CS Interview: Writer/Director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Archenemy
Ahead of the film’s theatrical and digital debut, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with acclaimed writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real) to discuss his work on his latest project, the superhero thriller Archenemy starring Joe Manganiello (Justice League)!
ComingSoon.net: How did the concept of Archenemy first come to yours and [co-story developer] Lucas Passmore’s minds?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Well you have to understand, I grew up loving comics and superheroes and comic stories and I always felt like comics took those characters, those stories and the aesthetics of those stories in all kinds of wild and exciting directions, which I don’t think we have quite gotten to see yet in superhero movies. Especially when I started writing this in, like, 2015, so I was kind of thinking about what are some amazing things we could be doing with these characters that we haven’t done in movies that comic books were able to do. At a certain point, way back in the ‘80s, comic creators were like, “At this point, everybody knows what superheroes are, so now we can go buck wild,” so I was like, “Maybe now, we’re getting to a point where if the movie audience understands what superheroes are, we don’t have to do origin stories and all of that.” There was always a kind of longing that I had to play around with superheroes and it really started from this idea that a superhero-ish figure with a fucked-up cape is sitting in a bar drinking whiskey, that image that a superhero is some kind of fucked up person. We don’t quite have that imagery in the film, because the cape takes on a different significance, but we sort of started there and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if The Wrestler was about a superhero,” you know, like this idea of somebody who had a path, had a whole kind of glorious comic book world, but that’s all in the past and what he is now is a broken man looking to reclaim his glory and is that path even true. So I guess that was the origin of it and I sort of pitched that idea to Lucas, who is a good friend of mine and we wanted to work on something and I said, “Look, what about this guy who kind of thinks he’s a superhero, what can we do out of that,” and we worked off of that for a while to outline what the story is and then I ran with it.
CS: So given that extensive development time on the film, what was it like coming back to it after delivering back-to-back horror films?
AEM: I think that one of the things that became really important about Archenemy and what it is as my third movie is really thinking of what did I want a movie like this, a movie about a superhero, what did I want it to feel like? Like what did I want the aesthetic to be? The way it looks and things like that, that was — what I was learning to do on my very first movie and really implement on my second, on Daniel Isn’t Real, kind of boils down to, “How do you make a movie?” [laughs] This movie, you’re really watching me learn what I’m supposed to be doing when I make a movie and then my second one was like now I’m getting a sense of style and what style is and how you make a movie feel a different way. Archenemy is exciting for me in that I feel like I have developed a style and an understanding of how to get a movie to look and feel how I want it to be and then taking that outside of the horror genre and putting it into what we would conventionally call a superhero movie, although is Archenemy even a superhero movie, I don’t know. There was this feeling I had of, “Oh man if I ever get to do get the chance to make this movie, it’s really going to feel personal, because what genre even is it, I can go on these tangents and have these characters doing these crazy things.”
CS: One of the things I loved about the film was its use of comic book-style animation for its backstory sequences, was that always in the script or was that a product of the budget?
AEM: When I first started writing it, I was imagining filming the real-life stuff really gritty and really gnarly and the Chromium stuff would be Matrix-y kind of live-action, hyperrealistic live-action. As I was looking at the budget and what we’d be able to do and how I’d want to spend my time shooting the movie and what our resources were, I flipped that around and thought, “What if we start to make the real world have the grittiness and realness, but it also has a heightened color and really deliberate way of showing things” and the animation becomes this kind of more and more abstracted dreamlike thing. Some of my very favorite comics that I was looking at kind of inspired it and the animation team looked at what Bill Sienkiewicz did with Elektra: Assassin and with his Daredevil graphic novel with Frank Miller where everything is so dreamlike and strange. When we committed to using animation, I remembered that one of the most disturbing, one of the most influential and one of my favorite movies is Pink Floyd: The Wall and the way that animation is used in that movie and it’s a story about a guy falling apart and going crazy and what are his memories and how do they relate to the present and all of these animated moments and how they intercede, his nightmares, his fantasies, so I thought, “Yeah, let’s do a superhero movie where the backstory is like Pink Floyd: The Wall.”
CS: I love it, I’m literally staring at the Pink Floyd: The Wall movie poster I have on my wall.
AEM: Do you really? My friend had the poster long before either of us had even seen the movie, we were just so fascinated by it and we’d star at that thing and be like, “Do you think that giant gaping mouth is a gateway into another dimension?” It just has a haunting quality that when I did actually see that movie, it just ruined my life, I had never had an experience with a movie that was so traumatic and so disturbing and sometimes I like to think that the idea of being traumatized by a movie was so important to me that that’s what I’m looking to do. Like, “God, I really hope some young kid will see one of my movies and be totally destroyed by it for the rest of their life.” [laughs]
CS: Speaking of feeling destroyed by something, the cast is truly insane on this movie and gives some new sides to its stars we haven’t seen before, especially Glenn Howerton and Paul Scheer, what was it like building the ensemble?
AEM: It’s pretty amazing, starting with Joe, who is the most handsome man in Hollywood, he’s like the sexiest man alive, and putting him in like, “Obviously, your character just smells terrible, we’re going to fuck up your teeth.” He was so excited to get scruffy and dirty. A lot of these guys, like Joe, they’re known for being handsome and popular, but he’s a trained theater actor, and it’s the same with Glen. He was like, “I’m very funny, I have a funny show, but I didn’t go into this for comedy, I went into it for drama,” so working with all these actors, we had a great opportunity to let them do things they haven’t done before. I think in all three of those cases, we get to deconstruct how they look and play with what you know them as and what they look like in those movies. With Glenn, with the blonde hair and the mustache, and then Paul Scheer, the character that Paul plays was written to be just in red underwear. Taking Paul and giving him all of the tattoos, I remember a friend of mine came to visit set the day we were shooting with Paul and it took him all day and by the end of the day he walked up to me and went, “I just realized that’s Paul Scheer.” [chuckles] That’s something that’s so fun as a director to know that you have this material that these amazing actors will want to do because it means getting to do something they don’t do and nobody’s really seen them do before and that means we all have such an exciting world to play with.
CS: The character of Indigo is also a wonderful central heart to the story, what was it like conducting the search to find the perfect actress for her?
AEM: Indigo had to be such an emotionally electric person, so working with my casting directors, who were the same people that helped me get Sasha Lane on Daniel Isn’t Real, they just have this incredible sense of younger actors. They told me about her and she came in and she did an audition and was just 100 percent superstar material, she just has all of this energy and you just love her, but she’s also super cool and she has the look, so once she came in and I met her and she auditioned for it, it was kind of a no-brainer. I hate when people use that phrase, there was so much brain involved in figuring it out [laughs]. Skylan was somebody else, they brought him in to read for her brother, and we did a series of tests where we had Zolee interact with a couple of different kids and really looked for that brother/sister feeling that really felt like they grew up together and that they have this chemistry and this energy and the two of them together were just spectacular. Skylan is also just so lovable and I just wanted him to be okay, the key in the movies I make is that you want to cast people who are lovable and you want to hug and you just watch for an hour and a half as they get slowly destroyed [laughs].
Written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real) from a story by Mortimer and Lucas Passmore (No Good Heroes), the film stars Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Skylan Brooks (Empire), Zolee Griggs (W-Tang: An American Saga), Paul Scheer (Black Monday), Amy Seimetz (Pet Semetary) and Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
In Archenemy, Max Fist (Manganiello) claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to Earth, where he has no powers. No one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out the local drug syndicate and its vicious crime boss known as The Manager.
Archenemy was produced by SpectreVision’s Daniel Noah, Lisa Whalen, and Elijah Wood along with Kim Sherman, Mortimer, Joe and Nick Manganiello.
Archenemy will be released in theaters, On Demand and Digital on December 11, 2020.