The Coldest City adapted to the Big Screen: A Conversation with Antony Johnson for the Home Entertainment Release of ATOMIC BLONDE
Oscar® winner Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent during the Cold War in ATOMIC BLONDE. She is sent on a covert mission into Cold War Berlin where she must use all of the spy craft, sensuality and savagery she has to stay alive in the ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors. Broughton must navigate her way through a deadly game of spies to recover a priceless dossier while fighting ferocious killers along the way in this breakneck action-thriller from director David Leitch.
In our interview, Antony Johnson tells us about what Charlize Theron brought to the role, seeing his work as a film and his next project; The Exphoria Code...
What was your reaction when you first heard that The Coldest City was going to be adapted to film as Atomic Blonde?
(laughs) Let’s go with the hard one first (laughs)
Yeah. My first thoughts where very mixed, I was obviously very excited but having gone down this road before with books that have had the rights purchased, I was also cautious of not getting too excited because Hollywood is a fickle beast and its very easy for these things to get optioned and then to languish, fizzle out and then nothing actually happens. So at the very first moment I was excited but not too excited and I became more excited as time went by and I realised that this was actually going to happen, we where going to get a real movie out at the other end of the process.
Awesome. Can you talk about your style of working and the working relationship you had with Sam on The Coldest City?
I have known Sam for almost 20 years and, he is British but lives in Brazil, and I know him from comic conventions and what have you, and I knew that he would be the right fit for the way in which I wanted to tell the story visually of The Coldest City.
So Sam has a very stark noirish, delineated black and white style, this sober kind of style and that’s exactly the sort of storytelling that I was looking for in The Coldest City and so because I’ve known him, although we never worked together before, because I’d known him and I knew that he was a good person and would be a good person to work with, he was my first and only choice for the book and luckily he said yes, you know, and got to work. I’d actually finished the script before I approached Sam, because I wrote the whole thing, because it’s a graphic novel, I wrote the whole thing in one go as if I was writing a prose novel, so I didn’t think about who was going to publish it or who was going to draw it or anything like that while I was writing it, I just wanted to get the whole story down and so then after that when I realised I had a book I was proud of on my hands I started to think about who would draw this and so that’s when I approached Sam and he’s the same age as me so it was very easy to draw on shared cultural references of Europe in the 1980s.
Okay. That leads me onto the next question nicely, what was the inspirations for writing The Coldest City?
My inspiration was that I have always loved Cold War spy thrillers but I’d never written one. I don’t know why. By the time I wrote The Coldest City I had already been a writer for over a decade but for some reason I’d never written one of my favourite genres to read and watch which was Cold War spy thrillers, so I wrote the book for myself, like I say in a big block because I just wanted to get this idea out of my system and once I started, once I’d made the decision that I was going to do a Cold War spy thriller I thought “what was the most exciting place in the Cold War?” Berlin of course, you know what other city is there really to talk about in the Cold War and so that was how I decided to bring the focus onto the city as much as the characters. Once I decided that it was going to be in Berlin I was like “alright when in Berlin exactly?” and again what was the most exciting time in Berlin, well surely it was in the weeks leading up to the wall coming down, which is an event I remember watching myself on live TV as a teenager and being transfixed by it and watching the live pictures on the news from Berlin as the wall was torn down. So all of these things kind of felt logical, if felt like well if I was going to do this it makes sense to do this because this is the most exciting place and time and period of history in which this sort of story can take place and so from there it was then a case of constructing a story that would work with all of those elements and then of course creating characters like Lorraine who would work within that story.
Are there any other adaptations from beloved graphic novels that you find particularly good?
Oh what a question (both laugh)
They’re getting harder (laughs)
Yeah, they’re putting me on the spot (laughs). Let me see, let me see. Do you know what? I’m going to…….yes there have been many that I think are great but I am going to throw people for a spin and say the original Men in Black movie, most people have no idea that is actually based on a series of comics, a series of independent comics from I believe the late 80s. But I love that movie and I think it was exactly a great example of taking the essence of a comic book, you know the source material, and then making it its own thing and then turning it into its own entity as a movie and, you know, what a great movie that came out of it in the end. So yeah let’s go for that Men in Black.
If you could give any other graphic novel the Atomic Blonde treatment like The Coldest City, what would you choose and why?
One of my own or any graphic novel?
It can be any graphic novel...
Oh wow that is a very tricky one. Just for my own selfish purposes I would say Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series from the 80s and 90s which was published by DC Comics under their Vertigo label. It’s impossible, it would never happen, it’s too long, it’s too weird, it would cost all the money in the world, you know it’s absolutely…..it’s a complete fantasy but if I have the power to make anything happen that’s the book that I would like to see on the big screen.
What is on the horizon for you, anything you'd like to tell us about?
My next publication is a novel, a modern spy novel starting a new series which is called The Exphoria Code that’s EXPHORIA from Lightening Books and that is a technology led modern spy thriller that comes out on December the 14th.
Atomic Blonde is available on Digital Download on 2nd December, Blu-ray™ and DVD from 11th December, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).