Frank Miller needs no introduction to comic book fans, having penned such legendary works as Daredevil, The Dark Knight Returns, 300 and Sin City. The last of these became a hit film under the helm of director Robert Rodriguez. Nine years later, the two return to collaborate on Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, once again combining Miller’s words and images with Rodriguez’s cinematic eye. They sat down recently to discuss the film with the press.
Question: What was different in your approach to the work here than it was with the first film?
Robert Rodriguez: I remember with the first film, we looked at what we could do with green screen and digital, and Frank’s book. I thought, “well maybe we won’t go as far as the book, because it might just be too bizarre to audiences.” We took about a half-step between the graphic novel and the movie. And people really loved it. The feel of it… people just thought it was a great treatment of the material. So this time we pushed a little harder towards the book. This material is more abstract, in his drawings, in his graphic approach to it. It’s just eye-popping. So we thought, “Let’s go all the way!” It wasn’t really updating the look so much as making it closer to the graphic novel.
Then there’s 3-D, which I really wanted to use on this one. In the absence of information, you almost don’t know where to look, but because his style is so stripped down, everything would pop a lot more, and you really would feel like he was in his world, in Sin City.
Q: Frank, there are so many books of yours on the shelf. Where does Sin City fit in among your works?
Frank Miller: When I first decided that I wanted to do comic books, I was all of six years old, and I decided I would do this for the rest of my life. I grew up on Superboy comics, and then Spider-Man and that sort of thing. After a while, it started to seem a little juvenile to me and I lost interest. But I kept drawing, and meanwhile what I was reading things like Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer. My two loves eventually merged into doing crime comics, which I thought was just a natural fit. I moved to New York and was soon disabused of that notion. They said, “You need to go back home and pump gas. We only want you to draw guys in tights.” So I learned how to draw guys in tights, and I put them in as many crime situations as I could. After a while I gained some notoriety, and after working in Hollywood, I decided that I would just please myself. I sat down and I would do the one comic book that could not possibly be turned into a movie. And that was Sin City. [Points to Rodriguez] Then he came along! [Laughter]
Q: How traumatic was casting these parts for you?
FM: Casting is key and here again I think Robert is just a genius. Look at Nancy. We couldn’t have done what we did for her without Jessica [Alba]. The original working title for her story here was “Nancy’s Last Dance.” She’d been the abused victim, she’d been through the ringer, and she found herself in the same position that too many women in that situation do: an exotic dancer. This time though, she turns into something completely different. I told Jessica at the end of the first film, “I’ve already got something really cool planned, so please show up for the second movie!”
It’s the same with the other actors. One of the first scenes we shot was with Josh [Brolin] and Eva [Green]. Their characters meet again after four years in a bar, and she genuinely seems to be falling back in love with him, and he’s doing everything in his power to resist her. But he can’t because she’s got her own kind of superpowers… and also she’s Eva. After I saw that scene, and how they played it, and how they were able to cross decades in their performance, I took them both aside individually and said that it was the scene I was most worried about, and that they pulled it off perfectly. That’s what good acting can do.
Q: Robert, you and Jessica Alba have had a long relationship in your work. Can you talk about that?
RR: I met Jessica when she auditioned for me. She was seventeen and too young for the role, but I kept my eye on her because she was one of the few Latin actresses I saw on the scene. Then she got Dark Angel, and I told her “we have to work together.” And I got my chance on the first Sin City. It was very hard to cast the Nancy in the book. It was a very difficult character to figure out. We were trying so hard to be 1-to-1 what the book was. But I loved Jessica’s work so much, I said “you’re just going to have to create Nancy, because the one in the book is just impossible.” She created something in Nancy that inspired Frank to write this next movie. I’m always trying to work with Jessica. I want to put her in every franchise I own!
Q: The TV scene you did together was pretty fun.
RR: We did a scene together that’s showing in the TV when Nancy is lamenting the loss of Hartigan. The script says that there’s an old movie playing, and we were thinking “great, we have to license an old movie.” While we were waiting in between takes, we were on the green screen, and we just said “let’s shoot make-believe scenes from some old movie that never existed!”
FM: We just start ad-libbing dialogue that was just as corny as you can find it. We were playing off of Jessica’s lines in the script. Every line is an echo.
RR: Her lines kind of came out of nowhere, so we thought, “what if she’s just repeating lines from this old movie that she’s seen way too often?” So whenever we had five minutes, we just popped on fedoras and jackets. We just thought it would be fun to be there in the background.