Aaron Johnson, aka “Kick-Ass”
A trained actor since age 6, 20-year-old Aaron Johnson has already made waves in his native UK. But as the title character in the majorly anticipated “Kick-Ass” in theatres tomorrow, and the John Lennon pic “Nowhere Boy” out this fall, his American star is on the rise. The Film Yap’s Lauren Whalen sat down with this friendly Brit and chatted about action scenes, the private lives of celebrities and what really makes an independent film.
Lauren Whalen: “Kick-Ass” was filmed without a distributor lined up. What inspired you to risk making a movie that possibly no one would ever see?
Aaron Johnson: I wasn’t too worried about the risk, you know? I think [director] Matthew Vaughn was really the backbone of this movie, and really drove it, and he took a huge gamble on it. He put a lot of financing into it, and went head to head with studios who said it wasn’t going to work. I think he’s got balls, and it takes a few people like that to make great films, you know? For me, I’ve never really judged anything by what sort of money [studios] put into it.
I’ve done a lot of small budget, independent movies. But what you get from indie, it doesn’t have to be an art film. [“Kick-Ass”] is obviously the opposite of everything, this is British indie, because it’s a British crew and Matthew’s British, but it would be odd to see if it ever pops up in any kind of independent film awards or anything like that. It’s not the archetypal urban, miserable sort of arty film.
For me, what you get with independent films is a kind of teamwork, where everyone supports each other and becomes a family quicker, because you haven’t got, like, heads of studios that come in every now and again and the director’s got people over his shoulder. Matthew was in charge of it all, and he’s a fantastic producer as well. You were in the right hands. The script is American, and you get this high school, cynical banter that’s like that “Superbad” sort of film, but it’s kind of mixed with this sort of hard-core gangster image and violence.
When I think of Matthew Vaughn, who’s done “Lock, Stock [and Two Smoking Barrels]” and “Snatch” and those sort of gangster films, and then when he directed “Layer Cake,” I just think he could really put that sort of edge to an American comic strip, which would be so different. I felt the script was so original as well, so I was with it from the get-go, really. I believed in it, and I think everyone else did. Matthew would be like, “We’re making one of the most expensive home videos ever,” but he did it.
Did you still get that family feeling working with people like Nicolas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who are more high-profile actors?
Yeah, definitely. Chris became a real great buddy, and I learned a lot from him and Nicolas Cage. Nic’s got something really interesting about him. As an actor, he’s really creative. He does this Adam West impersonation, and it brings that sort of personality to the film, and that’s what “Kick-Ass” is. He’s a huge comic book fan, Nicolas Cage, and he had a huge passion for doing this, and he just kind of came to the table and brought his character way off the page and brought it to life, and I think that’s just inspirational. When you do big, bold confident moves like that, you’ve got to bat off people who are laughing at you and just kind of go with it.
Mark Strong as well is a brilliant actor, and Chloe [Moretz] put a whole lot of work into it. And Chris and Clark Duke I learned a lot from, that character with teenage angst that they’re quite used to, and their timing is just brilliant. Trying to keep up with them was a challenge.
What really struck me was all the action in this movie: a lot of fighting, very graphic, but fun to watch. As a trained dancer yourself, did you do any of your own stunts?
Yeah, I did pretty much everything, only because I didn’t have the most dangerous of stunts to do. I’d just wave my arms around manically and writhe around on the floor quite a lot when I got kicked in the head. We were all pretty lucky: I did all my stuff, and Chloe and Mark Strong, even Nic did all his stuff, and Chris did a bit as well.
When you get a chance to be in a superhero film or be in action scenes, and you’ve grown up watching “The Bourne Ultimatum” or James Bond, you just want to be that person. If you’ve never been in a fight before, you want to feel like it, so this is like your chance to do it with half the injuries. And it’s good for filmmaking: they can come in and see it’s really you. I did as much as I possibly could. I could pick it up pretty quickly: it was just like routines and choreography, so dancing came into it, yeah.
Do you think “Kick-Ass” is going to change the way people look at superhero movies?
When you ask Clark [Duke] who is a huge comic book fan, he’ll say yes. When something like this comes out and you’ve raised the comic book fans’ expectations, then “Spider-Man” has to pick itself up a bit. But “Iron Man” really reaches that level, it’s got that impact, and I think it’s brilliant and I can’t wait for the second one. And I think “The Dark Knight” did the same as well. So I think we’re all kind of gradually getting there. Some of them want to be commercialized for everyone to see, and that’s fine, I guess, it’s a different audience, but we want to give the comic book fans what they want to see. Especially for “Kick-Ass,” an adaptation of a comic book, and on the front cover of the comic books they’re all covered in blood, all over their face. If there wasn’t any of that in the film, it would be stupid.
I think everyone can kind of relate to [“Kick-Ass”] anyway, most people know “Spider-Man” movies and “Batman.” It plays a lot on those sort of movies, those cliché moments with a twist. I’m a comic book fan, not a comic reader, but I grew up watching the movies, so I know where each moment’s been pulled from, or what we’re doing a play on, and that’s why it works for everybody.
What do you want people to take away from “Kick-Ass”?
You just get lost in this movie. It’s one of those films that you really want to see in the cinema because you get this whole impact as an audience. You get this connection with the audience, this sort of mad energy that’s electric. You just laugh and you applaud with each other. I’ve never seen that before. You sort of join in and get lost in the experience. It’s funny and it’s bloody and it’s messy and it’s just great. You come out with a tingly buzz feeling. I’m not expecting anyone to come out and copy this s— we do, do you know what I mean?
You’ve caused a tabloid stir in the UK, now engaged to your “Nowhere Boy” director Sam Taylor-Wood, who is twice your age and about to have your first child. Here in the U.S., have you had many people ask you about it?
Not really. I guess it’s not too much of a big deal. Some people bring it up, and I bring it up sometimes, because I have a baby on the way and everything. It’s not really a problem.
How are you prepared to deal with reactions of new fans?
Everyone’s entitled to their private life. If it really bothered fans, I don’t really give a s— to be honest, because it’s not like I ever do a film for fans. The fans around this film have been enthusiastic and positive and really supportive, so I’m really lucky for that. I don’t think it’s going to offend them in any way. I don’t pick my projects by what fans want me to do, and I don’t really care what they’re going to say or what reporters say either. I don’t ever really read any reviews, or tabloids at home. You’ve just got to live your life the way you want to live it, and not get bothered or pushed around by other people.
So you don’t pick projects based on fans. What’s your dream project? Any role, any genre, any director, what would it be?
Just anything that’s got a challenge to it. I go by versatility really, and something I’ve never done before. Directors make a huge difference on the project, and a fantastic script, and that’s what I look out for, a different end to the scale. “Kick-Ass” came along, and then I did “Nowhere Boy” [where he plays a young John Lennon], which comes out in October 9th, which is Lennon’s birthday. He would have been 70 this year.
“Kick-Ass” opens tomorrow nationwide. “The Greatest,” featuring Johnson, Susan Sarandon, and Carey Mulligan, is currently in limited release.