Conjuring Up "The Spirit" With Jackson, Miller, And Del Prete

The Spirit was created by Will Eisner in 1940 as a comic book insert in over 20 Sunday newspapers -- a circulation of over 5 million copies. Now, over 60 years later, Will Eisner's creation is about to be brought to the silver screen with the aid of another of comics' biggest names, Frank Miller. The writer/artist of "The Dark Knight Returns" made the leap to directing with the help of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in the 2005 comic book movie hit "Sin City," based on Miller's series of graphic novels. Joining Miller on The Spirit project is producer Deborah Del Prete and America's favorite badass performer, Samuel L. Jackson. CBR News caught up with the trio at Comic-Con International last month to talk about "The Spirit."

"Any time is a perfect time to bring to life a hero and the Spirit is a very good hero," Miller said. "He is an urban Zorro and in a time when we're getting very, very focused on the gadget and doohickeys and vehicles of the superheroes, it's great to have a guy with just a hat and a tie and a mask and a pair of fists making the city right."

Miller directed "Sin City" alongside Robert Rodriguez, but "The Spirit" marks the first time the graphic novelist would sit behind the lens alone. Of course, being entrusted with over 60 years of comic book legacy and what could become a multimillion-dollar franchise is an honor not usually given to first time directors. "Let's not be silly," Del Prete said, "I did a lot of research, I talked to everybody before we put Frank in this job. I talked to [producer] Elizabeth Avellan and [director] Robert Rodriguez about what their experience was with him on 'Sin City.' I mean look, we all knew Frank was going to be a great visual storyteller he's proven that, he drew those things for years that kind of look like storyboards? Also his style is so strong, he's so stylistic but could he work with actors, those sorts of things?"

Del Prete spent a lot of time working with Miller on the story and the script for the Spirit movie. "I came from a very big filmmaking background," she said. "My dad's a film editor; I grew up knowing how to edit. So it was a good marriage because there were technical things Frank didn't know but he's so talented. He's one of the strongest voices and visions of any director that I've ever worked with and all I did was be able to give him some of the technical tools he didn't have. We really did work closely together and we had a great time and it was always his vision and we were able to always get his vision up on the screen."

For Miller, "The Spirit" has been a very rewarding experience. "It's a completely different day to day experience because when I write and draw I am alone in my studio," Miller explained. "When I am on a movie set, I'm collaborating with hundreds of people and working with the actors is completely different than drawing a bunch of people I made up."

One of those actors is Samuel L. Jackson, playing The Spirit's arch nemesis the Octopus. How did the veteran actor think of the Miller's first time directing? "For me, you know, Frank [is] egoless, kind of open to suggestion; he likes to laugh a lot and the more outrageous you could be to make this thing happen the more he was accepting of it."

When Jackson originally read about the part of the Octopus, he was curious how the character had earned that moniker. Indeed, the Octopus does not resemble the animal at all and there is no resonance of the number eight in anything he does. It was explained to Jackson that the nickname comes from the fact that the Octopus had his figurative tentacles wrapped around the business of everybody in the city. Now that he has played the character, Jackson is able to sum the Octopus up quite easily. "Kind of insane, indestructible, flamboyant," Jackson said with a smile, "and a good dresser."

Jackson has just been seen by many comic book fans in one of this summer's blockbuster movies, "Iron Man," in a cameo role as Nick Fury. Jackson says it's great fun to play either the hero or the villain, but he does prefer to be the bad guy. "Villains generally have a deeper agenda then heroes," Jackson said. "But I am sure Nick Fury, being a guy with an attitude that he's always had, will be an interesting character to play when the movie finally has him fleshed out and doing something other than just talking to Iron Man." The role of Nicky Fury is one that he has been waiting for the chance to play for a very long time. "It's like ever since I first discovered that they changed Nick Fury's image to being essentially me, I've been waiting and going 'So when do I actually get to do it?'"

Del Prete has been wondering the same thing about "The Spirit." "I've waited my whole life to make this movie," she said. "I've been a huge comic fan my whole life, I've been coming to Comic-Con for fourteen years." The first night of this year's Comic-Con, Del Prete and her husband went directly over to The Spirit booth on the convention floor to see her dream come true. "I thought, 'Oh my god, I am here, I made this happen, we have this movie and my dream came true.' How many times do you get a dream come true in your lifetime? You can't be in a better place, you can't be in a better time for having made this movie and I couldn't work with better people than Frank Miller. I mean, Frank Miller and Will Eisner. I waited a long time but then I got to do it exactly right so it's unbelievably thrilling for me."

As for whether Del Prete had any other comic book dreams that she wants to make a reality, the producer kept tight lipped. "Maybe," she said with a smile, "but since this is a world where it's really hard to get rights I don't know if that will work out or not."

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