Comic book scribe (and ex-CBR columnist) Steven Grant (“Punisher,” Badlands”) is blunt about his involvement in Universal Studios’ upcoming “2 Guns” film, based on his 2007 BOOM! Studios miniseries of the same name.
“The comic was my work. That was my story. The film is not my work. It’s the work of the many people working on the film,” Grant told CBR News. But he further said that watching the film come together has been interesting and exciting experience, dating back to 2001, when he first had the idea for a story featuring two undercover agents from two different agencies whose lives become entangled after a bank heist gone-wrong.
Since he first conceived of the story, the twisty, action-crime tale has gone from an un-produced screenplay, to a “party favor” Grant handed out to friends, to a comic book. This summer, “2 Guns” lives again as a film starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.
Grant recently watched his ideas come to life on the set of “2 Guns,” an experience he described as being similar to “when you have a dream where you’re both watching what’s going on, but you’re also part of what you’re watching, so it’s like there are two of you.”
The surreality was magnified by the talent involved in the film, from leads Washington and Wahlberg, down to supporting cast members, Bill Paxton, James Marsden, Edward James Olmos and Paula Patton.
“They just blew away whatever conceptions of the characters I previously had,” Grant said. “It’s hard to think of the characters except in terms of [the actors], now. It probably helped that I was far enough away from the writing of the story that I could view it as a separate entity, something that already existed beyond me, but it’s strange. It’s like watching your kids leave home.”
Looking back on the origins of “2 Guns,” Grant — who said that it’s rare for him to write something before it’s been sold in advance — was inspired by the potential humor of having two undercover agents — one a DEA agent, and the other a Naval Intelligence office — intersect in a mob plot for revenge.
“I always viewed [‘2 Guns’] as a comedy, but very deadpan. It’s situationally comedic, springing from a basically absurd setup that underlies the whole thing,” Grant explained. “I don’t especially want characters to crack big jokes or do pratfalls or most things commonly associated with comedy, and they don’t, but from my perspective, it’s still comedy.”
The longtime comics writer, whose resume includes stints with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and more, said his decision write the story as a screenplay stemmed front he fact that he didn’t want to surrender the story to editorial control and he wanted to retain ownership of the story.
“It’s a crime story, and that’s always a hard sell — but in comics in 2001, it was an especially hard sell. Actually, in any medium, it’s a hard sell,” Grant said. “I knew to get anyone interested, I’d have to write it all up, first. I’d written most of my comics scripts in a modified screenplay format for 20 years at that point anyway, so it seemed the time to teach myself how to do a proper screenplay.
“I’d previously written an ‘X’ screenplay at Mike Richardson’s behest, but I had no idea what I was doing and it was the godawfulest crap you’ve never seen,” Grant said, readily admitting that his first attempt at screenwriting was less than stellar. “The one thing I did learn doing it was that I had a hell of a lot to learn about writing screenplays.”
After three drafts and a final polish, the “2 Guns” script was completed, and Grant left his Las Vegas home for a series of meetings in Los Angeles. He noted that this was a time when “Hollywood was just beginning to pay a lot of attention to comics, and people who’d read ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Badlands’ and things like that were then starting to move into power positions in the business. It was fairly easy to get meetings.”
Armed with high hopes, he descended into Hollywood, arriving the evening of September 10, 2001. However, less than 24 hours later, in the wake of 9/11, the chance of green-lighting a violent action film had dropped to nil. “Only a handful of people ever read ‘2 Guns’ in its original form, and they were my friends. It kind of turned into a party favor I handed out.”
Grant recalled introducing “2 Guns” to BOOM! Studios founder Ross Richie, an industry acquaintance, saying Richie “liked my stuff and always chatted me up at conventions.”
“I wasn’t trying to sell him on it, as I recall. Like I said: party favors. He came back to me, eventually, and raved it up, and told me he wanted to turn it into comic. I wasn’t doing anything else with it, but it was a story I really liked, so I was more than happy to,” Grant said. “Plus, I like Ross. I probably shouldn’t go into the terms of my contract, but it was a very, very good contract. I had absolutely nothing to lose.”
Adapted to comics with artist Mateus Santolouco (“Dial H”) on the 2007 miniseries, Grant said the story was easy to convert from film concept to the printed page because the tone wasn’t far from his other comic book work.
“Most readers don’t realize I view much of my work as comedy, and that’s one of the reasons I like crime stories,” Grant said. “They’re uniquely suited to situational comedy, where the characters have to take what they’re doing seriously, but they’re engaging in deeply flawed and often ridiculous behavior that also somehow seems inevitable. You have to have that sense of inevitability in there. Not destiny: inevitability. The notion that if one domino is tipped, nothing’s going to stop the rest from tipping and all you can do is play it out the best you can. That’s the difference between characters who get caught up in a bad situation and are trying to cope with it and characters who are just morons.
“I tend to have a very Aeschylean view of these things: If the hero dies, it’s tragedy. If the hero lives, it’s comedy.”
â€¨When pre-production began on “2 Guns,” Grant was happy to stay out of the way of director Baltasar KormÃ¡kur (“Contraband”) and writer Blake Master. “I’ve developed a little spiel: I’m willing to be as involved as they want me to be, but I’m not interested in inserting myself anywhere I’m not needed.”
But Grant noted he was impressed with the way the adaptation came together, beginning with the actors chosen to bring his creation to life.
“Believe me, I love the cast,” Grant said. “I wasn’t in the casting loop. I knew Mark [Wahlberg] was on board from the start — the film would not have gotten made in this form without him.
“My daughter does a web-search every day for new articles about ‘2 Guns,’ so I stay pretty up to the minute on these things without anyone having to call me. To announce Bill Paxton had signed, or Edward James Olmos or James Marsden or Fred Ward or whoever had signed. They never mentioned characters, but in every single case, I instantly knew who they’d be playing, and in every single case, I realized they’d work perfectly,” he said. “Of course, Denzel Washington. Man. Who wouldn’t love this cast? The fact that it’s filled with actors whose work I’ve dug for years is one big present for me. I watched most of them on set, and they all work together terrifically. Most people don’t really think of me as a gusher, but I can’t gush enough about this cast.”
As for the decision to cast Washington as a character who is Caucasian in the comic, Grant told CBR, it simply isn’t a big deal.
“I didn’t specify the characters’ races in the script because it wasn’t relevant. That was the artist’s choice, and since I also didn’t give him any instructions that they were or weren’t white, that was a perfectly acceptable choice,” Grant said. “I don’t see where it matters one way or the other unless some key story element hinges on it. Why not? Idris Elba as James Bond? I’m there! On a cultural note, we won’t ever be able to truly think in terms of race equality if we don’t take a race-neutral view of these things, with the attitude that any actor should be able to play any role unless there’s some specific overriding contextual reason otherwise.”
Asked if he thinks the film will faithfully follow the miniseries’ twisty plot, violence and humor, Grant replied, “I read an interview with Baltasar recently where he spelled out that it was really a very deadpan comedy, so I know he understood it. But you have to be very careful talking to people when they’re making films. It’s a very bad idea to start volunteering opinions, not because they’ll resent it, but because, in my experience, most of them are very open to it — particularly if you have authorial credibility. You can make what you don’t think is a very important observation at all and suddenly send them tail-spinning into an attempt to match what they think is your ‘vision’ and screw up other elements of the film in the process. At a certain point, I think, you just have to cut the cord and hope for the best. The big thing, though, is I love ‘2 Guns,’ but it’s a story I’ve already told. I don’t want to tell it again. I want to tell other stories. They haven’t told it yet. Let them tell it now.”
“It’s very exciting, but there’s a strong sense of dislocation as well,” Grant continued. “It’s mine, but it isn’t mine. Obviously I’m very aware none of it would have happened had I not tipped over that first domino, but watching all those other dominos tipping as a result, even beyond the film itself, with some strange, unintended consequences — that’s been just fascinating.”
And of all the dominoes that have fallen over, the one Grant finds to have had the strangest trajectory is the one that led to the NBC sitcom “30 Rock.”
“My daughter watches ’30 Rock,’ and on the season premiere, James Marsden walks on screen with his head shaved almost bald, a very extreme military cut,” explained Grant. “He did that for his role in ‘2 Guns.’ She scowls at me and scolds, ‘That’s your fault, Dad!’ And it was. There’s a joke in the show that had to be written to account for the hair ‘2 Guns’ cost him that wouldn’t have been there had I not written the story. So here I am, sitting at home in Nevada, making Tina Fey do things.”
“2 Guns” will be in theaters this August and BOOM! Studios is releasing the “2 Guns: Second Shot Deluxe Edition” in May.