Good Friends and Evil Exes: Casting the Action-Comedy
Casting the more than a dozen characters from the graphic novels would prove a challenge for the production. On seeing the actors chosen to become the Toronto residents of his books, O'Malley says it was, simply, "an amazing, gratifying, weird, eerie experience."
Scott and Ramona: "Have you seen a girl with hair like this?"
Michael Cera had read the first two "Scott Pilgrim" novels before he was approached about playing the title role. Cera knew it was helpful to have a well-defined part for Scott with which to begin. "Bryan Lee O'Malley created such a unique, distinct character that it made it easy for me to get into character," Cera notes. On the other hand, he admits, "It was a little intimidating because 'Scott Pilgrim' has such a following, but Edgar was very helpful in finding the right tone and helping me not go too over-the-top."
As he prepared for an arduous shoot, Cera trusted his director's vision more and more. "Right off the bat, you feel like there's a voice that the movie has that is all its own; that's what Edgar does well with all of his films," he says. While the team moved into production, inhabiting the universe that O'Malley had created became second nature for the cast and crew. Cera summarizes: "As we all rehearsed for weeks, it started to become a world that we all believed in, something very real."
Known for playing über nice guys in such hits as Superbad and Juno, Cera welcomed the chance to show an edgier side to his performance. That was precisely what the filmmakers wanted to evoke. Platt says that what makes the actor so talented is "his seemingly casual approach that appears as though he's doing so little; it's genius, very precise. He embodies the character completely. People will be shocked to see Michael fighting the way he does and displaying a toughness that audiences haven't seen from him. It's been fun to watch Edgar bring that out in him."
Still recovering from his break-up with Envy Adams, the girl who "kicked his heart in the ass," Scott is dumbfounded when he meets Ramona Flowers, a mysterious American whom he believes he has willed into existence. Cera explains the attraction: "Scott becomes obsessed with Ramona when he sees her in his dreams. Then, when she appears in real life, he can't quite figure her out; she keeps slipping away from him, and that's what draws him to her. But he's also got this other girlfriend now, so he is not allowed to like her…and that starts to make him like her more."
Ramona can be aloof and distant, which of course makes her that much more attractive to the pining Scott. After all, she has a League of Evil Exes tracking her every move. According to O'Malley, these exes were given "a title meant to sound ominous and silly," but they are dead serious when it comes to ruining Ramona's potential for newfound love…especially with the confidence-challenged Scott.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was introduced to global audiences with her role in Live Free or Die Hard, was cast to play the subspace-traveling Ramona after she met with Edgar Wright. The actress explains what attracts her character to the latest guy in her life: "Scott's a new kind of love interest for Ramona. He doesn't seem to be the same as all the other guys that she's been with. She's been with a lot of dark, tough and mysterious characters. Now, Scott's this sweet little lovable idiot that she's taken under her wing."
As Ramona and Scott are in the majority of scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Winstead and Cera were required on set for nearly the entirety of the shoot. Because the seven evil exes roll into their lives over the course of the action-comedy, it felt like making one new movie after another for the actors. Explains Winstead: "Every few weeks, we had a new energy on set as a new ex came through. It was fun to have all these different personalities coming in."
Cera commends of his leading lady: "Mary's amazing. She did most of her own fighting and is completely believable at that, yet has this delicate quality that's also convincing."
"We are Sex Bob-omb: One, two, three, four!"
In addition to Mr. Pilgrim, his band, Sex Bob-omb, is made up of drummer Kim Pine and lead singer and songwriter Stephen Stills. The band's biggest fan and hanger-on (before Knives Chau hits the scene) is aspiring bassist Young Neil.
Kim, the most intelligent one of the group, dated Scott in high school and dislikes many people…possibly everyone. The production team cast Toronto-native Alison Pill in the role of the young woman who serves as the disaffected voice of reason for her friends. Kim knows Scott the best, and they have the longest history of anyone in the group. She's quiet and dour until she's on stage, and then she will rock your face off. To prepare for the part, Pill worked with drumming guru CHARLIE DRAYTON and Sloan front man CHRIS MURPHY to hone her percussion skills.
Front man and singer/songwriter Stephen Stills cares the most about the success of Sex Bob-omb, but he's incredibly neurotic about performing. Actor Mark Webber was asked to play Stephen. Of the process, Webber recounts a strategy that Wright, O'Malley and Bacall had for the core cast: "Before the first week of rehearsal, Edgar gave each of us a private list with 10 things about our characters that we were supposed to keep to ourselves. There were a few on there that were a little shocking."
Completing Scott's immediate circle is Jennifer's Body star Johnny Simmons. He was brought onto the production as the often-confused Young Neil, Stephen's roommate and the band's No. 1 groupie.
The League of Evil Exes: "Wait…we're fighting over Ramona?" "Didn't you get my e-mail?"
Scott's journey to winning the heart of Ramona involves achieving enough self-awareness, self-respect and maturity along the way that he doesn't become just another evil ex himself. As he fights his way through the League of Evil Exes, Scott gets stronger and stronger with each defeat.
Newcomer Satya Bhabha was cast as Ramona's First Evil Ex, Matthew Patel (from her junior high school days). Though he takes Scott by surprise when he breaks through the ceiling at the club with his demon hipster chicks, to be fair, Matthew did e-mail Scott and warn him of his untimely demise. Unfortunately for Scott, he simply skimmed the e-mail. Cera explains Matthew's presence at the club: "The First Evil Ex that shows up is Patel, and it's out of nowhere. You're just getting used to this world, and everything's starting to make sense. Then all of a sudden, it all doesn't make sense at all, and people are flying through the air."
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World marks the first time that Chris Evans portrays a super-villain. Known for his roles in the action flicks Fantastic Four and The Losers, and as the title superhero in the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, Evans was happy to mix it up with this part. He was cast to play the ultimate caricature of an action star as Ramona's Second Evil Ex, the pro-skateboarder turned action hero/ultimate tool: Lucas Lee.
Evans discusses his interest in joining the action-comedy: "I get to be big and over-the-top and ridiculous. Lucas is very obnoxious and the character you love to hate." Though he'd never before been on a skateboard, the actor was up for the challenge of looking like he'd been doing it his entire life. He recalls: "My character had to ease up onto a stair rail and grind the gigantic rail for 200 steps."
While many performers are quick to point out that they tried to do a majority of their own stunts, Evans acknowledges that the film's outrageous feats required the expertise of some athletic and unsung heroes: the stunt performers. "I would have no career without stuntmen, based on the movies I've made," he says. "God bless 'em all. They're crazy. We actually had a stunt where Michael's stuntman fell from a building eight times over. It looked like it would break me in half, but this guy stood up, brushed himself off and said, 'Let's do it again.'"
Heading from the world of characters in the Marvel universe to those in DC Comics, Superman himself, Brandon Routh joined the cast as Ramona's Third Evil Ex: Todd Ingram. A power vegan who is now dating Envy Adams and plays bass for The Clash at Demonhead, the bleached blonde telekinetic is as arrogant as he is vapid. While Scott knows he can never vanquish Todd through a flurry of side punches and combination of roundhouse kicks, he does believe he can outsmart him.
Though Scott is initially certain that Ramona's League of Evil Exes only consists of guys whom she's dated, he gets a lethal surprise when the Fourth Evil Ex, Roxy Richter, shows up and challenges him to a fight to the finish. Spewing invectives and brandishing a lethal chain belt, Roxy's martial arts skills are as deadly as her vicious tongue. Parenthood's Mae Whitman (rejoining Cera, her former co-star on television's Arrested Development) was brought aboard the production as the scorned lover/invisibility-cloaked ex.
Much like Ramona's other exes, Roxy doesn't feel threatened by Scott's presence; she just wants to annihilate anyone who tries to date the girl who broke her heart. Whitman explains: "It's beyond the threat level now. Roxy knows that she's lost Ramona, but she just can't stand the thought of it. The most upsetting part for her is when Ramona says, 'Well, it wasn't a big deal; it didn't even count.' That's what makes Roxy so angry: her legacy with Ramona gets diminished so quickly."
Another one of Ramona's experimental phases is revealed by the arrival of the next exes. Enter Evil Exes No. 5 and No. 6, Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, played by identical twins Keita and Shota Saito. The final puppets in Gideon's army that Scott must defeat, the Katayanagi brothers are the last battle before Scott alone must confront the most evil of exes. But first, to destroy the twins, Scott and Sex Bob-omb go amp versus amp in a battle-of-the-bands fight to the finish. Two bands enter and one band leaves in an epic struggle that pits the Katayanagi's white dragon avatars against Sex Bob-omb's green-eyed yeti.
If Scott can survive his battles with all of these exes, he will advance to the bonus round to meet and fight Gideon Graves, the evil ex who wields the most power over Ramona. Cera describes Gideon: "He's the evil ex boyfriend behind it all, the one who Scott can't stand the most, and Jason Schwartzman is fantastic in the role because he is so funny and charming and detestable all at the same time."
It doesn't help matters that Gideon is interested in signing Sex Bob-omb to his record label. Schwartzman discusses his manipulative character: "Gideon is so good at being bad because he's actually kind of likeable. Passive-aggressive…like a mosquito bite. He won't bother you, but if you start to scratch him, you're in for a rough night. You might start to bleed. Scott unleashes the dark side of Gideon."
Schwartzman was impressed by his fellow performers, but most of all with his on-set archenemy. He found Cera to be a workhorse throughout their time together. "Michael is half-man, half-superman," he says. "He worked almost every single day for six months and never let it show."
Supporting Players in Scott's World: "We all know you're a total lady killer wannabe jerky jerk."
Scott Pilgrim's relationship with his roommate, Wallace Wells, is quite unique. The 26-year-old Wallace owns almost everything in their shared apartment, and he is constantly amused by Scott's floundering relationships with girls. As flummoxed as Scott is with the ladies, Wallace is just as smooth with the many guys with whom he hooks up. Played by veteran young actor Kieran Culkin, Wallace epitomizes awesomely hip. And he will steal your boyfriend if you look the other way.
Scott's kid sister is 18-year-old coffee shop barista Stacey Pilgrim. Much more sensible than her self-absorbed older sibling, Stacey is the voice of reason in the Pilgrim family. She also has an uncanny ability to know what mischief her brother is up to at any given time. With Wallace on speed-text, she is constantly kept up-to-date and forever shaking her head at Scott's insane life choices. She also loves playing the part of "older" sister. For the role, Wright and the producers brought onto the production Oscar®- and Tony-nominated actress Anna Kendrick. Critically lauded for her work in Up in the Air, the performer has previously matched drama with teen angst in the Twilight series.
Newcomer Ellen Wong was committed to becoming wide-eyed schoolgirl/ninja assassin Knives Chau. Terrific for Scott's confidence boost, the 17-year-old Knives dated Scott and remains Sex Bob-omb's No. 1 fangirl. Michael Bacall describes the relationship: "When we first meet Scott and Knives, they have a great connection in their mutual immaturity. Everything they do is in sync--the way they speak, flip through records, play video games."
Still hurting over the loss of her first love, Knives has (temporarily) moved on to date Young Neil. The Scarborough, Ontario, native describes her character: "Knives starts off as this unblemished Catholic schoolgirl, 17 years old, hasn't really seen life yet…or the harsh realities of the world. When she meets Scott, he opens this Pandora's box for her, and she can't go back to her old life anymore." Naturally, that also means challenging Ramona to a fight to the finish.
Scott's she-who-will-not-be-named, Envy Adams, was brought to life by Brie Larson. The actress, who has broken out on television's United States of Tara, portrays the stone-cold rocker who is the lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead. Simultaneously self-absorbed and terrifying, Envy still holds a strangling power over ex-boyfriend Scott and is more than happy to watch him get his ass kicked by her current boyfriend, Todd Ingram. Surprise--Todd also happens to be one of Ramona's evil exes.
Last but not least, young comic actress Aubrey Plaza was asked to join the production as Julie Powers, the super-hateful, sometime girlfriend of Stephen Stills. Julie works with Stacey, and she just can't wait to see Scott get what's coming to him. Known for her work on television's Parks and Recreation and her breakout role in last summer's Funny People, Powers brings a purse-lipped bitchiness to the obnoxious Julie that sends Scott scampering when she opens her mouth to ream him.
We Are Sex Bob-omb!: Music of Scott Pilgrim
Throughout the history of comics and graphic novels, musical references have been a big part of the medium. So is the case with O'Malley's books, as Scott's band takes on other bands in music battles. O'Malley notes: "It's a tradition in comics, way back to 'The Archies.'"
As he constructed the film, the director knew that the soundtrack of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World should reflect the universe in which Scott and his friends live, as well as speak to a generation that has grown up gaming. Wright offers: "I am a huge music fan, so the idea of blowing people back into their seats with the soundtrack appealed to me immensely."
Bacall remembers when he and Wright discussed how to approach the musical performances. He states: "Edgar initially commented that most 'live' music in movies kind of sucks. We were coming up with gags to get around hearing the bands play until Edgar went out and got some of the most amazing musicians in the world to create original songs perfectly pitched for the film."
To accomplish the task of choosing and producing the talent, Wright and the producers turned to prolific music producer Nigel Godrich. Having collaborated with such giants as Radiohead and Paul McCartney, Godrich was intimately familiar with the sounds that Wright wanted for the action-comedy. One of Godrich's most successful collaborators, Beck, would provide the sounds for Sex Bob-omb.
Beck, who contributed all of Sex Bob-omb's tracks, worked with Godrich and Wright to create songs that showcase the band's growing skills as the story unfolds. When we are first introduced to the band, they are finding their footing. Naturally, Stephen Stills' vocals are a little shaky (as are his skills on the lead guitar). As the group confronts each challenge--from facing off against Crash and the Boys to the epic battle against the Katayanagi twins--the music becomes more confident and powerful.
Canadian alternative indie rock band BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE (fronted by KEVIN DREW) contributed the songs for the film's band Crash and the Boys. Named after the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game "Crash 'n the Boys: Street Challenge," the band boasts 10-year-old drummer Trasha (played by ABIGAIL CHU), a young prodigy who would prefer to not see another girl drummer (ahem, Kim Pine) steal her thunder.
Fellow countrymen METRIC performed its song "Black Sheep" for The Clash at Demonhead (led by Scott's own evil ex, Envy Adams). Fronted by lead singer EMILY HAINES, the Toronto-based quartet creates a haunting song that seduces Scott back into Envy's world. While Knives and Julie are both obsessed by the power of Envy's vocals for The Clash at Demonhead, Scott knows that falling for her comes at a big price. Interestingly enough, the name for this band is based on another NES game, "Clash at Demonhead."
DAN THE AUTOMATOR contributed the music for Matthew Patel's (and his Demon Hipster Chicks) Bollywood sequence, as well as the sounds for Knives and Scott's other passion, the game "Ninja Ninja Revolution." Finally, the cult Japanese artist CORNELIUS (led by KEIGO OYAMADA) contributed instrumentals for the Katayanagi twins' face-off against Sex Bob-omb.
To ensure that Sex Bob-omb, Crash and the Boys, The Clash at Demonhead and the Katayanagi twins looked and performed as if they were actual bands, Sloan front man Chris Murphy was brought on as the musical performance supervisor.
As for the cast's experience in the field, Cera had a bit of musical background and Simmons had previously played guitar. Pill had never played drums, but by the end of the shoot she was playing along like a pro. Webber had his own catching up to do, but now feels confident he can bring the house down.
Sword Fights and Spin Kicks: Stunts of the Film
It was important to Wright that the actors did a good portion of their own fighting and that stunt teams supplemented that work. He felt that it added to the authenticity of the piece. Additionally, the cameras were set at quite wide angles, so there was simply no cheating it in a number of the key sequences. For his fights, Wright once again relied upon his childhood for ideas. He offers: "I wanted to draw inspiration from the same sources as Bryan, as I too have grown up with video games, Japanese animation and kung fu seared onto my brain."
Part of Jackie Chan's and Jet Li's legendary teams would lead the cast in learning to defy gravity. "The fight sequences in Scott Pilgrim are designed to dazzle; they combine the fantastic fight choreography of Brad Allan [also second-unit director] and fellow fight coordinator PENG ZHANG, with kaleidoscopic animation special effects," Wright says. "We struggled to come up with a snappy description of the unique action sequences in the film; at one point 'fightsical' was bandied around to describe the musical aspect to the action. We also described the John Hughes' coming-of-age comedy mixed with brutal kung fu as 'Hughes fu.'" He pauses…"It looked better written down then it did said aloud."
Cera, Winstead, Schwartzman and Whitman began training in Los Angeles in January 2009, before the April shoot began. From cardio work that included many push-ups and endless running, as well as stunt and kung fu training, it was intense, to say the least. All agree it was a bonding experience working alongside the incredible martial artist Zhang as they learned how to throw punches and kicks, as well as to perform the necessary flips and tumbles and to master their various weapons (while on wires).
Fight trainer and stunt coordinator Allan started with the talent by simply getting them into fighting shape and increasing their stamina. Cera learned to perform a lot of his fighting and swordplay. He remembers: "I learned there is lot of trust involved because you're literally depending on the guy who's holding the rope. They had us doing all kinds of things that my body has absolutely no capability or desire to do and that I will probably never do again, but it was amazing. I'm planning on just sitting around and never doing another push-up for the rest of my life."
Determined to keep up, Wright worked out with the actors every day in Toronto; the cast would train up to five or six hours a day to learn the moves taught in the boot camp run by Li's and Chan's trainers. Winstead recalls that Wright did many of the tough workouts right alongside them. "He got to feel our pain," she says, but she admits the process brought her "an amazing sense of accomplishment."
Like many performers, Schwartzman had long wanted to fight in a film but never had the chance. He offers of the experience: "It was a thrill to be able to just devote myself to learning how to sword fight. But it was hard to fight Michael. I love the guy."
One of Gideon's sparring partners, Knives Chau herself, Ellen Wong, was more than ready for the training sessions in which she would face off against Gideon and Ramona. She says: "Who wouldn't be excited about running up the wall and flipping back, doing a 360 in the air? It was just cool."