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Antony Johnston Atomic Blonde interview

The writer of The Coldest City & co-producer of the film discusses all things Atomic Blonde.

Atomic Blonde
Credit: Universal

Atomic Blonde is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. To mark teh release of the action-packed movie, we talked to the minds that created the graphic novel that inspired the movie.

Antony Johnston is the writer of The Coldest City, which inspired the Charlize Theron actioner.

Check out our review of Atomic Blonde

Check out our interview with The Coldest City illustrator Sam Hart

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Atomic Blonde is a breakneck action-thriller that follows MI6’s most lethal assassin through a ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors.

The crown jewel of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Oscar winner Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission.

Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy – X-Men: Days of Future Past) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.

A blistering blend of sleek action, gritty sexuality and dazzling style, Atomic Blonde is directed by David Leitch (John Wick, upcoming Deadpool 2). Also starring John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island), Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Toby Jones (Alice Through The Looking Glass), the film is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston & illustrator Sam Hart. Kurt Johnstad (300) wrote the screenplay.

Atomic Blonde

Credit: Universal

What were your first thoughts when you heard that Atomic Blonde was going to become a movie?

My first thoughts were very mixed! I was obviously very excited, but I’ve been down this road before with other books that have had the rights purchased. I was also cautious of not getting too excited because Hollywood is a fickle beast and it’s very easy for things to be bought and then languish and fizzle out and nothing actually happens. I became more excited as time went by and realised that this was actually going to happen, and we’ll get an actual movie at the end of the process.

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Can you talk about your style of working, and the collaboration you had with Sam Hart on the formation of The Coldest City?

I have known Sam for almost 20 years. He is British but lives out in Brazil and we known each other from comic conventions etc. I knew he would be the right fit for the way I wanted to tell the story visually. Sam has a very stylish, dark, noir-ish, delineated black and white style and that was exactly the sort of storytelling I was looking for. Even though we hadn’t worked together before, I knew him and I knew he was a good person so he was my first and only choice to work on The Coldest City with me. Luckily he said yes and got to work. I wrote the whole thing in one go, as if I was writing a prose novel, so I didn’t think about potential publishers or artists whilst I was working on it. Sam is also the same age as me too, so it was very easy for us to draw on the same cultural references of what Europe was like in the 1980s.

What were your inspirations for writing the story?

I had always loved Cold War spy thrillers but I had never written one. It was one of my favourite genres to read and watch. I wrote the book for myself and thought ‘what was the most exciting place in the Cold War?’ – Berlin of course. What other city was there to talk about in the Cold War! And that was how I brought the focus to the city as well as the characters. Then I thought ‘what was the most exciting time to be there’, and thought it must surely have been the time just before the (Berlin) wall was coming down. I remember watching the live news coverage as a teenager. Then it was a case of constructing a story that combined all of those elements.

What was the most demanding aspect in putting together the graphic novel?

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From my point of view as the writer, It’s not like writing for a monthly comic book like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. Graphic novel writing is far more contained, and it’s more like writing a screenplay or novel. The hardest part is making sure it all works as a single complete unit of fiction, having a story that exists as its own thing that doesn’t rely on other work. So probably the pressure I put on myself to make sure that this was worthy of becoming a graphic novel and worthy of the format.

As a writer, there must be a level of trepidation when you hear your work is going to be translated to the screen. Are you consulted during the filmmaking process or are you happy to have a new interpretation of your work realised?

Both! I was a co-producer on the movie so I read all the drafts of the screenplay and I visited the set, was consulted on casting, I gave notes on early rough-cuts of the movie. But on the other hand I’m not a filmmaker so I was happy to put my trust into people who do this for a living. I said that I’ve made the best graphic novel I could have, now it’s over to you to make the best film you can. You have to have that trust if you are to have a good relationship with your collaborators. And thankfully it’s a great movie so I was very happy with it. I had complete confidence in them to interpret my work in a way that would make cinematic sense.

What did Charlize Theron bring to the role that particularly impressed you?

One of the reasons I was so happy that Charlize was interested in the role was because she is not afraid to be non-glamorous if that’s what the script needs. There are probably a few Hollywood actors who wouldn’t be happy to be seen onscreen with bloodshot eyes and bruises all over, staggering around and falling down because they are exhausted. But Charlize knew that that’s what the story required, and she was completely 100% onboard with that. She was more than happy to show her character in that way.

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What did you think of the finished article once you watched Atomic Blonde for the first time?

I thought it was amazing, I was blown away! It was so singular and stylish and had a distinct point of view and I love films that are not afraid to display that point of view. The Director, DP and Editor – they put together an amazing looking, amazingly-cut, and amazingly paced movie that one the one hand is very similar to my book, but on the other hand feels completely different, and very much its own thing that exists in its own world. I was absolutely delighted!

From a visual standpoint, was there one scene that you felt particularly captured the essence of the graphic novel for you?

That’s a really good question! I would say that there are two – the initial briefing scene at MI6. The lovely wood panelling, leather-backed chairs… that really captured the feel of that 80s slightly drab and noir-ish feel that the graphic novel had. And the other was a sequence that was invented for the movie, but feels like it belonged in the graphic novel, at the Wall, when John Goodman’s character meets with Charlize and they stand and talk, whilst on a looking post over-looking the Berlin Wall. They felt very faithful and loving towards the original book.

Are there any other movie adaptations from graphic novels that you find particularly good?

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Oh what a question! There are many, but I’m going to throw people for a spin and say the original Men in Black. Most people don’t realise that it was based on an independent series of comics (I think from the late 80s). But I love that movie, a great example of taking the essence of the source material and making it its own thing, turning it into its own entity as a movie.

If you could make any other graphic novel into a movie, which would you choose and why?

That’s a tricky one – for my own selfish needs, I would say Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series from the 80s and 90s from DC Comics. It’s impossible, it would never happen, it’s too long and too weird, it would cost all the money in the world… it’s a complete fantasy , but if I had the power, that’s the book I would love to see on the big screen.

Finally, what projects do you have coming up next?

My next project is a modern spy novel which is called The Exphoria Code, from Lightning Books. That’s a technology-led spy thriller that comes out on Dec 14th.

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Atomic Blonde is available on Blu-ray & DVD now, courtesy of Universal Pictures UK.


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