Aaron Johnson: He Who Would Kick Ass

Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass.
(Photo credit: Dan Smith.)

Sitting down to chat with 19 year-old Aaron Johnson about his new movie Kick-Ass reminded me of when I met Lost‘s Naveen Andrews. They speak onscreen with one accent (in Johnson’s case, an American one; in Andrews’ case, American with an Arabic slant), and when their natural British voice emerges off-screen, it seems a bit disarming. But such is the testament to their acting chops, especially for Johnson, who also seems very down-to-earth and laid back when compared to his current cinematic alter ego Dave Lizewski, the geek-turned-mock superhero in the high octane and highly controversial Kick-Ass. ADD caught up with the budding young star at the recent NYC press junket for the film to get his take on his character, the film and what he has coming up. (For more from Johnson, check out my Movies.com interview with the three young Kick-Ass stars.)

How much time did you spend working on your accent?
I was spending time living out here [in the States] anyway, so I picked it up by the time we started casting. We had a voice coach to keep an eye on it.

How did they pick you for this movie?
I don’t know. I guess I was in the right place at the right time. It was a mad couple of days in which they cast it, and I think [director] Matthew [Vaughn] was at the point of pushing the filming back because he didn’t feel that he had his Kick-Ass. He had this last-minute casting in which he felt that I would fit in all right, that I’d do. I guess he saw something different in me.

Is it true that initially they rejected you because you’re British?
They did a casting thing out of England, and there were a bunch of tapes that he was supposed to see. Knowing Matthew now, I know that he fucking never saw them. That was lucky for me. I went back there as a fresh face and went in there as an American. It wasn’t intentional. I was pretty used to going into casting in character.

What kind of fight and stunt trainers did you have?
The stunt coordinator, Brad Allan, is one of Jackie Chan’s men. He’s worked with him for 10 or 12 years. We had Jet Li’s stunt double. We had the guys who worked on 300 and Hellboy, then we had a national gymnast crew and parcour. We had a few independent stunt crews throughout to bring in extra men because we kept on killing loads of people and needed new faces. If you see the movie, I think there are a couple people that get shot twice in the face.

What was it like going from this to Nowhere Boy, the John Lennon movie you shot recently?
There’s a huge difference. I filmed Kick-Ass first, and I was an American kid who’s into comic books, and I went into this 1950s Liverpudlian rock ‘n roll music scene. It was a complete change, but both characters are looking for an escape and a whole journey, taking them on something that was exciting and giving up their ordinary life. I can relate to that as much, and [with] Lennon I can understand how it was growing up and going through school with family and friends. I was trying to find my art form and my love and that sort of thing. I can really relate to what he had to go through.

Did you spend any preparation knowing you were going to spend all this time behind this mask?
In the actual story it’s only the eyes, but Matthew wanted the hole in the mouth, only because we would spend forever dubbing it in ADR, and it would just be muffled. I guess you feel you have to overcompensate because you have a mask on. It’s a bit bizarre at first.

Kick-Ass (Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz) in action.
(Photo credit: Dan Smith.)

The movie has yet to come out here, so critics haven’t weighed in yet. If they don’t review it favorably, are you worried about how might it affect your career?
Not really. I’m so far from my character that I feel like I’m a chameleon, that I can slip away. It’s not bad to get called something. Chris gets McLovin and shouted him all the time. [Kick-Ass comic writer] Mark Millar wants Chris [Mintze-Plasse] to be called the Motherfucker [instead of Red Mist] so that everyone in the street can shout, “Hey, Motherfucker” instead of McLovin.

Did the filmmakers give you any advice on how to play this character?
Issues 1 to 3 of Kick-Ass were out [when we started on the film], and the character from the comic book had this awkward teenage angst and was a virgin. I instantly thought of Superbad and movies like that and those sorts of characters.

Do you have any idea what might happen in a potential sequel? Has that been discussed?
There are a bunch of ideas out. I heard a bunch of the ideas that go on Mark Millar’s crazy, elaborate mind, and they’re brilliant. I want him to be who he is, and people love that. I don’t feel like my character should bulk him up in the next one. I think he should remain Dave Lizewski. That’s who Kick-Ass is — he’s just a kid who’s just got a lot of heart and soul. Hit-Girl is the real bad ass, and it would be great to see Chris come back as really fucking dark. I think that would be interesting just for Chris as an actor.

Classic director pose:
Matthew Vaughn leads Johnson and Moretz on...but to where?
(Photo credit: Dan Smith.)

What is next for you?
Nowhere Boy comes out on October 9, which was Lennon’s birthday. He would’ve been 70. It’s the 70th anniversary this year. I go away after this and have a baby. I’m going to be a father, so I’m going to take some time off. Then come back for Nowhere Boy stuff.

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