There are many obvious ways in which Aaron Johnson is nothing like the character that's about to make him famous, Kick-Ass. Johnson is English, not a kid from Queens. Johnson is 20 years old and engaged with a baby on the way, not a gawky teenager unable to get laid. And in person the differences are even more striking-- Johnson is as laid back and clever as Dave Lizewski is fumbling and incompetent. Meeting him and talking to him makes his remarkable performance in Kick-Ass all the more astonishing.
Last week I got a chance to sit down one-on-one with the actor, whom I had also interviewed at the Sundance Film Festival about his next film Nowhere Boy, which debuts in the United States on October 9 (it has already opened in the UK). We talked about the adjustment in playing an American character in Kick-Ass, the challenges of filming a fight scene that's improvised, and what he might want to see happen to Kick-Ass in a sequel. During an earlier roundtable interview he also revealed that the current ending of Kick-Ass was reshot six months after the original shoot ended; that part is at the very end under a hefty spoiler warning. Check out the interview below, and see Kick-Ass in theaters this weekend.
When we talked at Sundance you said Kick-Ass didn't yet feel like a giant movie. Has it started to sink in to you that this is so big?
I don't know. I don't think you ever try to let something like this sink in. What am I supposed to do, am I supposed to give myself a pat on the fucking back? You've got to keep your feet on the ground and be gracious and humble about these things. I don't think anyone deserves to be a fucking diva about these things. Yeah the hype has ben ridiculous, and the fans have been enthusiastic, and it's been great. I'm lucky to be part of something like this.
You were saying earlier that you screen tested with everyone else. Were they all on board before you were?
Yeah. I was the last one to be part of it.
Why was that?
Yeah, and [Matthew Vaughn] almost pushed the dates back of filming, because he didn't find his right guy. He was in a desperate time and he was just like, yeah, he'll do. He already got great actors, so he didn't have to look too far for someone like me. He just went, yeah, he's alright.
You've said that you didn't connect so much with the high school angst thing, and Dave has a real awkwardness to him. Was that the hardest thing about him to connect to for you?
I guess so, yeah. Literally just trying to keep up with Chris and Clark, because they improvised, that comical banter, or that improvisation. They kind of run with it. Clark's a writer as well. It's like they've got these things up their sleeve, and I'm not like that.
Did you ad lib at all?
We did a little bit, but it was quite difficult because it was something that was so far from me, and I was just coming in and playing a character. Then the accent on top of it. That was all a learning curve, and I started getting better at it and used to it.
Because Kick-Ass isn't a trained fighter, you have to learn to fight as if you didn't know how to fight. How did you do that?
No, most people don't want to look like they can't fight. You've got to be just up for it. It's the thing you want to go for. I had to learn how to take a punch, roll on the floor, act like I've got pain. You have to look really messy.
The fight outside the donut shop--
That was one of my favorites, yeah. We just improvised it there and then choreographed. It was choreographed there, and I picked up the routine, and then we said "What if we put in a thing here, what if he smacked my head with a trash can." We did it there and then. There was a special camera as well that was in a big foam board, and they threw the camera and smashed it up and knocked it about.
That seems really risky, but also rewarding.
Yeah the stunt guys had a sense of that. I was never really allowed to rehearse anything, because they wanted this on the spot, momentary natural thing.
So you didn't rehearse any of the fights beforehand?
Not really. I used to dance a lot, so choreography and routines I can pick up. It's all steps, really. You say a step here, or you swing back there, then someone's going to hit you here, then the arms go all over.
You said that Chloe reminds you a lot of yourself at that age, in that she's older in her years. What's it like watching her do these fights?
Just like any other actor or woman or someone older. She deals with it like it's nothing. She just deals with it like it's her job and she loves it.
Does that make you think differently about your own work?
Matthew would always say you guys need to raise your game because she's going to make you guys look like a [fool]. She's sort of the star of the movie. She's also got that role where, even I want to be fucking Hit GIrl. She's got the role where people want to be that fucking badass character.
There's the obvious sequel potential, and it seems like Kick-Ass would have to be more of a badass in the sequel.
Oh, I don't know about that. I don't think my character should change too much. If I came back it was like, oh yeah, Kick-Ass is now bulky, and he can fight. That's not Kick-Ass. No one would give a fuck then. My character Dave Lizewski, when he's Kick-Ass he's still Dave Lizewski he's still just a kid who loves comic books. He' s just persistent, he's got a lot of heart and soul. That's who he is, that's why you like him, you relate to him. If he came back like fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would be dumb. You don't want that person to change. If Kick-Ass became more like Hit Girl, it would be boring.
Were there efforts to nerd you up a little to play Dave?
I worked off the comic book as much as possible, even to the point that I wanted to be blond. But Matthew didn't agree with that. In fact his exact words were, "Did you ever see Alexander with Colin Farrell?" He didn't even want me to have glasses on. I didn't want it to be like, typical, that's what nerds are. Just that's what he looks like.
My character never became a hero at any point throughout the movie, and [in the original cut] Hit Girl dropkicks Frank D'Amico off the edge of the building. And six months later we came back and they made an alternative ending, and we reshot it, that my character picked up the bazooka and shot him off the edge. Matthew edited the movie and was like, fuck, he's this pathetic kid who never gets his break, and can't be a hero. There were moments where they tried to introduce my character as a bit of a hero, and a bit more charming to look at.