marvel movie he wanted to see the most?" And without hesitation, he said, "Daredevil." So, we're just very happy to be here. We have an amazing team as you can tell and we know it's going to be an amazing experience. Gary Foster: Six years ago, Mark Steven Johnson came into my office and said, "There's a property available or it's going to be available called Daredevil. It's my dream to make this movie" - and I'd never heard of it to be honest. He threw a bunch of comic books on my desk and I read them and I immediately got attracted to this character because here's a guy who has a moral dilemma, there's a struggle between the divided self - his humanity, he has a handicap. It was a real person in a world that was spectacular and I think that's a unique aspect of what this genre has not done yet, which is why I think Daredevil is "the" unique movie that'll be out next year. So, Mark has been driving for this his whole life - six years trying to get the deals done and finally got it done. He's truly the creative force behind this as the writer and the director. Mark Steven Johnson: This is something I've been wanting to do since I was about twelve years old. I've been reading the comic ever since then. It's something that's become more of an obsession with. I started tracking down Avi and Marvel, like Gary said - many years ago. Pretty much up after the restraining order. It wasn't that bad. But Avi saw that it was something that I wanted more than anybody else could want something. This is something I've been writing for the last couple of years and pursuing for the last six years. For me, my dream was to get all of these people involved and get the movie made that I've seen in my head for such a long time. I'm just thankful to Marvel and Fox and New Regency for giving me the opportunity. I'm obviously not the obvious choice for something like this. What we're hoping to do is make something different, make a movie that'll make a great, kick-ass superhero movie at the same time, it'll have some emotion and heart to it and characters that you actually care about. That's been our goal and we'll see if we succeed. Question: Ben, you've been in love with this character long before this film came to fruition. Can you comment on that? Ben Affleck: Yeah, it was a comic book that was my favourite comic book as a kid. Not as a little kid, it was kind of early adolescence into adolescence - 13 or 14. It was an enthusiasm that I shared with Kevin Smith who I got to do when we were doing Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Kevin was an avid collector of comics and had all these comic books, so he was impressed with my knowledge of the Daredevil storyline, whereas my knowledge of other comic book storylines apparently was severely lacking and he was decidedly unimpressed. So, he believed me that I was a real fan. Ultimately, what he ended up doing was writing a series of the comics. When they later compiled them into what they call a graphic novel, he called me and said, "Do you want to write a foreward to this?" I thought that would be a really cool, fun thing, particularly since, in the comic book, he had someone talk about that "Matt Murdock had tickets to the Good Will Hunting premiere" as kind of a nod to me and Matt. I thought it was really sweet and tangentially, my name appeared in a Daredevil comic, which was pretty exciting. Anyway, I wrote the foreward and talked about how much I loved the comic and that was out there and was something these guys knew about. When they came to me about doing it, it was a no-brainer to me. Everybody has their one thing from their childhood that they really remember and affected them and moved them and this was that thing for me. So, it was really a no-brainer and I was excited to do it. It's just such an incredible cast to work with and Mark has some really exciting, interesting ideas about how he wants to shoot the movie, how he wants it to look, and how he wants it to feel and how he wants it to be different. So, it was something I was very excited about and I'm glad it's come to fruition. Question: As we just saw in the trailer, there's a lot of action and fighting. Will you just tell us how the choreography is working and how it's similar or different to what you've done in the past? Ben Affleck: Well, one of the things that Mark wanted and one of his influences - though I won't speak for him - but through all the movies he showed me - he showed me like twenty movies and I listened to a lot of music and looked at a lot of different things - and one of the heaviest influences was anime and it has this certain look. Of course, it's all animated and to make that live-action was a really interesting idea and has a very distinct feel. The fight sequences are so important as you can see from the teaser. There is some combat. I'm not sure, but I have a feeling that's where they're going with the marketing. We've basically got a couple of guys. We've got Master Cheung-Yan Yuen, one of these guys from Hong Kong, does a lot of the wire stuff and the flips and the spectacular stuff. He's got a great team and they're doing a series of fights. We have another great guy named Jeff who does a similar, but different kind of style that incorporates smash-mouth and street fighting with kung fu and karate. So, hopefully it's something that people haven't seen before and the most pronounced aspect of that is that it's a lot of extra work. Jennifer and I were here for a couple of hours after we finished shooting last night rehearsing extra fight stuff, so it takes a lot more time than a normal movie, but when you see it all put together and looking cool and like a real fight and it's a visually spectacular one, it worthwhile. Jennifer's great. She's fabulous. She's actually better at it than I am. She has had so much training from the Alias thing and she's dancer, so she's shames me every day. Jennifer Garner: The fights are different from what we do on Alias because they're much more specific. On Alias, I basically learn it on Sunday and shoot it on day, Monday or Tuesday. It's done and it's gone. Ben and I have been working on this fight that we're shooting later this week for six weeks now - often three hours a day, every day of the week. We've been working really hard. There's a big difference between what we do here and what we do on Alias. We've been taking a lot of care to make sure things are true and specific and really fun. Question: How long have you been getting ready for this? Jennifer Garner: This is it. We've been preparing as we've gone along, so some of the fights, even with weapons, we literally learned on the spot and shot them on the spot. Ben Affleck: We did some training with the swords beforehand. We were both doing other things. She was doing her TV show and I was doing the movie Gigli. So, after work I was trying to learn how to use the billyclub and she was doing the scythes. Jennifer Garner: At lunch, I was on the Disney lot spinning my sais, yeah. Ben Affleck: The choreography we learned specifically, but we've certainly been putting in time and probably started working on the very first element of this fight back in...definitely deep into June. Question: Since in the movie, Daredevil is indeed blind, what are they having you do to get into that angle? Ben Affleck: It's a good question because it's kind of misleading. In a way, he is blind, yes - he's technically blind, but because he's able to cobble together a sort of mosaic impression of everything around him based on his heightened other senses, he is able to navigate the world. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to do any of these things that you see. So, through smell, through hearing and through an almost evolved sense of sonar, which will be represented in the movie by this really cool series of effects that Mark came up with - this kind of "shadow world" - he sees things, but he can't really see texture. He knows where things are, but he still has to fold his bills the way a regular blind man folds his bills so that he doesn't get a one and a five confused. He still has to read Braille tags to put on his clothes. So, one of the things that Mark came up with was ways to show an interesting combination of the vulnerability and the handicap, with the extra ability. But at the heart of it, he's a man. Everyone else thinks he's blind, so playing it is sort of tricky because he really can get around, but he has to actually look like a blind person. In doing that, I talked to a guy who came to the set and visited quite a bit named Tom Sullivan who is blind and an extraordinary over-achiever - blind or seeing. He's a great skier, jumps out of planes, and does all that kind of stuff that I'm way to scared to do. He was pretty amazing and very helpful just in terms of rudimentary stuff - how to use a cane. I have these contacts that I wear because his eyes were injured and the contacts are this deep murky blue, so actually, when I wear them - I am, in fact, blind. So, the challenge is not stumbling or walking into furniture, because he wouldn't do that. He would know the furniture was there. So, it's sometimes awkward, but it's been fun. Question: Can you comment on what it's like to interpret a comic book character and how different it might be from the comic? Jennifer Garner: It's tricky because Elektra still has to be a real person. She can't be huge in every single direction like comic book characters can be. I think Elektra was specifically written with more subtlety than you see a lot of the time. I read everything I could get my hands on as far out as they went in any direction and then dropped it and try not to think about it too much. Ben Affleck: For me, being a fan of it my whole life, I basically felt like I'd read every Daredevil comic book ever written, so I knew what that side of it was, but it's tricky because you run up against things in the real world, when you're really saying it, seem silly - that don't seem silly when they're in a comic book, so you have to try to find that balance, so in terms of the genre of comic book movies, this one is definitely aiming more toward a character-driven story and so the challenge is to make it honest and believable and that is just something we continue to try and tinker with. We experiment and try different things and I think Mark will continue to play with it in the editing room, but one of things in the comic book is that he's forever brooding and sulking and so on and so forth and full of rage and it's operatic in that sense. You have to modulate the degrees to which you do that, but the last thing that I want to do is betray the spirit of the books. So, I think at the end of the day, what I rely on is my barometer of would this or would this not fit into the Daredevil comics that I remember from when I was a kid. Question: For the other actors, do you have any recollections about the comic strip when you were younger? Michael Clarke Duncan: Well, I was very familiar with The Kingpin. When I read the comic books, that was the only person I read it for - was The Kingpin. Growing up, like I did, I never thought I'd be able to portray this guy. So, when they came to me and said I could be The Kingpin and that I get to fight, I said, "Yeah!" It was like a dream come true. Jon Favreau: I was in high school about the time of the Elektra saga or whatever you want to call it - the Frank Miller period - sort of when Daredevil was in his heyday and breaking new ground. I was very aware of what was going on with it, so it was a very familiar thing to me. I had met Mark Steven Johnson - we were both working on a movie called The Replacements - and I had run into him and he was always telling me about a pet project that he was working on. Finally, I ran into him at one point and he said, "It's going to happen and this is what it is." It wasn't what I thought. I mean, it wasn't exactly Simon Birch 2, so it was a big surprise to me that this was his pet project. It's like finding that your friend is into S&M when you thought that they were just a normal banker. Because he's totally into the nuances of the book. When I saw the script, I was really impressed and I thought, what superhero does he want me to play? And he said, "You know what, Jon? Start eating a bit more. We want you to play Foggy Nelson." Basically, I'm...how would you put it? You remember in Mask? Richard Jeni? I'm like that guy in this movie. I'm like the Wayne Knight character of the movie. So, on one hand, I'm really excited to be part of this great production. It looks wonderful, fantastic, but on the other hand, I feel like the butt of all jokes in the movie - so it's mixed, bittersweet feeling. But the cast is great. We're having a great time. This is my last day and it was really, really a fun ride. All these people are so gracious and nice. The most exciting part is watching Mark's dreams come true because it is so rare that you work with a director on this level who is an auteur. Usually it's a hired gun that has a song-and-dance about the material and why they have a great take on it. This is something that he grew from a seedling and to see it come into fruition in the way it has is really inspiring. I don't know if you can tell it from a press conference, but if you're on the set, you'd see that everyone is extremely inspired by Mark's leadership and by how gracious Ben and Jennifer are being. And the fact that he kept the production in America. There's a lot of runaway production, so I think everybody's appreciative of this shooting in the states and with the level of commitment to the material and the quality that it has. So, all kidding aside, this is a blessed project and I only pray that we get to do more because we've been ahving so much fun on it. Joe Pantoliano: I had no idea about the Daredevil comics. The first time we talked about it, I ran into Mark at a coffee shop in Venice and started talking about it. It sounds fascinating and after this - I'm finally going to read the script. Again, it's always a pleasure to see the enthusiasm from all of the actors and Mark in particular. To echo what Jon just said, it's really a lot of fun. I'm having a lot of fun working on this. It's exciting to see how it's all coming together, so I feel blessed to be a part of it. Question: Jennifer - when you got into acting did you think you'd be doing all these action roles and do you think we'll see even more female action roles in the future? Jennifer Garner: I really thought I'd do Shakespeare festivals for the rest of my life. Maybe a little Ibsen and Strindberg, so no, this is the farthest thing that ever could've been from my mind. But, it's amazing how what you do when you're young circles around and haunts you for the rest of your life. In my case, that's ballet and I was never a wonderful dancer, but I was a very hard-working dancer. It's paid back in the strangest ways. I love the action aspect of this job. I love this kind of inner daredevil of my own that's woken up. I never would've even bungee jumped and now I think nothing of being on a wire a hundred feet up. So, it makes me incredibly happy to rehearse a fight, shoot a fight, and I don't know why! I do hope that women continue to play action roles. It's incredibly empowering to do and I hope it's incredibly empowering to watch as long as there's a character behind them the way I've been lucky in both of my action things are rooted in story and in character. As long as that's there, I hope for any woman that she gets to kick ass for a couple of weeks. It's pretty rewarding. Especially his. Ben Affleck: It's a big draw. Come kick Ben Affleck's ass. Question: Jennifer, what do you think of the Elektra costume and the changes made to it? Jennifer Garner: Actually, Elektra has two different costumes in the comic. The one that's more well-known is the red one with the sashes and apparently nothing underneath. I have to say, I had nothing to do with changing the look. She also does where a black leather costume throughout some of the comics. The costume is not something I would choose to wear in life, but you just have to go for it. And Ben's in tights, pretty much, so it's fun! The costume designer, Jim Acheson, has done an incredible job of taking something that could be so embarrassing and making it as cool as possible. All of the superhero looks have a real hip element to them and they are not your average man-in-tights. Mine is no exception to that. Question: Do you have any difficulties, after the shoot, in detaching yourself from a role as a superhero? Ben Affleck: I don't have any illusions about being a superhero when I go home. I'm acutely aware of how not a superhero I am. I'm decidedly not a Daredevil kind of guy, which is what makes it fun because I get to do the kind of stuff I would never really do in life. Sometimes I feel like I can fight after the rehearsals, I feel like kind of a tough guy, but I'm quickly disabused of that when I run across Mike. Question: What do you think of your costume? Ben Affleck: I think it looks really good, actually. I think it looks good.

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