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Super Mario Bros. film director on the script, casting Mario and Luigi, tough experience, and more

Posted on June 7, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

SciFiNow recently caught up with Rocky Morton, one of the directors on the live-action Super Mario Bros. film from 1993. Morton spoke about the script, casting Mario and Luigi, and how it was tough creating the movie. He noted that it was “a harrowing experience”, and working with Dennis Hopper was “really, really hard.”

We’ve posted some of the interview excerpts below. You can find a bit more from Morton on SciFiNow here.

On how he became involved with the film…

We were with CAA, the agency, and our agent set over the script for Super Mario Bros. and I read it and I hated it, but I sort of loved the concept for it. I said to Annabel, I said, ‘This script is terrible but I think this could be our Batman!’ And she asked me how and why, and I came up with this idea of this parallel universe where the dinosaurs didn’t actually disappear, the just got shifted into another dimension and then these two hapless plumbers happened to cross the dimension.

They had a problem because Mario, who’s the elder brother, didn’t have any parents and so Mario raised Luigi as a mother and a father and Luigi always resented that, and never really had the big brother that he always wanted. He just had this beefy mother figure. That was their problem and they had to resolve that while they had this wild adventure saving with world from these dinosaurs that had evolved into these humanoid figures, and deliberately distorting the story, because this is the true story of the Mario Bros. What happened when they made the video game was the Japanese found out about the story but they kind of got it wrong. That’s why the film is different to the game. It was a deliberate choice. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, they got it wrong.’ We didn’t. It was a deliberate thing.

On how Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo end up being casted as Mario and Luigi…

Well, Danny De Vito turned us down. Mario was the main character in the cast, and Bob was available. It was basically about availability. There are all these stories about the way people are cast but it’s normally about availability… Then we saw lots of different Luigis and John stood out because of his comic timing, his ability to be real but also be funny at the same time. Bob had that ability too. We wanted it to have a reality to it, especially the relationship, and we wanted it to be funny but not just a series of gags. We didn’t want it to be a broad comedy – although some of it clearly is a broad comedy – but the original script wasn’t like the final script. The original script was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and it was much more of a family film that appealed to adults as well as kids. It was more sophisticated and the story of the two brothers was a lot stronger.

But it was an independent film and the producers needed more money and a studio behind them, and the studios rejected the script because they thought it was too dark. That threw them into complete panic, and instead of sticking with the script that Annabel and I wrote with Dick and Ian, they threw it out and told us to work with a new writer. The new writer wrote it in about a week and a half and then we were presented with the script. That was about a week before the start of principle photography. We were given a script that was completely different, and Annabel and I almost walked off the film at that point. The problem was that they’d build all the sets and created the prosthetics, and the cast was together and they’d found this great place to shoot it… We really thought we’d end up walking, but we decided to try to make the new script work as we were shooting.

On whether it was a tough experience…

Tough? That’s a very mild word. It was a harrowing experience. I mean, we had five units working every day… We had this enormous set that was built with not enough money to light it… I’d ask for a crane to put the camera on, you know, because we’re making a movie, and there wasn’t any money for a crane for a movie that size! [Laughs] Stuff like that was happening all the time. It was hell.

On whether it was really stressful with people panicking all the time…

Yeah, because Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ script was the script that Annabel and I wanted to make. It was a different script, and the actors were all brought onboard for that script, and then it was completely changed. I had to stand by with the new script, obviously, and tell them that it was great when I knew it wasn’t. They were all saying, ‘Where’s the original script? Where’s the one we liked?’ and we’d have to tell them it’s all new, it’s all new and different now. So everybody was angsty and uppity, and the whole thing was thrown into turmoil because of that one decision.

On whether he found working with Dennis Hopper to be difficult…

Again, ‘quite’. The word is ‘extremely’. That was really, really hard. Really hard. I don’t think he had a clue what was going on. There was one particular incident; we had to shoot out of sequence because of the script changes, and we had to shoot on one of the sets that wasn’t ready yet, and we had to shoot on a long lens. I had to position Dennis in a certain way because if I shot off, I would be shooting off the set, so I had to change his position and he said, ‘Rocky, that’s a big change!’ and I said, ‘All I want you to do is instead of walking here I want you to walk there,’ and because of the whole mess he just couldn’t handle it. I said, ‘Yeah, but we’re shooting off the set if you walk that way.’ It was stuff like that. On and on. It was mind-blowing.

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