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Wednesday, August 11,2010

Ex-rated

’Scott Pilgrim’ stars drew on real life while creating roles

by James Sanford

For Brandon Routh and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” was a learning experience: He studied bass guitar, while she was schooled in the fine art of administering a smackdown.


As she maneuvered her way through a full day of interviews in a suite at Detroit’s MGM Grand hotel/casino with a bottle of water and a cup of tea close at hand, Winstead didn’t look like she was ready to rumble. Nor did she look like the sullen, punk-influenced Ramona Flowers, the transplanted New Yorker who instantly catches the eye of Toronto slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and inadvertently proceeds to make his life a living hell with her parade of “evil exes” anxious to battle her new beau.


One key difference between the actress and her character: Winstead’s dark hair is all one color, without any of the neon streaks Ramona regularly sports. Winstead also has a background in ballet, which is exactly the sort of thing that would make Ramona roll her saucer-sized eyes.


The training came in handy on the set, however.


“It was a big help,” Winstead said. “The fight choreography was almost like learning a dance sequence; we had counts of ‘5, 6, 7, 8.’ But the trainers did have to work with me to break some habits. They’d remind me, ‘You’re not practicing ballet moves — you’re kicking someone’s ass.’”


That was one of Winstead’s duties that made Routh envious. “I had it kind of easy,” said the star of “Superman Returns.” “I was kind of jealous that they got to do fight choreography with swords.”


As
Todd Ingram, one of Ramona’s former flames, Routh tends to use his
telekinetic talents more often than his fists: Todd is a peroxide-blond
rock star who attributes his supernatural strength to his strict vegan
diet.


“I’m
not a vegan,” Routh admitted. “But I did actually eat quite a few vegan
meals while we were filming. Toronto has many great vegan restaurants.”


He
may not have been a particularly dedicated vegan, but Routh took his
musicianship seriously, spending several months with a coach to learn
the bass lines Todd would be playing as part of the nasty "corporaterock
band" The Clash At Demonhead.


Then
Routh, Brie Larson (who plays Demonhead lead singer Envy Adams) and
Tennessee Thomas (who plays Demonhead’s drummer) worked together to
create a cohesive combo.


“When
I came to Toronto, we had band practice,” Routh said. “So we really
knew how to play our one song, ‘Black Sheep.’ We could play it
backwards.”


While Winstead doesn’t get to rock out as Ramona, she has no complaints about the role. 


“I loved the fact that Ramona is not the typical Hollywood dreamgirl role,” she said. “She’s very complex. She’s trying to escape her past and trying to become a better person.”


Although she and Ramona may have different tastes in fashion, Winstead said she was spooked by certain similarities.


“There
have been times in my life when I might have been dating a guy in high
school and thought, ‘Eh, this is not really working out,’ so I stopped
taking his calls, the same way she does. And I think back on that
now and wonder, ‘Was that really mean? Am I a bad person?’


“There’s
something sad about Ramona as she is being constantly fought over. A
quiet agony, I’d call it. It’s wonderful to play a character like that
in the middle of this big, zany comedy, and to be able to bring in a
little emotional groundwork to it.”


Winstead
and Routh agree the real anchor of “Scott” was director and
co-screenwriter Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”), who
encouraged cast and crew alike to study the graphic novels on which the
movie is based.


“We
had the books on the set all the time and we were trying to emulate
them all the time,” Winstead said. Throughout “Scott,” Wright has
incorporated animated overlays to indicate sound effects — every time a
phone rings, a vibrating “R-I-I-I- N-G!” floats across the scene — and
many moments are annotated with footnotes or bits of trivia, a la VH1’s
“Pop-Up Video.” The result, Winstead added, is a movie that “literally
looks like the book jumped off the page and onto the screen.”


“I
think we were all his biggest fans,” Winstead said. “He’s a brilliant
guy and a perfectionist, which I think is evident when you see his
films. And I don’t think he sleeps.”


“No,” Routh said. “He just has one more espresso.”


“I’ve never seen him say he was too tired to do something,” Winstead said.


“And
he always has a ready smile as well,” Routh added. “And even though he
knows what he wants, he’s open to listening to your interpretation of
the character. We were always able to work on it together. ‘Visionary’ is a word I could attach to him. And also ‘cinemaphile,’ definitely.”


’Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’


Opens nationwide Friday, Aug. 13

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