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Frank Miller: on raising 'The Spirit'

By Leslie Morgan     November 16, 2007

I'm standing on set surrounded by a blanket of what can only be described as a bizarre shade of lime green when Frank Miller approaches. He's tall, lanky and wearing an Indiana Jones style fedora. His smile is wide, his eyes sparkle like a kid at Christmas and his presence is calm yet strong.  One would think the green would engulf him, but it is he who engulfs the sea of green around him.  During a break from filming, after wrapping a scene with Gabriel Macht, Miller spoke about what it's like to be at the helm of the much-anticipated film, 'The Spirit'.

Frank Miller was thirteen years old when he first came across Will Eisner's 'The Spirit.'

"I was blown away and thought it was someone new to comics because it was so far ahead of anything else coming out. I followed it religiously. There was one night when I picked up the latest issue of 'The Spirit' and was so excited I had to stop at a lamppost in Vermont where I lived and read it on the spot. It was the Sand Saref story, which is the basis for this movie."

'The Spirit' is Miller's second foray into directing as he is credited with co-directing 'Sin City' with Robert Rodriguez.

In terms of directing, Miller has been in good hands. He learned the ropes during his time working with Rodriguez as well as his brief time on the set of '300' watching Zach Snyder at the helm.

"I was only briefly on the '300' set...I was kind of wondering if I could knock him unconscious and take his job over and I saw what he was doing and I realized I wasn't ready." Now, however, Miller is as ready as he ever could be directing acclaimed actors Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johanssen, Eva Mendes and Gabriel Macht. "It's a real privilege. I'm in love with the material and doing my best."

In terms of the casting process, Miller knew upon meeting Eva Mendes that she was the only one who could play the character of Sand Saref. He jokes, "I know you wear glasses, but you've got eyes. Eva has a wonderful exquisite anger to her. Her talent aside, her beauty aside, she has an edge to her that the character really needs."

As for Samuel L. Jackson, he was the only person Miller wanted for the character of Octopus. "Even from the start I wanted Sam Jackson to play The Octopus because I've always wanted to work with Sam Jackson.  The Octopus was always a cipher in the old comics and I knew we couldn't get away with two hours of a guy whose face you never see and so I thought who would be the perfect nemesis for The Spirit? Sam Jackson came to mind. It seems to me he's always had a part like this inside him waiting to get out."  As for Jackson's look in the film Miller smiles and says, "Well he's The Octopus."

Many directors find that there are great challenges when having to work with new technologies, but Miller finds the opposite to be the case. "This is the time to refer to not challenges in technology, but opportunities.  Right now it's almost frightening what is possible." As for utilizing the green screen technology Miller continues on saying, "I'm a kid in a candy store. This is the only way I have been trained to direct. I love it because it brings it closer to the art of the page. Technology is exploding all around us. I see a grand and beautiful collusion between anime, live action, comic books and I feel like I am witnessing these forces all come together and borrow from each other. It's a very exciting time."

Miller has done everything to stay faithful to Eisner's vision as an artist with his adaptation of the comic.  Miller has also kept the same tone incorporating a lot of humor in the film along with the darkness.  Is there one aspect of Eisner's 'The Spirit" that Miller wanted to capture more than any other? "The passion that Will and I shared for New York City and you will see some very familiar touches that come from Will Eisner and the city we both love."

With that, Frank Miller is whisked back onto the set by a flock of assistants to continue with his day. There will be almost thirty more days like this until filming wraps in mid December, plenty of time for Miller to eat as much candy as he would want.

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