Who wants to live forever? With mortality being less than desirable, the idea of never having to worry about kicking the bucket no matter what is thrown at you must be a pretty appealing idea. The only problem, as we see in The Old Guard? Such a gift would work out to be more of a curse than anything, especially in a modern era where untouchable billionaires would happily carve you up to discover what makes you tick.
Throw in multiple lifetimes of war and constantly living in the shadows, and you’ve got a film that dares to ask some uncomfortable questions about immortality. While also being one heck of an action-packed blockbuster as well! Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and featuring Charlize Theron, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Kiki Lane, The Old Guard is a faithful adaptation of the Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez comic book mini-series that pitted immortal warriors against the deadliest threat to the planet: Big Pharma.
So how did this project all come together? That’s just one of the questions that I had for Rucka – who penned the screenplay himself – and Fernandez, who were only too happy to sit down with me and chat about adapting their work to Netflix, crafting killer action with Charlize Theron and the importance of living.
How do you approach adapting your own work, from comic book series to Netflix feature film? After all, they are different mediums, so I’m interested to hear what the challenge is in tackling an adaptation.
Greg Rucka: The nature of the medium has the audience doing an awful lot of the heavy lifting. You do it between the panels, right? Movies don’t do that. Movies give you what you need and they need to do it in an efficient and clear way. What you can cheat in a comic you cannot cheat in a movie, you cannot cheat character in a movie. Every character has to be fully developed and given their due.
Comics are also very compressed in the amount of space that you have to tell your story. You only have so many pages and there’s only so much you can get on each page. There is a lot more room in a movie, if you’re using the medium correctly. You can show and provide things that you had to omit in the comics.
Leandro Fernandez: Well, the adaptation process is something that’s not up to me, it’s not my task, specifically. We’ve created the comic book. Greg wrote it, I’ve drawn it. We gave it to the people who wanted to make the movie (Netflix, the producers, the team involved to create it). But in my case, I haven’t worked on adapting the comic to the movie.
In Greg’s case it’s different, because he wrote the movie screenplay, so he got involved in that. And he’s done such a great job! As you said, it’s a different medium. I personally feel really glad and satisfied with the way the movie is related to the comic. Gina and everyone involved in it have done such a great job. I’ve felt a lot of respect for our original comic book. And, as a creator, I couldn’t ask for more, So grateful!
The original mini-series is a pretty quick story, even though it jets across the world to multiple locations, historical time periods and has several massive action sequences. What type of content and scenes were you glad to see fleshed out further in the Netflix adaptation?
Leandro Fernandez: A lot of it! As you said, it has a lot of different things happening in different locations, all brought together into a single movie, with a lot of action. That’s why this is a very visual film. But they are two different things, two different mediums: the comic book is one thing, the movie is another. As I said, I’ve felt a lot of connection between the comic book and the movie.
And it’s not only about the simple development of some things, like the character’s clothes, or their guns… Andy’s axe, for example, which was made closely to the first design in the comic book. I’m talking more about some of the subtle elements that were done according to the original look in the comic. For example, you can see in the trailer there’s a shot with the four guys of the team in a helicopter’s cabin, ready for the action… it looks pretty much as it’s in the comic.
Even Nicky is looking down the same way, and a lot of details are related to that. For me it’s such a joy to see that on the screen. To see there’s an intention in doing that.
How much input did you have during the production of this film? Where did your particular set of skills help guide the production?
Greg Rucka: Well I wrote the movie, so I was pretty involved! Leo’s influence is all over the movie. Less an official presence and more of an obvious pervasive one. You see it in the choice of visuals, the costume design, the weapons, the locations and the way shots were put together. And there’s actually some of Leo’s artwork in the movie as well. A lot of times we create an underlying material and a studio will come along and say ‘we want to make this’ and they’ll write you a cheque and they don’t ever want to talk to you again.
That is not what happened here. I wrote the screenplay, Skydance brought in director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Netflix and Charlize Theron came aboard, and I was there every step of the way. There was a remarkeable commitment to fidelity between the movie and the source material. Fidelity to the intention of the comic, its heart and soul.
Leandro Fernandez: Actually, and as I’ve said, I have worked on the production, but not in the adaptation process, specifically. I’ve done some drawings and some sketches too. Most of them are supposed to be done by Joe, who’s the artist of the team. In fact… there’s a scene in the movie where he’s drawing: not only the art…[fun fact but his hands are mine!]
When the cast of the Old Guard was designed and made it to the printed page, did you have any actors in mind when you created them? Did you ever think that someone like Charlize Theron would be perfect as Andy?
Greg Rucka: I actively do not cast when I am writing something. If I’m writing a story, the characters are the characters and I don’t imagine them as anything but the character. I don’t go ‘this is a Robert Redford type!’. When Charlize was cast, I had this remarkable moment of ‘oh my god that’s perfect’, you could not have cast that part better. You cannot find, in my opinion, another actor of her calibre and who has such much of the courage in her character and was able to do so much of the physicality.
Leandro Fernandez: Well, honestly, I haven’t had her in mind when I’ve designed Andy, I’ve never thought she could be played by her. At the earliest stages, when I’ve designed the characters, my main intention was to make them, mostly, really easy to be recognized, for two reasons:
The first one is that, as they are immortals and have lived long lives, from ancient times in the history, they would be seen many times in flashbacks, in the history, where their look would be completely different than now: the readers should be able to recognize them with different haircuts, sometimes with a beard, sometimes with their hair long, or combed in a different way.
The fashion is changing all the time through the history, as well as the clothes they would be wearing. And also, they’re warriors, so we might see them dirty in the mud, on a trench, covered with blood, etc… that’s why I’ve focused in making them relating and easily recognizable, over being beautiful guys. They will be seen in very different situations, many times.
The second reason in making them that way is that I really wanted them to have a strong and different personality, each one. My goal was to try to make the readers hear a different voice any time any of them is speaking. And I think that can be achieved when they have a particular look, each of them, in such a heterogeneous group. In the comic book, they aren’t guys with a classical beauty. But they have personality.
For those people who haven’t read the comics and are waiting for the adaptation, I think they’re going to be shocked to see how an immortal warrior soaks up damage and then fights back. Is there an absurdly funny fascination with creating a scene of Immortals being torn apart in comic books, and then seeing that idea given graphic life in a live-action sequence?
Leandro Fernandez: There could be something like that, maybe… actually, that is what makes an immortal different from an ordinary person. They are warriors, so they will be fighting, and they would be exposed to that. And finally, we wanted to have fun with it, too!
From start to finish, The Old Guard is remarkably faithful to the comic book story, right down to the pace and the character interactions. How satisfying is to see your work adapted, with hardly any big alterations to what you created?
Leandro Fernandez: It’s overwhelming… in the best of senses. Very satisfying. I mean… my job isn’t too different from what I used to do when I was a little kid, drawing in my childhood house. It’s just me, drawing and having fun. It’s what I’ve done since then: I put anything on the paper, with no restrictions. But suddenly, what’s been done on my drawing board, what we’ve created with Greg, takes form in real life.
And it’s impressive to see how much effort and work it takes to do that! To see how many people, from very famous actors, producers, the director, professionals from all over the world, cameramen, technicians, drivers… from big film studios and locations in different places in U.K. to the vast spaces of the Moroccan desert… cranes, trucks, different kind of vehicles, high towers with spotlights, big machinery, cameras, all kind of guns from different periods of the history… a lot of people committed, working together to bring to the screen what we’ve done in the loneliness of our studios.
It’s really amazing. So exciting. As the movie is!
Greg, immortality plays a large role in many of your comic books and especially in The Old Guard. What’s your fascination with the idea of living forever?
Greg Rucka: A lot of times, when the writer keeps coming back to the same idea, they come back because they haven’t found a satisfying answer yet. One of the things I’m closing in on is that as cool as it might be to live forever, one has to find a necessity to death. One has to find a satisfying, intellectual and emotional answer to why we must die. And that became more present for me when I lost my father. My father passed away and it happened very quickly, it felt unjust as death often does. It felt arbitrary, as death often is.
It took me a while to realise that that is what I was writing about when I did the Old Guard. The further I delved into the more I kept asking myself: What is the purpose of death? Why must we die? I think that everything that human beings are, we are creatures bound by a narrative. And that narrative ends the same way for all of us, it gives our lives purpose.
We all know that our story will end with our death. To a lesser or a greater extent, we live every day trying to build the narrative of our life, and if you take away the last chapter from somebody, you arguably take away the purpose of living.
The Old Guard arrives on Netflix on July 10
Last Updated: June 25, 2020