'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' stars Megan Fox and Will Arnett discuss their new movie
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' stars Megan Fox as April O'Neil, a reporter, and Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick, her cameraman. 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' will be released on Aug. 8.
Megan Fox and Will Arnett are about as opposite as it gets in terms of career trajectories. Whereas Fox became instantly famous for her role in Michael Bay’s Transformers – one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of the past ten years – Arnett made his nut by co-starring in Arrested Development, a beloved TV show that was canceled after three seasons for less-than-stellar ratings.
And yet, in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, both Fox and Arnett are a team of sorts – like the archetypal odd couple or buddy cop duo of yore – working together in the war between the Ninja Turtles and Shredder’s Foot Clan.
Megan, of course, plays April O’Neil, the Lois Lane of the Ninja Turtles universe, while Arnett plays her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick, a character originally created for the cartoon as a rival to April.
More than a year ago, we visited the set of TMNT in downtown Manhattan and watched a fight scene break out between April, Vernon, the villainous Karai (Minae Noji), and The Foot (we’ve been told that this scene has since been cut from the film). While we were there, we had the opportunity to talk to Fox and Arnett about their roles in the film, how the characters have been updated for 2014, and more.
But first, check out the most recent trailer below:
(Note: Megan Fox didn’t join the interview until partway through, which is why it starts with just Will Arnett.)
Screen Rant: Tell us about your character, Vernon Fenwick.
Will Arnett: Vernon is a cameraman at Channel 6. He’s April O’Neill’s cameraman. Vernon is a character who comes from the turtle mythology, he’s a real living character…let’s hope. He’s someone who kind of has been around. He’s covered action before. [But now] he just wants to do the puff pieces with April O’Neill and just kind of – he doesn’t want to have to stretch too hard.
So he fights ninjas?
Arnett: Yeah, reluctantly. Reluctantly.
Does he have fighting experience?
Arnett: A little bit, but it’s sloppy. He’s very sort of unorthodox but he can kind of take care of himself.
Can you talk a little about the [since deleted] scene we saw being shot, specifically what you were doing with the gurney?
Arnett: Yeah, that particular moment, one of the characters is coming at April and about to inflict some major damage on her and Vern is in his own situation. You just sort of caught the tail end of that and he comes out just at the right moment [and] hits Karai with the gurney and knocks her off balance a little bit. Then April kind of finishes her off.
When you look at your character – he hasn’t really been in any other movies. Did you draw from the show to develop him?
Arnett: Well, there’s not a ton to draw upon in terms of his depth, he’s not a character that was fully fleshed out, but we’ve been trying to work within the context of the bounds that we have with him. Really, he’s someone who can be an ally of April, someone who can help her in her journey, ultimately in her quest to accomplish what she needs to accomplish.
He’s sort of a rival in the cartoon. Is he not a rival in the reboot?
Arnett: He’s not as much of a rival. I would say that he’s, again, because he has to help her out, at first he ‘s reluctant to help her out and he’s kind of looking out for himself. And then as it becomes more real and he gets more into it, he ultimately kind of sides with April and ends up helping her out.
Who’s your favorite Turtle?
Arnett: That’s a loaded question. [Laughter] For me, personally, probably Michelangelo just because he’s my kids’ favorite Turtle and he’s the funniest. But they’ve all got great qualities. I love Donatello because he’s obviously the nerdier of the Turtles. Leo is cool. I’m going to list them all. [Laughter] There are traits in all of them. Leo’s the leader and Ralph’s the loose cannon so he’s kind of cool in that way, too, and he’s kind of the thrill seeker, the danger factor.
Does your character do a lot of action? I mean, as you’re being confronted by ninjas, it seems a little more physical than roles you’ve taken in the past.
Arnett: Way more! Way more physical. [Laughter] Yeah, it’s a real departure from me in that sense. That’s been super fun, doing that. Today, we’ll get into more of that. But the action side of it is very enticing to me, and I wanted to wait until […] later in life to do it. [Laughter]
Do you have a lot of interaction with the Turtles?
Arnett: Yeah, quite a bit. It takes a while but once Vern kind of gets into – is brought on board, he is fully immersed with the Turtles. We’ve started to create these relationships between – some of it’s in the script and some of it just comes out of performance and stuff, and you have relationships with the Turtles. Vern and Ralph kind of butt shells a little bit. [Laughter] Ralph is not super psyched about this guy and Vern gives Raph a hard time. He sort of makes remarks about his size and his shell and stuff, and Raph isn’t into it.
So you’re still flexing comedic muscles in some way as well?
Arnett: Yeah, for sure. Vern is kind of a little bit wise-cracking, but ultimately also at the end we’ll see that he kind of comes through.
You’re a dad that has kids. Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a kids’ movie? Is this something you want to bring your kids to?
Arnett: Well, we’ll see in the final – when we finally see the movie, but I think it’s going to really capture – there’ll be something in it for everyone. And as somebody who has to go and sit through a lot of kids’ movies, it’s going to be great for people like me because it’s going to have those elements that you want to see.
My kids are big Turtles fans because there’s been this resurgence, especially with the new series on Nickelodeon. It’s funny, I often have long days here on set and then I walk in the door and my kids – this is not a joke – go, “Dad, can you be Shredder”? [Laughter] Like, oh my god. I’ve had my sons here with their nun chucks and they’ve been displaying their skills for the Turtles. It’s so weird, worlds colliding.
Were you yourself a Turtles fan?
Arnett: ‘The Turtles’ kind of came later, it kind of caught me, I was […] not really in the demo for it [when the ‘Ninja Turtles’] came out. Like, when the movies came out, I was [an] older teenager and maybe even in my twenties. Gulp. [Laughter]
So how grounded is the reboot? I mean, it’s obviously Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but did the world feel like the world we know or is it heightened?
Arnett: The world feels very, very real. And that’s obviously one of the decisions that you have to make right at the start in terms of tone, and I think it’s really important to try and keep it grounded in reality, keep it grounded in this world.
Especially with what everyone knows now, unless you’re making some sort of supernatural thing that’s insane, audiences are pretty savvy, so you want to make something that feels accessible and real. I think we do a really good job, actually, of straddling it. In the moments you need to, you do that and other times you keep it really real.
(Note: At this point in the interview, Megan Fox arrived to take part.)
Megan, how did you get involved with this film?
Megan Fox: I think I did a lot of talking in the past, when I was on the ‘Transformers’ press tours, about this being one of my favorite comics and cartoons and film franchises when I was a kid. So, I think my name was sort of always floating around the idea of the movie, and then when it started becoming a reality I just went in for a meeting with Jonathan and with Andrew and I imagine that I was, of the actresses on the table, probably the most legitimate or biggest fan. Which is why I’m glad they picked me [to play April], because I really wanted to do it badly.
How do you think this modernizes the Ninja Turtles and examines what they’re all about? Even your character – has she been modernized?
Fox: I think it was sort of the same thing with ‘Transformers,’ everybody was like, “How is this going to translate to a live action movie and how is it going to be interesting for adults? How is it not going to just be a kids’ movie?” And this is , it’s [the special effects company] ILM, obviously ,which is the same folks that have brought you many other amazing things. It’s just a darker, scarier world than you’ve seen previously and it’s very realistic. And, I think that’s a big thing, just selling the reality so you stop thinking, “I’m looking at mutant turtles” and it just becomes – these are the heroes of the film and you sort of separate from the toy or cartoon aspect of it.
What was not modern about April O’Neill? She was always pretty modern. Minus that jumpsuit, she was doing all right. But those are making a comeback. [Laughter.] I think we’re just trying to play it as if this were to happen in this year, what would it be like. And where I’m from in Tennessee, I was born next to a chemical plant and I’ve seen mutated creatures. So, it’s not totally unrealistic.
Arnett: Now that makes sense. A lot of sense. [Laughter]
How is it working with the actors who play the Turtles? Because you’re staring at an actor and then the contraption with the eyes – is there any kind of imagination in play then?
Arnett: Yeah, any time you do something where you’re not just talking to just a person in street clothes you have to suspend that – not use your imagination, but…
Fox: The hardest thing is that you want to look into their eyes.
Fox: It’s very hard to look into the Ping-Pong balls.
Fox: But they’re great. They’re all so happy to be doing this and so enthusiastic.
Arnett: Super talented guys.
Fox: Yes, and they bring an amazing energy to the set. It’s so fun to work with them.
Arnett: Yeah, and they’re really well cast for each of their parts.
Arnett: Such distinctive characters, those guys.
I feel like we’re seeing, at least from the scene we saw shot upstairs, we’re seeing a different side of April, a little bit more of a fighting April. Would you say that we see that side of her this time around?
Fox: Yes. I mean, she’s got no choice. She gets into a situation where it’s that or be killed. So, she’s not what I would call a badass, per se, I would say it was forced upon her and she must do it to defend her life and the lives of those she loves. She’s not like a CIA-esque character, she’s a girl that gets caught up in this and ends up maybe developing a few skills along the way.
But she’s got those (garbled) weapon in boots, it’s a pretty professional set-up there.
Fox: As a personal choice, I did not (laughter) – I was tired of running with them in the scene and we needed to put them somewhere and we couldn’t put them in the back of my pants because that was dangerous, so I decided to put them in the boots.
Fox: It happens in these sequences that you’ve been watching. Sort of a transformation, I guess.
I think it’s been a while since we’ve done a great movie that’s shot on the streets of New York. Does that add something to the experience?
Arnett: [New York is the] other character in the ‘Turtles’ mythology, really. It’s such a New York-centric story and I think that was crucial that it happened here. So, being here has been awesome, in the streets, and again, I think that authenticity has been tremendous. And yeah, shooting in New York is always interesting.
Megan – you said you’re kind of a Turtles nerd. I’m curious to know how you found them. Was it the comics, the movies?
Fox: It was the movies. I have an older sister [wh] is 39, 38, so she was watching the movies when I was really young. Maybe I was only four when I saw the first one, and I remember seeing them out of sequence, actually. I saw the second one before I saw the first one, because that came out when I was old enough to watch the VHS once it came out.
So, I started out with that and then I started watching the cartoons. I never actually owned any of the comics, that’s the truth. I know I can’t pretend, because I’ll be at Comic-con and I’ll get shattered (laughter) if I pretend that I owned them and I didn’t.
The director, Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles), showed us the Turtle heads and the giant molds and described each of them with different movie character references. I wonder when he’s talking to you, or even initially about the movie, if movies enter the conversation in how he talks about it?
Arnett: Yeah, Jonathan’s references are all movies.
Fox: All movies.
Arnett: That’s how we move through a conversation with him, which is why he’s a great guy to do this. I mean, he’s such, I don’t know what you call it.
Fox: Movie nerd.
Arnett. Movie nerd. If you really want to roll your eyes at me I’ll say cinephile. [Laughter] Those are his points of reference and he knows movies and it’s actually a really effective way to convey whatever he’s trying to [convey] – like tone.
Fox: If you’ve seen the movie.
Arnett: Ha, yeah.
What are the specific movies that he brought up to you?
Fox: We have to be careful that he would want this information released.
Ghostbusters has come up a couple times. Is Ghostbusters a film he’s sort of referenced, especially with April, the character going around with these four lunatics?
Fox: Well, [...] in reference to her relationship with the Turtles and where it ends up, they wanted [it] to be sort of a Wendy and the Lost Boys relationship where she’s the mom they never had, and then of course … oh, I almost said something I shouldn’t say. I almost revealed a plot point!
Arnett: I want to be really careful, too. [Laughter]
We know some stuff, we know that they start with you, April, as a little girl.
Fox: Yeah. I was going to reveal something that you didn’t know that I shouldn’t reveal.
Arnett: You go first.
Fox: What question are we finishing? Are we finishing the movie question, the Jonathan question?
Arnett: Or not.
Fox: He – I don’t want the wrath [of exposing spoilers]. [Laughter] I think anything that’s been a big summer blockbuster that has done well and is visually stunning has been referenced on a daily basis, multiple times.
Why would that affect you guys?
Fox: Because every time before we do a shot, it’s like … [Laughter] It’s referenced like that, for scale purposes, let’s say. Like if you’re not playing something…
Arnett: He’ll say, “Do you remember that shot in that” – he referenced actually, in that scene – what was the movie he referenced in that scene when the van came through?
Fox: The wall?
Arnett: Yeah, and he said [with South African accent], “Yeah, it’s like that scene in that,” and he referenced some movie.
Fox: ‘Jurassic Park’?
Arnett: There was a ‘Jurassic Park’ reference, but in that same conversation he was like [with South African accent), “It’s like that scene in…”
Fox: It’s like that. To give you perspective, maybe on your question, [...] it’s an iconic moment [compared] to another iconic moment so you know.
Arnett: His idol, his absolute idol is Steven Spielberg, and obviously that guy has told so many great stories and created so many iconic images and moments in film. Things entering [the] frame and push-ins and beautiful shots, ways to tell stories, epic ways.
Fox: He also is a lover of the J.J.
Arnett: Yeah, J.J. of course.
Fox: J.J. gets some love.
Arnett: The J.J. Yeah, you probably saw that at the monitor.
Fox: The lens flare? Is that what you mean? [Laughter]
Arnett: Yes, I didn’t say that, so I can’t be quoted. But it did get to the point where he referenced so many movies once in a direction that the next day on set I asked him in front of Dave, the camera guy and couple of guys, “Is it like – do you remember ‘Look Who’s Talking 2′?”[Laughter] But he’s got a good sense of humor about it, too.
In the first movie, the Turtles were lost boys in a way, kind of teenage boys, and in this movie they look like mercenaries. How have they evolved?
Fox: Well, I think that just adds into the believability of the current world that we live in. It would probably be harder to sell that these are like kids that have run away from home or like mad because their step-dad works too much and doesn’t pay attention, and they run away, or whatever.
Arnett: And I think that movies that are sort of based on comic books, the audiences have gotten much more savvy and you need to find ways to tell.
Fox: I think they wanted to build a significant threat so there’s a real fear and a real risk in the scenes. It’s not as frightening if they are fifteen year-old boys. I don’t think.
The movie wants to take a slightly serious tone, but is playful – do you get to play on it?
Fox: I don’t think so, I think that’s the Turtles’ job, right? Or your job, it’s not my job.
Arnett: Yeah, and you do too. It’s playful.
Fox: It’s playful, but I don’t think I play the comedy beats, I wouldn’t say.
Arnett: No, when you’re on your journey, maybe not, but certainly at the top, April and Vern have a kind of bantery, lighter relationship and are kind of jabbing each other a little bit more. Then she gets real.
We saw Shredder’s outfit with the crazy blades and everything, and he was saying there’s only half of it on there. Are you guys able to tell us if you interact with that costume? I’m curious about the physicality of that as opposed to the Turtles where it’s not actually there yet.
Fox: I haven’t interacted with it yet, have you?
Arnett: Yeah, not yet.
Fox: I haven’t seen it, to be honest.
You will at some point?
Fox: Is that the – I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I mean, wait. [Laughter]
What do you think is going to be the standout? Every summer we get so much CGI, 3D, big budget nonsense. Is there going to be a core element to this that’s going to make it special?
Fox: For me, I will say, anyone my age or up to very early forties, I just feel it has a huge demographic, that it’s such a nostalgic piece of my childhood. I mean, I was just so in love with it and it meant so much to me that I would go see it no matter what. And then it’s got, your children even, the new cartoon [has created] a resurgence and all of these little children now also love the movie.
Arnett: And it’s got Megan Fox. [Laughter]
Fox: I just think, what makes it special and different, why is it so much [more] than ‘Spider-Man’?
Arnett: It just is.
Well, do you think the movie has a strong theme to it or a lesson that it’s teaching? Like if kids go see this movie, is it just action or does it have an underlying theme?
Fox: I think the underlying theme is the need for family and for help and support from others. That no man is an island.
Arnett: Yeah, absolutely. That is always what has been such a great thing about the Turtles, is family and inclusion and that’s always kind of been the message. And I think that’s what kids will be left with.
Last question, guys. Do the Turtles eat pizza and say, “Cowabunga”?
Fox: Yes, and [we’re] working that in, the second part. But definitely the pizza is there.
So who was your favorite Turtle?
Fox: My favorite turtle was Michelangelo because he was the funny one. He was actually my first crush, and I know everyone thinks that’s weird, but little girls have crushes on cartoon characters because it’s what we’re exposed to first. So, him and Zack Morris. (laughter) were my first crushes. He was my first favorite, and if I had to pick a second I would go with (sigh)… See, I feel like this is a good psychological- it’s revealing of the psychological nature.
Arnett: It’s tough.
Fox: Because it reveals so much about you. Who’s your favorite? Raphael?
Arnett: I basically said all four. (laughter) Once I started down the path, I was like, “But…”
Fox: Definitely Mikey (Michelangelo), then I guess I would go with … Leo’s too serious all the time, so I guess I would go with Raphael, but he’s such a pain in the ass. I would go with Mikey, Raphael.
Arnett: I said Donatello second, I said Mikey first, too.
Fox: I would put Leo last because he’s too stoic for me, I can’t take it. He’s too serious. He takes himself too seriously.
Arnett: But, anyway, we’re not going to get into this now. (laughter) You know Leo will save the day… anyway.
What are your characters’ reactions the first time they see the turtles?
Arnett: It’s at different times.
Fox: Different times, yeah. Initially, it’s sort of one of those shock and horror things because they’re enormous and I wouldn’t say unfriendly-looking but they’re meant to be slightly grotesque looking because they are mutated turtles and we’re trying to make them realistic, so it’s frightening at first.
Arnett: Yeah, imagine she’s this young reporter and she’s small and these things are huge and they’re turtles (laughter) talking to her.
So it’s not played for humor, necessarily?
Fox: Not the initial meeting. Well…
Arnett: It’s pretty hardcore, though.
Fox: I didn’t play it for humor but there are humorous beats in it.
Ben Moore blogs at Screen Rant.
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