Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is two benchmarks for English writer-director Edgar Wright: It’s his first feature post- Shaun of the Dead made without Shaun stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and it’s his first (slightly belated) American film. After Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Spaced —a show shot like a film—Wright ventures slightly out of his comfort zone to energetically direct Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic about a young bassist (Michael Cera) who must literally battle his new girlfriend’s belligerent exes. On a national press tour, Wright was accompanied by Cera, who was on some TV show about which very little is remembered.
Were you fans of the comic before or was it a project that was brought to you?
Edgar Wright: I was given it a couple weeks after it was published as a potential film, and I loved it. Since then, it’s been a six-year process of stalling for time, waiting for Bryan [Lee O’Malley] to finish the books. It’s been amazing watching it grow into a cult phenomenon.
Michael Cera: I have a friend who is a big comic guy, and I read the first two on his recommendation. I’m not a big comic reader but I loved them. And I’m from Toronto, too, so they had a special connection to me. But I read them as a casual reader, because I had no idea they were going to be a movie. And I didn’t think I’d be able to do it because I was too young at the time.
The book is six volumes. Were there things you were sad to lose?
Wright: It was more a case that we knew it had to be its own beast. I’m a big believer that comics are one medium and films are another. So, it’s not like if we took out a whole subplot it was banished to oblivion. It’s going to exist on the page forever. I worried more about cramming too much stuff in, in a weird way. It was impossible to do the books absolutely verbatim, and sometimes when people do that you tend to think, “Well, I could have just read the comic.” At some point, the two mediums have to diverge. Our main goal was, “How do we make this into a movie?”
Most comic-book adaptations these days are serious. This one is mostly about being purely fun.
Wright: This particular book is very fun. It’s not a pretentious book. I felt like there was a reason for it. Our main character is a fantasist. Our main character is the video game version of Billy Liar. He would like to live his life like this, with onomatopoeic graphics and iconography. It made perfect sense to present it in this form. He is living and seeing his life through the telescope of all the media he’s consumed in the last 22 years.
But he’s still a flawed character.
Cera: In reading the books, there are some moments when you’re thinking, “What is he doing?” But you’re still always on his side because he’s such a goof, an idiot. I feel like I compare him to Homer Simpson. Homer will do some really stupid, inconsiderate things, but he’s a lovable idiot. In the end, you know he’s going to come around and do the right thing.
This was your first feature since Shaun of the Dead without Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Did you view it as a challenge to collaborate with others?
Wright: Certainly there are fans of our films who would want us handcuffed together. But it takes me three years to make a film, and in that gap Nick and Simon get to go off and do lots of stuff with other directors. Simon gets to gallivant with Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, and I think, “Well, I’m allowed to sleep around, too!”
Would you say this is a melding of British, American and Canadian humor?
Wright: I don’t even know what a British sense of humor is. The traits that people say about British humor being self-deprecating and ironic are exactly the same as a Canadian sense of humor. In recent years, and maybe through cable and the Internet, the exchange of ideas and sensibilities has become more frequent. It’s most obvious through The Office having two successful incarnations in the states and the U.K. We’re all big fans of Arrested Development, that’s how I first saw Michael. People over here get incredibly geeky about Look Around You or Spaced or Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It’s a great exchange of ideas and actors.
It's an insular, punishingly alienating experience preaching only to the faithful, devoted hearts of arrested 12-year-old boys. It’s singularly fixated on video games and shallow visions of women as one-dimensional objects to be either obtained or discarded and offers no possible point of entry to anybody over the age of 30.