Interview With Mark Steven Johnson
(March 2002)

(c)2002 Kuljit Mithra

The writer/director of the upcoming Daredevil movie answers a few questions before filming begins this week! Many thanks to Mark Steven Johnson for the opportunity.

Kuljit Mithra: Most DD fans know by now that you are the co-writer and director of the upcoming Daredevil movie, and usually you are described as "Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men, Simon Birch)". Can you tell us a little more about yourself and what got you interested in the movie industry?

Mark Steven Johnson: I was raised in Hastings, Minnesota, a little river town on the Mississippi. I grew up a huge Marvel comics fan. I was the kid that waited outside of the local drug store at 6 a.m. so that I could be the first one to get to the new comics. I always hoped that they would make movies based on my favorite characters, especially Daredevil. It took a lot longer than I expected. And I certainly never knew that I'd be the one to do it!

Mithra: The movie version of Daredevil has been rumoured to be in development for many years. The first I had heard of it was under Chris Columbus's 1492 Productions and it never seemed to get anywhere past the planning stage. I believe former Daredevil writer J.M. DeMatteis wrote a first draft of a script too. Can you go over how the project ended up with a different studio and how you got to be involved? How long did it take for you to pitch your version and get the green light?

Johnson: I remember about seven years ago going in for a meeting with 1492 to talk about doing a rewrite on the script. I was leaving to work on the second Grumpy Old Men movie so I couldn't do the rewrite, I wasn't available, but I told them I loved the character so much that I just wanted to give them my suggestions. That perhaps they might be helpful. First and foremost, I'm a fan. I just want to see a great Daredevil movie. I went after the rights myself a couple of years back. I pitched it all over town, first selling the project and then selling myself. Sony fell out of negotiations with Marvel, then New Regency stepped in and snapped it up. It's taken up the last few years of my life. If it wasn't for my passion for Daredevil I would have bailed by now!

Mithra: With Bullseye, Elektra, Kingpin and other DD supporting characters all appearing in the movie, you're obviously familiar with the comic on a level higher than the general public. I'm guessing Frank Miller rates high on your list of DD creators, but what creators defined Daredevil for you as a character? Have you always been a DD fan? Do you still read the comic?

Johnson: I started with Stan Lee, of course, then got hooked on Frank Miller in High School. I was a rabid fan and collector but, like many others, fell out of Daredevil in the 90's. Kevin Smith brought DD back in a huge way and is single-handedly responsible for my passion of comics returning. I've grown to really love both Bendis and Mack's storylines. I thought Mack's "Parts of a Hole" was just terrific. Besides DD I'm currently reading Elektra (of course), Punisher, Ultimate Spider-man, Ultimate X-Men, and Alias from the Max Line. I am a Marvelite. No question about that.

Mithra: Daredevil has sometimes been compared to Spider-Man, so I wanted to know what you feel are the similarities and differences between the two characters? How about comparing DD and Batman?

Johnson: For me, visually, I have to always be thinking about similarities to the Spider-man movie. It's going to be HUGE. I think it's going to be right up there with one of the biggest movies of all time. Everyone knows who Spider-man is. Daredevil is largely unknown to the general public. So it's been my goal to separate ourselves from the other superhero movies, both in tone and style. Daredevil will be a darker, more dramatic film. It shows the real world consequences of putting your body and soul on the line every night. There are consequences to the violence. There's no healing factor or spider-strength to fall back on, just his heightened senses. I love that. The Man Without Fear. Whenever I hit a roadblock I always come back to that and it opens me back up.

I like Batman but I could never relate to him. He's a billionaire in Gotham City. Matt Murdock is a store front lawyer that lives in a Hell's Kitchen brownstone. That's a real place and a real guy that I can identify with.

Mithra: I'd like to get your thoughts on your casting choices. As of now, six major roles have been cast. Can you go over what you feel the actors chosen bring to the role and what you were looking for when deciding on who to hire?

David Keith as Jack Murdock

Johnson: Great actor. And a dead ringer for Jack Murdock. He's physical, rugged, handsome, and breaks your heart.

Mithra: Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson

Johnson: I'm a big fan of Jon's. I don't want Foggy to just be the comic relief--the spit-take guy. Favreau makes Foggy a real character that we care about. Someone that grounds the movie when things get crazy. He makes me laugh because he's clever. He's got a lot of heart and soul.

Mithra: Colin Farrell as Bullseye

Johnson: Colin is going to be amazing. He's got incredible charisma. He's going to make for a wild, dangerous assassin.

Mithra: Jennifer Garner as Elektra

Johnson: I just saw her in a costume fitting and--WOW! She looks like she just stepped out of the comic book. Incredibly sexy, incredibly powerful, already mastering the sais. But most importantly, she's a great actress and will make Elektra somebody that we'll all fall in love with.

Mithra: Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin

Johnson: I knew that there would be some controversy on this one. I looked at a lot of actors. Wrestlers. You name it. But in the end, I went with the best big man working today. To me, MCD is more true to the comic book than anyone else out there. The most important thing about the Kingpin is not whether he's black or white, it's whether or not he strikes fear into you. You must believe that he could grab Daredevil and snap his spine in half. If you go with someone smaller, he becomes Lex Luther. Remember, Affleck is over 6'3". He dwarfs a lot of the so-called "big men." I don't want to use special effects to make somebody bigger because, again, that takes me away from the reality of the film. MCD is going to play him as Wilson Fisk. Not a hip-hop version. Not a street version. He's true in every way to the character from the comic book--except that he's black. If I stayed true to the race of the comic book, I'd have an all-white cast. And how true to life is that? Regardless, this isn't about race. If MCD was white I'd cast him. If he was Hispanic I'd cast him. He just happens to be black and the best actor for the role. In the end, I think he's going to be the ultimate Kingpin.

Mithra: Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock/Daredevil

Johnson: Ben is not only going to be a great Daredevil, he's going to be a great Matt Murdock. Wait until you see him in costume. It is intimidating. I'm amazed at how quickly he's picked up the martial arts and billy club moves. Ben gives the character soul, sex appeal, intelligence, and violence. He is dedicated and passionate about this movie. And, like myself, he's a life-long fan of Daredevil. I'm incredibly fortunate to have him.

Mithra: Any other smaller roles that have been cast that you can talk about?

Johnson: I just cast one of my favorite actors, Joe Pantoliano, as Ben Urich! I am incredibly jazzed about his joining the cast.

Mithra: A big concern of DD fans is what the costume will be like in the movie. I've read that it will be based on the red costume but won't just be spandex. Has the costume been finalized and will it be a darker red than in the comics? What does the costume have to do and what SHOULDN'T it do? Who has been involved in designing the costume and creating it?

Johnson: As always, the costume is the trickiest part of adapting a comic to film. What looks cool in the comic books often doesn't translate. (I love Daredevil: Yellow. But I wouldn't want to film my hero in a yellow costume!). It was my goal to make it feel real, but at the same time stay true to the comic. I think we accomplished both. James Acheson is the costume designer. He did the Spider-man costume, which I think is brilliant. We decided to go with a dark red, the color of blood, and keep our lines faithful to the comic. This is a guy who puts his body on the line every night and he needs to protect himself to make it real. Yes, he does have horns, yes he has the billy club, but no, it isn't Spandex.

Mithra: Can you quickly go over all the events of the changing locations for the movie? Initially it was Montreal, then Vancouver and now it's set for filming in L.A.

Johnson: We were going to go to Canada, as many productions do, for the dollar value. But downtown L.A. has the best Hell's Kitchen look. To create Hell's Kitchen in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, would require a tremendous amout of CGI. But I want the film to feel real and so we made sacrifices to shoot it here. Of course, in a perfect world, we'd be shooting in New York City. Unfortunately, it's cost prohibitive to shoot a film this size there.

Mithra: How confident are you that L.A. can substitute for Hell's Kitchen?

Johnson: I've scouted Hell's Kitchen and when you get up into the rooftops of downtown L.A., you'd be amazed at how similar they look. L.A. has a myriad of brownstones and fire escapes and old buildings that really do look like the Kitchen. It's the scenes I have in Mid-town that we need the help of CGI plates.

Mithra: Has anyone been hired for music yet? If not, what type of music do you think will go well with the movie?

Johnson: Graeme Revell is the composer. He's a terrific musician. We've already had many different groups and artists approach us about songs for the sound track. That's something we're putting together right now. It should be terrific. I write to music, and am a huge music buff. So I'm very particular about the sound of this film. Every character has his own feel, his own music, and the film will show what happens when those characters and those sounds collide.

Mithra: Is it true a teaser trailer will appear with Minority Report in the summer?

Johnson: I don't know. I find out most of my information from you!

Mithra: Did you catch the fan made DD trailer by French director David Sarrio? What did you think of it?

Johnson: I thought it was a real kick. Good for him. I'd like to see more fan movies, like the fan art on Comics2film. I love that.

Mithra: Can you give any details on: Rhythm and Hues, Encore Software?

Johnson: Encore is designing a game as we speak to coincide with the film's release. How cool is that? A daredevil video game. I'm psyched. Rhythm and Hues is one of the premier effects houses in the business. They are committed to making this an incredible looking film.

Mithra: How many drafts of the script have you written and as the writer/director, will you ever deviate from it while you are filming?

Johnson: I'm currently doing a production rewrite on my 32nd draft of the script. I have some very smart people on my crew and cast. I'll steal a good idea from anybody. But in the end, this is the story I want to tell. And I've had a long time to think about it!

Mithra: What type of rating is the studio hoping for this movie?

Johnson: PG-13. But I'm hoping for two different cuts on the DVD so I can have a hard R version.

Mithra: Good luck with the movie shoot this week! How many months will it be and is the studio still projecting a January 17, 2003 release?

Johnson: I start shooting tomorrow (March 20)! I wrap in July. It's hard to believe we're finally here. We're set for Jan. 17th, MLK weekend. But that could always change.

Thanks, Kuljit. Keep up the good work.

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(c) Kuljit Mithra 2002
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
http://www.manwithoutfear.com
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