How ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’ reunited an all-star, fan-favorite cast

It’s not a usual Hollywood story: A blockbuster film fizzles at the box office. But the cast members — an ensemble of indie darlings and soon-to-be superstars — form such a bond, and create such a lasting cult hit, that they jump at the chance to reunite 13 years later.

Typically, the performers might “run for the hills and never speak of it again” once a project peters out on the launchpad, says Edgar Wright, director of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” the 2010 fantasy-action-rock film with a youthfully romantic heart and gamer’s panache, adapted from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s best-selling series of graphic novels.

Somehow, though, that wasn’t the case after “Scott Pilgrim” grossed only $50 million worldwide on a reported $85 million production budget — despite having just drummed up much geek excitement at San Diego’s Comic-Con. From London to Los Angeles, along red carpets and then through DVD press tours, most everyone involved kept exuding a collective pride, led by their buoyant director.

Wright is “so passionate and compassionate to everyone who worked on it,” says Brandon Routh, who plays Todd Ingram, the story’s telekinetically gifted vegan villain. “There’s a lot of love and connectedness to all of the cast, especially.”

That dynamic explains why, when Wright and O’Malley helped explore getting the whole gang back together, the response was strong and swift.

The creative result, the eight-episode anime series “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” began streaming Friday on Netflix.

The cast reunion was no given, particularly considering the career trajectories of many of the performers since 2010. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” stars Michael Cera as a Canadian garage-band bassist who must fight the seven evil exes of his girlfriend, Ramona, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. They lead a group of fan-favorite voice-acting talent that includes Chris Evans and Brie Larson — among the film’s actors who “have gone on to literally become superheroes,” O’Malley says — as well as Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Mae Whitman and Jason Schwartzman.

“I sound like a proud father or something, but it’s true that different people blowing up or branching out in different ways is amazing to me,” says Wright, an executive producer for the reboot. “I do think: What an incredible cast.”

One connection that helped spark this project reunion was a group email chain, dating to the original film, on which the filmmakers and actors would trade memes, comments and quips. “Everybody’s coming in with some kind of witty response, topping each other,” Routh says. “I would sometimes try my hand at it — everyone else is so funny on the email.”

The chain eventually went dormant, until being revived in recent years.

The filmmakers say a virtual reunion table read for charity early in the pandemic, made for the film’s 10th anniversary and viewed 3 million times, also rekindled the cast’s old connections.

Over the years, Routh heard from fans who professed their lasting appreciation of the original film, which blended stirring visual effects with humor and heart that were true to O’Malley’s textured storytelling (which also spawned a video game). Something about the spirit of the franchise had traction, spawning midnight screenings and reissued soundtracks.

Writer-producer BenDavid Grabinski, a showrunner on “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” alongside O’Malley, says the franchise has numerous emotional entry points, based on a universal sense of what in youth can feel like “the most important love of your life” — and then what might impede or undermine that relationship. “When you’re young, it feels like life,” he says, “and when you get older, you have nostalgia for it.”

Wright says he always deflected the question when fans asked when they might see a new Scott Pilgrim project. Truthfully, he says, a new, organic story needed to come from O’Malley, as the franchise’s creator.

“It’s great because we’re going right back to the source and giving him the mic and saying: ‘What do you want to do with Scott Pilgrim? We’re with you in every way.’”

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O’Malley, influenced by manga and anime, jumped at the chance to work with the noted Japanese anime studio Science Saru for a Netflix project. He and Grabinski weren’t in it for a straight retelling; they instead embraced the opportunity to expand the Pilgrim universe, deepening some of the side characters and creating fresh arcs for the new series. (Another tweak: In a cheeky joke, Ramona, once a deliverer for Amazon, now works for Netflix.)

Yet the series remains authentic to the core of O’Malley’s epic creation. “‘Scott Pilgrim’ is the music, it’s fighting, it’s romance, it’s comedy, it’s melancholy,” Grabinski says, and eight episodes allowed the team to explore all those facets at some length.

“The original books and the film and the video game and the new series all have different variations of the story,” Wright says, “but they are all canon.”

As the project took shape after several years, the creative team sent out a mass email to the actors: Would they all want to return to voice their characters? “The day we sent out the email to everyone asking if they would consider doing the show, we got so many responses within an hour,” O’Malley says. “It was beautiful.”

“It’s amazing, out-of-the-box material, and I just absolutely love my character. It was a no-brainer for me to come back,” Routh says, adding, “It’s cool to be part of a project that people love.”

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