If you’ve read Part 1 of SuperHeroHype’s visit to the Toronto set of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, then you already know what a big part music will be playing in the movie. With that in mind, we’re going to focus Part 2 on the actors who’ll be making the music, the boys and girls of the movie’s house band, none other than Scott Pilgrim’s band Sex Bob-omb.
While on set, we had a chance to speak at length with Mark Webber (far right) and Alison Pine (second from right) who play the band’s singer/songwriter/guitarist Stephen Stills and drummer Kim Pine, respectively, and Johnny Simmons (third from left), Sex Bob-omb’s biggest fan Young Neil, about what it took to bring these characters to life. In some ways, while Part 1 was meant as an introduction to the world of Scott Pilgrim, this part will probably appeal more to the fans of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s books who are already familiar with some of these secondary satellite characters,
Johnny Simmons as Young Neil
We’ll start off with one of the younger actors in the movie, 23-year-old Johnny Simmons, a child actor who has appeared in movies like Evan Almighty and Hotel for Dogs, but whose been playing teen roles in movies like the horror flick Jennifer’s Body. That brings him to the part of Young Neil, not really a member of Sex Bob-omb perse, but more like their biggest fan. Even so, he’s one of the members of the cast who already had musical experience, and like the other actors, he had a lot to say about doing the music for the movie.
Q: I was wondering how you handled the transformation into this character?
Johnny Simmons: They just kind of put me in different clothes, really.
Q: This isn’t your costume, right?
Simmons: No, this is Johnny right now.
Q: We just wanted to make sure. So what’s your favorite part of this film?
Simmons: The thing they’re shooting right now, the Gideon fight. Jason Schwartzman’s like one of my favorite actors, for sure, so that would have to be it.
Q: How close is your character to the book?
Simmons: Yeah, it’s pretty close. It’s never really established that me and Stephen Stills are roommates. It’s one of the biggest differences. Which I think is kind of a big deal, so yeah, it’s pretty close.
Q: Your character and Knives sort of strike up a weird relationship. What was that like on the set and also working with Ellen Wong?
Simmons: Yeah, we’ve become really good friends. Our characters start dating in the book, and we made up little back stories to our characters and little outtakes that we’d bring up to Edgar as a joke, and we have a really good time.
Q: Did you talk to Bryan Lee O’Malley to get any backstory from him about Young Neil?
Simmons: I got like a list of things at the beginning. There were ten things that Bryan made for each one of us, and he drew us our own personal picture of our character that was in color. I just have a copy of it, I think that they’re going to do something special with the originals at the end, like presenting them to us, but I can’t remember what they were. But there were some funny things at the beginning that he gave us. Of course, I can’t remember one of them now. Yeah, he told us a little bit.
Q: I don’t remember Young Neil getting into the action at all. Is it the same here or is it a little more involved with some fights?
Simmons: Everybody has a stunt except me. Every single person has a stunt, but I don’t have a stunt, there’s nothing. No wire, no pulling. I try to get in on the danger, but there’s nothing.
Q: You didn’t go to Edgar as ask him for some?
Simmons: I begged him. If there’s another one, I’m definitely getting a stunt.
Q: How was it working with Edgar?
Simmons: He’s awesome. Yeah, he’s been hosting these double features. Like last week was "Team America" and "Army of Darkness," two of Bill Pope’s movies who is shooting this. So he works all day long–fourteen, fifteen hours a day–then Saturday he goes into the editing room and then Sunday he’s hosting movies. So he’s just obsessed with everything to do with the film industry and it’s really inspiring to watch. Especially one of my favorite directors. To be on set with him and seeing him that dedicated to something, and being so tired, where you would want to use your Saturday/Sunday to kind of take a break, he’s sitting there setting up movie theaters.
Q: Was the movie your first encounter with the Scott Pilgrim books or had you read them previously?
Simmons: I hadn’t read them. I read (the script) about a year and a half ago, or two years or so. I was just leaving to New York to go film a movie called "The Greatest," and I go on in at the last minute, and it’s like "There’s no way in hell that I’m going to get this," but I just went in on a whim, and like a year and a half later, or maybe just like a year, somebody was saying they were on Facebook, and I was like, "Yeah, whatever." We had been waiting for feedback, you know, nothing had come of this, and for a while it was on hold or something, and I was focused on "The Greatest" and "Jennifer’s Body," then I kept asking about this film in particular. He friend requested me and I was like, "Yeah, it’s Edgar, but it’s probably not." And we started messaging back and forth through the inbox and like a month had gone by when we were just talking, and I said, "Well, you’re in LA, if you want to meet up for coffee or whatever." And he was also friends with Jason Reitman, who doesn’t have his real name set up, so I figured it could have been the real Edgar. He said "Yeah, let’s meet up for coffee. I’d also like to offer you the role of Young Neil." So then I call my manager, I’m like, "Is this like for real? Or is this a joke?" And they didn’t know anything, and neither did the casting director, who’s Avi Kaufman. It was like this huge, mad scramble to find out if this was a legit guy or whatever. So I’m going to coffee with him the next day, still thinking this is all bullsh*t, and there’s Edgar Wright sitting there. So the whole time we were having this meeting, and I’m just like, "Holy crap, it’s really you and I just got Young Neil, okay." But he offered over Facebook.
Q: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Young Neil?
Simmons: Yeah, I’m sure there’s similarities. I play guitar, so we had to learn bass, and Chris Murphy from Sloan is our coach, and that was pretty easy to step into. I had to learn every song, because they didn’t know which one I was actually going to be playing. Yeah, I guess I’m kind of goofy and simple – he’s described as simple minded with layered t-shirts. I guess I fit right in with the – except no layered t-shirts today, I’m just going plain white.
Q: Is any of the music played live on set or has it been recorded in the studio and played back?
Simmons: Yeah, I thought that was going to be kind of rough, because you have to match everything up and the lights have to be exactly in sync. For instance, have you guys seen the Gideon stage? Are you guys going to get to see it? It’s pretty epic. It’s like, they have all these LED lights, like the huge TV and there’s little sound waves going through that syncs perfectly with the music. So they have to shoot completely 360, so that all has to be perfectly synced each time. So they’ve got a system that basically runs the song for the particular part that you’re playing and then the music syncs up with the lights perfectly.
Q: So you have to do everything?
Simmons: Yeah, pretty much. With the big stages they had to do that, so. The Gideon one’s the most difficult because it’s got so many lights and so many different angles where it would have to be perfect synced up. Whereas at another, smaller venue, there wouldn’t be you know, crazy lights going on.
Q: They already have the music recorded then?
Simmons: Yeah, prerecorded. Nigel Godrich was the guy who recorded it, who did Radiohead.
Q: Are you actually playing songs from the books?
Simmons: I don’t know exactly if they were the exact same, but Beck wrote those, which was pretty epic.
Q: When you’re getting into character are you only looking at the script or are you going to the book and using that as well?
Simmons: Yeah, probably both. I mean, it’s pretty laid out, just by the way that Bryan had drawn the character. It’s pretty easy. That’s what I was looking at when I auditioned. The thing I kind of liken him to is… it says simple-minded, layered t-shirts, and that’s just enough because it’s very easy. You just put on like a goofy sort of face and then try to zone out as much as possible when you’re on the set, and be scared of just about everything. And that’s all I think about whenever I’m up there. It’s like everybody’s kind of like at a party. He’s got this party scene, he’s holding a drink and he’s just kind of looking around like, "Sh*t. Oh man. I have to talk to somebody right now or else they’re going to know I’m not cool." It’s pretty like just zone out. (Simmons makes the Young Neil zone-out face.
Q: You actually just turned into the character when you did that, it’s amazing. What was the best thing about working with Edgar?
Simmons: I think just how he inspires you to keep up with him. I heard that about Peter Jackson, who he’s friend with. Just a mad scientist who basically never stops because he’s so obsessed with what he does and it’s never going in to work, it’s going to have fun and do what you love and just be a geek and sort of geek out, you know? I think Edgar inspired me a lot in that way. It’s not really going in to work or set, it’s coming here to do what a lot of people would really love to do. Lucky enough to get to do it, so. That’s pretty much, that’s what I learned from Edgar.
Q: Your character’s name is based on Neil Young, so do you get to play any music? (Warning: The next answer may be kind of a SPOILER! since it’s not in the book. )
Simmons: I do, I take over Scott’s position. I don’t know if I’m supposed to give that away or not. Yeah, that’s a big one, I don’t know if that’s supposed to go in or not, but yeah, I kind of, Scott throws me the bass at one point when he goes to fight somebody, and there’s this huge like slow-motion shot that they shot at 100 frames or something like that, but it goes through the air and it goes, Young Neil just goes like – [laughter] And he grabs a hold of it, and the, we shot it like ten times because the strap came, had to go perfectly over my head, and at first I had this rubber guitar and it didn’t look right. So they brought the cool, like it’s a Rickenbocker, which is about sixty pounds or something.
Q: I thought you said you didn’t have any stunts?
Simmons: Well, I guess that’s kind of, that’s my stunt, there you go. I could have gotten my nose broke. So, it comes over, then we change it to the other one and it’s just like this epic moment. And at the end there’s a line that Scott says that says, "Neil, you’re awesome at bass. You will now be known as Neil." It’s a cool moment, yeah.
Q: Is that your favorite scene in the film?
Simmons: Yeah, I think that would be the funniest of my stuff, probably. That’s the funniest bit I thought so far. Yeah, that’s probably my favorite filmed, other than the Gideon. Maybe with the guitar coming over. Seeing Jason Schwartzman up there with his cane and his white (suit) — it’s like insane, you know? There’s this gigantic pyramids that are built up next to each other in Chaos Theater. All these, or hipsters with—and then, I’ve had these for a long time, my Converse, and they’re supposed to be lame kid that’s Chaos Theater and every one of the has black shirts on and Converse, and I was like, I’m not cool according to Scott Pilgrim.
Click on "Next" to read our interview with Alison Pill who plays Kim Pine.