When 'The Spirit' arrives in theaters on December 25th, moviegoers will be invited into a world that comics-auteur turned filmmaker Frank Miller calls "modern noir." It's a Chandleresque place the evokes Hollywood's tough guys of old, but still holds the modern conveniences of the present day.
This is the cinematic realization of Will Eisner's Central City.
"I’m pretty much an encyclopedia of film noir," Miller told reporters at a recent press gathering for the film.
Actor Dan Lauria, who plays Commissioner Dolan in the film, is also a student of the genre and made it his mission to test Millers' acumen.
"I’m a thief. I mean, whenever I do anything I rob from an old actor that nobody remembers," Lauria admitted. "So, I told Frank the last play I did I was doing Richard Conte. Nobody knew who he was. So he said, 'Who are you doing in this movie?' And I said, 'Ah, you wouldn’t know him' and he said, 'No, try me out.' and I says 'Bart MacLane'.
"He listed every Bart MacLane movie. I couldn’t do one bit without him telling me what movie I’d stolen from."
"Frank actually told me you were doing Dane Clark," Gabriel Macht, who plays Denny Colt, a.k.a. The Spirt, chimes in. However, the leading man agrees that the modern noir vibe helped shape his performance.
"I think tone is really important and I think this film is a great blend of what Eisner and Frank was able to create," said Macht. "There is a bit of the Raymond Chandler gumshoe detective. I think if you are not honest in your approach to the material it could get slapsticky and it could get schticky. We didn’t go there. I think, what’s up there on the screen, what we were able to get is a little bit more extreme in the sense that it’s a comic book movie."
Eva Mendes, who plays the most fatale of femmes, Sand Serif also found inspiration there.
"What I loved about this was that my character was created in 1940s so I had this real dame, broad kind of appeal you know," Mendes said. "She has some of the best lines in the movie you know what I mean? I think, 'Shut up and bleed' being one of my favorites."
Scarlett Johansson, who plays Silken Floss to Samuel L. Jackson's Octopus, named 'The Third Man', 'Maltese Falcon' and 'White Heat' as noir films that inspired her performance, but Miller likened her to a different iconic leading lady.
"I realized I was...conversing with one of the great comedic talents of our time," Miller said of his early casting conversations with Johannson. "It was like working with a young Lucille Ball the whole time. It was wonderful."
However, Johannson thought she was more Ricky Ricardo-esque on camera at least when paying the hench-woman to the Octopus.
"As far as Sam and I, I feel like Sam was kind of the Lucy and I was…"
Jackson interrupts before the actress can finish, "I had the red hair too!"
But holding onto that modern noir feeling isn't necessarily easy when you're acting on a set that's mainly comprised of large, green screens. A computer-generated virtual world was added to the scenes in post production, a process mirroring previous Miller adaptations like 'Sin City' and '300'.
"If we didn’t touch it, it wasn’t there," was Lauria's way of describing the unreality of the set. "That was Frank’s job as a director, to describe what it was going to be like, how it was going to be. The more the descriptions came, the more I felt like it was in a 40s movie."
The actor turns to Miller and adds, "and I loved the costume you picked out for me. Right out of Bart MacLane's closet."
Tune in tomorrow when we'll talk more with the cast of 'The Spirit' about getting into character, looking to Will Eisner and comics for inspiration and the strange way that the cast members came together, even before there was a movie happening.
Look for 'The Spirit' in theaters on Christmas Day.