Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Following a cheer from a group of costumed warriors with impressive foam weapons, the director and cast of the upcoming IndieVest film Knights of Badassdom appeared in Hall H at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday to present a sneak peek at the comedy that mixes live action role-playing with horror, romance … and a succubus. Director Joe Lynch and stars Ryan Kwanten, Jimmy Simpson, Danny Pudi, Michael Gladis, Margarita Levieva, Summer Glau and Peter Dinklage regaled the crowd with stories from the set, showed an exclusive scene, and revealed their favored Comic-Con costumes.
Beginning the session, moderator Anthony Breznican asked the director why this group of actors would be part of such a film. “To be totally honest, this is a testament to the script,” Lynch replied. “It’s in modern times, [it has] LARPing, heavy metal and monsters.” He said he was surprised to get all the actors he wanted. “Everybody was so game. We spent the summer throwing lightning bolts at each other. We were lucky. or we chuck it up to magic.”
The film follows a group of LARPers — that is, live action role-players — who accidentally conjure up a real demon during one of their weekend excursions. With elements of comedy, horror, fantasy and romance, Lynch likens Knights of Badassdom to the adventure movies of old. “[The] genre combines chills and spills and laughs,” he said. “You can watch one and it has everything put together. That’s what made this film so exciting to me.”
Because the film revolves around a LARPing community, the director felt it was important to reach out to the LARP Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting the game. “They were very supportive. They made sure all the rules were right, and we have real LARPers in the film … in game,” he explained. “That was integral to the film. We wanted to make sure it was as faithful as possible. By the end of the film, if one person [sees it and] grabs a foam sword, we’ve done our job.”
Kwanten’s character Joe is encouraged to pick up a sword and go out on a gaming weekend with his best pals to help smooth over his recently broken heart. As the actor explained, “He comes with this air of pessimism … and quickly realizes [everybody there] takes it very seriously. Then it gets real with blood and guts and he tries to pick up the pieces.”
Along the way, Joe meets Gwen, played by Summer Glau. “She comes with her cousin, who is really hardcore. She’s kind of in-between,” the Firefly star revealed. “She’s fun-loving and dives in, but can be a little more reserved, and it’s why she and Joe can bond in the beginning.”
Breznican called Gwen one of the sweeter roles Glau has played.
“Yeah,” she responded. “We smiled a lot.”
Dinklage plays Hung, one of the characters whose devotion to LARPing swings toward the “hardcore” side. “[He] and his two roommates live for the LARP,” said the Emmy-nominated Game of Thrones actor. “Hung might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer and he might take it a little too seriously in his life with a little help from narcotics.”
Lynch mentioned that when the cast first arrived on the Spokane, Washington, set, they attended a LARP boot camp where Dinklage showed a natural talent with the foam blade. “To watch Peter Dinklage smote everyone with one fell swoop was amazing,” he admitted.
“It’s made of foam,” the actor added. “You don’t have to be safe.”
Turning his attention to the film’s bad guys, Breznican asked Levieva about transforming into a succubus. “My character takes the form of Joe’s ex Beth,” she replied. “It was extraordinary to play.”
The moderator couldn’t resist asking the actress about the scene, shown in the trailer, in which she eats a human heart. “[It] was a sweet, syrupy and rubbery substance,” she said of the prop. She added that the part required “lots of growl training.”
Pudi’s character is Lando, a name filled with connotations in sci-fi fandom. “It’s hard not to think rogue, thief, scoundrel,” chuckled the Community star. “For me, I didn’t know too much about LARPing until we got to Spokane and sat down with Adrianne [Grady, of the LARP Alliance] and she taught me the cleric rules.” The actor is convinced his character spends very little time in civilization. “We never see where Lando lives, so I believe he lives in the woods.”
Simpson called his character Ronnie a “terrible man with a headband.”
“He’s the DM — the ‘Dungeon Master,’ for those who don’t know,” he continued. “He takes money out of his own pocket and gets the whole thing going. This is his chance to be king. Every couple of weekends, he does it. I don’t like Ryan’s character.” Because Joe is a cool kid in the “so-called real world,” Ronnie uses all of his clout in the game world to trip him up.
“I was a LARPer in college and I think that’s how I got the part,” admitted Gladis, who plays King Diamond. “He’s on the Henry V spectrum [when he gives rally speeches].”
With a laugh, Lynch added, “We’re making Braveheart with foam swords and Gladis turned into Orson Welles.” During every take of his speech, the actor got all the LARPing extras worked up.
“To their credit, they’re the best scene partners in the world,” he said. “They’re the soul of the film in a way.”
The atmosphere fostered on set by the actors and LARPing extras led to people hanging around even if they had nothing to film. “[Steve] Zahn showed up one night at two o’clock in the morning and he comes up with a big bucket of cherries,” Lynch said. “That’s what he did with his day off, handing cherries to [extras playing] corpses. People stayed the whole summer for us. It was awesome.”
Glau added that shooting was like “six weeks of summer camp.”
With that, the lights dimmed to reveal a clip from the film in which Joe learns the basic hit-point rules of LARPing from Hung. The unsure outsider spots Gwen for the first time. He also gets his ass handed to him by the veteran of the games.
When the lights came back up, Lynch admitted he co-directed the film with an entity the Director’s Guild refused to certify — his sword. “Her name is Edith,” he explained, waving the foam weapon around the stage. “When Adrianne and Rick [McCoy, the LARP Alliance president] came out, they made a lot of the weapons. So every weapon you see in the film is a real LARP weapon.” Eyeing his sword with affection, he added, “This was my good-luck charm throughout the film.”
When Breznican asked for questions from the crowd, Pudi was asked what his character Ahmed from NBC’s Community would think of the movie. “He’d be in this movie!” the actor responded. “This has been the year of D& D and LARPing for me. I think he would love this movie. He’d also be good at keeping track of who’s dead.”
The cast was asked about working with one another, but Kwanten used the question to bring up his favorite acting task on the film. “To work with a 14-foot succubus was pretty amazing,” the True Blood star said. “They brought in this beast that we actually worked with.”
“I have all these actor,s and they’re playing to real creatures,” Lynch said of his practical demon effect. “It was so important to have that all on my set. It was a dream come true.”
Another audience member asked if the film makes the LARPing elements accessible to movie-goers unfamiliar with the past-time. “That was the great thing about a character like Joe,” the director answered. He called it “the Richard Dreyfuss part,” an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation. “Having Ryan be this character who’s never LARPed before, he gets the basics [and] we were able to initiate the audience.”
On the topic of soundtrack, Lynch told a fan that composer Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead fame is working on the score. “He’s making a heavy-metal orchestra — it’s so rad. The stuff he’s been making is just mind-blowing,” he beamed.
The actors were asked what character they would dress up for Comic-Con. Simpson quickly answered, “Master Chief!” while Kwanten said it would be a toss-up between Han Solo and Astro Boy. Gladis went with Gort, the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still. “The original,” he specified.
Pudi said he would be The Flash or Mowgli from The Jungle Book. Levieva chose Princess Leia and Glau, without hesitation, said “She-Ra: Princess of Power.”
“Summer just took mine,” Dinklage added.
Knights of Badassdom opens in spring 2012.