Mark Webber has flitted around the peripheries of the indie-film world for over a decade now, but two upcoming projects may raise the understated actor’s profile for good. First up is his screenwriting and directorial debut, Explicit Ills (playing at the Angelika this week), an episodic narrative featuring puppy love, bad drug deals, and yoga — plus Rosario Dawson, Paul Dano, and Lou Taylor Pucci — that’s loosely based on his own experiences growing up in Philadelphia. He’ll follow that with a prominent role in the much-buzzed-about Michael Cera project Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, playing Stephen Stills, the front man for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-omb. Webber talked to us about singing for Nigel Godrich, Cera’s expanding horizons, and dealing with harsh reviews.
You’re in Toronto for the Scott Pilgrim movie right now. Anything you can tell us about what’s going on?
One bit of new info I can put out there, I hope I can put out there, is I’m going in today to record with Nigel Godrich, which is major. It’s an indication that, on every level of this film, it’s pretty much the best of the best of the best working with it.
And you will be singing?
I’m being given the opportunity to see if I can cut it, and if not we’ll work something else out.
Is Jason Schwartzman confirmed as the final boyfriend?
I think that that’s not … I think I might not be able to confirm that. All I can really say is that I’m laughing right now. That could tell you something. That’s all I can say.
How much of it will be animated?
I’m assuming that will be around in the fight sequences and stuff like that. I’m under the impression that it won’t break out into full animation. We have stuntmen from Hong Kong and Australia, and it’s really [mostly] live-action. Really, in my estimation it’s gonna be so true to the graphic novels, the kind of combination of fantasy meets reality.
There’s been some speculation that Michael Cera is going to have to break out of the type of roles he’s done in the past.
I think Michael Cera is incredible, and beyond perfect for the role. And I’m absolutely positive he’ll approach it as any actor — you’re always trying to get better, and do something different, and kind of stretch yourself. I think that for him, maybe some of that stuff has been a little unfair, in that ultimately, he’s gonna blow people away. He’s already killing people with a samurai sword, so it’s already something different.
Switching to Explicit Ills, the movie took you about a year to write. Was that how long you had the idea, as well?
It’s a really personal story, and I’ve experienced a lot of the conflicts and issues with it. I grew up really poor, was homeless for a few years. It’s just a very personal story: The movement is a real movement, my mom is a real activist, the march is a real march.
Jim Jarmusch was instrumental in giving you the push to get this done. Did he have a part in the creative process as well?
He read my script and he agreed to be the executive producer in order to protect my vision and what I put on the page.
Is there anything you picked up from working with a less experienced director like Ethan Hawke, on The Hottest State?
Everything that I’ve learned from Ethan is what to do. It’s very easy when you’re a film critic to kind of point out a target for being self-indulgent, which I thought was really, really unfair to him. The Hottest State was an incredible process for me, and Ethan was an incredible director.
You got Tariq Trotter, a.k.a. Black Thought of the Roots, to do this movie by handing him the script backstage at a show.
Well, I’ve known Tariq since ‘98. Me going backstage, that was just the night that I gave him the script. I actually wrote the part for him.
The ending is very blunt in its message.
You know, it’s interesting … Manohla Dargis, in the New York Times review — it wasn’t really a review, it was really nice intellectual breakdown. Until the last sentence when she said I kind of hit everybody over the head with an anvil. And that’s because of the last scene in the film, the march, the protest. At the end of the day, I’ve seen so many movies that are so bleak. And they’re so ambiguous. And there’s no fucking moral. I would rather people walk away saying, wow, this is what this guy cares about.