[The following is a REPRINT of redblog's interview with Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson. Kick-Ass is now on DVD and available for rental from redbox. And you can read my full review of Kick-Ass here.]
Despite all its provocative style and violent energy, Kick-Ass wouldn’t work if viewers didn’t connect with the high school nerd at its center: Dave Lizewski, the film’s teen hero wannabe.
Luckily, Dave is perfectly played by 19-year-old British actor Aaron Johnson. Unknown for the most part to American audiences, the talented Johnson can be seen playing a dream teen in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snoggings (available in the redboxes). And this fall he’ll play young John Lennon in the biopic Nowhere Boy.
I sat down with Johnson last spring to talk about Kick-Ass and its controversial violence and language, about being typecast as an American nerd, and why he’d rather see kids wielding swords than appearing in beauty pageants.
On Playing Dave/Kick-Ass as a Teen Loser
Aaron Johnson: The script was this sort of teenage angst story about being stuck in this high school—it was all Superbad-esque. There’s a reason why the filmmakers wanted to have a younger cast: These characters are kids in high school. My character doesn’t have a girlfriend, and he’s going from a boy to a young man, going through that part of his life where he wants to do something different, go on a journey. He gives up his old boring life and wants to be this heroic guy, but he’s still weedy Dave Lizewski under the mask. So when he says these heroic things that he’s read in comic books they sound kinda stupid and pathetic. I was up for that–everyone can relate to it. He’s forever getting beaten up and people feel a sort of sympathy for him.
On Pushing the Boundaries
Johnson: Kick-Ass is not for 11-year old kids. When [director Matthew] Vaughn was trying to get the project back off the ground again after we filmed it, he was having a bit of trouble getting a distributor–studios just didn’t know where to go with it because it’s a hard R. I said, well is that bad? He said he actually kinda liked that nobody wants it, because it makes it so much more interesting and hardcore. He went out of his way to make it like that.
On Kick-Ass‘s Controversially Violent 11-Year-Old Girl
Johnson: Hit Girl’s so young, she’s kinda brainwashed by what her dad tells her. You want to show in the film that these kids are so naive they’ll go out and do anything and not think about the consequences. It’s only right at the end when Hit Girl gets kicked in the face that she realizes she doesn’t have any superpowers. There’s that moment of realization, that she’s just a kid, that flash of innocence on her face. That’s what makes the film brilliant, because it’s raw and it’s real. If you remove that you take a huge quality away from the film.
I think there are more screwed up things the world, like little girls getting dressed up and going to beauty pageants—isn’t that more disturbing? Girls that do that when they’re six years old put make up on and high heels are probably bound to get a face lift at 16 or collagen in their lips or fake breasts. That’s more dangerous and messed up I think, but nobody cares about that.
On His Young Co-Stars
Johnson: I learned a lot from Christopher Mintz-Plasse [Superbad] and Clark Duke [Hot Tub Time Machine]. I really had to pick up my pace because they were pretty good at the comedic timing and cynical high school banter. And Chloë Grace Moretz [Hit Girl] is so talented. You watch the film and, okay, there’s this mad stuff and she deals with a lot of adult language and violence, but wow, she’s an incredible actress. She did three months of training–she put all her hard work into it and it pays off.
On Potentially Being Typecast as a Nerd or a Superhero—or Both
Johnson: If that’s as creative as people can get, it’s fine because I’m so far from that character in real life. I quite like the idea that maybe people can only imagine me in that sense. It’d be great if Kick-Ass does well, then I’ve got Nowhere Boy coming out this fall, about John Lennon. Nowhere Boy is so far at the other end of the scale. If everyone was convinced I’m some sort of nerdy American high school kid and they see that it’d be a smack in the face.