Superwho? / Super-Heros malgre lui is a name of the latest French action comedy directed by Philippe Lacheau who also co-wrote the screenplay with Julien Arruti, Pierre Dudan and Pierre Lacheau.
A struggling actor who seems doomed to lead the life of a loser. When finally gets a lead role as a superhero named Badman, he feels like everything is possible but fate strikes again… Rushing off the set in full costume, Cedric has a car accident, loses his memory, and wakes up convinced he really is a superhero on mission!
The film features Philippe Lacheau, Julien Arruti, Tarek Boudali and Élodie Fontan in lead roles, along with Alice Dufour, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Amr Waked and Chantal Ladesou in supporting roles.
This weekend, in Romania, Prorom and Ro Image will release the comedy Superwho? and we invite you to read an interview with the actor and director Philippe Lacheau.
As a screenwriter, director and actor, what do you specifically enjoy about mixing comedy and adventure?
I’m a fan of adventure comedies like The Goonies, Romancing the Stone, and of course the Indiana Jones saga, which has a lot of humor in it. They really influenced me as a kid. You get drawn in by the riveting action and you have a good laugh, too. In our films, I like the idea that we are drawing in audiences with the promise of comedy but offer them adventure like an unexpected bonus, a nice surprise. It’s primordial to us that people leave the movie feeling satisfied and say, "That was cool. I got my money’s worth."
What comic strips and superhero films did you like best as a kid?
Actually, I didn’t read comics very much when I was a kid. I didn’t really discover them until later. The first movie superhero I was struck by as a kid was Superman, played by Christopher Reeve. Superman is so fascinating that you want to be like him more than any other character. He is strong, humble, kind and invincible. Which by the way makes it really frustrating to see him get pushed around when he is Clark Kent. You feel like shouting at him: "C’mon, tell them who you really are!" (laughs) When I read Marvel comics, I loved Thor, probably for his badass side, for the Scandinavian mythology and his magic hammer. As for movies, I really liked Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, for the way Christopher Nolan depicted that whole universe.
Did you ever want to do parodies of superheroes when you were still a kid? Did you ever do that in the amateur videos you shot with your parents’ video camera?
Yes. I remember a skit I videotaped with some buddies when I was about ten. We interviewed Superman while he was flying and said, "Oh, Superman, we’re really lucky we found you!", and he replied, "You sure are, because the sky is big!".
After adapting Nicky Larson, were you ever tempted to try to make a “real” superhero movie, about a character with superhuman powers living in the real world?
Of course that’s tempting. Just like we sometimes had the urge to make our Nicky Larson adaptation a pure action film, even though our goal was to keep it a comedy. To be honest, I’m not sure I would know how to conceptualize and film a real superhero movie, even if I think I would definitely have things I’d want to show. The problem is, it’s really hard to do that these days, because you have to compete with American productions with budgets near 250 million dollars.
So you set out to do a comedy from the very start?
Yes, but the real starting point for the screenplay was the idea of an actor who is shooting a film and loses his memory. The superhero theme came later. I’d been wanting to do a parody of the Jason Bourne saga for a long time, based on the concept of an actor shooting a spy movie who has an accident while driving a stunt car. Disoriented and in shock, he doesn’t know who he is anymore. When he opens up the trunk and finds traces of blood, gadgets, fake passports and guns, he thinks he is a real secret agent. But the dark side and hitman side of a spy thriller ended up being too heavy for us, so we ended up turning towards the more positive vibe of the world of superheroes. We decided to parody Batman, to stay within a certain logic, since Bruce Wayne has no superpowers and has to rely on gadgets and mastering fighting techniques. That’s when it got to be more fun for us and synched up with what we like most about creating new films: living out our childhood fantasies.
The regulars of your troupe - Élodie Fontan, Tarek Boudali, & Julien Arruti - are all in the film. Does each one talk to you about new kinds of characters they’d like to play before you start writing a project?
We don’t necessarily talk about it beforehand, but since we’ve already shot several films together, we try to mix it up and play different characters each time, so that the audience doesn’t get bored. Sometimes the roles can be fairly similar, if it works in the story. In Superwho?, for example, Élodie plays a warrior, an action-taker, which is new for her. But the number one priority in casting these parts is to make it funny.
Isn’t entertaining audiences and making them forget their troubles, sometimes serious ones, a real superpower?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact, when people ask me who my favorite superhero is, I often answer Kylian Mbappé! (a French professional footballer who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the France national team). He inspires millions of people and fills them with extraordinary sensations. That’s also what counts the most to me and motivates me. Nothing makes me happier than when people thank me for that reason. It makes me feel great. At the risk of repeating myself, I got into this profession because I saw my parents laughing at the films of Francis Weber, when they were broadcast on TV.
What other superpower would you like to possess?
What I’d like more than anything else is to have the power to treat sickness and heal people. For my personal pleasure, I’d like to fly. That’s since I discovered the experience of parachuting while shooting Babysitting 2. Even if the sensations of flying are short-lived, they are extraordinarily intense.
Exploring the world of superheroes opened up new filmmaking possibilities for you.
Since it’s a parody, we can use what’s already been done and have fun twisting around the cinematography and directing style of those references to make them funny. Since the main character is an ordinary guy who thinks he’s a superhero, that makes the situations all the more ridiculous.
Did you include allusions to recent superhero films in the credit sequence to tell people who are superhero movie fans, “I’m a real fan of those films, too»?
Yes. It’s the same operating principle we used for Nicky Larson: the story and the main gags were made to entertain people who don’t know the 1980’s cartoon, but there was a second level of the story just for the fans, with very pointed allusions and inside jokes.
You can laugh watching Superwho? even if you don’t know anything at all about that whole world. But fans of Marvel and DC comics will recognize hidden gags almost everywhere, in the subtitles, the background scenery, the names and signs, etc.. The movie is filled with references, and when it comes out, we’ll see how fans react and find out which gags they’ve spotted and which ones they’ve missed!
What were the main artistic and technical challenges you had to overcome to make Superwho? into a film?
I worried about Badman’s costume, because the shoot was planned for summer and I was afraid of suffocating and being uncomfortable in it. That kind of costume is thick and takes a long time to get into, because as I had learned in preproduction, all American actors who play superheroes wear spandex jumpsuits with fake foam muscles underneath their suits. It’s crucial, because those elastic suits are very tight and compress your flesh and the volume of your real muscles. Luckily, the costume designers took very good care of me and slipped frozen shammy cloths beneath my suit to cool me down. That was really wonderful, because wearing a superhero costume all day long is a challenge. I also discovered the limitations of that kind of suit, because when you’re wearing fake muscles, a hood and a mask, it’s impossible to fight like you normally would: you can’t lift your arms up all the way or move your head up and down, and a lot of other kinds of movements become difficult.
Last question: How would you like superhero fans to react when they see your comedy?
Taking on the world of superheroes was new and exciting for us. Judging from the reactions of those who’ve seen it so far, they like the comedy and the way the action builds, and I think the last third of the movie works quite well.
There’s an effect similar to the movie Kick-Ass, in the way Cedric’s character ends up becoming a hero in real life, by fulfilling his dream. I hope comic book fans will laugh as much as we do when they discover this young man who thinks he’s a superhero and see how we’ve brought his misadventures to life.
Superwho? / Super-Heros malgre lui premieres on February 25 in cinemas across Romania, distributed by Prorom and Ro Image.