By Nisha Gopalan
Very few people can say they’re buddies with a legend, much less actually be one. Then there’s Frank Miller. Renowned in his own right for having created the comics 300 and Sin City and for having co-directed the film adaptation of the latter, Miller will release his first solo directing venture, The Spirit, in 2009. It’s a big-screen take on the seminal graphic work about a seemingly dead detective-turned-superhero, written by another giant in the comics universe, Miller’s late, great pal Will Eisner.
At last weekend’s New York Comic Con, EW.com checked in with the author/filmmaker and his Spirit producer Deborah Del Prete. They offered details about their noirish drama, which stars Gabriel Macht as the titular hero, Samuel Jackson as the villainous Octopus, and a parade of flirty femmes including Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Sarah Paulson, and Jamie King.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Spirit’s teaser trailer begs some obvious Sin City comparisons, but how will this be different from Sin City?
FRANK MILLER: It’s in color, for one thing. But also it’s a very different movie. Sin City was really a combination of me and [co-director] Robert Rodriguez working off my own drawings. And this was based on comics from the 1940s — Will Eisner’s — but through a much more modern lens. Besides, you’ll never see a tie this color [motions to his half-red, half-blue Spirit tie].
Who do you think you borrow from visually?
MILLER: Everybody. Comics are so full of amazing work. And I can’t look at a drawing of a woman without thinking of, for instance, Wallace Wood and his amazing way of capturing beauty. And if I go for suspense — Johnny Craig. The first time I drew Spider-Man, I didn’t even look at a Steve Ditko comic. It’s all in here already [motions to his head]. When I was on the movie set, the one artist I studied not at all was Will Eisner, because it’s all in here already [motions to his head again] because the guy trained me, the guy did work that inspired me.
DEBORAH DEL PRETE: But Frank made up books of Will’s work for everybody to use as references for all our departments.
MILLER: And, really, what was shocking was the cast. It was amazing to watch. Two I would name off the top would be Gabriel Macht, who plays the Spirit and had never played a part as heroic. I really felt like his partner, working through all the little moments. The other striking example was Eva Mendes [who plays Sand Saref]. She went from being such a contemporary screen presence to be willing to embrace almost a Bette Davis/Patricia Neal figure. I think she’s the one who hits the most decades. There’s this one scene where she walks in a white suit and an unforgettable hat — believe me, it’s an unforgettable hat — and I had it stuck to my office wall. Not just the hat, but her in it. There’s this one scene where she walks straight from the 1940s. She’s such a fantasy character from the end.
DEL PRETE: Eva came in scared.
MILLER: She had no idea what to expect. She thought I was going to be some kind of ogre.
DEL PRETE: But a day or two later, she was asking questions!