Instead of appropriating the look and feel of the comic book, he just Xeroxed it. It was still black-and-white, with flashes of color, and the actors he chose (among them, Mickey Rourke as the mountainous bad-ass Marv, and Jessica Alba as damsel-in-distress Nancy) were so uncannily close to their comic book equivalents that they might as well have been inked and painted.
Rodriguez also made the generous decision to bring Miller on board as a screenwriter and co-director (something that the DGA frowned upon, leading to Rodriguez losing out on a number of high-profile studio gigs). Together, the two were able to clone the "Sin City" universe for the big screen in ways that were never thought possible before. And they've returned to do it all again with this weekend's "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," which adds Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta and Josh Brolin to the milieu and generously doses everything in eye-popping three-dimensionality.
We sat down and talked with Rodriguez and Miller about why they decided to finally revive "Sin City," whether or not they have a plan for the third movie, and what advancements in technology made this movie possible.
Moviefone: Why now? What made this the right time to get back into the "Sin City" universe?
Robert Rodriguez: People have been chasing us down to make a sequel since the first one came out. We almost did it in 2006. We had been talking with key actors and the Weinsteins were no longer at Disney and they were starting their own company, so they said, "We need to make a few movies and then you can come back because it's gonna take us a little while to get up and going." And we got distracted with other projects. But audiences kept coming up to us and saying, "When is there going to be another one?" And we'd say, "Next year." It kept it alive.
Frank Miller: We would talk about it every chance we got.
Rodriguez: We knew we would do it. It was just a matter of time.
Miller: Robert is right. It was just a matter of time. And I think it came at the right time, because we got a cast that would be unrepeatable.
Rodriguez: They were only available right then.
Miller: And the aspects of the story came together late in the game, in ways that I could have never predicted.
Rodriguez: Movies have their own time clock. As much as you'd like them to go at a certain time, they're kind of not ready until they're ready. The stars won't align until they're time.
Things must have progressed, technologically, too, since you shot the first one.
Rodriguez: Yeah, we were using off-the-manufacturing-floor 3D cameras that Jim Cameron had done. And they were like Ferraris. It was awesome. The year before I did the first "Sin City," I had done the first digital 3D movie, "Spy Kids 3D." And that's what started this whole 3D thing and since then technology just caught up to us. So there were a lot of great advancements that just happened -- the digital effects were better. When we did the first movie, none of the actors had done a green screen movie before. They were very much like, "What is this going to be like?" And as good as the performances were the first time around, I was shocked at how much better they were [now], since everybody knew what green screen was now.
Miller: It was a quantum leap. Just huge -- what people could do.
Rodriguez: They knew where they fit in.
Miller: They also knew, when you're working on a green screen and you're working for three days, how much of a picture of the entire movie do you have? But now everybody had time to absorb it and get a sense of what "Sin City" is. So they all came, character in hand, ready to go. Including the new actors.
I was going to ask what it was like casting these new actors. What was that process like?
Rodriguez: Casting was fun! It was about trying to find people that fit his book. And worked. Like we'd be looking at the Joey character and it was like, "I wonder what Ray Liotta looks like these days." And he looked just like the character! People just fit, so much, like a prediction. It's really fun.
Was there ever a thought of having Clive Owen come in and do something, since his character is in the movie and changes his face?
Rodriguez: Yeah, we actually had it planned that way for the last section, for him to come in. Even after we cast Josh. But he wasn't going to be available for eight months. We had only scheduled Josh for four days so we figured we'd shoot the first part and then later, whenever Clive was available, we'd shoot his bit. And Josh was on set and just killing it and so we said, "Just as a safety, what do you think about doing this part too?" So we called KNB [the make-up effects house] and they sent over some noses and we gave him a face and he did that too. Then we said, "If it works, let's just keep it."
Eva Green has now been the femme fatale in two Frank Miller adaptations this year. What makes her such a perfect Frank Miller femme fatale?
Rodriguez: Yeah... [laughs]
Miller: I can only really talk about "Sin City" because I wasn't really involved in the "300" sequel, but certainly she is lethal in both movies. In order to play Eva, we needed somebody who is spectacularly beautiful but also has an acting range that can encompass everything from good to evil and everything in between and be sympathetic and horrible at the same time. And Eva Green has a way of almost like channeling techniques that were there in the '20s or '30s or '40s, etc., and do that for whatever the scene calls for.
Mickey Rourke pops up in all of these stories. Has he become the Mickey Mouse of "Sin City"?
Rodriguez: Well, he's in all of those stories...
Miller: I wouldn't say that to him. But he is part of the heart and soul of what "Sin City" is. It's hard to imagine "Sin City" without Marv.
Rodriguez: The first book is the one where he dies. Then he's in all the other books because they're prequels. So it's always cool to see him show up because it's like "Oh, this must have happened before that one." So we wanted to be true to that -- so see him show up and stick him in all of the stories.
How hard was it to get Rourke to get back?
Rodriguez: I went to him and said, "Mick. We've made advances. I'm going to challenge them to get you out of the make-up chair as quickly as possible." Because he is Marv. You wouldn't put Marv in a make-up chair for three hours. So I challenged them. So they said, "Well, I guess we could pre-paint the appliances." And I said, "Fuck! Yes! Pre-paint the appliances! What are you doing painting them when they're on his face?" And they got it down to about 45 minutes. So he was in and out of there pretty quick.
Has Rourke mellowed at all?
Rodriguez: Well, he gets claustrophobic. So I said, "Just stick the stuff on his face. If it's hanging off I'll fix it later digitally." So the first day it was all kind of screwed up but by the second day nobody cared anymore. It was just hard getting him back because on the first one he kind of got abused. It went on longer than it should have, and it was just him, there were no other actors. It wasn't like we could give him a break. So it was a little rough.
Did your relationship or style change at all since the first movie?
Rodriguez: I think the first time Frank got a little trepidations and was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because we got along so well, he was probably waiting for me to explode into a tirade or something. It was such a joyous occasion, the entire time. Then, when we came back, it was even better than the first time because we knew how to work together. It was like that on the first time. But he was even freer.
Miller: I felt much more free to produce new drawings...
Rodriguez: And he had directed more -- a bunch of commercials and another film.
Miller: I had storyboarded the entire "Spirit" movie. So I had a lot more of that experience. Because it's a lot different than drawing comics. You just have to think a lot more differently. In this one, again the adventure continues, because with the 3D effect, I found myself drawing in 3D. You know, a pistol that Nancy was crawling towards was now fifteen-feet long rather than anything that would be perspective because I knew what he was doing and I was going to key into it.
The first "Sin City" had a famous interlude directed by Quentin Tarantino. Did you bring him in at all on this one?
Rodriguez: He was doing "Django Unchained" at the time, so no. He hasn't seen it yet. I might have shown him some early trailers and sizzle reels and things. We thought about bringing another director on, but it was really shot, even more than the first one, even more erratically and out of sequence. There really wasn't a time when we had everybody on set that we could have somebody come in and shoot something.
Miller: And our process has become so organic that I would have felt, personally, like anybody else stepping in would have been an invader.
Rodriguez: Even when Tarantino was there, I was operating a camera, I made him operate a camera. We were both there together. It wasn't like I was just handing it over. He was coming into the sandbox and having fun.
Have you talked about a third one or a TV series?
Rodriguez: Yeah. I mean you can talk all you want. But until people come out and see the movie, only then will it open up all those possibilities. If they don't... But a third one, we'd definitely love to do a third one before we do a television show.
There's obviously a lot of brand-new material in this one. Frank, have you thought about where the third one would go?
Miller: Oh yeah. It's amazing how far along the plot is.
Rodriguez: We've got it all put together.
I talked to Don Johnson earlier this summer, and he said you two were working on something that would be announced this summer.
Rodriguez: Oh, right. I was helping him with something. But there's something that we're working on now. I've got a movie that I want him to be in that I want to get done later this year.
Has it been announced yet?
Rodriguez: Ah, I've announced it over the years.
Is it "Nervewrackers"?
In the spirit of working with great artists, you announced a little while ago that you were doing Frank Frazetta's "Fire and Ice." Is that still happening?
Rodriguez: Yes, that should happen next year.
Give me one story from the books that you want to see in the third "Sin City" movie.
Miller: I'll just mention one: "To Hell and Back."
Rodriguez: That's a good one. That's a safe bet. That's the biggest one that hasn't been done yet. Plus, that would be a cool title for the third one: "Sin City: To Hell and Back."<
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" hits theaters Friday, August 22.