The invitation to interview Rob Liefeld about the Deadpool movie came with a qualification I’ve never seen before:
“If either of these dates are not suitable for you we are scheduling phone interviews also but would prefer in person interviews as the passion and enthusiasm Rob has for his creation and this movie are best presented in person.”
Having interviewed Rob before, I knew what it meant. Liefeld and I have been on friendly terms ever since I did a cover story on him for OC Weekly in 2007, and experience has taught me that being in a room with him is like meeting Spaceman Spiff from Calvin and Hobbes–the writer/artist/creator may be approaching 50, and occasionally use glasses to read his texts, but the overwhelming vibe he puts out is that of a kid who has devoured the entire candy store. It’s no surprise that this is the guy whose characters always have to have the biggest guns, the most massive shoulder pads, the widest biceps, and the greatest amount of pouches.
[Speaking of, here’s why he loves those so much: “Here’s the deal, man. I grew up watching SWAT, and playing with G.I. Joe. Now SWAT, for your readers, because I’m old, was a kick ass TV show on ABC, and it was about five SWAT unit guys. Hondo, Deacon–they were awesome! If you were to Google SWAT right now, or Google Military, you would see guys covered in pouches. That’s a sign of gear! We’ve got stuff in here. We carry stuff. And it’s an aesthetic. If I didn’t think it looked cool, I wouldn’t put it on people. But there’s stuff in there!”]
Editor’s note: From this point forward, the interview may contain possible spoilers for Deadpool, so read on at your own risk.
He’s been pitching movies based on his characters since the ’90s, but this weekend finally sees the release of one featuring his most famous creation, in fairly faithful fashion. Deadpool, the sarcastic badass whom he created with Fabian Nicieza, has his own R-rated superhero film six years after Fox infamously botched him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Liefeld wasn’t directly involved with the creation of the movie, but he was kept in the loop at every stage, and is so happy with the final product that he’s now out promoting it.
I start with a challenging question: is there anything about the movie he doesn’t like?
“There is zero. Luke, I’m not going to lie to you–I loved it. I loved it, and loved it in a way that I didn’t expect to love it, because you always figure there’s something here that I’m not going to enjoy. It’s so hard to make a perfect piece of entertainment, and yes, of course, I’m involved in it. If I have nothing to do with it, my reaction is the same way. I called up one of my good friends on the drive home. I saw it early December for the first time, with a test audience, and it scored through the roof. You knew they were having a great time, and then the whole way through, it just scored huge.
I called my buddy. First, I called my wife, and then I called my buddy, and they both said, ‘Wow, you’re excited!’ They said if I didn’t completely love it, they could tell–you’re not spinning anything, and look, I’m telling you–I would not be out there hitting the pavement as hard as I am if it wasn’t so good.”
Followers of Liefeld on Twitter know he can be vocal when he dislikes superhero movies too, but just to check, I ask him about his reaction to the prior version of Deadpool. He recalls trying to help them out before it was too late:
“Six weeks before the movie was out,” he says, “I was out on the Fox lot and I talked to the executive at the time, who is no longer there–has gone on to be a producer somewhere else. During that time, I had heard about what was coming, and I said ‘Dude, let’s go to a soundstage right now. You find me one of these soundstages. You’ve got soundstages everywhere you turn on this lot. Let’s go. Issue some guy to make a Deadpool mask by tomorrow. You can do that. They can fabricate a Deadpool mask, and just have somebody step out of the shadows with a katana and have somebody talk to the audience at the end credits. People will cheer. They’re going to…’ and he was like, ‘That’s nice, Rob. That’s funny.’ I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand what’s coming.’ And I don’t think they understood the devotion.”
It’s unusual to have a comic-book creator be part of the press for a comic-book movie (unless, perhaps, it’s Stan Lee), so I ask Liefeld how that came about. He turns the question back on me, asking what I think, and when I suggest maybe Fox wants to win back fans after Fantastic Four was poorly received, he cuts me off, noting that he has nothing but praise for producer Simon Kinberg.
“I’ve followed creators in my time, and it bums me out when they come out and they take a position that is negative. There’s another option. Being quiet is OK too. Being quiet, you know. I’m a career cheerleader. And from the minute I read this screenplay, I got amped up, because as you know, it’s not just the dialogue and the action, it’s the narrative structure. It’s very creative in the way that they present it.”
He continues: “I rooted for this film, and as the pieces came together, I got more excited. When I met [director] Tim Miller and saw the scope of his portfolio and his influence, and what he could bring to the table, made the project that much more formidable. And so along the way you got the perfect star and producer in Ryan [Reynolds], then you’ve got this amazing script from ridiculously talented screenwriters who are also–let’s be honest, that humor is some of the–Deadpool has never been funnier. That’s because that’s next-level comedic writing. Then you’ve got Tim, who was the prefect element, and then a producer that has been turning all these Fox films around, making them better, since First Class. Simon has touched the X-Men from First Class to Days of Future Past, to now Deadpool. People forget Simon has The Martian under his belt. He wrote, as a young man, and produced Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Simon’s a talented guy! He’s got a lot of movies under his belt, so I know for a fact that he used his clout to ignite Deadpool and make it happen, and open everybody’s eyes and say, ‘Tim is the right guy. This script is fantastic.'”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Deadpool is that, for a movie filled with graphic violence and dick jokes, it’s appealing to women just as well as men. When I tell Rob my wife wants to play a plus-sized stripper in the sequel, he doesn’t miss a beat, smiling and saying, “Well, we’ll definitely put that in the notes and forward that. I mean, we had the strip club in the first one, right? So…”
But when it comes to analyzing the appeal to women further, he brings up a very surprising comparison.
“I think on some level, I’ll just stick with the Bernie Sanders of it all. Bernie Sanders is out there, and he’s talking shit, and people like it. And what’s Deadpool doing the whole movie? He’s talking shit, and he’s wrapped in a nice package, so come on.”
I briefly have a vision of Bernie Sanders in giant shoulder pads, covered in pouches. Possibly with an eyepatch and topknot-ponytail as well. Liefeld continues: “Women love the bad boy. Ryan is gorgeous–beautiful physical specimen, and they make sure you’re aware of that. But at the same time, he’s got a mouth on him! I mean, he is lippy, he has a smart-ass mouth. He’s got a great attitude, and then once he becomes Deadpool, it’s, you know–he’s completely nuts and won’t let anything stop him. I think that’s appealing to men and women equally.”
He’s proud of the R-rating, and is quick to note that the movie’s screenplay is, as far as he’s concerned, the first-ever R-rated iteration of Deadpool. To demonstrate, he points to an image of an older comic-book cover: “That’s my cover to Deadpool #1. There’s a dismembered hand, OK, and there’s green blood. That’s not an R-rated cover. That’s not an R-rated cover–he’s shooting people in the face, but again, that’s not an R-rated cover. Mace Windu chops the head of Jango Fett off, and it rolls right into the lap of his son, in Attack of the Clones, right? So it used to be you can’t dismember people. That head goes lop, bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk. It’s not an R-rated movie.”
He has clearly studied the specifics, noting, “To get an R rating–here’s the deal–to get a PG-13 rating, you get to say the F-word one time. Show me a Deadpool comic on the stands right now where he says fuck. He does not. So Deadpool on the comics is not PG-13. You know–people bring that to me–let’s go facts. Let’s just go facts. Does Deadpool say fuck? Deadpool doesn’t say fuck. So Deadpool has violence–every comic has a level of violence. That’s awesome, but that doesn’t just earn you an R rating. That earns you one fuck. One fuck gets you a PG-13. Show me that comic.
They did Deadpool Max, I think they did six issues of those, 2010, you know. That’s an adult-rated Deadpool. This [movie script] was already handed in and in traction. You know, look–Deadpool is suddenly going to be very successful, and I anxiously–I’m going to anxiously read all the fathers that he has, because success has many fathers. Some guy put on Facebook, ‘I’m the reason Deadpool is R-rated.’ Of which I rebutted him. That just doesn’t match up. Your timeline doesn’t match up. The whole thing is, when the R-rated script came in, it was the right way to go, because it took it to the next level.”
He’s anxious that the filmmakers get their due for the R-rated iteration, which has Reynolds saying far more than just one F-word. “Let’s celebrate that they went the extra mile,” he says. “This movie is not in a comic book. Come on–I created Deadpool and Vanessa. We never got them as right as this movie gets them. That love story is fantastic. There’s a point in time to step back and go–and I also think it’s like we’re reluctant to give the filmmakers the credit. Give them the credit! They made a hard R-rated Deadpool that does not exist in comics on stands as I understand it, for a very long time. Maybe–Deadpool Max exists–that’s legit. But today, to say that Deadpool is R-rated–argue your way out of my PG-13 argument. You can’t.”
On the other hand, the drawback of the R-rating is that, by restricting the audience that can come, it lowers the amount of money that the studio is willing to spend, and that process was not without sacrifice. “The R rating cost me a character,” he flat-out states. “It cost me a great character in this movie. But at that point, he became too expensive to render, and they had to excise him from the script, and Tim called and thought I would be upset. His exact words were ‘Rob, I can feel your tears streaming through the Internet.’ I was like, ‘Tim, I’m OK. The name of the movie isn’t that character. The name of the movie is Deadpool. If that means we’re going to get a better Deadpool, and we had to lose some things in the fire, that’s fine.'”
I push, and ask what character it was. Surprisingly, he tells me.
“The original script had Kane, who is also another echo of the Weapon X program. I made Deadpool Weapon 9, Wolverine is Weapon 10, and then X-Force #2 came, and he and Deadpool are throwing down, and Kane was very–has cybernetic applications. He transforms into a gun, and his arms fly off, and his hand flies off. He’s this kick-ass, weaponized, transformative cyborg. He was heavily in the movie. And I’ve seen those renders, but they had to remove the character.”
So could Kane be in the sequel, with early renders already done and a potentially bigger budget? Liefeld doesn’t know, but he also doesn’t seem to care…yet.
“I have no idea,” he said. “It was the right call, and I believe it was Tim’s call to put more women in it. Look, man–when you get it right, you stick the landing–you get more. And you can build more of that universe. Ever since I was a kid–Richard Donner’s Superman–that was not a Superman that reflected the comic books. Just like Deadpool was different. That Lex Luthor was not on screen. Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Lex Luthor did not exist in comic books. This is not my Lex Luthor, but I really like it. Superman didn’t come from a crystallized planet, and all that stuff. The thing is–they got it so right that they made the second one, which I enjoyed immensely as a kid–not as good as the first–and they were even able to weather that horrible third and horrible fourth one, and the appetite for Superman was still there. But you’ve got to get it right the first time. And so whatever it took to get Deadpool right the first time, I was all in. Because the movie’s called Deadpool, and he’s the character with all the appeal. There are no Kane bobbleheads.”
While we await news of what a Deadpool sequel might entail, what of the next chapters in Liefeld’s career? He has a Deadpool graphic novel called Bad Blood that’s coming with Chad Bowers and Chris Sims scripting over his story this summer; Covenant, out in trade paperback in April, a thriller he describes as “a little Conan-meets-the-Bible.” He also has Bloodstrike, Brigade, and Prophet, by Brandon Graham (“If you like hardcore heavy metal sci-fi, pick that book up.”).
As for movies, we might have gotten a hint of a little prophecy, so to speak. A Prophet movie, he volunteers, is “the closest thing I’ve got going right now. I would love to talk more about it, but it’s this close. It’s got great elements–director, producer, and star. So I wish I could tell you more about it.”
And given his enthusiasm, I have no doubt that the moment he’s cleared to talk at length on the subject, we shall speak again.
Have you seen Deadpool yet? Does Liefeld speak the truth? Opine in comments below!
Images: Liefeld photos courtesy of Rob Liefeld via Getty Images; Deadpool comic pages via Marvel; SWAT via Schlockmania.com
Ryan Reynolds and T.J. Miller on Deadpool‘s R rating: