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Exclusive Interview:" Justice League — Mortal" Stunt Coordinator Richard Norton

A few years ago, Warner Bros. had seemingly fast-tracked George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal, but the project was ultimately cancelled — this despite the fact that most of the cast had been hired, as well as crew members. Among the latter was stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Richard Norton, to whom Earths Mightiest has spoken to exclusively.
Interview conducted by and © 2009 Edward Gross. Please do not repost — except for a short excerpt — without permission.

According to rumor (and there were SO many rumors at the time), the plotline of the film would have involved villainous businessman Maxwell Lord (a character who will be appearing on Smallville soon) and involves cyborgs called OMACs (One Man Army Corp), who can take over the minds of others and turn them into killing machines. Inspired by the Superman: Sacrifice comic book story, ultimately Superman’s mind would have been taken over by Lord, and the Man of Steel would have ended up battling the rest of the League, particularly Batman and Wonder Woman. In the comic, Wonder Woman has no choice but to break Lord’s neck to release his hold on Superman. Casting at the time included Armie Hammer as Batman, DJ Catrona as Superman and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman.
Richard Norton, who was born on January 6, 1950 in Australia (where the film was supposed to be shot), has worked on over 70 films. For Justice League: Mortal he was given the task of getting the cast in physical shape and helping to determine exactly how each character, based on his or her powers, would move in fight sequences.

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: When JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL was in development, so much of what I was hearing just felt wrong. I mean, they were practically casting kids in the roles of the Justice League members.

DJ Catrona who would have played Superman

RICHARD NORTON: That’s interesting you should say that, because I must admit that I was having the same feelings. I did see the characters as being older, but then, what do I know? The one thing that I do know is that George Miller is phenomenal in his instincts in what he does. The fact is that George is so careful and apparently had a very interesting casting process that had to do with such a variety of things. In fact, some of the cast when they came to Australia didn’t know what roles they were going to play, which is interesting. So from that point of view I’d hate to comment on that, because George Miller is unbelievably talented. For a movie of that size, one would imagine that the choices he made would not be flippant choices. You’d even have to get well into shooting to really form a better opinion, at least from where I stand, because we only got to do really basic training for the actors because they were still fleshing out the characters. Some day the movie may be done, but I honestly thought a better approach would be to do individual movies on the characters…

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: That’s what they’re doing now, with Green Lantern going into production and talk of Flash and Wonder Woman.

RICHARD NORTON: I think that’s a better way. Unless you’re a comic book fan – I know of them, but I’m not a devotee – I think it makes sense to introduce the characters in their own movie and then bring them together for a Justice League movie. The one thing I always say is whatever I think about whether something will go or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the big money people at the top who are going to make the decisions; we’re just the foot soldiers.

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: Armie Hammer was going to be Batman and DJ Carona was going to be Superman…

Armie Hammer, who was cast in the role of the Dark Knight, Batman.

RICHARD NORTON: Megan Gale, a supermodel here, was cast as Wonder Woman, and looking at her you couldn’t do better. She’s 5’11”, absolutely gorgeous and all of that. To actually successfully carry the character through in the drama department, who knows? Never got to see her act in the role. But they were very young and inexperienced, but from what I know from George, his whole idea was the actual characters are the superheroes, not the actors. He didn’t want a distraction from having actors with a name in there…

A fan's imagining of Megan Gale as Wonder Woman

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: I know you were only on the project for three months, but could you take me through what your process was during that time period?

RICHARD NORTON: My deal is to do background. When you’re presented with different characters, I try to find out what information is out there on the characters in the way of comic books or things they’ve been in before. One of the challenges for me is that you have seven leads, and the action that applies to each of them has to be different or it blends one into the other. That’s a task in itself, because normally you have, like, one good guy and a good bad guy. But when you’ve got seven leads like that, all superheroes with various powers, my job was to find out what are those powers? You have to start to put together what their possible actions are. Batman being a mortal, of course, if he has a huge fight with Superman, how does that work? What could a character like Batman bring to a battle of that nature? Wonder Woman is probably the closest to Superman as far as having superpowers, so that would be a different approach. So my job was to try and really get into my head, “What are they capable of doing? What are they’re strong points? What are they’re weak points?” Like Aquaman. He’s great in the water, but on land would he have a lot of trouble moving around, like a fish flailing on the docks [laughs]? I like the process because you’re not just throwing anything out there.

I like to try and marry the physical actions they do with reality and make it logical. I put my logical hat on and say, “Is this logical for this character in this given situation?” Obviously the actors were given the task of going through the same process, and if we were to get together I would say, “What do you think? How do you think you would move and what are your attributes? What do you do best as the actor that I can bring to the choreography?” A lot of choreographers will choreograph stuff for themselves rather than the actors. The question is still going to be, “What is the actor capable of?” If you give them something out of their realms, you’re going to have a robot doing the moves or you’re going to have to use a stunt double for the whole sequence, which compromises the director and is bad for the actor. All of that comes into play leading up to a shoot.

Even the costumes. What are the limiting factors of costumes? Some of these pad out so much and some have high heels on certain boots and shoes. But that’s from the costumer’s point of view – everyone sees it from their point of view – but my problem is that they also have to move and be physically able in order to satisfy the action market, as it were. So quite a bit goes into the pre-aspect of it, because you know Murphy’s Law will kick in during the actual shooting and you have to try and cover as many bases up to that point as possible and minimize things going wrong.

This is only from my point of view as fight coordinator, of course, but if they were to battle one on one, how would you measure that up? How would you stop Superman from obliterating Batman in a matter of seconds? I would just do a lot of research on that, and part of what I do also is to focus on how to train the actors according to my idea of how I thought the characters would move and be able to do what they do. A lot of my job is getting the actors into physical shape in order be able to withstand the rigor of months and months of shooting.

It started in LA and when I got to Sydney, it was meetings, script read throughs and you try and get an idea of the amount of fights. There was a huge amount of fights scheduled for the movie. So it’s questions like, “Who’s in them? Where are all the characters at any given time? How many people are on one side and how many on the other. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that you have to put together and start to formulate ideas as far as choreography is concerned. Again, you try to work out the amount of screen time each fight would have, which is very important. The reason it’s important to me is that if I can put together a massive fight scene only to be told later on that it’s going to last about ten seconds of screen time, there’s no point in wasting the actors’ time or mine putting together anything longer than that. So you try and get a handle on it, and I’ve learned that from over the years just doing it.

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: I know you can’t really talk about the script, but let me ask you one final, theoretical question: IF you had a scenario in which the Justice League was fighting Superman, how challenging would that be?

RICHARD NORTON: IF that were to happen, that would be monumental. It would have to be huge. You have so many different characters, like I keep saying, with different attributes bringing everything to bear at once. It would be amazing! It would be phenomenal.

EARTHS MIGHTIEST: And it likely would have had one conclusion:

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Great interview Ed! I love the behind the scenes looks like this. I wonder what kind of money you make working on something for 3 months and never have it go anywhere.
DogsOfWar - 3/3/2010, 2:06 PM
I've no clue, but it's probably substantial -- relatively speaking.
EdGross - 3/3/2010, 2:12 PM
ED- AWESOME STUFF HERE! Behind the scenes thinking
PeterParker420 - 3/3/2010, 2:36 PM
Doing my best!
EdGross - 3/3/2010, 2:44 PM
Great interview, Ed! I like the story they had. But the issues you raised about the ages (they were embryonic zygotes!) of the cast and the oversight of individual films was really a stinger for me.
Do you think they'll fall back on that original proposed story when it comes time to do the JLA film?
As for me, I'd love to see WW snap Lord's neck! ;P
Phinehas - 3/3/2010, 2:45 PM
I think this would make a great story line for a movie but I fear the studios wouldn't want to put Superman in a bad light.

Darkseid and his minions would serve very well I think
DogsOfWar - 3/3/2010, 2:53 PM
Well, if he was under someone elses control, it doesn't really cast a negative light upon Supes. Audiences aren't that stupid.
I think a Darkseid story would be better served in a Supes solo movie and returning for an invasion upon earth in a JLA sequel.
Phinehas - 3/3/2010, 2:59 PM
Phineas, who can tell? By the time they get the individual movies out, it will be years. By that point, I would imagine that someone will sit back and come up with a JL scenario that somehow spins off of the solo films. And, if Man of Steel doesn't utilize Darkseid (which according to rumors it won't), then he would be perfect for the JL to go up against.

Dogs, you're probably right, but what an amazing fight that would probably be as everyone is desperately trying to contain Superman. And, as noted above, I agree that Darkseid would be perfect.
EdGross - 3/3/2010, 2:59 PM
Well, if he was under someone elses control, it doesn't really cast a negative light upon Supes. Audiences aren't that stupid.
I think a Darkseid story would be better served in a Supes solo movie and returning for an invasion upon earth in a JLA sequel.
Phinehas - 3/3/2010, 3:04 PM
How do I delete my last comment?
Phinehas - 3/3/2010, 3:13 PM
@Phin-I don't think audiences are that stupid either. The suits at Hollywood are a different story though. I guess I'm looking at it from the tenuous position Supes has been in cinematically. Maybe if he had a really strong solo movie or two, the suits would be daring, imo

Don't you have an edit/trash can just like at CBM?
DogsOfWar - 3/3/2010, 3:27 PM
If the suits were intelligent, they would turn to the guys who have been crafting these superhero stories for decades and give them a shot at a film screenplay.

Phineas - which comment do you want deleted?
EdGross - 3/3/2010, 3:29 PM
Great stuff ED, very interesting. I am glad it never happened though..I just couldn't see it being anything but mediocre at best and that would have blown any chance of a Justice League movie with actual actors in it ever happening!
Cassidy - 3/3/2010, 4:41 PM
The second one that is a repeat of the first. I stupidly clicked retry and it repeated my last post. So I clicked on the Trash can and nothing happened to it.

Very true. It was putting the cart before the horse. It was an expression of lacking trust in your product. It would have been on par with Twilight! A mere display of nearly-illegal underwear models for tween-girls to swoon by.
Phinehas - 3/4/2010, 12:42 AM
The ONLY thing I wolud like to know (SEE) about this creepy movie named "Justice League — Mortal" is HOW would be the COSTUME DESIGNS...
NITROBOT - 3/4/2010, 7:19 PM

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