John August and Melissa McCarthy Sitdown With Michelle Alexandria to talk about The Nines, Shazam, and more!!

Director/Writer John August has woven one of the year’s most intriguing films, The Nines. This 90 minute film is broken into three parts, with all the small cast playing different roles in each story. On the service it seems like each story is its own separate thing but they merge in a different way at the end. It’s an intriguing concept that will most likely polarize audiences, either you’ll love it or you’ll hate. I recently caught up John and his co-star Melissa McCarthy. We talked a bit about this film and John’s upcoming Shazam movie and the Will Smith hero flick Hancock.

Did John write this for you?

MM: Yeah he did, it’s kind of based on something that happened to him ten years ago.

JA: She had a small part in one of my first films Go. I wrote a short film starring her. I didn’t really know her, but she was good in it, then she was in Charlie’s Angels (another film August wrote) and my TV Show DC. So when I was writing this film, I knew that I wanted her to do it.

Did he tell you about the plot?

MM: Not really, he gave a me a rough outline of it and what my character was. When I got the script I really loved it. I had a chance to play 3 different characters. I can’t imagine anyone else directing it. It is three simple stories that make up a bigger story. With any other director it had the potential to fall off the tracks, but with John it was perfectly clear what he wanted. Whenever things where unclear he was able to tell us exactly what things meant.

This film is very hard to talk about. What do you tell your friends about it?

JA: I usually say that it’s three short films with three actors playing different roles in each film. Throughout the films you realize that these aren’t separate films but one really big film. It’s challenging because it’s a comedy, drama, sometimes scary. I avoid coping out by giving a simple explanation. It’s a hard logline to make. That’s why it couldn’t be a studio film, it’s hard to describe.

How did you prepare to do three different roles in one film?MM: First I had to calm down from my initial thing where I wanted to make them incredibly different. I was thinking I wanted this one to have a limp and this one to have an accent; I was going actor school crazy. It wasn’t about “look what I can do”, it was about serving the story. John told me no wigs, and I was like “what?” How John shot it also helped tremendously because he shot each film individually which helped us focus on our roles. Yes there are three different characters, but there is a single throughline throughout the film.Why did you decide to shoot it that way?JA: Each story demanded it’s own approach, style of acting and different way of shooting, it would have been insane to try and do two different films in one day. We even used different crews for each segment. With one we shot totally documentary style with one or two cameras and one sound guy. It allowed us to shoot almost anywhere because our footprint was so small. It was important to me for the actors to be able to keep each character separate.

Have you played Second Life?

JA: I haven’t played Second Life, but I played way too much World of Warcraft. So the conversation at the end of Part III is my Warcraft. I was the Orc boyfriend. What’s tough about this game is the reward system. You get rewarded for picking leaves, but in real life you would ask why am I picking these leaves? Writing is so hard and unrewarding most of the time. I would find myself getting so frustrated with WOW.

Can you talk about your writing process?

JA: I have a family, so I’m not allowed to be exhausted all day, so I try and keep 9 – 5 office hours, but I’m still like a college student and end up cramming and doing all nighters.

How do you prioritize what you are doing? For instance you have Shazam, Hancock and several projects that you are lined up for?

JA: I tend to only work on one project at a time. I don’t have the luxury of saying I don’t want to work on Shazam today, I’ll work on this project instead. But I do tend to write out of sequence so if I’m not in the mood to write an Shazam action sequence, I’ll write the comedy bits that day and go to the drama or action another day.

You talked a little bit about how Ryan was a substitute for John

MM: He certainly tried to mimic John at times, especially his speech patterns in the second part. Sometimes I would be talking to Ryan and John and go “what’s going on?”

JA: Just like Melissa was playing a version of herself, he took a lot of my mannerism. We would sometimes discuss it and he would run it back at me. It was great to be able to do in real time.

Can you talk about Shazam

JA: I’m writing it for the budget that the film can be made at. It’s a superhero film and those aren’t cheap. To me what is so appealing about Shazam is that it has characters in it would read the comic book. It had the ability to be meta without it being annoyingly knowing. These are characters who are excited to be heroes and know the rules of being super heroes. It’s a movie that is actually funny. It’s not Spiderman with jokes. It’s about a boy who gets to become a big super hero. I like to think of it kind of like Tom Hanks’ Big.

How is it writing all the big action sequences?

JA: It’s really fun, I get to sit there and think “Where do I land this helicopter?” It’s the daydreaming that a screenwriter gets to do. I look at what’s impossible and see how I can make it work in a movie. With Shazam it’s really exciting to figure out, how does flying work, or if you are able to suddenly fly, how do you explain it to another character?

So is it a kid’s movie?

JA: I don’t know, it’s not rated R, maybe PG-13. The 13 year old who are reflected in the film will appeal to that audience.

Which version of Shazam will it be?

JA: It’s going to take a fair amount of the current mythology and some from the 70s. It’s like Spiderman where you can’t really tell what decade it takes place in. Our story has all the classic qualities of the older Shazam but will be in the modern age, kids will have cell phones.

Can you talk a little about Hancock.

JA: It’s an amazing script, that I came in and did a little work on, but it’s not my movie [Ed. Note, he does get co-writing credit with Peter Berg]. It’s not The Sixth Sense, but it is a revisionist superhero film.

What are you doing next?

MM: I actually started shooting a new show, Samantha Who? For ABC, it’s really different than Gilmore Girls. I have two other films coming out, I’m not sure when.

JA: After Shazam, I signed a deal with Fox for my next script. The movie I write will be a really big movie, but I don’t know which genre it’ll be yet.

The Nines opens in Limited Release August 31, 2007

EM Feature Interview
by Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted, September 1, 2007


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