Previously, the cast and crew of 'The Spirit' talked about "modern noir", costumes and characters. In our final feature on the film, the cast and crew talk about the influence of the comics and share some strange connections among cast members.
"I was out to interpret Eisner’s creation and to incorporate the two things that Will Eisner and I love deeply, which are New York City and beautiful women," is the mission statement for 'The Spirit' that director Frank Miller enunciated to the press.
"My relationship with Will Eisner was a long and abiding one where we argued incessantly," Miller said and went on to describe his first meeting with the man, in which an associate showed Eisner some of his Daredevil pages. "He finally read the page. Glared at me, and said 'He’s laying in the back of a garbage truck, and his caption is saying He’s laying in the back of a garbage truck! –That’s redundant!'
"'Well he’s blind you have to put it together! And he wouldn’t accept that explanation, and so he and I just got at it!
"It was the classic Irish Catholic meets the Bronx Jew, we just went at it tooth and nail, loved each other dearly and as far as what translates from comics to film. I find the truer they are to the source material the better."
After Miller, actor Samuel L. Jackson may have been the biggest devotee of comics on the set.
"I was familiar with the Spirit. I read comic books since I was a very small child and I even convinced Scarlett that she read comic books when she was kid, and it was OK to read Archie and Veronica, because I did. They were funny books," Jackson enthused.
"You know then you had other kinds of comics, so I read comics all around. I was amazed with The Spirit although he wasn’t one of my favorite characters because he didn’t have any super powers. Come on, everyone wanted to be fast like The Flash or strong like Superman. I wanted to be Aquaman because I swam a lot."
It was the movie that brought Eisner's comics back into Jackson's life.
"I was reintroduced when I found out Frank was doing this project. Frank was actually kind enough to send us every copy The Spirit ever made. So, I started looking at it and listening to The Octopus’ voice and figuring out what it was," the actor continued. "We started talking to talk more and Frank and I would meet [and] talk about The Octopus. I realized that, you know, he had his own reality which we decided to…put out there every day in a different costume. You know, when he woke up everyday, he’d wake up in whatever fantasy he wanted to live in and that’s how he dressed.
"And as we got to that place we realized the genius and the dementia," Jackson continued. "It’s quite an honor to actually be able to walk into a situation and put flesh and blood to a character that’s only been a pair of gloves. And I thank Frank for that opportunity and he gave me that license to be as demented and as devious and…I kind of took that as my license to do all the things I ever wanted to do on film and chew as much scenery as I thought I could and not be criticized for it."
On the other hand, and contrary to what Jackson says, Scarlett Johansson said she's not really a fan of comics. "That world always seemed so exclusive to me. What brought me to this project was Frank. I loved 'Sin City'," she aid and emphatically repeated, "LOVED 'Sin City' and I loved '300' and I thought he must be a pretty interesting fellow."
For actor Dan Lauria, who plays Commissioner Dolan in the film, it was neither comics nor Frank Miller that brought him into the fold of 'The Spirit' but rather a longstanding association with producers Michael Uslan and Deborah del Prete.
"I had a reading program where every Monday night we’d read a new play to help new writers get literary agents, and that program was cosponsored by Deborah Del Prete. I had no idea that Deborah was into comics, I knew Michael was," Lauria related. "They would get along and talk. But I had no idea what the hell they were talking about."
Turns out, at least some of the time, they were talking about this movie. "So I had a chance to read. And Deborah said okay we’re going to let you read the big part, but there’s only small parts left. And I read the big part, and the next day..."
Miller interrupts, "...he read the part and I sat down the next night and started re-writing the part. Because originally the character had a much nicer side to him but I realized one look at Dan’s face and you’re going to love him anyway so I just made him as rough as I could."
Dolan's sensitive side shows through the most when he's doing scenes with The Spirit. The Commissioner is the hero's sole confidant in the movie, but there's an unexpected element to Lauria's relationship with star Gabriel Macht that adds a special nuance to those scenes.
"Dan’s known me since I think I was five or six," Macht explained.
"I actually used to babysit him," Lauria added quickly.
"He and my father have been friends for a while. And I also grew up watching Dan on television," Macht continued. "It was great give and take right away and we both also come from the theater. It was a very playful way."
Miller agrees. "It was astonishing to watch. When those two appeared on the screen together –it was electric. Nobody could take their eyes off them."
Lauria enjoyed it as well, "And Frank let us have fun. Which is really the key. You know, a great actor once told me, later in his years – after when it’s all said and done, I realized the only thing an actor really needs is a little giggle in his heart. And Jimmy Stewart told me that.
"And I kind of had that feeling the whole time on set. Especially with Gabe. I had a great time with Gabe. I felt like we can push each other, acting wise."
For Gabriel there's a sense of appreciation, not just for the chance to be the leading man, but for the history of the character he's charged with bringing to life.
"Look. There’s no greater opportunity out there for a younger actor than to play The Spirit, I think, and I had the best time working on the film. So…um…I dunno… hopefully people come and see it and we can make a couple more."
Look for THE SPIRIT in theaters on Christmas Day.