Michel Gondry has had a very eclectic career, directing music videos for such artists as The Rolling Stone, Beck and Daft Park. In 2004, he directed the critically acclaimed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and went on to helm the Jack Black comedy Be Kind Rewind.
Gondry’s unique vision is now focused on superheroes, with his new movie, The Green Hornet opening on January 14th. Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the lazy son of a prominent media magnate who mysteriously dies, leaving him his vast empire. Along with his dad’s inventive employee, Kato (Jay Chou), he sees the opportunity to make a difference in this world, and becomes the vigilante ‘The Green Hornet,’ roaming the street with Kato, looking for criminals.
What was it about this film that attracted you?
I’ve had the opportunity to do a movie in this genre before, but they always had a slick attitude – the one guy saving the world – and I don’t identify with that guy.
I like to have people portrayed on the screen that have flaws, a sense of humor, maybe a bit of a loser at times. That’s what was appealing about this movie.
There’s a danger in having ‘shtick.’ Of course, there are sequences that will have my specific signature, but no one wants to repeat their past work. I want to make movies that combine technical filmmaking with real acting.
This is big action-comedy, and clearly there are a lot of effects, but because we captured so many of those effects in-camera, the actors could act and be funny, and the result is a great performance.
What was it about Jay Chou that made him right for the role of Kato?
One of the reasons we love Jay is because he didn’t want to do a spin on Bruce Lee [who played Kato on the TV series].
We knew that we had to pay homage to Bruce Lee because of his charisma, but we didn’t want to have Jay mimic him.
I’m sure it was difficult for him; the legacy and aura of Bruce Lee is gigantic. So his approach was not to do any imitation of Bruce Lee at all.
It became pretty clear that he was very, very cool in a different way. He had Kato’s confidence, every step of the way.
The Green Hornet is ‘the hero,’ but it’s Kato who does everything.
That’s a great twist on the hero-sidekick thing – the sidekick is the real hero, but he gets no credit.
How did you know he and Seth would have the right chemistry?
When we did the first screen test, I saw immediately the dynamic that would help the movie. There was a mutual respect and a compliment from one to the other.
Seth felt a little under confident because everything that Jay wears makes him look cool. With Seth, that’s not really his forte, to look super cool. On the other hand, Seth is a super improviser so he would never respect the script which he wrote.
Jay was completely lost most of the time, but just had to act cool and pretend that he understood [the language]. I think this dynamic was, as a director, the material that I had built up.
It was serving me a great deal and I thank them for that. It was just awesome to see these two guys feeling under confident toward each other but pretending they are over confident.
How did you decide on using the car from the sixties in this?
We were in this room talking about the car. It had been a long process and we were supposed to have some deal with a big company and it was a crisis and the deal fell through.
At some point we were all in the room and Neal [Moritz, the movie’s producer] said the most surprising thing to us. He said, ‘Let’s just use the car from the ’60’s.’
We sort of had a high five moment with Seth and Evan [Goldberg, who wrote the screenplay with Seth], because that’s what we wanted to do from the beginning.
We didn’t even dare ask Neal because we saw that he wanted the little nervous car that usually he has in his movies. That was really an awesome moment.