Exclusive: Robert Rodriguez on Those Big Alita Cameos & Sequels

20th Century Fox provided ComingSoon.net the opportunity to have an exclusive 1:1 chat with Alita: Battle Angel director Robert Rodriguez. During our chat we got into major SPOILER TERRITORY about those three major Alita cameos, as well as the roles those characters could play in a possible sequel. Check out what Rodriguez said below!

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SPOILERS: In the film three-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton (Birdman, Fight Club, The Incredible Hulk) cameos in two brief scenes as Nova, the brilliant scientist who lives in Zolem and is responsible for many of the enemies trying to kill Alita over the course of the film. At the end of the movie Alita points her sword up towards the floating city of Zalem (Tiphares in the comics) as if to say she is coming for Nova, presumably in a future movie. Another character with a few fleeting flashback scenes is Gelda, a cyborg born on Mars and a highly skilled URM warrior who trained Alita, as played by Michelle Rodriguez (Machete, Avatar, Fast & Furious series). The third major cameo is Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, Terminator GenisysA Good Day to Die Hard) as Jashugan, the reigning Top League Motorball champion… at least until the sequel when he would face off against Alita. 

ComingSoon.net: Even though the film is kind of a standalone adventure, you lay a lot of pipework for a sequel, including Edward Norton as Nova as well as Michelle Rodriguez and Jai Courtney’s roles, not to mention all the secrets of Alita’s past. I know you all wanted this to work as a standalone, so what was the discussion between you and James Cameron and John Landau about how much of that sequel pipe to lay?

Robert Rodriguez: There was almost no way to tell this story without including those people. You had to get a sense if she had been trained before by scenes with the Michelle character, you had to see Gelda at some point. They’re talking about how the game is played, Jashugin is one of the major players. He has a much bigger role later in the books. We didn’t want to just put somebody in. What if there was a sequel? We had to cast three people without really having a part for them to be basing it on to see if they wanted to do it. There was no script for a future one. So we went to people we knew. We knew Jai. He’s great. He had already been in the family, you know, working on that “Terminator” movie with Jim. Both of us had worked with Michelle before, and both of us knew Ed. I had known Ed for a long time and Jim knew Ed and had some businesses with him. He’s really smart like Jim, so we thought, that’s who we need is a mastermind type of guy to play Nova. It’s the promise of a part if there is a sequel, there might not be. If there is a sequel, you don’t want to be roped into something that you’re not going to like, but they knew us enough to trust that we’d make sure it was something cool. That was the challenge of that. That’s probably the last casting we did was those roles, because they were small enough we didn’t need to shoot them right away and it gave us time to figure out who to go to that we really liked that would fit the role and we could fill that promise later down the road with the sequel.

CS: You famously parsed this film down from a much, much longer script. What were some of the biggest things either from that big draft or from the comics that you wanted to include, but were like, “That’s going to have to wait”?

Rodriguez: The middle and the end were always the same. It always ended that way. That was Jim’s ending, where she’s kind of targeted where she’s going and she’s pointing the sword up. I just thought that was a powerful ending. It’s a great drumroll into a sequel, if you had a sequel, but if there’s no sequel, she knows now who she is. It’s a complete arc of a journey for her, going from something -innocence and not knowing who she is- to suddenly knowing who she is and making a choice of who she’ll be and what she will do. So that was always the same. I actually cut down extra action, extra characters. I combined a few characters, just to not touch the father/daughter story that I loved, and the boy/girl relationship. I think that’s what surprised Jim. I bet he thought I was going to sacrifice one of those storylines because how else was I going to sweep 66 pages out of this thing? And he said he played a little game with himself, that he would read a few pages and think, “Oh, but he’s going to kill my favorite scene.” He turned the page, “Oh no, there it is.” And he said, “I read it all the way from beginning to end without you cutting any of my favorite scenes. What did you do? I don’t even know what you cut.” I said, “Well, I cut what people might think not to cut, which is the spectacle,” but I know his movie enough and him enough to know that he doesn’t care about that. How long is it before you even see an iceberg in “Titanic”? It’s all about the characters to him. So I tried to preserve that.

There was a different character from the script and the Manga that actually had the sword, a Damascus blade that Zapan has, and that actually is the one who took down Hugo. That was not Zapan, it was Master Clive Lee. So I thought, nah, Clive Lee is such a great character. Let’s save him. And let me combine Clive Lee with Zapan. So that it was the third act that ended up getting really weighty with extra characters and plot twists and very much that’s how manga works. But I try to streamline it. Jim said when he read it, he goes, “You know what you did?” Because he had never cracked a script, he always had it long and he never cut it down. He could’ve, but he’d just done the shrink wrapped version. He just never did. He went on to “Avatar,” so he never got to revisit it. He said, “You applied story discipline. You came in and lined up where things needed to go and trimmed out the fat and the stuff that was redundant, or combined characters and took out action that we didn’t need, and you kept the characters and applied story, just putting them into those beats so that we move like a film.” That was the other thing, this thing couldn’t be a two and a half, three hour movie, because it was a new franchise. Every second she’s in frame is a lot of money. I had to deal with a studio to get it made. It had to be a two hour movie, so I had to get it down. You can’t just be chipping away at that stuff. You have to remove some pillars in order to make that work. I think it kept the spirit of the characters and the movie without removing anything really crucial.

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Visionary filmmakers James Cameron (Avatar) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) create a groundbreaking new heroine in Alita: Battle Angel, an action-packed story of hope, love and empowerment. Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita (Rosa Salazar) is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in.

Everything is new to Alita, every experience a first. As she learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield Alita from her mysterious past while her street-smart new friend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), offers instead to help trigger her memories. A growing affection develops between the two until deadly forces come after Alita and threaten her newfound relationships. It is then that Alita discovers she has extraordinary fighting abilities that could be used to save the friends and family she’s grown to love. Determined to uncover the truth behind her origin, Alita sets out on a journey that will lead her to take on the injustices of this dark, corrupt world, and discover that one young woman can change the world in which she lives.

Alita: Battle Angel also stars Jennifer Connelly (Top Gun: Maverick), Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book), Ed Skrein (Deadpool), and Jackie Earle Haley.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the film features a screenplay written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and Rodriguez. Based on the graphic novel series Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel is produced by Cameron and Jon Landau.

Alita: Battle Angel is now playing in theaters everywhere!


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