In the early '90s, Todd McFarlane's "Spawn" rocked the comic book industry like an earthquake, becoming one of the best-selling titles of the decade. Since then, his tale of a CIA-operative-turned-satanic-superhero has remained a mainstay of pop culture, spawning spinoff comics, video games, an HBO animated series and a movie.
Now, 10 years after "Spawn" hit theaters, McFarlane is prepping a self-financed feature film that's set to revolutionize the "Spawn" universe. In his first major interview about the project, McFarlane discusses what's in store for the fan-favorite character's triumphant return to Hollywood.
MTV: You announced recently that you're going to produce "Spawn 2" independently. What's the film's current status?
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, I've already begun the screenplay. It was in my head for a long time. We had New Line and then it went over to Sony. Then I had a couple of meetings with other people and we got pretty close. But I could see they just weren't quite on the same page as what I wanted to do, so I just said, "Nah, that's OK." The story I have hasn't changed much in the last decade — creepy R-rated spook movie [the first flick was rated PG-13] — and so instead of trying to convince them why, [I said,] "I'll just do it on my own."
MTV: Where does this sit in the "Spawn" continuity? Is this a complete restarting of the franchise?
McFarlane: Yeah, I'd call it a "Spawn" reboot. To me, if you've never seen "Spawn" — if you don't even know what Spawn is — this movie will still be entertaining in and of itself. So you just go, "Wow, it's a messed-up specter movie." But if you happen to know what "Spawn" is then you are probably going to get some of the wink-wink stuff.
MTV: The thing that I've always found cool about "Spawn" is that it's its own type of scary. It's not Rob Zombie's "Halloween" or Eli Roth's "Hostel."
McFarlane: Right, I'd call this more of a suspense thriller. I'm going to use a big example which may seem sort of loopy, but to me it's closer to "Jaws" in that — and this is one of the problems that some of the studios had — Spawn won't talk. He's just a being in this movie — which again, some people may find odd — but, you know, Jaws didn't talk a hell of a lot in his movie either. But you knew that when he came out, something was going to happen. You know what I mean? You've made the presence known enough that nothing good was going to come of his presence being there.
So it's sort of the same concept. I'm not going for Freddy Krueger horror and I'm not going for Spider-Man action superhero. I'm not even going for a guy who's going to sit there and talk. You're never actually ever going to see him in his cape or costume in any kind of direct light. It's just going to be this thing that's just going to come, and if it's there then buddy, you're going to have a bad day.
MTV: Is it possible to build an entire movie around a character that doesn't talk and isn't fully seen?
McFarlane: I think so, because what happens is he then becomes a catalyst, if you will. Again, let's go to "Jaws" because it's a concept everyone understands — I wouldn't say that Jaws is the protagonist ... he's not the hero of the movie, but it's still named after him. But he's the catalyst that helps drive those three people. I could technically do 20 movies and Spawn would still be the catalyst of them, and there may not be any continuity in any of the 20 movies, but each of them individually would be a hell of a ride.
MTV: You said you're already working on the screenplay. Are we still going to see Al Simmons as a CIA agent who's been killed?
McFarlane: No, all that origin stuff to me is like, "We did it. We're done with those superhero movies." My 15-year-old daughter and her friends like to go to spooky movies, and they'll go and see "The Hills Have Eyes" and "1408" [because] they like to get spooked. So what does ["Spawn 2"] have to look like to get that group? Because if I can get that group, then [I can] get any group. I mean, that means it's a broad enough movie idea in which you don't also have to know anything about "Spawn" prior to walking in there. You don't have to have any knowledge, and it won't slow down the ride.
MTV: Obviously you have the means to get this financed on your own. Are you looking at "Spawn 2" as a wide release?
McFarlane: Oh yeah, absolutely. This would be my "Passion of the Anti-Christ," so I'm going to write, produce and direct this thing.
MTV: "Passion of the Anti-Christ." I like it.
McFarlane: Well you know, nobody wanted to give [Mel Gibson] the money, so he went out and did it. [So] it's like, "Fine, I've got an idea, I want to do it and nobody wants to fund it. Well, don't worry. Stop hurting yourself, guys. I'll go and do it myself, but I don't want to f---ing hear you bitching when I'm sitting there and I got the money. And you better hope this thing doesn't work as well as I think it's going to work, because these are the moments where you don't like neurotic artists being independent of your system. So we'll just rock on, and if it doesn't work, so what? But I'm telling you, it's going to work, guys."
MTV: Do you look at films like "300" and say, "Wow, that's stuff I could use in my movie"?
McFarlane: For me, it's more of movies like "Crash," because the story is terrific, as "300" was. There are still a lot of fantasy elements to it. The story that I have in my head is as real as possible, but there's this one element that just isn't real. But everything else ... you could be watching "L.A. Confidential" or "The Godfather" and you just put this little boogeyman in it — a moving shadow — and how does that change those movies, given everything else is real in [them]?
So there's not going to be any villains or bad guys, there's not going to be any of that. It's just going to be this one odd thing in the middle of a very real movie. I'm not trying to do a comic book movie; I don't have that much money. So I need to do a movie where people just go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, cool." And all of a sudden now and then, something happens and you go, "What the hell was that?"
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