At the “Red” panel earlier in the day at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday, Helen Mirren appeared on stage wearing a t-shirt in tribute to comic book legend Harvey Pekar, who passed away the week before. “I thought it was all about comic book heroes and boys kind of stuff,” Mirren told reporters at a press conference following the panel. “He revealed the fact that a graphic novel could be as deep, complex, personal and psychological as any other work of art – novel, movie, painting, anything.”
“I think it’s really exciting to see [the format] burgeoning and expanding and changing as it goes into a real total art form. I think we’re at a very exciting point in the whole development of comic books. I’m fascinated to see where it’s going to be in another twenty years,” Mirren added.
Also joining her at the press conference were fellow co-stars Bruce Willis and Karl Urban, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and “Red” creators Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Willis was asked if he collected comics. “I don’t collect them but I’ve done a couple movies that are based on them. They all turn out to be really fun projects. Fun to do and there’s just more character in it. There’s just more stuff that’s already there that you can go to,” he replied. “For the most part, people would expect actors to fill in blanks anyway, but the blanks are not blanks anymore – things you’re upset about, what is your beef, what is my beef in this film – it’s always a lot easier.”
Both Willis and Mirren are new to Comic-Con and commented on their experience. Willis reported he was “ravaged.” Mirren joked, “I’ve had foreplay beforehand and now I got ravaged.”
“We obviously travel in a bubble a lot of the time,” Mirren explained. “Here is where you actually get to have a really face to face experience with fans. The great thing about Americans is they’re permitted to be enthusiastic about stuff on a grand scale. For me as a Brit, it’s really exciting and endearing. It’s everything you love about America, that commitment and excitement and kind of and innocence about it.”
“What’s really cool to me about coming here and seeing Comic-Con [is] seeing 7000 people who all dig the same kind of thing… I’ve never seen [anything like] it,” added Willis.
Moving on to “Red” in particular, the actor praised Ellis and Hamner for the source material originally published by Wildstorm. “These guys wrote and illustrated a pretty well thought-out story that already had drama in it. It showed up long before it ever made the transition from a graphic novel to a film that was sixty-six pages,” Willis said. “I think the story was already really dramatic and very easy to play and very easy to understand: If someone shoves you a little too far, you’re going to shove back.”
Turning that sixty-six page comic book into a longer form meant the addition of new characters and a greater amount of adaptation than other films might have to contend with. According to Warren Ellis, it was something he understood. “I think they were all worried when I told them I knew where they lived,” he joked. “The screenwriters [Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber], I think, did an astonishing job of the adaptation. They’ve added new characters, there are many new scenes but everything they’ve added speaks directly to the themes and the intent of the original book. They never, ever lose sight of that, even when they lightened the tone. As the original author I couldn’t be happier.”
“It’s just beyond belief,” added Hamner.
The theme of retirement is key to the film. Asked if the film had anything to say about remaining relevant outside the key demographic, Wills answered, “The word is certainly used and used in the title of the film: ‘Retired, Extremely Dangerous.’ It’s commented on a couple times but when you see the film, it’s right now and it’s hip.”
“Karl Urban and I went at it in one of the toughest fights I’ve ever had in my life. Contact was made,” he continued. “The fact is, [when] you see anyone who is reported to be retired in the film, they’re doing stuff that is sexy and hot and romantic and funny.”
Urban also commented on the film’s relationship to age. “This film explores that concept of old school techniques vs. new school techniques. Bruce, Helen, Morgan, and John, their characters represent the way things used to be done. I play a character who is of the new breed of the CIA. You get to see those two different schools of thought go head to head,” he explained. “The most fun I’ve had in years was having the opportunity to throw Mr. Bruce Willis across the room and watch him smash into furniture so well.
Mirren added, “I would just say that as an older person, you bring a different energy to the piece and maybe it’s the energy of wisdom and the energy of experience. I think that in a sense is the story of the movie as well.”
“Yes, there’s as age question, but there’s also this notion of how society discards people that still have a lot of value. It’s of every age,” explained di Bonaventura. “I think that’s one of the things that underlines this movie. Everybody can look at it and go, ‘Yeah, I feel a little discarded’ about one thing or another.”
Asked if there was anything left to fear in their lives, Willis and Mirren answered in different ways. “I think I’m much more afraid of making a mistake in raising my daughters than I would on any work that I do as an actor. It’s a much higher scale of fear, raising kids,” answered Willis.
“I think my whole life is just about overcoming fear. First nights in the theater are always scary,” Mirren began. “Right now I’m terrified of rubbish in New York. Such a mountain of it, where does it all go? I’m terrified of plastic basically. Plastic packaging, that’s what’s scaring me right now. There’s too much of it. Get rid of it.”
After a short silence, she joked, “Sorry to get ecological.”
“Red” opens in theaters October 15th, 2010