Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay talks movie references, Nolan and more

We talk to Lego Batman director Chris McKay about easter eggs, Bane and more

To celebrate the home release of the brilliant The Lego Batman Movie, we spoke to director Chris McKay about easter eggs, movie references and more…

SciFiNow: The Lego Batman Movie is jam-packed with film references. What was the thinking behind that?

Chris McKay: I wanted to get as much of that in there as possible for people who love movies, love superheroes, love comic-books, love Batman. So there’s echo lines from other movies, little nods – I love Star Wars, American Graffiti, Jaws, THX 1138, all those movies were important to me as a kid.

We loved the ‘What about the time with the two boats’ Joker line, and there’s a few references to Christopher Nolan’s films – do you know if he’s seen it?

I don’t think he’s seen it yet. That’s a perfect trilogy. There’s stuff they set-up in Batman Begins that pays off in The Dark Knight Rises, it’s unlike any other movie trilogy. They work together, it’s kind of amazing.

The Bane voice was great too – very Dark Knight Rises. How did you develop that performance?

Doug Benson is a comedian, he has a show called Doug Loves Movies and occasionally he does the Bane voice on there, and I really like him – he’s a funny guy. If I couldn’t get Tom Hardy, I’d get Doug Benson.

Bane’s design is interesting – it’s a mix of the classic look and Tom Hardy’s version. Can you talk about the design process for the villains in general?

Batman’s got an amazing rogue’s gallery, it’s such a deep bench of great stuff, across a 78 year history, so I wanted to try to get characters that represented different eras. It was great to be able to use the LEGO idiom to express certain things, like with the Bane thing, you’ve got the old school venom infused mask, with the Tom Hardy coat… When you get to do a deep dive into Batcaves and props, that’s the most fun part of the process. Being able to look at lots of different Riddlers, and finding a version that’s one super-version, that was fun.

Billy Dee Williams playing Two-Face was excellent! Can you talk about working with him?

I was always really bummed out that the initial casting of Harvey Dent didn’t play out in a future movie, so this was an opportunity to do something with that. It’s also a diversity thing, I wanted the movie to represent the way the world looks to me. So, we had Zoe Kravitz playing Catwoman, Billy Dee Williams not only fulfilling this thing from my childhood, but he’s a great African-American actor. I worked with him on Titan Maximum and Robot Chicken, he’s a lot of fun to work with. We worked with him on the first Lego Movie, he played Lando for us. So it was a good opportunity, any time you can have him in the voice booth it’s great.

There’s a moment where Batman watches Jerry Maguire, a film that presumably exists in Nolan’s universe, because Joker quotes it. What was it about that film that made it right for this?

My initial pitch to the studio was that I wanted to make this movie ‘Jerry Maguire as directed by Michael Mann,’ so that idea stuck. We knew that we wanted Batman to watch a movie; at one point it was Dirty Harry, he was watching that and identifying with Harry’s loneliness, which was a lot of fun. Our movie is very much in that vein of Jerry Maguire, or The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Arthur, About A Boy – it’s about a guy who’s going on a journey to connect with other people and be a little less self-involved. Tom Cruise allowed us to use the Jerry Maguire footage in the movie, so we were excited to have it.

The Jerry Maguire moment and the Batman 1966 live action stuff got a really big reaction in the screening room, and The Lego Movie obviously had a large live action element. Where you tempted to have more in this?

There’s an ongoing discussion about all of the LEGO movies and what their relation is to play and the real world. I think you’re going to see, as the movies develop, a long game in terms of the relationship between the worlds, in future movies.

That’s very interesting, because DC has the Multiverse, so there’s potential there for Will Arnett to meet Ben Affleck’s Batman…

There’s a lot of that we’d love to do. We’re trying to put that together for future movies.

During Barbara Gordon’s speech you pay tribute to various comic covers, and the animated series’ credits, how much fun was that to put together, and how did you choose what elements to include in that sequence?

What’s fun is, when you do jokes like that in these movies, it feels like the filmmakers are getting away with something that in other movies you can’t do. And I think that’s why it’s funny – we’re doing something movies aren’t supposed to do. Being able to say Batman’s been around for 78 years as a premise for our character, it’s a lot of fun.

There’s so many iconic things. It was a matter of picking stuff that would be immediate – you don’t know if everyone has the same reference points as you do, you hope they do. It was trying to figure out what exactly represented those things, that was a dive into the past. That’s how we made the final decision.

What specific easter eggs or references didn’t make it into the movie?

I wanted characters like Flamingo, and Professor Pyg, things like that. We got close to 30 unique characters, I wanted more like 50. It came down to what we could do, what LEGO could build and what Animal Logic could rig and animate. Also some of the backstories of some of the characters bummed people out, LEGO would say ‘We don’t want to do that guy, because the backstory’s too violent.’ 

At the end of the movie, during the Shark Repellent bit, there was a line I really wanted to use, where she says ‘Smile you son of a fish’ as a Jaws reference. But unfortunately it was a little too close to ‘bitch’ and people weren’t happy with that.

There’s a reference to Fox Force Five in the movie, does that mean that Tarantino exists in the LEGO universe? We bet he’d get a kick out of that…

Again, I’m glad you picked up on that – I wish! I’m sure we’d love to invite Quentin Tarantino in to do a LEGO movie, or to do a LEGO version of the Kill Bill fox Force Five thing. Maybe one day, we’ve reached out to other filmmakers to bring people, so hopefully you’ll see that as the movies progress, interesting filmmakers coming in and doing interpretations. 

The Lego Batman Movie is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Get all the latest superhero news with every issue of SciFiNow.