Next week, when the Thor: The Dark World DVD and Blu-ray land they will number amongst their supplements the latest Marvel One Shot, All Hail The King.
These short films have been fun in the past but this one really raises the bar with a chewier writing, better gags and a number of interesting bits of business in the production design, performances and… well, guest star casting. There. I said it.
I had a chat with the film's writer-director Drew Pearce last week. Pearce also wrote Marvel's unmade Runaways movie and, with Shane Black, Iron Man 3. I can't forget to remind you that Pearce also created the UK superhero sitcom No Heroics too. Actually, there was a little digression about No Heroics in our conversation that sort of derailed the main flow so I've pulled it out and will share it at a better time.
For now, though, here's Pearce on his sort-of Iron Man 3 epilogue and the return of Ben Kingsley's remarkable character. Keep an eye out for Pearce's admissions of some interesting obsessions, too. I put them in the headline to make it easy for you.
Brendon Connelly: Hey Drew, how you doing?
Drew Pearce: Brendon! How are you, man?
BC: I'm up way past my bedtime, that's what.
DP: I know. I appreciate it so much. It's very good of you. I hope you're hallucinating and you'll just ask really weird, crazy questions.
BC: Yeah, it'll be because I'm hallucinating, that's right. It's very rare that I get to speak to somebody about a short film. It's a bit of a luxury.
DP: There's something a bit pompous and over grandiose about the fact that I'm doing press for what is, let's face it, a Blu-ray extra.
BC: But it's nice to get the chance to have somebody talk about the things you can only talk about when there's a short. It's a different beast to a feature. Tell me how you think it's different.
DP: Weirdly, and this isn't really something I've had a lot of chance to talk to people about because people mostly are just asking Marvel Cinematic Universe questions, but one of the things I do think is that short films are a form unto themselves. What I actually did here was to sit down and try to school myself in some of the best versions of them. The most obvious way was to go through the history of recent, maybe a little bit further back, of Oscar winning shorts – because, of course, that's what I think this will be. That was one of the reasons that I didn't want this to feel like it was just a comedy sketch which it could easily have done if it was done properly and, nothing to do with me and everything to do with Sir Ben, it could be really funny. I think that the best short films feel like you could watch them ten times in a row but also they are a whole meal in themselves. My favourite short film of recent times is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
BC: Yes, it's great.
DP: Absolutely wonderful, just brilliant. What it does brilliantly is that it tells a story, despite that it's ostensibly a kid's short there's pathos, there's humour, there's an incredible attention to detail and density through the whole thing. I think that's another thing you can do with a short that can get a bit tiring in a movie is filling it full of detail and density. And also, what's at the heart of a lot of good short films is some sense of allegory and metaphor. There's definitely a reading of All Hail The King where I, and the process of adaptation in general, is Trevor Slattery and a vocal contingent of fandom is the inquisitor played by Scoot McNairy and everything that happens to him throughout the short.
BC: Oh, those guys [the vocal contingent of fandom]. I felt like I was banging my head against those guys for about six months. Does it feel different now you've got some distance on it? The reaction really was weird.
DP: I think that, as you probably well know, Shane and I were surprised by the vociferousness of some of the reactions. I never felt guilty about it because I was proud of what we did and I think, still to this day, that it works really well. I'm probably more proud of it now than I was then. It's tough to get satire and even an element of surprise into most big movies so the fact that we pulled that off, I'm pleased with. And I certainly don't feel any inclination to apologise for that whatsoever, in fact. What is nice that, over time, I've certainly had a sense of some of the people who were vocal about it, as the shock wore off that what they were expecting was the same as what they got, they've learned to if not love then at least appreciate what it is that we did do instead. As it stands, my perspective hasn't really changed over time. If the storm in a teacup vocal contingent who really hated it have changed I don't really know. I guess I'll maybe hear from them again, occasionally, on Twitter…
BC: In a couple of weeks.
DP: …with death threats and asserts that I've raped their favourite childhood character. Just the usual gentle reactions that you often get for making creative decisions.
BC: For telling a story. One of my first reactions when I saw All Hail The King, and I'm having to talk around this so I don't spoil anything, I did think about when Scoot's character says what he says, everybody is going to take it on face value that he's right and that he's telling the truth and that he believes in something that is real but he might be wrong. At best we're just taking some bloke's word for it.
DP: I think it's worth saying that the whole version of our Mandarin came about as an extension of and a mirror to Tony Stark's journey in Iron Man 3 which is all about false faces and the difference between what you say you are and what you end up being and losing the distinction between those two things. I think that, as an unofficial epilogue to Iron Man 3, that applies just as much and even more to Scoot in this short than to Trevor. I would also say that Scoot's character makes it very clear that Ten Rings is a religion and I don't think that figureheads of religion necessarily… exist in a prosaic way. I think you're right in that there are levels of interpretation to the short that not everybody is taking on board yet.
BC: But people are seeing the film.
DP: What's really nice about doing a One Shot, particularly to me as I'm trying to venture into directing, the only judgment is whether people think it's good or bad and being a Marvel connected project, they will tell you and it will be noisy. But what you aren't judged on subsequently is how many tickets are sold to go see it. It's an interestingly pure experience, though as brutal trying to make something like this on a limited budget and our limited timescale is. But let's face it, nothing as brutal as No Heroics so that's fine.
BC: What came first – the agreement that Sir Ben was going to do this or the concept for it? Did they come to you saying that they wanted to do a Slattery piece?
DP: It was pretty organic. Things at the heart of Marvel are very small and genuinely led by creative decision making. I think people like to think of it as being this big machine but it's actually a cottage industry I join and leave project to project, as do other people, but there's a core of six or seven people based at Marvel, obviously led by Kevin Feige and Louis D'Esposito. I'd been badgering them for ages, right since Runaways, to let me write and direct a One Shot and we came close with some of the ideas. I specced a whole bunch of scripts at various points and it became almost an obsessional hobby – almost as obsessional as trying to get Steven Moffat to let me write a Doctor Who.
We were on set for Iron Man 3 and it was the first day that Sir Ben was doing any of his work and he just killed it, he was absolutely amazing. All the cliches of watching a great actor are true. He'll stand next to you behind the camera and you're talking to Ben and he walks out in front of the camera and, whether it's to do with the magical reaction between lens and actor, just his skills or his ability to disappear, it's like it's a different person. He was extraordinary.
Kevin, Louis and I were sitting at lunch with Shane, and Kevin and I both turned around at the same time and wondered aloud if a Trevor Slattery short might be a good idea. I actually went back to my shitty hotel room in North Carolina and wrote one, a lot of the elements of which made it through to the final All Hail The King. But then it morphed through the process.
The funny thing about the Marvel shorts is, though they're rather beloved, they're quite hard to get made. They fall in and out of existence, but suddenly last summer we were making one and I was in a room with Joss and Kevin and Stephen Broussard, the core crew at Marvel. I had a whiteboard up of tons of different ideas, headed up with Damage Control that I'm obsessed with just trying to do anything with and I'm sure it's never going to happen. It was Joss who said that if you can do something with Sir Ben then that's the one you should do. He said "Do you think you can get him?" and I said "If I write the script and he likes it then I think we've got a chance." I'd become friendly with him through Iron Man 3 so I sent him the script and he said "Don't change a word, I'll do it."
He was doing seven movies back to back and he still, for no money took three days out to fly to LA to genuinely horrible, 110 degree hot, disused prison in Eastside Los Angeles to make my ridiculous student sort film, essentially. Thank god for Jaguar. Hopefully that was the karmic pay off, the money from them.
BC: Do you remember any direction that, at any point, you gave to Sir Ben. That's very strange, isn't it? You're now a person who has given direction to Sir Ben Kingsley.
DP: Don't think that fact escapes me, Brendon. What's brilliant about him – one of the several things that are brilliant about Sir Ben – is that not only is he a genuinely lovely man, he's also a really good collaborator. He tacitly said, going in, was that the reason he was doing it was that he trusted me. It feels very weird to give Sir Ben a note after you shoot your first take but, I guess, partly because I know him, or because we work similarly, or maybe because we think similarly, our working relationship clicked in during that first hour and we didn't look back. And that's good because a three day shoot was just hell for leather. Shot, shot, shot, it was very tough getting it done, plus because at some point we were shooting two things, we were shooting Caged Heat [a TV show within the film] simultaneously with All Hail The King.
BC: At the same time?
DP: I would be shooting a fight scene down in the cell using a double or using Scoot and Lester with a Sir Ben double hiding under the table whilst, up on the roof, I would be Caged Heat, kicking open a door and firing a weapon. I was just running up and down the stairs, sweating like a terror, between set-ups for about six hours of that day. It was definitely challenging. Brutal. It was a three day schedule and we had Sir Ben for two days.
DP: It's tough. Don't get me wrong, I've done TV stuff where we shot nine pages a day but then it's just dialogue, you've got four set-ups and you've just got to get through it. That was one of the reasons it was so good that Scoot McNairy agreed to do the short. He's the closest we've got to those amazing 70s character actors. He's the real deal. I knew he could improvise because of Monsters and In Search of a Midnight Kiss, I knew he could sit next to Brad Pitt and not disappear on screen, he knows how to act across from a big gun, and he absolutely repaid my faith in him. It was really good to sit somebody opposite from Sir Ben Kingsley and to know from Sir Ben's performance within the first ten minutes that Sir Ben knew he could have fun because there was somebody who could bring their game up to Sir Ben's level.
BC: It's like Cazale and Pacino.
DP: I don't know if I'd be so vain to say it was like Pacino and DeNiro in Heat but I'd definitely say that one of my influences was the underrated Frost/Nixon and the interview scenes in that I think are really well done. They have that to-and-fro, that kind of sparring to them and in order to do that across from that monster that is Trevor Slattery, you need to be a really good actor.
BC: Thank you Drew.
Now everybody send a link to this story to Steven Moffat and hope that he eventually sees reason and sense.