Summer was supposed to be a season for blockbuster films. And usually, these tentpole glories consists of your superhero fare but due to the pandemic, theatres are close and your comic book adaptations are pushed back to the end of the year (Black Widow; Wonder Woman 1984; New Mutants).
But even if there wasn't a lockdown, the superhero genre is suffering from a bit of malaise. It's derivative and formulaic; superheroes often have this simplistic binary notion of good and evil. But what the public need to remember is that the superhero genre falls under the comic book umbrella so there is a swathe of great adaptations that are derived from sequential art form (Sin City; Ghost World; A History of Violence).
A comic book adaptation we're excited for is The Old Guard. It has elements of a superhero work but leans left-field of it to be a slightly different beast. Based on the comic book series written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Leandro Fernández, the movie stars Charlize Theron as Andromache of Scythia or Andy, a warrior who cannot die. Leading a small army of other immortal warriors to better the world, Andy suddenly realises that another one of their kind, Nile Freeman (played by Kiki Layne), is out there and the team goes out to induct her into their ranks.
We sat in on a Zoom roundtable interview with the creators of the comic book, Rucka and Fernández, and the stars of the film, Theron and Layne, for more insights of The Old Guard.
GREG RUCKA: The Old Guard came from the idea of ghost stories about soldiers who don't die. They're in almost every military culture and that sort of mythology joined up with this idea I had for this woman who was so inconceivably old because she couldn't die and is the most dangerous warrior in the world simply because she had 7000 years of experience.
On the comic book being adapted for film
LEANDRO FERNÁNDEZ: Since I was a little kid whenever I draw a comic book, I wanted it to be as though it would be made as a movie. It's an exercise I've done since I started working but I [soon] forgot about imagining that we had a chance for our creation to be made into a live-action movie. Finally, we had an opportunity to adapt The Old Guard as a live-action movie because [it was easily visualised thanks to the illustrations] that I set up in the comic book.
CHARLIZE THERON: The first thing that got me excited, was the world. I loved this juxtaposition of big sci-fi with intimate emotion. There was something grounded in the characters, not just with Andy but all of the characters. I loved the relationship between Andy and Nile. There was an excitement for me, and getting a chance to work with Kiki, an actress who blew me away with [If Beale Street Could Talk] so I feel there was so much potential to explore with some great actors.
GREG RUCKA: I was never told what not to do with a character. There was never a challenge to a portrayal or an idea. You know, it changes. The majority of the changes were made because of what was viable to be shot: what you could actually film; what to avoid things that had been seen in other movies. For instance, in the comic book, Andy has a big fight sequence on the stairs coming out of a Parisian apartment building. Well, Charlize has done a movie fairly recently, that had an amazing fight sequence on the stairs of an apartment building [Atomic Blonde]. So, we had to change that.
The cast and crew also had copies of the trade paperback. Everybody knew the source material; it's the most flattering thing in the world.
This is the second time a feature film has been made off a comic of mine and this is the first time that I've been involved this deeply in the process of The Old Guard. Gina had come aboard. So has Netflix. I remember getting a call from them saying that it's gonna be on Netflix and there was this pregnant pause as though they expected me to go, no, you promised me a movie theatre. My response was positive and, again, there was that pause: you don't have a problem with that? Why would I have a problem with that? And the guy I was talking to said because some people think it's not the same as being shown in the theatre. I say Netflix is in about 138 million homes worldwide. That’s 138 million people seeing our movie, holy mackerel, that would be unbelievable.
And the support the movie got from Netflix, production from start to finish has been phenomenal and full-throated. Netflix has made it possible to make this movie that, I am sincerely, very proud of. It was a tremendous experience and, I'm pretty sure, it has spoiled me for anything that's going to come after.
Death and dying
GREG RUCKA: I'm relatively certain that the first time, Homo sapiens or a Neanderthal, figured out that death means that this person is over [and done with]. The very next thought was, what would it be if they didn't die? We have dreamt of immortality from the moment that we can conceive of what death was.
No dying would be a blast for a while. And I don't know how long a while would be but I absolutely believe that at a certain point. It would just become a nightmare. And you know, one of the things we get from death is purpose and if you take that away, everything you do feels meaningless.
We're living in an era that's beginning to have an unhealthy fascination with living longer. As with most things, technology has not begun to engage the debate about the ethics and the ramifications of it. But there are, and there's no secret about it, several multi-billionaires running around the planet right now and they, probably, are looking for ways to live forever. And the idea of some of these guys living forever? Terrified.
It's scary but death is part of the natural order. If we are going to live forever that brings up other questions like, who gets the right to live forever? Is it the rich? Because when it happens, it's only going to be for the rich.
CHARLIZE THERON: It's very much what the movie [is about.] When we were developing it we asked a lot of those questions and I leaned into what felt authentic. The story reflects its complexity, that on the surface, the idea of immortality sounds so beautiful but when you dive deeper into it and figuring out the cost of what that means, there’s something about it that feels excruciating.
KIKI LAYNE: Nile immediately asks about her purpose in this and if I ever found myself in that situation I would ask those same questions and having those same struggles. You've been given a gift that can help a lot more people, but at a personal cost of abandoning your loved ones.
On female representation
KIKI LAYNE: I hope that women see themselves as the heroes and not be afraid to be at the forefront. One of the dopest things about Andy, and even Nile, is that you see both women as leaders, which I think it's wonderful for young women to witness who, not only, have the trust of the people they're leading but also have a lot of trust in themselves to be in that position. I hope more young women can absorb some of that.
CHARLIZE THERON: I want young girls to not be afraid of growing older. There's a great amount of ageism in this world and it's fantastic that two characters like Andy and Nile can go head to head but still have this incredible commodity. The idea that the older generation knows more is not necessarily what we apply in this film. The third act of this film is about Nile; it is this young spirit who educates Andy on what it means to live and the value of not stopping the fight.
On set injuries
CHARLIZE THERON: I didn't have anything major that scared me away from doing more of these types of films and thankfully, they are just standard bumps and bruises but that's part of the job. It's part of being committed to the character and being committed to telling this story correctly. It comes with the territory so you're gonna get hurt, and I have some pretty impressive selfies of bruises.
On the aeroplane fight scene
KIKI LAYNE: My stunt double Bethany [Levy] was wonderful. I mean, the whole stunt team took care of us and made sure that we can tell the stories to the best of our ability. A lot of training went into it—Charlize and I started training months in advance, working on our preparation for the fight. When they brought us together to start getting comfortable with doing that choreography, [it felt like a dance] in telling these stories together. That choreography, as you have said, is an essential part of developing the relationship between Andy and Nile.
I'm so grateful though that it was actually the first scene we shot so it just threw us both in there and had us dig deeper into that relationship, laying the foundation for these two women, who will grow together later in the film.
CHARLIZE THERON: [Kiki’s] being modest. We used her stunt double only twice and the rest of that fight is all Kiki.
On the end of The Old Guard
GREG RUCKA: I guess, I have a very clear idea of how it ends. That tends to be how I write most things, starting with an ending in mind. Now, the ending may change as the process goes on, because other things may become evident in the telling. So, I may discover that the story I thought I was telling isn't really the story am I telling.
In the case of The Old Guard comics, the ending for the third arc, subtitled, ‘Fade Away’, I have known for, at least, a year-and-a-half ago. How am I going to get there? I’m not 100 percent certain but I’m certain what the conclusion will be.
And we genuinely don't know if there's gonna be a sequel for the movie. Netflix may say, let's do another one and [with the plotlines that we’ve set up] in the first film, [we can see them come to pass in the sequel].
The Old Guard is out now on Netflix.