Director D.J. Caruso now says he hopes to make a film trilogy based on the "Y: The Last Man" comic books that will star Shia LaBeouf and also tweak a basic element of the plot — even though he knows any departure from the original risks the wrath of fanboy purists.
"It is tricky to suggest changing things. I’m sure the fanboys will stone me and my kids for daring to change a thing. But Brian K. Vaughan [the writer of the comics] loves the ideas we’ve come up with. He even said said, ‘You have to think outside the box because the reason this story hasn’t been made into a movie so far is that we haven’t thought outside the box.’"
I sat down with Caruso the other day at one of his favorite spots in Los Angeles, the grand and venerable Union Station, a site used by Ridley Scott in his brilliant "Blade Runner," a film dearly loved by Caruso. "When I found that out, I started coming here and I just got taken by the place." We got together to talk about the tech-thriller "Eagle Eye," which stars LaBeouf and opens this Friday (that Calendar cover story ran Sunday in the Los Angeles Times) but eventually the conversation turned to Caruso’s next project. There’s been chatter for months about Caruso making a "Y" movie, and while he was careful to say it’s not a done deal, he seemed very optimistic that "Y: The Last Man" would be at theaters in 2010.
"It’s at New Line and New Line is now under the umbrella at Warner Bros., and we’re working it out. It’s not a done deal, but I’m hoping that’s my next movie. My favorite thing about the story is that it’s about the last man on earth who is not a man yet, he’s a boy. He’s still a man-child. He has to become a man on this journey. I don’t want to say it’s a post-apocalyptic story, but it does have that feel. Every man, everything in their world that is male, in fact, dies. Everything with the Y chromosome dies, except for this one guy, Yorick, and his pet monkey, Ampersand. It’s about them and this embattled world of women and the women who come after him."
Caruso made a big commercial breakthrough last year with "Disturbia,"a film that started LaBeouf’s career-shaping run of big-time roles. He and the star clearly have built a rapport together. I got to watch them on the set in Los Angeles early this year and in talking to Caruso then it was very clear that the director has found his screen muse in LaBeouf. Caruso sounds absolutely locked in on the 22-year-old actor as his on-screen version of Yorick, the last man on Earth.
"Shia wants to be Yorick. So we’re talking about reuniting again. I know he needs a little bit of a break but this looks like it will fit for him. He’s perfect casting. Even if I did know him and hadn’t worked with him, it’s pretty clear that he’s perfect. He is Yorick. Yorick has a sense of humor, he’s self-deprecating, he has this wonderful relationship with 355, who is the female super agent. Ultimately I want that relationship to be very similar to Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in ‘Midnight Run.’"
And what about that key plot change?
"The challenge was how to keep the story moving. So we added a ticking clock in there for Yorick that actually Brian loved and thinks is a great idea for the movie: We separate Yorick from Ampersand and when they got separated, Yorick starts getting sick. There’s this realization that he will die unless they get back together. So they have to get Ampersand back and 355 and Yorick are forced to go out and do that."
Caruso, an affable and easygoing guy, already knows that by taking on the Eisner-winning series he is stepping into some rich but treacherous turf. Caruso found out what it was like to make a polarizing film with his directorial debut, the druggy neo-noir movie "The Salton Sea" in 2002, but by adapting the work of Vaughan (also a key writer of the television show "Lost" and the creator of the sublime comics series "Ex Machina") he risks antagonizing fans, not just critics.
"Yes, that’s true, you have the creator and you want to be very true to the material but the good news is when we presented it to him he thought it was great. I’ve never been involved in a project that has so much fanboy chatter. I get e-mailed a lot of opinion about what I’m doing. There’s been talk out there already of Shia being in the movie and there’s a lot of positive feedback but there’s also these naysayers. There’s a few people who say that I’m the right director and others say I’m not the right filmmaker. At least they’re all talking about it. With ‘Salton Sea,’ in one review I’d be a genius and then somebody else like [Los Angeles Times movie critic] Kenneth Turan would say I’m an idiot or whatever. But since then, you know, I don’t really read the reviews. Because it doesn’t matter and if you do read them you’ll just drive yourself crazy. I don’t mind things that are critical but when they’re cynical or angry, I don’t have time for that."
The "Y" comic book series wrapped up a few months ago with issue No. 60, and Caruso said that instead of cramming too much into one film, he sees a natural way to tell Vaughan’s epic over the course of three films.
"If you look at the entire story arc, it kind of falls into a trilogy, if that works out for us. You obviously can’t fit everything into one movie. I have not cast Ampersand yet but I can promise you that he will not be CGI. He will be a real monkey. I’m sure we’ll have about 15 monkeys all looking exactly the same. One that can smile, one that can throw feces…"
I asked him about the timetable and he said shooting could begin in winter 2009. "We’re looking at a movie for 2010. From what I hear through the grapevine — I don’t how true it is — Warner needs some movies for 2010. We’ll see. It is sort of an event movie. It’s the one I want to make and I’m excited about it."
— Geoff Boucher
Photo of D.J. Caruso and Shia LeBeouf on the set of "Eagle Eye" shot by Ralph Nelson\DreamWorks
Photo of D. J. Caruso at Union Station by Stefano Paltera\For the Los Angeles Times