Interview: Adam Eqypt Mortimer discusses his latest film ‘Archenemy’

Once again, our amazing colleague Matthew Schuchman brings great questions to one of the coolest filmmakers in the biz. Adam Eqypt Mortimer brought us Daniel Isn’t Real last year and now we’re jumping into the superhero genre in only a way Mortimer can. With brooding visual similarities and a fresh script, Archenemy (read my review here) is hella cool. Yes, I said it. Matt gets some awesome info from Adam. Wait until you find out who was originally in talks to play Max Fist! Joe Manganiello ultimately landed the role and is balls to wall amazing. The rest of this kick-ass cast combined with a screenplay that keeps you guessing will undoubtedly win you over. Can Archenemy save audiences during one of the weidrest movie viewing years in history? Find out for yourself. The film is now in Theaters, On Digital and On Demand. Check out Matt’s interview with writer/director  Adam Eqypt Mortimer below.

Did you always intend to show Max’s origin as animations?

That’s an interesting question. When I was first writing it I knew that that was always part of the story; that we were gonna see his stories that he’s telling about Chromium. But I wasn’t super certain how I was going to do it. I knew that I wanted there to be a big contrast between the present-tense story, and what we were seeing from the past. So it was kind of a confluence of– I understood how we were going to be shooting the present, but how different can we make the past? One of the issues I struggled with when I was writing the script was the scene where Max is falling out of a giant building and flying through the sky and punching his enemy and all this crazy stuff. If that was hyper realized or looks exactly the same as the rest of the movie, then it would only ever appear as truth. So ultimately, I thought I could do animation. Daniel Noah from SpectreVision and I talked a lot about what it should be and I really came around to animation in thinking about things like, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Watership Down, too. In ways that those film’s innovations can be very expressive and interact with reality and all of those kinds of things. Then it started to feel like the right move, as long as it didn’t feel like comic book pages or motion comics. It’s not supposed to be referencing comics, it’s supposed to be referencing more. The feeling of this sort of superhero world and how that might present itself in Max’s deranged mind. 

Well, I do also appreciate that the film doesn’t try to force-feed me everything through pointed exposition.

You know, there’s whole scenes of Max and his new friend Hamster walking down the street and Max is telling him all of this stuff about how he had the crystal fist, and the cosmic source, and all this stuff. But,I tended to think of all that, not like an exposition, because it’s not really there to set the stage to advance the story. I thought of it more like music, or decoration, or poetry. You can let all of this madness and all these strange world constructions flow over you and take it however you want. I said to Joe [Mangainello] when we started the process of building the character, “I don’t even care that much if I can understand what you say.” Joe and I are both metalheads and I told him to think about the way he talks as being like the guitar player from Slayer, Kerry King. Like, it’s sloppy and insane, loud and fast, and it’s really not about precise musical construction; it’s about getting some kind of point across through all this other stuff. So that was how I thought about things both in terms of how Max talks and about how he sees things. 

Joe was really amazing in the film, and I feel like no one else could have really been Max Fist. Was he always the first choice?

I’m glad it was him; I think he was amazing. There was a moment though when I was talking to Nicolas Cage about it. We had lunch and talked about it and he was interested in it. He seemed great for it also, because he is somebody who had once almost played Superman, but he had also been in Leaving Las Vegas and one of my ideas in this movie was always; it’s Superman in Leaving Las Vegas— but we couldn’t do it. It didn’t work out with him and so then I got Joe and like you say, Joe is absolutely the perfect person; and a long time ago, also, was up for the part of playing Superman. He was going to be Superman and it didn’t work out and, but you can just see how he is Superman. But it’s not just him as a physical actor. He has so much confidence that he can deconstruct himself into a tragic mess of a man and pull that off too, which is what’s wonderful about it. 

Why does Max care about Hamster so much? Is it just because Hamster is willing to listen to him?

I don’t know, I mean that that’s one of the emotional mysteries of the movie. When you meet Max, he’s somebody who doesn’t care about anybody. He lives this emotional life that he can’t get out of his own head. That’s the journey, and I hope it’s a believable one. I think you get this idea of him talking about how important it was to be a superhero. Then you increasingly see that imagery in terms of people’s love for him, they build statues to him. You start to go like, “wait a minute…” What does it mean to have been a hero and I think by defining things in this tiny relationship between him and hamster, there is a whole different way to look at why you would be a hero. 

I don’t know if it is just me– and this is kind of getting away from the point– but I started focusing on smaller things. There’s the henchman Finn, and he carries this book in his hand but I couldn’t see what the book was. Was it something like, “The Big Book of Zen?”

It’s called; Nihilism for Beginners. There is a frame or two where you can see it. And I’m glad that you are looking for details like that because I put a lot into thinking about the world and all of the characters. Even when they are just in a scene or two, they’re really building part of that universe. The idea with him is, he’s a guy who’s just started to think philosophically about the world and he’s like, “God I’m just a hired hitman goon, but the world is so much more complex.” There’s a scene where he’s interrogating Indigo about this other guy who died but you can see that there’s this incredible sort of sorrow or grief about what he is doing. That was all Joseph Reitman; super great actor. I will always want to do things where there’s tons of fucking violence and bleakness and it’s crazy, but there’s also the theme of empathy and who can have empathy and what does that feel like. There was a little patch of that in that character. 

It’s clear that–and especially from talking to you now– that you had a specific point of where you wanted this to end, but were there thoughts about deciding whether the ending would flip the other way, maybe?

I think it was more a question of how it would play out, or what the timing of it was. The question for me really was, “It’s going to be a story about a betrayal of some kind and a mistruth of some kind.” So where exactly does that play out? Does that play out in terms of everything he said is invented? Or is it that he’s telling the story differently than he should? It’s important to have a narrative twist or a narrative, revelation, but the emotional revelation around it is really the key.

Most movies do kind of give up the kitty a little too early. I love the fact that, as an audience member, just as you may start to believe Max, he’s doing a bump of coke on the stairwell before going in to punch a bunch of guys. 

There’s nothing that gives you superpowers better than amphetamines and that’s one thing I want people to take away from this [joking laughter]. If you’re gonna run into people who are shooting at you with uzis; you take meth. It’s gonna be bad, but it’ll be better that way. 

Has the casting process gotten easier for you, now that your stock is on the rise?

No doubt, Archenemy was so much easier to get done, than Daniel Isn’t Real. With this movie, I had all these people able to see my last movie. Glenn Howerton, Paul Scheer, and Joe; all saw my previous film, and they think, “I love that movie, I would work with this director.” That’s how I was able to get them in it and that’s the wonderful, wonderful aspect of starting to build up a body of work that you can point to. When I was making my first movie, nobody gave a fuck that I wanted to make a movie. None of my set ideals are real, it was like very few people gave a fuck to help stretch my vision. Now they’ve got my back and it’s sort of grown like that in a way. It’s wonderful because the most important thing to me is to be able to attract brilliant people to work with me and particularly get actors who are really good and can really do all of it. So to be able to point to other examples of what I’ve done is a blessing.

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RLJE Films will release the action/thriller ARCHENEMY In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand December 11, 2020. 

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.