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Writer Greg Rucka opens up about The Old Guard - Exclusive interview

At this point in his career, Greg Rucka's done it all. He's written multiple bestselling, critically acclaimed mystery and suspense novels. He's produced stories for DC and Marvel featuring the likes of Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, and pretty much every other heavy hitter you can think of, and helped create the modern version of Kate Kane, the (original) star of the CW's Batwoman. He's published his own creator-owned comics, like the Portland-set detective story Stumptown (which recently made the transition to ABC), the espionage thriller Queen & Country, and the sci-fi dystopia epic Lazarus. He's gotten to play in both the Star Wars and Dragon Age universes.

And, now, he's a screenwriter, too. The Old Guard, which is based on a comic that Rucka co-created with artist Leandro Fernández, debuted on Netflix on July 10, 2020, and by all indications is a huge hit. In the movie, which Rucka adapted for the streaming service, Charlize Theron stars as Andy, the leader of a group of immortal mercenaries who must protect her friends when a megalomaniac pharmaceutical executive gets wind of their true nature — a mission that's complicated when a brand new immortal named Nile appears at the worst possible time. As far as action movies go, The Old Guard is heady stuff, although don't worry: director Gina Prince-Bythewood and her crew make sure that Andy kicks plenty of butt, too.

In this exclusive interview, Rucka shares what it's like adapting his own work into a different medium, talks about some of the differences between The Old Guard comic and the movie, and drops some hints about The Old Guard's seemingly inevitable sequel — as well as another project that's sure to make Rucka's fans very excited. Here's what he had to say.

Why The Old Guard movie is even better than the comic

Was this your first screenplay?

It's the first feature screenplay I've written that was actually made with into a movie. I've written some before, but this was the first official feature credit.

At this point, you've told the story of The Old Guard in two different mediums. What would you say is the biggest challenge when it comes to adapting your own work?

Well, it's a question of medium. And I appreciate the use of the word "adapt." I don't like "translate." To me, translating is a different act. Translation implies that it is the same thing, and I think that is a flawed place to work from when you're talking about moving between mediums.

The choices in a comic are made very much based on real estate, and in regards to that real estate with an eye towards focus. And certainly, one of the things that I found myself having to learn in moving to screenplays was that focus needs to be precise, but it also needs to rest in multiple places. I can get away with writing a comic that is primarily about Andy. You can't make a movie that's only about one member of that team. Everybody has to be given their due. And that means — and one of the pleasures in it is — that I get to hit big moments and explore things that I could not do in the original.

And then there's actually a second benefit, which is how rare is it for an artist to have the opportunity to effectively do a second draft of a work that they already put into the world. The movie is a different thing than the comic, and it is in fact a different story than the comic in a lot of ways. But I think — and I'm not just saying this because I want people to see the movie — I think that it's superior. I love the comic that Leo I did. I'm very proud of it. But I think that the movie that I got to write, that Gina made, that Netflix allowed to be made, that Skydance forced into creation, is a better story, just a better work. And that isn't maligning the original as much to say I think this is an improvement on it.

As someone who has read the comic, I was pretty surprised by a couple of the changes. Mainly, Andy loses her immortality, which is not in the comic at all. Why make that change for the adaptation?

That's one of those things where if I had thought of it, in all sincerity, I'd have done it in the comic. I think the reason why I didn't think of it at the time was that I was focused on establishing what they had, instead of trying to then say, "They have it and I'm taking it away from one of them."

The dramatic dividends in the film are enormous. In terms of characters, it's the physical manifestation of Andy's struggle. So, there's that. The dramatic jeopardy that it gives us in the end is that much greater. One of the interesting issues in telling a story about these characters is — I say issues, it is a problem, or as a friend of mine would say a problem-tunity — is that there is a jeopardy that is missing. If they can't die, you can't kill them.

So the threat of them dying isn't actually an active threat, it's an existential threat. They know that eventually they will die, because it's happened. They don't know when, and they don't know why, but you can't threaten them with that. We know they're going to survive. By taking Andy's and mortality, we are able to dramatically say, "Look, the character conflict now has a physical, there is a physical element to it. It is now made manifest." There's a dramatic jeopardy that it gives us, and depending on how you're looking at it, it goes to some of the larger mythology questions, which I'm not going to get into because that's for another story. That's another conversation.

How The Old Guard's comic book sequel, Force Multiplied, changed the feature film

In the movie, you introduced some of the elements that didn't come into the comics until the sequel series, Force Multiplied. Obviously, the character of Quynh (or Noriko, as she's known in the comics) is the biggest one, but there are also little things, like references to Andy's time as a "god." Did Force Multiplied and the screenplay inform each other at all?

Oh yeah, they absolutely informed each other. Then there's no way that they couldn't. And there's cross-pollination. There are lines in Force Multiplied that we never got to use [in the movie], for either scenes or bits that we cut or just little darlings of mine, lines that I was particularly fond of, that just didn't work when we had an actor say them. We were like, "That worked a lot better on the page than out loud."

And I'll be honest, I was trying to wrap up Force Multiplied, they were shooting and I was trying to finish the last couple of issues, and I was actually having moments where I would be like, "Wait, okay. I have to keep my continuity separate." What's happening in the comic with Noriko is not Quynh. Quynh and Noriko are clearly from the same DNA, but they are different characters, and they need to be, though the conflict for Noriko in the second story, what she is trying to convey to Andy, is very much where Quynh is coming from.

This is tangential, and I don't know if this will be of interest, but in the first story, Opening Fire, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in explaining or justifying why they were the way they were. Just none. I felt that it was irrelevant. I felt that it was distracting. And I felt that almost any answer was going to be, one, delivered too early, and two, be bad. And one of the insistences with the film was that there has to be some interrogation of this state, certainly by Nile. Nile absolutely has to go, "Wait, what? How? Why?" And it's correct. It would make no sense for her not to, but that then opens up the question of, well, if the interrogation is necessary, the answers to those questions need to be obtainable but not necessarily delivered in a further story. If we're fortunate enough to do a second or a third or whatever, then we can talk about it a little more.

It was one of the things that I really wanted to hit in Force Multiplied, because Leo loves drawing the history stuff anyway, and I did want to go back and show a little bit about where Andy had come from, because I think that the idea for The Old Guard really, really only works if you honestly interrogate what it means to be as old as they are. That you have to move past the immortal part to what does it mean to have been around for almost 7,000 years? And really think about that and do a little reading of history and try to figure out what her world looked like when she was born.

And I admit this without reservation: I am not inventing a wheel here. I'm not the first guy who said, "Wow, characters who can't die. What a concept!" This exists everywhere. But I think that the merit of what we've done in the comics, and certainly in the film, is to have tried to interrogate the idea a little more thoroughly than it has been in the past, and perhaps with a little more emotional honesty than it has been in the past.

Has there been any more talk of a sequel?

You've seen the movie, the movie has an "in case of sequel, break glass" scene.

It absolutely does.

Yeah. And I think the possibility of telling more stories absolutely exists, but it's going to depend on a number of factors that I have nothing to do with. It's going to be somebody else's decision.

The one comic Greg Rucka would really like to see adapted for the screen next

Between this, and also Stumptown, and even Batwoman, to a certain extent, there's been a lot of Greg Rucka on TV lately.

It's funny that you include Batwoman in that, because I have nothing to do with it. Don't get a check, don't get a penny, don't get a consult. My involvement with that show is nonexistent. Stumptown is different, obviously, but Batwoman, I appreciate you including it. Not to sound self-aggrandizing, but they don't have the Batwoman TV show unless I have written what I wrote. It's pretty clear. But yeah, make of that what you will.

Which one of your comics do you want to see get a live-action adaptation next?

We are working very hard on getting Lazarus made. I would love, love, love to be able to make a premium streaming, or HBO-esque, high-quality Lazarus series. I think that it is well-suited for the medium. I am incredibly excited at the opportunities it would allow. In the way that taking The Old Guard as a motion picture and being able to say "I am able to go and dive into things that I haven't been able to do, couldn't do in the comics," [that] goes a hundred times for Lazarus. There's so much stuff in Lazarus with just the series characters that I have never been able to show that I know is going on. That would be amazing.

Is anything specific in the production that you can talk about?

We've been in development at Amazon, but I believe that's coming to an end. We'll see.

In addition to your creator-owned work, you've written everything from Batman to Star Wars. Which franchise that you haven't worked on yet would you most like to tackle?

I don't know. I have been so appallingly fortunate in what I have gotten to do. I've gotten to write words and Wolverine says them, and I've gotten to write words and Wonder Woman has said them, and I got to write words and Han Solo said them. It is an embarrassment of riches, in a way.

I'm 50. I think right now, my desire, more than anything else, is to keep telling the stories that I want to tell with the people I want to tell them with and find the best avenues for sharing them. Sometimes it's going to be a comic and sometimes it's going to be a novel, and now it seems, hopefully, sometimes I'll be able to say this will be a better movie, and maybe have the ability to make that come to pass.

Is there anything that I should have asked about, or anything that you want to say about The Old Guard that you haven't had a chance to?

Oh, look, I know that I speak for Leo in this, we have been so remarkably fortunate. We all know the number of bad comic book-to-movie journeys that are out there, and how many times that particular plane has crashed before takeoff.

We're living in July 2020, and the world is not even a dumpster fire. It's now a whole junkyard fire. And yet, in 14 hours this movie is going to drop on a streaming platform that reaches over 130 million homes. So it's a weird place to be standing right now, to have this thing that you can share with the world and hope that for maybe two, two and a half hours, people will be able to enjoy it and be moved by it, and maybe even think about it a little bit afterwards. I know it sounds awfully hokey, but it's an incredible privilege, and I am trying to enjoy that while not ignoring everything that's happening around us.