Author Aaron Blabey more than made up for the fact that he didn’t achieve commercial success until he was 40 years old. Bad guys The series has sold 30 million copies worldwide and has just been adapted for the big screen by a major Hollywood studio.
It’s a dream come true for the 48-year-old Bendigo-born writer, who was about to quit when he came up with the idea.
“I went for a walk and found The villains, Pig the Pug and Thelma [the Unicorn] in one day. It was a very significant moment. I’ve done a lot of other walks since, hoping it would happen again, but it just didn’t happen,” he laughs. “It’s amazing what desperation will do.”
Introduced to children from 6 to 12 years old, The villains the books are a mix of film concepts, says Blabey, inspired by madmaxanything from Tarantino, 1980s Spielberg films, Scorsese and Ford Coppola.
“There are all these things that you wouldn’t put a child in front of in a million years, but [I found] a really heart-warming story… villains who aren’t that at all but everyone thinks they are, and then a simple concept like not ‘judging a book by its cover,'” says -he.
We meet at a restaurant overlooking the Yarra River in Melbourne, the city he came to aged 17, desperate for a career on screen. “I spent those years walking around in movies,” he says.
Which he soon did, landing small roles in blue heels and Stingers and larger pieces in Accidental burn and The Damnation of Harvey McHugh. Despite everything, he despises his work as an actor.
“The projects were great but as a performer, being such a big fan of what people do on screen – I love watching great actors do what they do well – every time I watch something I’ve done, I’m under the table, mortified.”
“I was always levitating on it, trying to…I was doing the wrong job, I couldn’t be inside like an actor has to be.”
After publishing seven books to what he describes as minimal success, Blabey says the subsequent stratospheric results mean the decade has been surreal. The early books were critically acclaimed and he won a Children’s Book Council Award for Pearl barley and parsley Charlieas well as a NSW Premier’s Award for The ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon.
It was nothing compared to what was to come. This fateful walk came shortly after he signed with a new publisher; there was an omen even before he fleshed out the ideas. “I wrote the Bad guys concept in one sentence on my phone and texted it to a friend and said, what do you think? She came back and said “it looks like a DreamWorks movie”.
It is precisely who made The villains movie, this month nationwide. After talking to every major Hollywood studio, Blabey kept coming back kung fu panda – the sensitivity that DreamWorks showed with him sealed the deal.
The adaptation was billed as Tarantino for Kids. “In a funny way, he does,” Blabey said. “He takes disparate elements of cinema and mixes them together. I was a fan of the Beastie Boys, who do the same thing. They take old stuff and put it in a blender with their own sense of humor and it comes out like something new, and I love that. I feel the most playful when it’s like that, that’s when I feel the most free. It is an essential element for my work.
They say if you’re not afraid of what you’re doing, you’re probably not doing it well – I’m petrified every day.
Aaron Blabey, writer
He and his wife Kirstie, a speech therapist, and their two teenage sons live in the mountains outside Sydney, but a move to the United States is planned as several other books are being translated to the screen.
“Thelma and the Unicorn is a full-fledged animated movie musical at Netflix,” says Blabey. “I have a new series of books called cat on the runwhich takes place in the same universe as The villainsbut with a new main character, which is in development.
Pig the Pug is the one that remains to be developed. Blabey admits he held back, wanting full creative control. “I think it’s a TV show, slightly older than the books. I’m not saying it will be family guy but older, which will give it more scope: the shady doings of a sleazy dog.
Melbourne is where he considers home, so seeing the film for the first time at the Kino cinema the day before our interview was a highlight. “I found that really moving. Just hearing the warmth of the response was really awesome,” he says.
It’s no coincidence, it’s the place where he first saw Tarantino Reservoir Dogs, which was a revelation.
“I’ve never forgotten that night at the Kino: it was raining and I was the only person in the cinema. reservoir dogs was not commercially successful, it was only after pulp Fiction [came out] … I just liked the poster and walked in and was blown away – and went back five times that week.
Blabey says the biggest determining factor in his life is and always has been movies, especially American cinema, “so The villains was originally written as a love letter to this”.
The enthusiasm the author feels for his work is palpable. He works about 80 or 90 hours a week, producing three books a year. About four months are spent writing, with the rest creating the finished art. In total, there will be 20 episodes in The villains.
“There’s something fast and loose about the drawing style, coupled with that sense of humor,” Blabey says. “The only thing I have is this sense of the dramatic structure of the story, which I applied to the books. For the rest, I always feel like I’m on the verge of not not succeed.
“This thing they say, if you’re not afraid of what you’re doing, you’re probably not doing it well – I’m petrified every day at the thought of pulling it all off the edge of a cliff. I’m just skating around thinking, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.”
A cliff is highly unlikely, but there will be a cat named Princess Beautiful. For the record, she’s the global cat video star, getting blamed for something she didn’t do; his world may well collide with the characters of The villains.
Add a grumpy and surprisingly tough pug, a unicorn that’s really a horse with a carrot on its nose, and it’s quite the menagerie.
The villains we love
“The wicked in road warrior were quite memorable. The guy with the mohawk – the guy in Mad Max- he was pretty good. Of course, Jack Nicholson as the Joker [in Tim Burton’s Batman] …” American actor Sam Rockwell lists his favorite villains.
“I like when the public is fooled, as in Extraterrestrial when we discovered Ian [Holm’s character Ash] was an android, so the movie tricks you a bit. You don’t know if it’s a good guy or a bad guy.
Best known for his Oscar-winning role in Three billboards outside of Ebbing, MissouriRockwell plays the main character in the adaptation of The villains. He plays the big bad wolf, which, in the end, isn’t so bad. At the beginning of the film, there is a nice moment where the wolf helps an old lady; when she tells him he’s a good boy, his tail starts wagging like it’s the first time he’s been told that.
“It’s a cathartic thing for the wolf character; the trip he is doing is really cool. It’s funny too – it’s a real madness,” says Rockwell, adding that the film will appeal to adults and children alike.
Rockwell liked The villains series of books. “They kind of remind me of the crazy libs books, where you fill in the blanks,” he says.
One of the benefits of character voice acting is that you’re not locked into a shooting schedule – it’s eminently mobile. Rockwell recorded The villains all over the world, thanks to COVID, with places like Sydney, London, New York, at his home and at the DreamWorks studio in Los Angeles, where he and Marc Maron [who plays Mr Snake] could record together.
His next project couldn’t be more different. In April, he will perform on Broadway in David Mamet’s play American buffalo, alongside Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning show that Al Pacino and Robert Duvall starred in. “I’ve been doing theater since I was a kid but I haven’t been on stage for seven years. It’s a lot of work but it wakes you up a bit. It’s gonna be something.
Animation is a different discipline from regular acting, says Rockwell, having voiced several characters in films such as The one and only Ivan and Trolls World Tour. “You try to find a realistic path, an organic path. They were very nice to let me ad lib and improvise… you have to own it a bit,” he says.
” It’s difficult. They need a lot of energy fast – they need results fast. I had a friend of mine, a very good actor, Michael Godere, who would come and read the other parts with me when I was alone, because he could do a lot of voice acting. It was really helpful – it saved my life.
The villains releases March 31.
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