Actors Ashley Bell and Clint Howard stopped by the CBR Speakeasy in Los Angeles to discuss noir superhero film “Sparks,” directed by Christopher Folino and based on the graphic novel of the same name. It’s very possible fans will know Bell and Howard from their work in other films and television shows — Bell plays Nell Sweetzer in “The Last Exorcism” series and portrayed Karina in webisodes for “The Walking Dead,” while Howard’s lengthy career in film and television includes credits in everything from “Apollo 13” and “Frost/Nixon” to “Star Trek” and Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” In “Sparks,” Bell took on the role of Lady Heavenly, the vigilante romantic interest of Sparks, while Howard plays Gordon Eldridge, the head of the newspaper.
During their interview with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland, Bell and Howard discussed the draw of “Sparks” and the challenge of bringing superheroes to life on a budget. Plus, Bell revealed her childhood love of comic book trading cards and Howard detailed auditioning for George Lucas in the ’60s.
On the attraction of “Sparks”: “Bill Katt called me and he vouched for Chris Folino and the group — the team,” said Howard. “I saw they were approaching me appropriately and they seemed real. I talked to them and I understood what they were trying to do, and I just said yes. I wasn’t doing anything else! This is what I do for a living, whether it be make a zillion dollars or make a small little movie. The fact that these guys made this picture primarily in 12 days — they had two crews working, they basically had a 22, 23 day schedule that they just shot in 12 days, which is mind-boggling — and I admire that. It’s almost a throwback to my days with Roger Corman.”
“I’d worked with Chris when ‘Sparks’ was a graphic novel — a motion comic,” said Bell. “So, I got a chance to do a voice on that, and then when I learned that Chris had turned it into a feature and he was thinking of me for the Lady Heavenly role, I was like, ‘Let the fight for this role begin,’ because there are so few strong female characters that come across, especially that require a transformation and learning the skill set that this one does. That’s what I love most about this business and my job — being able to learn something new. Talking to Chris and talking about the Lady Heavenly role, we were thinking about fighting styles and things like that. Her first entrance into the film, she has an 8-person take-down. I thought, ‘Well, there’s movie magic!'”
“When I read the script, I could tell they understood they weren’t going to have all the resources, they weren’t trying to compete with ‘Dark Knight’ or ‘Avengers,'” Howard said. “It had a tone about it that was different. As a person in the entertainment business, I’m always looking for a fresh thing.”
Bell on getting to play multiple roles in the movie: “It was fun!” Bell said. “It’s that thing you read in the script and you’re like, ‘Okay, cool. How am I going to play this, how am I going to do this?’ It was awesome to work with Marina Squerciati who plays Dawn, and we both morph into each other and things like that, and watch her work and pick up on everything she was doing. Chris created such a cool set to be able to watch the dailies, watch what people were doing and blend the character to ask, ‘Which version of Lady Heavenly are we seeing now to make that trick work.'”
“Chris had a great team. Brandi Creason, who was our production designer wore so many hats. He had so many hardworking people,” said Howard. “This was a dream for Chris. He had an idea and a concept and he had a plan to deliver it, but Brandi — yes, you can do things digitally and there are digital shots in the movie, but a lot of that, Brandi was very creative for a nickel on the dollar. She was wonderful.”
Bell on collecting comic book trading cards: “I was always fascinated with the actual comic book trading cards!” Bell said. “I loved the art on them and the group of friends I hung out with, I was such a tomboy, which is why taking up muay thai and getting to play a character like this was such fun for me and doing a super film was so awesome. But the group I hung around with and palled around Nerf guns with, we all traded cards. The big ones were Marvel ’92 and ’94. I still have them tucked away in a tupperware in a miscellaneous box.”
Howard on auditioning for George Lucas in the ’60s: “Years ago, I got a chance to audition for George Lucas and he knew of me through Ron [Howard] of the days working on ‘[American] Graffiti,’ but I was intimidated going into [audition for] George Lucas. I went in and it was just like a movie. He had this big leather chair — and George isn’t a big man, so you couldn’t see him. And right next to him, sitting in a businessman’s chair is Francis Ford Coppola, and Gino Havens is sitting over here, who I know, who was their trusted casting guy. Here’s a kid who’s just intimidated as all get out — I was probably 19, 18; I think they were fishing for ‘Star Wars,’ actually. George Lucas spun around in his leather chair and looked at me and went, ‘Commander Balok, “The Corbimite Maneuver.”‘ And in my head, I went, ‘Oh, my God, he’s a “Star Trek” geek.’ This dude, he should have a life! George Lucas is quoting lines of mine from a ‘Star Trek’ episode from the ’60s!”