Neil Gaiman's turn on the Hollywood dance floor is coming up fast. The prolific comic writer/novelist/filmmaker is currently on a whirlwind tour that will culminate in his being a guest of honor at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Comics2Film's Alex Dueben sat down with Gaiman last week to talk about his trifecta of film projects: 'Beowulf', 'Coraline' and, most importantly, next month's 'Stardust'.
Alex Dueben for Comics2Film (C2F): So what do you think of 'Stardust' the movie?
Neil Gaiman: I loved it. I remember being very, very worried about what it was going to be like. I was sort of helping shepherd it through until the first day of shooting. And then everyone went to start filming and I went back home and started writing and then went off to Australia doing a literary festival and couldn't actually get back to England for a couple of months. So when I came in, it was now too late to fix anything. I remember just being terrified.
Charles Vess and my daughter Maddie and I were ushered into a screening room at Pinewood and they put down the lights and showed us half an hour of raw footage. And at the end of it I was like, okay, this could be really good. And then I got to worry again until about six weeks ago when I was back in England and I got to see an almost finished version of the film. I was told I could invite people. Basically they were going to do a screening for me in a screening room that held fifty people, so I got to invite another forty-eight people. And it was lovely. And these were my friends so if it had been crap, they would have told me, too. So you're sitting there hoping that they like it, and they did. It was an enormous relief.
C2F: You've had a very active role in the making of the film especially considering that you didn't write the script.
Gaiman: Alan Moore in this case was for me the equivalent of the good friend of yours who says, "Okay I'm going to have a walk through that mine field, I'll just go off for a wander. And you get to watch when things blow up." And in Alan's case, his philosophy on movie making - and Alan's now had three major movies made of his work - had been: I did the comic, I'm very pleased with that, you can give me the check and I will cash it, go and make your movie, I will have nothing to do with it.
And I discovered that if you do that you wind up with movies like 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' getting made. Or you wind up with a version of 'From Hell' in which Abilene instead of being a solid middle class police sergeant is Johnny Depp on an opium trip or whatever. And you're there thinking, well why.
You do need somebody from time to time to go, "don't do that." And that was one of my functions on 'Stardust'. Just being able to go sometimes, "no don't do that."
I like [Director Matthew Vaughn]. I trust Matthew. I'm giving Matthew the rights to do it, having said no to about twenty people since I got the rights back from Miramax. Miramax had the rights for about two years, I ot the rights back from them, and then every three or four months after that my agent would call me up and say such-and-such a director wants 'Stardust' or such-and-such a beautiful young female actor would like 'Stardust' as a starring vehicle for herself. And I would say, "I don't want it to be a starring vehicle for anybody. If we're going to do it, we should do it properly."
So with Matthew, when it got to the point where he wanted to do it and direct it and I really do trust him, but I wanted to find him a co-writer, because he needed one. He was really confident about all of the action sequences and all of that side of the block and really uncomfortable with anything to do with romance or girly bits. So I went and found Jane Goldman who was an old friend of mine whose writing I love and when she told she wanted to write screenplays I suddenly did that weird thing where you go, hang on, that could work if you put them together. And then just got to kibbutz; lean over people's shoulders and go, you don't want to do that, that would piss the fans off and it would piss me off.
An example. They cast Mark Strong as Septimus. They hadn't yet cast Primus, who was going to be the oldest brother. Somebody, I think the costume department, came up with a bright idea. They said look, if the person we find to play Primus is younger than mark Strong, why don't we just make Mark Strong Primus and make the other person Septimus and we'll just change the names in the script, but they'll still do the same thing. Now Primus will be the 'baddie' and Septimus will be the 'goodie.' And they thought this was logical. They didn't realize. Hang on, lots of people have read the book and they'll be going, that's the kind of thing that's seen as a 'fuck you' to the fans. And it took me to go, you don't do that, I don't care.
And in actual fact I think Mark Strong and Jason Flemyng are more or less exactly the same age, but one of them has makeup that makes him look a bit older. That's how you do it. But that's the kind of thing where I get to just say no, you don't do that. And that was why. Let me put it this way, if hadn't watched Alan walk through the minefield three times to the point where the third time through he announced he wasn't going to have his name on anything, I might not have done it like that. I might not have gotten so involved.
C2F: Frank Miller has had a great deal of respect and attention paid to his work, and with the way you've been treated on this film and others, do you see that respect for the material and the creators becoming more common? Or to put it another way, do you see a faithful 'Sandman' film being made?
Gaiman: I would still rather no 'Sandman' movie ever got made than a bad 'Sandman' movie got made. And making a 'Sandman' movie or having one made is not high on my list of things that need to happen before I die.
I think if a 'Sandman' movie gets made, it will get made because somebody will come along who has the same relationship to 'Sandman' that Peter Jackson did to 'Lord of the Rings' or even that Sam Raimi had to 'Spider-Man'. It's important for them, they have to tell that story and they have to get it right. Because Sandman is two and a half thousand pages and it's not something that's an automatic no-brainer. It's more problematic than 'American Gods' and 'American Gods' is problematic. So I don't know.
But I look at Frank and it took Frank roughly twenty years to get to the point of being Frank in Hollywood. People forget 'Robocop 3'. I've watched Frank go through his various incarnations of hell with 'Sin City' and killed at least a couple movies of it along the way. It took two films that were faithful to get there. I don't know. I'm lucky. I have three films coming out over the next year: 'Stardust', 'Beowulf' and 'Coraline'. And there are lots of things out there that I'd like to do.
I did 'Sandman'. I'm really, really proud of 'Sandman'. And 'Sandman' is still in print in every edition it's ever been in and now it's coming out in these huge killer burglar editions, these Absolute things. But I think the amount of financial investment that it would take from a major studio to make a really good 'Sandman' series of movies would be such that not even Frank could get it made.
'Stardust' opens in theaters August 10th. Visit StardustMovie.com for more info and look for more from Neil Gaiman's Comic-Con appearances in the coming weeks on Comics2Film.