After the glitz-ridden London premiere of his new film Kick-Ass the night before, Aaron Johnson proves a slightly lethargic subject for our Jake O’Brien
As interviews go, this was something slightly out of the ordinary. With the interviewed voices of his co-stars Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Chloe Moretz wafting down the corridor, I was given fifteen minutes in a plush hotel room on the first floor of the five-star Merrion Hotel with Aaron Johnson, star of the upcoming superhero comedy Kick-Ass.
Entering the room, I couldn’t help but notice how dark it was. A grey tone saturated the room, emanating nothing but weather-worn weariness. Aaron – an unassuming 19-year-old actor, stood politely to shake my hand and then proceeded to slump back drearily onto the large green couch from whence he came. How alert he was became a deeply questionable assertion.
Understandably, these infuriating press junkets are beginning to take their toll. “We’re gettin’ through it, man. We’ve still got like another month to go… Then we go to France, Germany, Spain, and then when we go to America we gotta do… Miami, Chicago, LA, San Fran…” Certainly, this is an aspect of fame and fortune that I do not envy.
Regardless, we press on. As anyone who hasn’t been living under a mountain will know, Kick-Ass is a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the superhero genre, both liturgically and otherwise. Johnson plays the lead role of Dave Lizewski, a stereotypical high school teenager, brimming with comic angst against a world that refuses to acknowledge the morality contained within the pages of the infamous collections within its canon. On top of this, Lizewski retains an overdeveloped crush on the token pretty/popular girl of the school, Katie Deauxma, played aptly by Desperate Housewives star Lyndsy Fonseca.
In preparing for the role, Johnson had to closely scrutinise the superhero genre, picking and choosing where his inspiration was to come from. While this is not a hard thing to do for a man of such a generation, he nonetheless pins down a veritable smorgasbord of superhuman collaborations. “Spiderman plays a huge part, as in ‘With no power comes no responsibility’ [sic] – he takes the moment… Throughout the film there’s all these sort of clichéd moments, plays on words and things with a twist. We just grabbed a whole load of stuff… X-Men. Wolverine was a big superhero I liked… and Batman, I used to have the whole box set of it. We tried to make him different, like something you’d never seen before.”
Of course, the protagonist is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The uncanny resemblance to other films of this post-teenage ilk cannot be denied – but where director Matthew Vaughn takes the tone of the film is somewhere much, much darker. “It’s teenage high school humour mixed with dark, messed-up violence,” utters Johnson in the production notes. “To me, its Superbad meets Kill Bill.” Indeed, the slapstick humour at work within the film poses a much more aggressive attitude than those that have gone before it. While Superbad merely had Jonah Hill being knocked over by a car, Kick Ass would have its lead brutally beaten, sadistically stabbed, and only then finding his way in front of an oncoming vehicle. Combine this with the shock-and-awe factor lent to the script by its extreme – but amusing – vulgarity, and we are left with a film that is sure to please the masses.
Johnson, who has worked with such acclaimed members of the artistic community as Edward Norton in The Illusionist, playing Norton’s younger self, and director Sam Taylor-Wood on Nowhere Boy, speaks highly of his co-star Nicolas Cage, who portrays rogue vigilante Big Daddy. “He’s brilliant… a really great guy. He’s just inspirational, because he really just brings his character away off the page and does his Adam West impersonation. He’s just funny, man. You’ve gotta be bold to make choices like that… only people like Nick would have the ability to do that.” Joining Cage’s inspirational performance with that of the lead villain Frank D’Amico, played with huge presence by Mark Strong, Aaron had a lot to work with and a lot to stand up against. However, the intensity that is Strong is combated by his apparent real-life persona: “He’s a family man. He’s just a sweetheart… he’s known in the business for just being a gentle man; he just seems to always play these baddies… fucking great actor.”
Getting into to the thick of things, the actor and I come to discuss the possibility of moral leanings throughout the film. Whether or not it is immediately evident upon a first glance of the piece is irrelevant as it is exists beyond a shadow of a doubt. In particular is the entire back story and subsequent representation of Hit Girl (Moretz). Her childhood is shrouded in misfortune and unhappiness. From the death of her mother to the shuffleboard that is her paternal figureheads, an audience is granted a rare opportunity in mainstream cinema to create their own interpretation of an ethical conclusion on the matters of lost innocence and retroactive parenting through gritty, vengeful violence.
“The whole back-story of Mindy (Moretz) and the Dad (Cage), and how he got put in prison and why he’s back for revenge… they’re on a revenge kill. Well Big Daddy is, and he brainwashes Mindy in this comic book vibe so she becomes this sort of fearless kid. Y’know, when you tell kids to do something… they just go out there and don’t have any sense of danger.”
On this level, Johnson brings together the input of Kick Ass creators Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. along with Vaughn’s own “take no bullshit or prisoners” attitude and comes to a playing field where reality itself becomes unclear. As Aaron’s character slips further and further into his role as Kick Ass, the demarcations between the two worlds of innocence and high school; violence and heroics becomes undetermined and certainly unclear.
“For Dave Lizewski, who brought up this whole superhero vibe that became quite famous… It’s something that he believes in and he’s passionate for, so he wanted to go out and do the thing that he really loved doing. It’s all about being someone different and being this confident, heroic guy. So his persona’s in that, and it gets outta hand really… you get carried away with it and you get back brought into reality again. So it brings you round so that all your senses are heightened.”
For Aaron Johnson, this reality check could indeed be applicable to his true to life situation. Being so young and being bombarded by outrageous media scrutiny over a personal life that bears no real significance to his professional career would certainly give one the impression that a quiet slip out of a spotlight reality in a costume would be an agreeable turn of events.
Nevertheless, the actor retains a pervasive air of solidity in his personality. A firm handshake and a respect for those around him seems to be keeping his feet firmly on the turf – even if he is plying his trade by becoming a building-hopping hero.
As I am lured into a false sense of security regarding the star’s degree of consciousness, the clear and present danger becomes evident. Johnson is fading. Fast. His promotional tour is gaining on him and his eyelids are following shortly thereafter. “We just got in from the premiere in London and I’ve had like three hours sleep in the last… eh… 48 hours.”
Our time is up and the door is set ajar. It ends as it begins: stand, shake and a thank you from both parties. One must respect such a level of modest gratitude from such a tired individual. Aaron Johnson is granted release as I am the last in a marathon parade of journalists and radio presenters… in Dublin, anyway.
Kick-Ass is in cinemas now.