Thomas Harris chats with Chris McKay and Dan Lin about The LEGO Batman Movie (some minor spoilers follow)…
I had the pleasure to talk to Chris McKay and producer Dan Lin about the rather brilliant The LEGO Batman Movie. A quick note on director McKay who, looking like a Williamsburg hipster, had Batman and Marvel tattoos across both arms. A clear super-fan then; who better to direct a film distilling 78 years of comic folklore into 90 minutes?
First off, Michael Jackson (MJ is mentioned a lot throughout the movie), why Michael Jackson?
McKay: You’re dealing with a movie about a guy who is being forced to realise he needs to change his life if he wants to improve and get over his main problem. Initially it started because we wanted a quote in the beginning of the movie because I thought that’d be funny as a self important Batman movie and movies like that start with some Nietzche quote. And then it took on a life of its own, the minute we struck on that quote and had fun with it, it just seemed like a natural fit, lets try to use this as a theme; the music, lets have it come back.
Batman has always really been a mopey emo teenager, how do you treat a character like Batman as not just a superhero, but as that emo teenager filling a void?
McKay: When you take a step back and – I love Batman and I’m a huge fan obviously – but when you take a step back and look at the idea of this guys method of getting over his parents death and attack the problem of crime is to learn karate and dress up like a creature he thinks criminals fear most is just absurd. So the comedy is already kind of there when you shine a light on it and then Will’s performance in the first movie when we just distilled Batman down to the most egotistical, finger guns guy in the world, and his Batman is so charming – even at his most abrasive he still manages to be this charming rogue in the Han Solo mold that trying to centre a movie around that kid of guy made a lot of sense. And the fact that there are a lot of movie models that do that thing whether it’s Jerry Maguire or About a Boy or Life Aquatic or Arthur, there are all these sort of guys that keep the rest of the world at arms length and they learn a lesson about the people in their lives and they need those people. It just seemed like a natural fit for us to model a Batman movie on.
Michael Cera as Robin, how did he come into the equation? The moment he comes onto screen everything lights up…
McKay: Each of these characters were hard to pin down in a way. Who is the exact person…Will Arnett is doing a fucking tight rope high wire act because there are only certain people that can do that and be charming and kind of an arsehole so trying to find somebody to do what Michael Cera does, somebody who has a boyish voice yet is also super positive and also isn’t over exposed as far as a voice talent goes, you want something fresh. So we were just flouncing round ideas and Michael seemed most natural. We were concerned because he doesn’t necessarily do big movies, although he has done a few, but he picks and chooses very well.
It was refreshing to hear him.
McKay: So we asked Will to help reach out to him because they worked together on Arrested Development.
Dan Lin: He wasn’t sure at first as he tends to do indie movies and he doesn’t live in Los Angeles he lives in New York so we tried to explain to him that we’re not doing a crass commercial movie, we’re trying to make a special movie here with artistry and you’re not selling out by working on one of these movies. We have a lot of really cool, super talented comedians: Zach Galifianakas, Ellie Kemper, even Ralph Fiennes.
That’s what Warner Bros. are doing so well. They’re releasing these very strange, sort of surreal Monty Python-esque animated films whilst attracting really interesting talent.
McKay: Eddie Izzard doing Voldemort…
On that note, how did you make it all feel natural: Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, how on earth did you get the rights?
McKay: It’s kind of a chemical balance. When we’re building the animatic, we’re trying to work out what feels right. How much story, how many jokes, what do you need to set up those characters, how subtle can you be, can you just hear them on TV when you’re in the Joker’s hide out. Then there’s what if you hit it over the head from the beginning then maybe it’s not as cool when you see them when they show up but you lay out breadcrumbs so when those guys do show up it works. But with The LEGO Movie, we were able to reach out to people by sending them the DVD and if they hadn’t seen it we could talk to them and tell them “we’re doing the LEGO versions of your characters” and they’re more receptive because of the first movie. They know we’re gonna push the envelope a little bit but we’re not gonna fuck with their characters too hard.
Many thanks to Chris McKay and Dan Lin for taking the time for this interview.
The Lego Batman Movie is in cinemas 10th February with previews on the 4th and 5th of February.