After directing the smash indie dramedy 500 Days of Summer, Marc Webb had the world at his fingertips. Many were surprised when he chose to take the reigns at Sony's Spider-Man reboot, so soon after Sam Raimi's record-breaking trilogy. When they cast Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go, The Social Network) as Peter Parker, and one of film's most talented young ingenues, Emma Stone (The Help, Zombieland), as his comic book love interest Gwen Stacy, interest piqued. The film's story takes a different look at Spider-Man's journey, and has a fresh, talented cast to introduce it to the masses. Along with a new, misunderstood villain, Rhys Ifans (Anonymous, The Five-Year Engagement), Webb, Garfield, and Stone recently met with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to discuss the emotional resonance and peronality that Spider-Man brings to the big screen in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man.
Emmanuel Itier: How did you get involved with The Amazing Spider-Man? Why were you attracted to this complex villain character?
Rhys Ifans: Yeah, I think that was the appeal for me and I think that is possibly why Mark Webb and Sony maybe thought of seeing me for it. They saw many people. Obviously, I had to audition like everyone else. But I think different to other villains, this villain is more complex than just a bad guy who is in the pockets of Satan or whatever. He is a very talented, compassionate, passionate scientist, who wants to advance his theories to a place where they can not only benefit him, but benefit humanity as a whole. But in his eagerness and possibly greed to get to that place, all the pressure is put on him by a corporation who arrive at this place. He decides not to take the ethical steps necessary to allow his dream to come to fruition.
This is a question that all scientists have to ask themselves at some point. If you look at Oppenheimer and Einstein, who you could argue have a lot of blood on their hands, but on the other hand they have advanced the science in the same way that can destroy the world has enabled the world to survive in many ways. So that is just me explaining that he is not all bad, you know?
EI: Were you into Spider-Man before getting involved with the film?
RI: No, I was not. I did not have a Spider-Man doll, no. But of course I was aware of Spider-Man and I grew up with Spider-Man. I remember when I was about six or seven I got a Spider-Man comic and I had to cut out a mask on the back page and color it in and tie it on and put little pins. So yeah, Spider-Man was always present in my life. I think every kid in the western world has been touched at some point by Spider-Man.
EI: What does he represent to you, Spider-Man? What does he inspire?
RI: He represents puberty. Of becoming a boy, becoming a man and discovering his body is changing and responding to a world that seems hostile and strange and cruel and it is about how every young man fantasizes about overcoming that initial hurdle into manhood. I think it is an archetype of him visited many, many times in legend and in plays throughout history and that is why we keep revisiting this story.
EI: Was there a particular scene that was tough for you to shoot in the movie?
RI: Yes. The tough scenes emotionally were scenes when I am turning into the reptile. They were difficult, but particularly the ones of turning from the reptile back into a human, because what the reptile allows Doctor Connors to be as all powerful, all beautiful, glistening in the sun – and then he has to return to the grey limbless reality of his humanity. And that journey down is bumpy. It is like the worst cold turkey that anyone could every image. They were hard scenes, not hard scenes, but they were like, taxing, you know? But taxing is good.
EI: What do you think of Andrew Garfield’s performance?
RI: Without question, without question the most complex multilayered, funny, sensitive, angry complete character. It is just beautiful what he has done, and I challenge anyone to question that.
Emmanuel Itier: So tell me, how do you get ready for a movie like this? Did you watch any of the previous Spider-Man movies, or research the comics?
Emma Stone: I had seen the old movies before, but I did not watch them after being cast. But then again Gwen Stacy was in the third one, Bryce Dallas Howard played Gwen Stacy, but it was such a different version of Gwen that it did not really feel like the same thing at all, but I still do not think I have seen them since we made movie. But I read old comics and back through the history of Gwen and of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. And then we went to the science lab a couple of times to learn about science, which was part of the preparation too. It was fun.
EI: What do you think makes this reboot different from the previous Spider-Man trilogy?
ES: I just think it is coming from a different angle. It is really talking about a boy who was orphaned and what the repercussions of being orphaned can do to a child and how it makes you hardened in certain ways and display your own kind of heroic qualities before you even become a hero. And it really…his bonding with a new father figure and figuring out life with this new set of challenges and becoming Spiderman. It is kind of an interesting…different grounded take on the story.
EI: It seems that the romance is more on the forefront of this story.
ES: Yeah, that is my inclusion in this story I hope. Some of it is about the romance. But Gwen came before Mary Jane and left [a] pretty indelible and tragic impression in Peter’s life before he ever got together with Mary Jane, so there is a really interesting element in the romantic one just because it is ultimately so sad and so life-changing for Peter. So yeah, I think that is another piece of the puzzle in this one.
EI: You and Andrew Garfield have become very close since working on this movie together. How was it in the beginning?
ES: We shot this movie a long time ago, so it was like, last year. It was great working with him. He is a fantastic actor, so it was a piece of cake.
EI: Was there a specific scene for you that presented a particular challenge for you?
ES: Yeah, there is a scene that was pretty emotionally not so fun to get into. There was nothing to physical that was ultimately that challenging for me, but yeah, there were of course places in movies like this that are a little bit heartbreaking and so those are not always the most fun days at work.
EI: What is Spiderman about for you?
ES: I think that there is something about Spiderman that makes you feel like you could be him, whether you are a boy or girl. It does not matter where you come from or what your background or history is - that you can overcome and you can become something great. I think the symbolism… obviously Stan Lee is Peter Parker. So he was just a regular boy who...Stan Lee is a superhero to me. The world that he has created and the way he has inspired people. He basically became a superhero, so it is that kind of putting that into your own life and finding what way you can overcome. You could become great in whatever way you are meant to be is something really inspirational I think about the entire story of Spiderman and why it stuck around for over 50 years now.
EI: What has being your favorite scene from all the movies you’ve worked on?
ES: Bill Murray, Zombieland. So easy.
ES: Because it was just the best two days ever. It was just Woody and Bill Murray and Jessie and Abigail Breslin and me. It was like, the greatest group of all-time and we had so much fun.
EI: Are you a big Ghostbusters fan?
ES: Yeah, absolutely. I have just been a Bill Murray fan since I was very little and my dad was on set that day and he is a huge Bill Murray fan, so that was the most jaw dropping experience of my work thus far.
Emmanuel Itier: What did you aim to accomplish with The Amazing Spider-Man?
Andrew Garfield: Just be honest really, and try and be truthful and stay true to the character and to who he is and who he was and who he has always been. And that the essence of what Stanley tried to create, that was first and foremost. And then just try and make it as personal as possible, because I have always had a very personal relationship with Peter Parker. He has meant so much to me since I was very young, so…
EI: Why is that?
AG: Oh, well, because of why everyone loves him, because he is everybody. The struggles that he goes through, the things that he has to face. The pain that he goes through and how he overcomes it is inspiring, and it is reassuring. He has always been a source of reassurance for me. So I just wanted to make sure I stayed connected to that very personal, I do not know, the very personal connection that I have to him.
EI: Which was the biggest challenge filming such a big blockbuster?
AG: It’s hard to say because the whole process was so evolving all the time. It was always unfolding, and it was never just like we do this scene and that scene, there was always a discussion, there was always kind of a how can we make this more of this, how can we make this deeper, how can we add humor here, how can we focus what the need is here, and how can we make the story move along here. And what is Peter doing, what does he want here.
So I think, trying to make sure that the progression of who this guy is and how he begins and how he ends and all the transition he goes through, not only as a super hero, with the obvious things like the bite, but with the emotional journey that he goes through – because it is huge what this kid experiences from being abandoned by his parents to becoming who he becomes, this hero. It is, and that is a lot for a kid to take on, for a teenage kid to take on. And so to capture that, is something like all of them, the anxiety and the anger and the fear and the excitement, the thrill of all eyes, something that I wanted to capture.
EI: It seems like this movie focuses on the relationships even more than the amazing effects and action. Was it interesting for you as a young man to explore the chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy?
AG: It is the biggest thing in the world, while the city is being destroyed and there is a lizard running around, that is not as important as first love. First love is bigger than any explosion, any building being destroyed. It is everything, to a teenager especially, to any human being – we all know that. So there is no reason why it should not feature as the biggest thing in any story, I think, love.
EI: Do you see yourself doing a series of Spider-Man sequels?
AG: I do not want to even think about that right now. I just want to finish this one and make it as good as we can make it until it comes out, and then I will have a sleep and then I will have a think about the rest.
EI: Your onscreen partner in love, Emma Stone, is quickly coming up in the fim industry. How was it to work with her?
AG: Amazing, man. She is just one of those very rare actors who is so present and responsive and will follow the river wherever it goes and will not try and hold on to the side or control it. [And] that is the way I love to work as well. We found a nice groove, where we can move and kind of shift together, and a lightness and a kind of fun. It was great. She was a real gift to work with.
Emmanuel Itier: What can you say about the difference between Five Hundred Days of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man? How did you go from an indie romantic comedy to a big budget comic book movie?
Marc Webb: Well, what I really enjoyed about Five Hundred Days of Summer was being able two work with in a very small space. Working with character moments that are often ignored. It was just minutia of people’s lives in terms of romance. And what was fun about Spider-Man is, I got to do not only the big huge action stuff, which was incredibly exhilarating and fun, but you also got to do the little quiet detailed stuff and that combination was really exhilarating. I wanted to make sure to protect that, because I think, in a movie that services only action, you lose what often the best part of action, which is emotion. And I wanted to make sure that we felt a connection and an understanding of the characters that were intimate and real, so that the full orchestra could play.
EI: There seems like there’s a much bigger romantic angle to this Spider-Man. Do you think the studios aimed for that, or was that something you brought to the project?
MW: One of the unique things about Spider-Man is that there is a romantic element to it and that for me was something that I always enjoyed contemplating and exploring. But again, Spider-Man has a certain emotion and people expect that on top of the action and I think that was something that I really was curious about and I think was surprised that everybody at the studio felt the same way and if there were not the case, I do not think I would have been able to make the movie. But they were supportive of that, so it ended up being okay. We are all friends now.
EI: After Tobey McGuire’s iconic performance in the previous trilogy, finding the right Spider-Man must have been tough. How was the casting process?
MW: Finding Spider-Man… I was quite sure that we would not find Spiderman and we would not be able to make the movie, because it was such a tall order. How do you reinvent that? It is an absurd task. I saw hundreds of actors, really talented, extraordinary young actors. And Andrew came in one day and he auditioned first with a telephone call, and he moved around in a way that was so fascinating that it just sort of stuck in my head. I do not know what it was. And then we brought him back and he has an emotional complexity that allows him both to be incredibly deep and play gravitas, but can turn around and play humor and wit and sarcasm, which is very emblematic of Spider-Man. He can do that all at the same time with a level of attention to the physical details of the character, which is extraordinary.
I mean, when I think back on it, I do not how we found him. I think somebody invented him in a room and gave him to us, because that combination is so exceedingly rare. And then Emma, I had known from her other movies from Superbad and from Easy A and she was a little bit more of a known quantity and her humor is unparalleled. She is incredibly gifted and I think she got to use different muscles in this movie than she has before. She has got great humor and a dynamic performance quality, but there is also an emotional depth, which I think was really extraordinary and really fun to see. And they worked off of each other and in a fantastic way. Andrew probably leans into intensity and emotional darkness a little bit more and she has got this light and this airy quality and when you put them together they guided each other through these scenes in a way that felt very alive and they had such banter and they are incredible improvisors. And all at the service of finding the reality of the moment and that was just extraordinary to watch.
EI: What type of challenge is it for you again to direct such a huge movie? What did you have to overcome?
MW: There are a few things. One, just how long it takes and how much detail you have to pay attention to over such a long period of time. And there is a level of visual effects that requires - every morning you look at a new incarnation of it and you have to look at the fingers and the angles and the lights and every frame has to be investigated and polished. And that is actually really fun, but it is a different muscle and I have never really gone through that before. And then there was the notion that, Spider-Man is so big and has such an awareness, everybody knows who he is around the world. You see kids running around with Spider-Man outfits and suddenly as we were shooting it, it dawned on me how much of a responsibility it is to protect that character and just service him in a way that, Stan Lee might find worthy.
EI: What is Spider-Man, the character, about for you?
MW: I think thematically I think that Peter Parker has a missing piece, his parents. Them abandoning him at such a young age left a gap in him and he wanted to fill that void and Kirk Connors is missing his arm and he has that missing piece. And for me there was this idea that we all have a missing piece and how we choose to fill that or how we attempt to fill that is how we define ourselves. And that unlocked the story for me.
Sony's 'The Amazing Spider-Man' will be released nationwide Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012.