In 2005, Texan filmmaking enfant terrible Robert Rodriguez teamed up with misanthropic comic book master craftsman Frank Miller to co-direct “Sin City,” an adaptation of Miller’s gritty comic book yarns of the same name, rewriting the Hollywood playbook in the process.
With an ensemble cast that included Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis, the neo-noir crime thriller painted a stark world in which corrupt cops and underworld strongmen, hookers with hearts of gold and one grotesquely disfigured serial killer operate in high-definition black and white (with select jolts of gold and arterial-splatter red).
Come Aug. 22, nearly a decade after the first “Sin City” pressed reset on digital filmmaking and use of green-screen technology, Miller and Rodriguez are back with a second installment of the gritty anthology: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (view the trailer above). Rodriguez spoke to Hero Complex about why the time was right for them to return to their old stamping ground.
Hero Complex: What brings you back to the old neighborhood after so much time away?
Robert Rodriguez: There was a version we were going to do pretty quickly on the heels of the first film in 2007. I was trying to sneak it in before a bunch of other projects but it didn’t happen. The Weinsteins had just started another company, they weren’t at Miramax anymore. And Frank and I got sidetracked by other stuff. In 2010, we started working on the script again but other projects kept getting in the way. It was always so fresh in our heads. And people kept asking, “When’s the next ‘Sin City’ coming?” It never really went away. It always felt like we were working on it. We really enjoy working together but never really wanted to rush the process.
HC: You have a character who dies in the first film then comes back to life in “A Dame to Kill For” and one actor subbing in for another in the same role. How does that work?
RR: Frank’s books are written out of sequence. The Mickey Rourke character Marv from the first “Sin City” movie dies in the first “Sin City” book. And then Frank made many books after that where Marv is alive. Some stories are prequels, some are sequels to the first film. It gives you a lot of freedom. Clive Owen’s character Dwight shows up in his prequel where he has a different face. It’s mentioned in the first film: He has a new face and you don’t know what he’s talking about. This is the prequel so you get to see how he became that guy.
HC: Dwight, of course, had facial reconstructive surgery and is portrayed by Josh Brolin in “A Dame to Kill For.”
RR: Yup. We were so faithful to the books in the first film, we thought, “Let’s surprise people and throw in a couple of new stories so they can’t just go read it and know what’s going to happen.” We crafted a new character that Frank hadn’t drawn before and a new story for him. And there’s a new installment to the Jessica Alba-Bruce Willis story. So there’s two stories from the books and two new stories.
HC: What can you tell us about the new character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
RR: Yeah, Johnny. We haven’t revealed too much. He’s a gambler who beat the wrong guy at cards — a very dangerous thing to do in Sin City. The story is called “The Long, Bad Night.” You can kinda figure it out from there.
HC: You shot on and off from the end of 2012 until late 2013. How did you assemble the cast?
RR: I know from experience, you gotta start the train and then everyone jumps on. We cast Mickey, Jaime King and Carla Gugino. Then we put the cast together as we were shooting. It was very non-linear. First week and a half we shot Jessica, took a couple weeks off. Then we shot Mickey, took a week and a half off. Josh Brolin wasn’t available at the beginning but by the time we got to his section, he was. He shows up on the set and goes, “Where’s Mickey?” We go, “We shot him last month.” He goes, “Aren’t all my scenes with Mickey? We’re driving around and we’re drinking together! I always wanted to work with Mickey Rourke and now I’m not going to be with him!” I was like, “Well, let me show you what he did on the monitor.” It’s a different way of working.
HC: The original “Sin City” was such a game-changer in utilizing green-screen technology. How streamlined was that with this film?
RR: The first time a lot of the actors had questions like, “How does this even work?” They must have been wondering what they were doing on this green screen [stage] with no props or sets, completely having blind faith in what I was doing. You just take it for granted now, it’s almost like an industry standard. And coming back, they knew what the movie was going to look like, what they were doing. So I was surprised by how much better the performances were from everybody.
HC: Frank had been burned by Hollywood and was very reluctant to let you make the original “Sin City.” You had to win him over and even relinquished your Directors Guild of America membership so he could co-direct the film. How has your relationship evolved?
RR: He has a lot more knowledge because he’s shot movies and commercials. But it’s just so damn enjoyable making movies with him. I always say Frank and I are very like-minded. He loves his work and I love his work! We always agree on that and I’m trying to bring it to life as a fan. That’s why I called it “Frank Miller’s Sin City” not “Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City.” You know that this is something he drew a long time ago, sitting isolated in a room. He must be in a very surreal place seeing it spoken and acted just like he wrote it, never knowing that’s what the result would be. To see it come to life like that, he’s got this huge smile and this exuberance. That was the goal every day: to make Frank so … happy.
HC: So now that you’ve done two “Sin City” films, what’s the outlook on a third? Happy?
RR: When Frank came out of the screening room for this one, he sits down and says, “So when we do Part 3 …” He’s already talking about which books we’re going to use, he’d already structured it in his head. I said, “We have to go do it right away. We shouldn’t wait.” If we do a third one, I think we’ll do it sooner rather than later.
— Chris Lee | @LATherocomplex
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