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In an essay tucked in the back of The Old Guard: Force Multiplied #1 — the second volume of a comic that's now an acclaimed action movie on Netflix — writer Greg Rucka explained that this story of a group of near-immortal warriors was born out of "this woman living in my head without paying rent, this proto-Amazonian warrior who had walked for millennia without dying for some reason."
Eventually, that strange warrior woman found her way into a story, which Rucka took to artist Leandro Fernandez, and The Old Guard was published by Image Comics in early 2017. Now, it's a motion picture directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from Rucka's own screenplay, and starring Charlize Theron as Andromache "Andy" of Scythia, the proto-Amazonian warrior who came out of his head. Speaking to SYFY WIRE about what it was like to witness that journey, Rucka described the moment The Old Guard movie became real for him.
"Our producer on the film, Marc Evans, sent a photo back in March of 2019 of the costume and makeup test day, which I guess they had, for the first time, all of the actors in costume with their gear and made up," Rucka recalls. "They had all posed for this photo pretty much in the exact posture and position that Leandro had drawn them in one of his poster pieces of the team. That moment, I remember getting that image and being like, 'Oh my God,' and giggling and wanting to show it to everybody, and of course not being able to show it to anybody but my wife."
For Rucka, seeing his band of nearly unkillable mercenaries marching across the screen is not the end of the story, but it is a culmination of sorts built up after years of developing the story and crafting the first volume of the comic. Though he admits now that he can't place the exact moment when the idea came to him, Rucka does remember that Fernandez — who also worked with him on his acclaimed spy series Queen & Country — was always his first choice to bring it to life.
"He was the first person I thought of to collaborate on with it, and he was the only person I called," Rucka says. "He indicated that everything I was saying, he was into drawing. I think the historical aspect, in particular, the opportunity to be able to jump around into history, was a strong appeal."
To draw The Old Guard, Fernandez had to begin with Andy, a millennia-old warrior from the ancient world, then weave in a pair of warriors who fought on opposite sides in the Crusades and ultimately became lovers, a rogue from the Napoleonic Wars, and a U.S. Marine struggling to come to terms with her newfound immortality. Their varied backgrounds had to be distinct, but their combined look also had to exist in the present. It was a challenge Fernandez relished, and it's how we got certain instantly recognizable factors like Nicky's crusader sword and, of course, Andy's beloved circular ax.
"I took [the project] from the beginning with the idea of making them especially different, one from another, with a particularly strong personality. Over trying to make them just look nice, I wanted them to be easily recognizable because we would be able to see them at different periods of time in history with different clothing and different hairstyles, and there would be different situations," Fernandez explains.
"They are warriors," he continues. "They will be sometimes in the mud, covered with blood, in different situations that needed them to be recognizable. That’s from one side, and the other side is that I wanted them to, as I said, have a very strong personality. Greg came with the idea of having them use their weapon of choice, which makes a very unique and distinguishable visual for this particular group of warriors, even today in the modern day. We worked towards that with that in mind, and it’s what we can see on the comics and the movie, too."
Fernandez's efforts to give each member of the team a distinct look, as well as a signature weapon, were replicated by Prince-Bythewood and her team for the film, and Fernandez himself even managed to make a rather artistic cameo. During the scene in which Joe is sketching out Nile after the team has a shared dream about her, Fernandez's art appears on the page, and it's his hands doing the drawing.
In crafting the screenplay — which is largely a direct adaptation of The Old Guard: Opening Fire with a few elements from Force Multiplied thrown in — Rucka found it important to focus on what the film could do that the comic couldn't, specifically in terms of developing the relationship between Andy and Nile. With a chance to tell his story in a new format, he found that particular dynamic even more vital.
"The one [change from comic to film] that I go to immediately that isn't spoilery is the depth and time we are able to give Nile and Andy after their meeting," Rucka says. "In the comic, the journey to Paris from Afghanistan is two pages, and it’s mostly filled with caption dialogue that, in terms of the story, provides necessary information, but it’s mostly expository. In the film, that journey takes significantly longer, because we shoot it. It’s not a montage. And because we are witnessing it, it becomes vital for each character, in particular for Nile. In the comic, she wasn’t ignored, but her presence in the comic has less to do with plot than it had to do with storytelling. In the movie, her whole journey is at the heart of the story, right next to Andy’s. So, being able to do that is, to me, an unquestionably vast improvement."
Though Rucka wrote the screenplay and Fernandez's art heavily influenced the look and feel of the film, neither creator had direct input on Prince-Bythewood's casting of the film. Still, when they started hearing the names and seeing the faces — led by Theron as Andy and KiKi Layne as Nile — they couldn't help but be encouraged.
"We didn’t have anyone especially in mind we wanted to work with. We wanted to work with somebody unique in each character," Fernandez says. "When we realized and we started to hear about the casting directing that we weren't involved with, it was all good news. We couldn’t ask for more. It started with Charlize in the leading role. She is an Oscar-winning actress with such a great dramatic performance. And at the same time, she is an action actress. I mean, she literally kicks asses."
He also praises the rest of the "amazing" cast: Layne's Nile, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Copley, Luca Marinelli as Nicky, Marwan Kenzari, as Joe, Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, Harry Melling as Merrick. "We couldn’t ask for more," he says.
Of course, Rucka's expanded take on the story in the screenplay, the influence of Fernandez's art, and impeccable casting might have all gone nowhere if not for the right filmmaker. In that regard, Rucka says, he and his co-creator got particularly lucky with Gina Prince-Bythewood, who paid special attention not just to the visuals of the comic, but to the overall emotional aura of The Old Guard.
"One of the things that Gina made very clear from the moment we met was she wanted, more than anything, to make sure that at the end of the day, the heart and the soul of the source material was evident," Rucka says. "I think that’s stamped all over the movie. That’s an extraordinary respect that she accorded us. To see her direct the film with an eye to the way Leandro himself composed his shots and his panels, to the palette that Leandro and Daniela Miwa used to color the book, it’s the sincerest form of flattery I can think of. And it clearly mattered to Gina every day on every step that, for everything else that was going on — and there was a lot going on in the story and the production and just the act of making a movie — that that was always at the front of her mind."
Though the film adaptation of The Old Guard is designed as a relatively standalone story, with certain teases of what the future holds for its characters, Rucka and Fernandez's comic will go on beyond the first part of the narrative. The final issue of the second volume, Force Multiplied, will be released by Image Comics this month, and Rucka has already indicated that he plans to wrap up the story with a third volume, creating a trilogy of graphic novels. With that in mind, will we be seeing an Old Guard sequel on Netflix one day?
"Look, it would be absolutely dishonest to say that we did not include in the movie a 'in case of sequel, break glass' scene. It’s very easy to light that fuse and to move into a second story. However, to me, just personally, this is very important: it’s not contingent," Rucka says. "This is not a movie where, when it is over, the audience is left going, 'Oh, great, now I have to wait two years for the next one.' You don’t need another movie to end the story. I am very appreciative of that. So, if the movie is successful, there will be discussions of a sequel, I’m sure. At this point in time, I’m unaware of any discussions going forward or any plans to do so. I certainly believe at this moment, from everything that I hear, that Netflix is quite happy with the movie they got, so I guess it will be a question of whether or not people are happy with the movie Netflix shows them, and that will be the deciding factor."
So, if you're happy with The Old Guard, now would be the time to let Netflix know.