In Sin City, there’s always a new sucker stepping off the bus, a freshly-minted dangerous dame laying in wait or a recently tarnished hero threatening to be devoured by the grim cityscape.
For the first adaptation of writer/artist Frank Miller’s one-of-a-kind crime noir opus, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez recruited an impressive roster of A-list and breakout talent to populate the bullet-ridden streets, so it was no surprise that the sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” drew new famous names into its all-star cast of adventurous actors. Chief among the new additions are Josh Brolin assumes the role of Dwight — played by Clive Owen in the original — with a very specific reason for recasting; Eva Green slinks into the persona of Ava Lord, Dwight’s ex-lover with agendas to burn; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt originates the role of the cocksure gambler Johnny for “The Long Bad Night,” a story crafted specifically for the screen.
The three stars recently weighed in with some thoughts about their recent stay in Basin City during a press conference, offering some (slightly spoiler-y, for those who haven’t read the comics) insight into their process, with some additional thoughts from Miller himself.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The thing that I liked on the page most about my character was in the very cover of the script where it said, “Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez.” I remember when the first [movie] came out, going to the movie theater and saying to myself “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s somewhere in between a cartoon and a live action. That’s perfect!” Because, I think — for me anyway, and probably for a lot of actors — we grew up and were little kids watching cartoons, and that’s who you want to be: A cartoon on the screen. And then you have to settle for being an actor, a live-action actor in a movie. But in this case, you kind of get to become a cartoon in a way, and I love that. I actually really loved acting in just the green [screen] environment and just fully embracing an abandonment of realism, of reality, saying, “No, we’re going to the movies now. We’re going to Sin City. We’re going into a graphic novel. We’re going into the mind of Frank Miller. And yeah, the sky isn’t perfect detail. It’s actually just pure black. And the snow is pure white. And we’re not in the real world — and isn’t that kind of what we’re all looking for when we go to the movies? Escaping our real world into something larger than that, simpler than that, more beautiful or darker.” And this movie delivers that. Just getting to become a part of that world and play a Rodriguez badass — I mean, I grew up watching his movies, loving his movies, and it was such a thrill to get to do it.
Josh Brolin: As an actor, doing it for 30 years, your every movie you’re trying to figure out a way to make it more naturalistic and more organic to humanity. And [in this film] you have lines like, “Never let the monster out,” and stuff like that. It’s hard — you have to find a cadence, and the cadence doesn’t come to you. It’s the kind of movie that you really have to dive into. You can’t really manipulate the movie… There’s an absurdity to it that I completely understand, which I don’t really talk about until now because I can use it. And hopefully you’ll go see the movie if I talk about it, but that’s one of those kind of shameful things where it’s like, “I understand this completely.” So the opportunity to be able to do it was really unnerving, but when I watched it, it’s one of the few movies that I have done where I thought, “Thank God I’m in this movie. I really feel proud to be in this movie.” It’s just next level. I thought, “They’ve gone to the next place.”
Frank Miller: One of the first scenes Josh and Eva shot had to be my favorite scene in the entire book, and it was the scene where they meet again after four years in a bar. Ava seems to be falling back in love with him, but he is doing his best to resist her. But he can’t because she’s got her own kind of superpowers — and also, she’s Ava. And after I saw that scene and I saw how they played it and how they moved across decades in the performance, I took them both aside, literally, to tell them that this was my favorite scene, the one I was most worried about, and they had pulled it off perfectly. I was stunned.
Brolin: It was also one of those things, from my point of view, where it was like, “We’re not going to fire you!’
Eva Green: I was very nervous for the scene after she tried to shoot Dwight, and she’s talking with the cops, and she’s lying. She’s a compulsive liar, so it’s kind of the challenge in this film, to still be believable and lie all the time. And yeah, to play all these different women, that was the challenge — and she’s so bad, so that was very kind of fun. You know, there’s no conscience, no sense of right or wrong. She’s pretty evil.
Gordon-Levitt: I love getting to see Christopher Lloyd do something dark, because I actually worked with Christopher Lloyd a little bit a long time ago — 21 or 22 years ago — he’s the Angel in “Angels in the Outfield,” so this was our reunion. And you couldn’t really ask for a movie that was more diametrically opposed to “Angels in the Outfield” than “Sin City,” and it was perfect. He’s sort of this junkie, in dirty clothes, but he’s kind of got this almost poetic, sad, self-talking soliloquy going on the whole time while he’s setting my bones with popsicle sticks. And you’re like, “Man, this is Doc Brown — we should we be talking about 1.21 gigawatts!” But it’s really cool because he’s a really strong actor and he can do a lot of different things. Applying that energy that he brings to a character like Doc Brown for “Back to the Future,” but putting it in this really dark flavor of a Frank Miller world is really entertaining.
Miller: One of my great pleasures in working with directors is working with actors. It’s really my favorite thing about it. I remember walking over to Christopher Lloyd’s trailer and he greets me at the door — and he’s Christopher Lloyd, which says a lot! And I just sat on down, and I said, “You’re known now for your comedy — I want to see you play this completely straight.” And then, boy, he delivers the goods, because it’s a terrifying performance!
Green: I trusted Robert. He came to my trailer, and he swore to me that I would look amazing with the right lighting, the shadows and all that because I felt — you know, you always feel quite vulnerable when you’re naked on a set. You feel quite silly, actually, and with the green screen around you and your tiny thong, it’s not that sexy! So you trust their vision. And yeah, it looks stunning. It’s odd — it’s not vulgar. It’s not indecent. It’s not realistic. It’s beautiful, I think.
Brolin: It’s unnerving, but you get in there and you do your best. You try to be fearless, but you are extremely fearful during these times because you’re not sure. You have no idea, especially in green screen — you have no idea what movie you’re doing. You really don’t. And then you see the movie and you’re like, “Oh, my God! Like, I’m on a cliff right now!” Or, “I’m having sex right now! I thought I was dancing.” And when we did it, it was really uncomfortable, but when you do it, there’s something about this cast that — I’ve been very lucky, where you just kind of jive immediately and there’s not a lot of pretense on the set. And when you trust somebody as much as you trust these two, you’re just like, “I know I’m going to be taken care of, so I’m willing to go that much further.” It may be a total manipulation, but it works! And when you see a movie like this and you see truly how beautiful it is, whether it’s artistic or not, it’s truly beautiful. It’s truly unique. As an actor, that’s the best feeling in the world. You’re like, look, this will go down, whether people see it or not. We’ll be able to look back on this and say, “That was really great to be involved in.”
Gordon-Levitt: Here’s a filmmaker who has decided to kind of make his own world, his own industry, and do it his way. The fact that you drive just outside of Austin and not only does he have all of the ability to shoot whatever he wants, all the cutting is going on next door and the visual effects and the music and everything else. Movies, traditionally, because they’re such mammoth tasks, they kind of have to get divided up, and that can sometimes be interruptive to one individual’s voice coming through. But the way that Robert does it, it’s so, so, so him. He managed to approach in the medium of filmmaking what an artist like Frank Miller is able to do by himself sitting with just his own tools of writing and drawing. And I really, really, really, admire that and found it enormously inspiring.