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Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson and more gear up for a 'RoboCop' remake

Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Joel Kinnaman and José Padilha at 2013 Comic-Con International in San Diego
Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Joel Kinnaman and José Padilha at 2013 Comic-Con International in San DiegoColumbia Pictures

In “RoboCop” (a remake of the 1987 movie of the same name), the year is 2028 and OmniCorp — the world’s leader in robot technology — sees a golden opportunity to reap billions for the company. When Alex Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman) — a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit — is critically injured, OmniCorp (led by Raymond Sellars, played by Michael Keaton) grabs a chance to build a part-man, part-robot police officer, under the guidance of Dr. Dennett Norton (played by Gary Oldman).

Abbie Cornish, José Padilha, Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton at the 2013 Comic-Con International press conference for "RoboCop" in San Diego
Abbie Cornish, José Padilha, Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton at the 2013 Comic-Con International press conference for "RoboCop" in San DiegoCarla Hay

OmniCorp envisions a RoboCop in every city, and will stop at nothing — no matter the cost to Alex — to make sure the program succeeds. One of the advocates of this new RoboCop technology is political commentator Pat Novak (played by Samuel L. Jackson). But OmniCorp never counted on one thing: There is still a man fighting inside the machine. And that man still longs for his family, which includes his wife Clara (played by Abbie Cornish) and his son David (played by John Paul Ruttan). Here is what Kinnaman, Jackson, Keaton, Cornish and “RoboCop” remake director José Padilha said at the 2013 Comic-Con International press conference for the movie.

Sam, what was your reaction when you first heard there was going to be a new "RoboCop"?

Jackson: Why me? Because I’m the oldest person up here and I actually went to the theater to see “RoboCop.” Is that what you’re saying?

You’ve got a lot of experience with remakes, prequels and sequels. You’re also a sci-fi icon to a lot of people. What did you think when you first read the “RoboCop” remake script?

Jackson: Yeah, I do a lot of remakes, don’t I? I did three “Star Wars” movies. What are you talking about? They were all remakes, weren’t they? I just did “Oldboy.” I did “Shaft.”

I was excited about the prospect of a modern day “RoboCop,” thinking about it, and thinking about the possibilities of what could be done, and all the CGI things that can be done now, and the advancements in robotics, number one.

I read a lot of comic books, so I see a lot of things, and the things that happen in my mind, as opposed to what happened on the page, as opposed to what Jose was going to do, I was very excited by that possibility and knowing that there are a lot of young people who may be aware of “RoboCop,” but not really the way we’re aware of “RoboCop” and what all it meant when we saw it. I’m excited for them to come into that world.

Joel, what kind of preparation did you do for your role in this “RoboCop” remake?

Kinnaman: Before I got this part, I’d probably seen [the original] “RoboCop” like 25 or 30 times. I started rehearsing my “RoboCop” walk way before I even became an actor. So I was pretty well versed in the Robo walk. But the 1987 vision of where robotics would be is very different from 2013 vision of where robotics would be and how a robot would move 15 years into the future.

So when I got the suit on, I had some ideas. We went for more of a superhuman approach to his movement pattern, but then we added in some more robotic movement to it. But that was something that I was mostly playing around with, and then Jose would look at it and maybe give me a little note, and I’d either take that note or work on something else. Mostly I’d take his notes.

Padilha: The suit is hot. That’s the only thing. He wants to get in and out quick.

Kinnaman: It’s a bit of a torture device. I was so glad that…

Keaton: Bullsh*t! I’ve seen his suit. It’s air cooled. I was the pioneer of bad suits. His suit is for sissies!

Kinnaman: Yeah, he was giving me a lot of flak. He was like, “Ah, man, you got it easy. You got it easy!”

The original “RoboCop” was almost like a black comedy …

Jackson: “You mean like Sanford & Son?” Not that black!

Are there little one-liners in this “RoboCop” remake that we’ll remember 20 years from now? Also will it explore some of the interesting philosophical issues we saw in the original “RoboCop”?

Padilha: Yes, the original “RoboCop” tonally was very ironic and very violent, and it was a critique of fascism, at least the way I’ve seen it. But it was also very smart and it dealt with some concepts that maybe not everybody caught on to, but they were there. The relationship between fascism and robotics, for instance, it’s very clear that it’s going to become way more important as time goes by.

I’ll just give you an example. If you think about the war in Vietnam, or even the war in Iraq, the war in Vietnam ended because American soldiers were dying. It’s the same thing that’s happening in Iraq. We’ve got to get out of there.

Now, if you picture the same war with autonomous robots instead of soldiers, then you don’t have the political pressure at home. And so there is a relationship between being able to use robots for war and fascism. The issue has already been posed by the use of drones by the way.

You open all major American newspapers nowadays and you hear opinions pro and against drones. This issue is already in the original “RoboCop,” and our movie is pretty much about that. That’s one part of it.

And then, the other part of it is what it feels like to be a robot as opposed to what it feels like to be a human. I’ll kind of explain to you why. Say you have footage of the Hiroshima bomb exploding and then you play the footage backwards. So the bomb goes up into the plane and the plane flies backward. At the end of this, you’re going to end up at Harry Truman’s table and he makes the call to drop the bomb. Because Harry Truman is a man, he has free will and he can make choices, we can argue about whether he made the right choice or not.

The same thing goes for a criminal. A criminal shoots someone in the streets. We say, “This is a man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s taken someone’s life.”

So we can argue about whether it’s right or wrong. Now, once you replace men with autonomous robots, accountability goes out of the window. So say you have a robot in the middle of the Amazon Forest hunting drug dealers, and the robot is there and nobody has seen what it’s doing, and it shoots the drug dealers and it kills a kid. Whose fault is that?

This is a huge philosophical issue that’s going to be present more and more. It’s been debated in philosophy already, but it’s going to be in the media more and more as robots evolve, and our movie is also about that. There are some gunfights, too, by the way.

Jackson: Wait, wait, wait. And your favorite line from the original RoboCop is what?

“Your move!” “I’ll buy that for a dollar.”

Jackson: Oh, OK. Everybody liked that one. I’m sure there are some lines like that in this film. I haven’t seen it and I thoroughly expect my face and Pat Novak to be on all kinds of T-shirts.

The first “RoboCop” movie also dealt with a lot of corporate themes. It feels like corporations are now stepping in to make decisions that the government should be making. Is this something this remake addresses too?

Padilha: I would actually claim that the corporations are the government. But, in any case, in the first movie, there was all the satire with the ads, the over-the-top corporation ads selling something that clearly was not the case. We do the same satire in our movie, but instead of using ads, we go for the media. If you remember recently, we got the weapons of mass destruction thing going on and nobody criticized it, and then the weapons were not there.

It was almost anti-patriotic to go against the idea, and all the media fell for that or kind of played with that. We have that. That’s Pat Novak. So we kept that. Our movie has that element too, from the original “RoboCop.”

“RoboCop” is a very beautiful story about Alex Murphy and this corporation that thinks it owns him because they created the parts that brought him back to life, but they can’t own Alex Murphy. How do you explore that in this version of “RoboCop”? And have you seen the Canadian TV series that came out after the “RoboCop” movies?

Kinnaman: I haven’t seen that. I loved the first movie. I kind of checked out 40 minutes into the second one and I didn’t see the third one. I missed the TV series.

That part is still very much still in our story and we go a little further with Alex Murphy. We get to know him a little better than in [the original “RoboCop”]. We spend more time with him when he’s at work as a cop, as an undercover cop, and as a family man. He’s got a beautiful little family.

And then, that is very much the question. Is he now a property? Is he owned by OmniCorp? He’s very vulnerable because the system needs to be changed and it needs to be plugged in.

So he is dependent on this corporation that has made him to survive, that has made him very powerful, but at the same time, very vulnerable. There are continuous interactions. They let him interact with his family. He gets to reconnect with his family after he has become RoboCop.

That is, of course, something that’s not easy to come home and try to embrace your six-year-old son and your wife when you have just a big robotic body and you can’t really feel them.

Samuel, what’s your favorite movie of all time and why?

Jackson: Me? My favorite movie of all time? You mean if I was lost on an island, what could I watch every day? “Hard Boiled.” Just because I like John Woo, I like action, I love Chow Yun-Fat and I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful movie.

Did “Your move, creep” (an iconic line from the original “RoboCop”) make it into this remake?

Kinnaman: I’m sorry to disappoint you, man. We kept a couple of the lines from the original, but we also felt that all these iconic lines from the first one, they were part of that movie and the tone of that movie, [director Paul] Verhoeven’s tone. I think that would feel like something unjust and disrespectful to keep all the lines.

We’ve kept a couple of lines from the original but “Your move, creep” is not something. That’s something I say to my friends all the time when I play chess on the iPhone and I’m like, “Make your move! Your move, creep!” I practiced that line a lot, but I never got to say it in the movie.

And is there a Clarence Boddicker type of villain in this "RoboCop" remake?

Kinnaman: Not really, no.

Abbie, you just finished a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell called “Solace” and the TV miniseries “Klondike.” Can you talk a little bit also about that experience?

Jackson: They’re bringing that movie here tomorrow. You have to go to that news conference. Not fair! Bullsh*t!

Cornish: According to my representative over here, I’m keeping tight-lipped about that. No, I’ve been really lucky. In the last year, I worked on three great gigs starting with “RoboCop.” It’s funny when people ask me about "Robocop" and the experience of shooting it, they say, “How was it?” and I say, “It was the easiest film I’ve ever made.” And it was.

We have an incredibly talented director who just helmed this quite classic political-social story in such a wonderfully deep way. I worked with an incredible cast and worked on a film that is, for me, iconic and very nostalgic. I was 5 when it came out. My brother had it on VHS, and we ran that VHS until it shredded itself up.

And so for me, it has a lot of importance in my life and in my childhood. So, great cast, great crew and everyday was just easy and all the actors were A-grade, so prepared, and same with the crew, and directed by José. That was a dream gig. And then I did “Klondike,” and I did “Solace,” and they were great as well.

Jackson: I want to talk about a movie we’re not here to talk about, too. That’s OK. Next time.

How was the experience doing a big international production working with this cast?

Padilha: I think it’s the first Brazilian movie they’ve made. Listen, shooting a movie is shooting a movie. When you get to the set, it doesn’t matter if it’s a $1 million or a $140 million film. It’s about the screenplay. It’s about the actors. It’s about handling the camera the right way and it was so in “RoboCop.”

We had fun while we were making the movie. We gave ourselves room to improvise. We made up a lot of lines on the spot that just popped up in our heads. I shot this movie in the same way as I shoot my movies in Brazil. I don’t know why it would change. Actually, I don’t know how to do it any other way.

There is no such thing like, “Oh, it’s a gigantic movie. What’s going to happen? How am I going to do it?” You just go there and shoot a movie.

Jackson: Except there weren’t guys with guns standing there saying, “I don’t think we do that.”

Padilha: Yeah. I missed the drug dealers and the corrupt cops around the set a little bit, but I guess that’s because we shot it in Canada.

Cornish: That’s what I mean by easy.

Kinnaman: It was just the mayor smoking crack in Toronto.

Jackson: D.C.

Joel, you mentioned how you practiced the RoboCop walk. What was one thing that made your character really cool, maybe something you loved in the original and you had to bring back to a modern version?

Kinnaman: I didn’t really think about it like that.

Jackson: He’s connected to the internet now. He has WiFi. RoboCop has WiFi.

Padilha: He actually does.

Kinnaman: I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it like that. I didn’t feel that.

Was there a particular scene in the "RoboCop" remake that was especially memorable?

Kinnaman: For me, it’s the whole awakening sequence when Alex awakens for the first time and experiences the disbelief of his new reality. In those scenes, I was working very closely with Gary Oldman. And also that whole sequence in getting to see. There are some things I can’t [say], some spoilers. There are a string of scenes about 40 minutes into the movie that were very demanding but very rewarding as well.

Michael, you were in the original “Batman” movies …

Keaton: I am Batman, by the way. But anyway …

Very few people, except for you and Samuel, get to play these iconic men in iconic movies. Did you hesitate at all coming into another superhero movie?

Keaton: No. This was simple. I know very little about the original “RoboCop.” I’ve seen bits and pieces of it. So my decision was based on a script that I read that I felt was pretty smart and well-written. At this point, I didn’t even know who the cast was.

So then, when I heard who the cast was, that made it even more appealing. I’d become a fan of José’s and one conversation on the phone with him long distance with him saying, “Well, you probably are not interested in my take on the character, but this is what I think.”

And then, he saw it obviously exactly the same way. So I thought you’ve got to work with these kinds of guys. It was really not a big issue. The film was good, and I’ve been into work a lot lately. It was a good gig.

Cornish: Michael is great in the film. He’s amazing. He’s so interesting. I was lucky enough to do a couple of scenes with him. It was so interesting. You played a lot in that role which was nice to watch.

What is it about this remake that you think will draw audiences in and make them say, “I want to see this version of RoboCop”?

Jackson: The trailer. It’s always the trailer.

Keaton: It’s a very current theme. My guess is it will be hugely entertaining. Underlying it, it’s relevant and it will resonate with people, but not to the degree where your brain will hurt from thinking about it going home. When there’s smart added to fun, even if you don’t notice it’s smart, it ratchets everything up exponentially.

It just always makes movies better even if you don’t have to go home and think about some things. Early on, I thought Obama made a huge mistake not getting that out of Afghanistan when he had the move early on. But I thought to surgically remove people and to surgically remove certain parts, that’s the way to go to win this war, talking about primarily drones.

Now, I don’t think that. I think there’s a whole other moral issue to that and that’s what’s really interesting about this [”RoboCop” remake]: the moral aspect of this movie. I don’t mean to make it sound too serious because it’s very fun. It’s really fun, but the underlying intelligence and how it resonates, it’s there without you having to pay much attention to it.

Jackson: We’re not going to put that in the trailer though. We want the excitement in the trailer, and then when people get in there, then they’ll find out how morally intelligent it is. But first, we’re going to show them the trailer. And then people are going to tweet their friends when they get out, “Damn this sh*t is morally intelligent and it’s exciting!”

Michael, you and Samuel L. Jackson have done a lot of franchises like “Batman” and “Star Wars.” What’s the biggest challenge in doing those big-budget movies versus doing smaller movies?

Jackson: I think the biggest challenges for franchises are keeping them fresh and exciting, and most times, you need a good bad guy to make that thing continually work, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been in some really good franchise films, you know, “Star Wars” and now the Marvel series …

You have to have fresh characters coming in that to the familiar that make audiences want to see them and relate to them in that specific way because it takes a while to make these things happen. Sometimes the expectations are great.

It’s like I keep asking the guys at Pixar why we didn’t make “The Incredibles 2,” and nobody can tell me. Personally, I think it’s because they raised the bar so high it’s like “We don’t want to make one that’s not as good as the first one.” That happens, too. You don’t live up to the expectations that the first thing presented.

Keaton: The challenge is the same. I’m not the person directing them or producing them so that would be a good question for that guy, but I go about the work the same way. Small movie, small role, giant movie, giant role. Work is work. You’ve got to tell the truth and show up. I’m just speaking from an actor because I only was part of that aspect.

Jackson: But you hope the characters work. You always hope that that particular character is something that makes sense to people.

Keaton: Yeah, you have to be realistic also about what you’re making. Clearly, these things are giant entertainment so there are certain decisions you make. Even though you’re staying true to character, you go yeah, you can have some fun here because by and large you know who the audience is going to be and you’re going to give them what they want in that audience.

Jackson: I always try to make the movie I want to go see.

Keaton: Even if it’s morally irresponsible?

Jackson: Especially that.

Is this “RoboCop” remake going to be rated PG-13 or R?

Padilha: I don’t get to make the decision. We screened the movie to the MPAA and they will tell us. We were shooting the movie to be seen by the broadest possible audience which means PG-13.

This whole idea about RoboCop has to be R-rated because the first RoboCop was amazingly violent and was R-rated, I never really bought into that. “The Dark Knight” is PG-13 so you can get away with a lot these days with PG-13.

Jackson: It was R for its time. It’s not an R now.

Padilha: Maybe now it isn’t.

Jackson: There are TV shows more violent than this thing now.

Michael, after being in “Batman,” and knowing that now with technology, everything is obsolete from one year to the next. Wouldn’t it be great to have certain new technology for those movies or that allow you to imagine new kinds of movies?

Keaton: Yeah. Well the first “Batman” movie — and I’m honestly not saying this because it was me and I’m saying it was Tim [Burton, the director] and all the people who made it — is an extraordinary accomplishment if you really go back and look at what technology was and what a risk that was to make the leap, to make it how he made it. And had there been the technology available, there are certain things that would’ve been easier to do, but I don’t know if it would’ve had the same feel.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces, I did two [“Batman” movies], and I have seen some bits and pieces recently of the most recent one and the technology is unbelievable. I mean, it’s extraordinary what you can do. This [“RoboCop”] movie, I think, in my opinion, has the great combination of really cool, new recent technology, but it’s also got a real feel. I don’t know if “fun” is the word, but yeah, fun. It’s got a real feel. You can feel it. This movie’s a lot of fun. I always thought what made “Beetlejuice” look so great was because it looked like some genius kid made it in his basement.

Jackson: How dope it would be with the new technology though?

Keaton: I don’t think so.

Jackson: I say we remake it, and let’s see.

Keaton: I think the technology is mind-blowing, and you see its best efforts here, I think.

For more info: "RoboCop" (2014) website