Offering fans of superhero films something very unique and original, Some Kind of Hate and Daniel Isn’t Real director Adam Egypt Mortimer has returned with Archenemy. A film that takes what so many people love about superhero films and comes at it with a cosmic tale of a broken man who may or may night be a fallen hero, Archenemy brings True Blood/Sabotage‘s Joe Manganiello to viewers as Max Fist, a homeless man who catches the attention of an aspiring content creator and setting off a chain of violent events.
We thought we’d catch up with Mortimer about Archenemy and the theme of compassion and empathy that is front and center in what’s easily one fo the best films to hit 2020. Read on!
WH: Right out of the gate, man, kudos on this movie. I just loved the hell out of it. Archenemy is so interesting and unique. I really haven’t seen anything like this one.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: That’s lovely. I’m so glad you felt like that, man. That’s awesome. Thank you. It’s exciting for me cause it’s not really a horror movie, so it was a chance to play with all kinds of different genres and sort of write characters in kind of a different way. You know, there was something a little bit freeing about that.
I think when I’m writing horror, no matter how much I’m interested in like the emotions and the characters and all that, there’s still this world and way that horror needs to make you feel, you know what I mean? So with this movie, I could still have dread and sort of cosmic oppression and all of that violence, but kind of play outside of the genre really opened things up for me.
WH: One of the many things that I’ve always loved about your work, is how you take different themes and really layer them into like such interesting stories. Whether it’s going back to bullying and self harm with Some Kind of Hate, or suicidal ideation and mental illness in Daniel Isn’t Real, your work always uses genre storytelling to really touch on important topics. With Archenemy, you continue that, in the sense that it really speaks on what truly makes a hero and also redeeming your past failures and mistakes in a way. There’s such emotional weight to it. I’m curious, what inspired this one?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I think it’s so interesting what you’re saying. These things always start on sort of a story or concept level, then as I work on them, I find more and more of the emotional relationship. I think that is when I go, “Oh, this is really what it’s about.” With Archenemy, it was way back in 2015 that I started writing it. So it was after Some Kind of Hate had come out, but we hadn’t yet made Daniel Isn’t Real. I’ve always loved superheroes and I’ve always loved comic books specifically. I’ve always felt that comic books treat superheroes like there’s a vast mythology and you can do all these different things and you can have all of these different kinds of genres. They treat their readers like they’re really sophisticated. I was thinking about what would it be like to have this guy in like a tattered cape, drinking whiskey in a bar and talking about being a superhero. We don’t know if he’s crazy or not. I don’t know if he’s lying or he’s just broken because he misses the old days.
I started thinking about Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and what it would be like if that was about a superhero, that was like the starting point for it. You kind of get to this point where you start writing it and the different characters come in. I reread it and it clicked. Oh, this is really about heartbreak, this is about break ups that I’ve gone through and then insecurities that I have personally and then we start to fit those in, as the characters in the world, but then try to play them out in these big cosmic ways, you know?
WH: Definitely. In my opinion, what it tends to get overlooked in some films dealing with superheroes, is taking a look at the damage done to the people, not only around the hero, but to the heroes themselves and what I loved about Archenemy is that it shows a new side to that. It shows a personal responsibility that not only Max has, but that we, as people should have with others, especially in this day and age. The film spoke to me, regarding the importance of above all else, just helping people.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I think that the concept of empathy keeps coming back to me as being the crucial theme that I’m trying to express or play with and how that relates to these really dark themes. I started this movie with an impulse of, “Oh it would be cool to have this whiskey drinking guy and he’s all fucked up. And, you know, he punches people.” But it’s sad, you know? In this kind of cavalier way, then you dig into it.
The thing that’s always so important to me with genre stories and this thing that keeps bringing you back, is putting very real people into these genre traditions. What does it feel like for Max to have remembered that he was loved by a whole city and now it’s so far, that he’ll never see it again? What does that feel like? Then maybe, has he been lying to himself? The idea of empathy and trying to show the entire universe as this bleak, terrifying place where people can come back from the dead or demons can cross over from other dimensions, it’s so stacked against us, but the characters that are best always find a way to find a little spark of loving themselves or loving each other. That’s what comes out in his moments of sacrifice.
WH: Archenemy reminded me a lot in certain ways of your comic Ballistic, which I’ve always loved and what’s so great to me that comic, was the same exact stuff that I love about the work of Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, where they take these fantastical ideas and kind of have them very grounded in realism. This film really felt like that. Jumping into the casting of the film, your choices are phenomenal. Every scene that Joe’s on screen, he has such intensity in his eyes that it’s immediately impossible not to latch onto that character. How early in the process did you kind of figure out that maybe you wanted to go towards Joe as Max?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I was lucky to get Joe. When I was writing it, I had no idea who would be Max, or who realistically, I would be able to get. I just thought of him as a character. Joe came onto it when SpectreVision said, “Okay, we want to make the movie, we have financing ready, let’s go, let’s cast it!” I met with Joe and what is so wonderful about Joe is that he is super into comic books, everybody knows he plays Dungeons & Dragons. He’s also super into comic books, super into superheroes. He has been involved in that space, but he’s also the kind of actor who has done A Streetcar Named Desire. He’s really heavy and theatrically accurate. So that combination is exactly the actual combination of what the story is. It’s exactly what you’re saying about Warren Ellison and Morrison. You want a guy who’s Superman, but you also want a guy who knows how to play a broken alcoholic and who has the physicality to do both at the same time. We were really total creative partners.
I keep on joking with him that he’s now my Ryan Gosling, the way Refn got Gosling to make Drive. Joe brought in a consultant who is a recovered Meth addict who used to be homeless and who now works in recovery. He worked with Joe and was like, “This is what it’s like when you wake up in the morning under a bridge and the first thing you want to do is get your fix, get the first fix of the day.” So he just went all the way into being this guy.
WH: One of the many things that I really appreciated about the movie is just how sincere the characters are. The way Hamster treats Max, what he sees in Max is what I would hope and what I try to teach my kids to see in homeless people and people in general who are in need. There’s no judgment involved with that character, he listens to Max’s stories and he’s so compassionate. As a viewer, it really makes you want to be invested in these characters so much. As in your face with violence can be in the film, to me, it’s very much a film about compassion.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I think that I just can’t get away from that feeling. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh, I want to do like a cold, calculating movie, or I want to do something like Crash or Possessor, but it’s just not me. I like to talk about how dark the world is, but I also just really love hugs and I really love sweetness. I think it’s just the way that my mama raised me, you know? With Hamster, I think one of the things that’s so beautiful is the way that Skyland plays him. What’s important to him is forming that connection with him and getting the story that Max is telling right and being enthused by the spirit that Max has. I never really feel like he’s making fun of him or being like, that’s a wacky crazy guy. Look at him. You know what I mean?Hamster is all about this like real connection. He tells us sister, he just wants to make something and kind of put something out there. Compassion.
ARCHENEMY is now in theaters, and currently available on VOD and Digital.