Marc Webb interview: The Amazing Spider-Man, villains, casting, sequels and more

Interview Ryan Lambie 2 Jul 2012 - 06:30

With The Amazing Spider-Man arriving soon, we met director Marc Webb to talk heroes, villains, aging and sequels…

It’s fair to say that director Marc Webb has a tough act to follow with The Amazing Spider-Man. Although few would argue that Spider-Man 3 was a great chapter in Sam Raimi’s adaptation of the comic books, the announcement that the series would be rebooted, with a new director and a new actor crawling into the red and blue costume was met with some cynicism in some quarters. 

As Webb explains in this interview, his take on Spider-Man is subtly different from Raimi's, with his film drilling further back into Peter Parker’s childhood to bring out new aspects in this much-loved character.

So with The Amazing Spider-Man in cinemas tomorrow, here’s our chat with Marc Webb, in which he talks about his favourite Spider-Man villains, casting, action sequences, and much more.

You must be very relieved, surely, now that Spider-Man’s all come together.

Yeah, yeah. It’s sort of a gradual ending. Like, on my last movie [(500) Days Of Summer], it finished really quickly – I cut it together and that was it. On this one, you have the effects and then the sound, and then you do the publicity – it’s all leading up to this moment which is coming in July.

 Were you prepared for this huge shift to such a juggernaut of a movie?

Yeah. It felt gradual. It felt natural. In the very early conversations I had with the studio about what I wanted to do, it was really more about character than it was about the action and stuff. Because a lot of that came from an organic place. But the action is a huge part of the film – it was icing on the cake. It was really fun to do. 

We basically sat in a room and did the pre-viz, and planned out the sequences. It’s kind of like a videogame – it was like making a movie without making a movie. I knew where to put the camera, how to move the actors, how to do the action. So that part of it made doing the action much more easy.

Because it was like a moving storyboard, I guess.

Exactly. 

Before you did features, you did a lot of music videos. I wondered if those informed your approach to staging the action sequences.

I think, by doing that for eight or nine years… when you’re doing these videos, you can’t use dialogue. You have to tell stories through imagery, and I think that there’s something inherently cinematic about those. It’s not like doing a radio play. I think those skills and that language is very effective in larger action films. That visual storytelling is what people are connected to, and what they seek and desire – and I wanted to incorporate that as much as possible.

 And you’re cutting to a rhythm, aren’t you?

Yeah. In my last movie, I actually had a lot of music. There was a score, obviously, but there were a lot of pop songs I’d chosen beforehand and designed sequences around them. In this one, our score was done by James Horner, who’s really brilliant, and he really understood what I was trying to do.

But it is a very important thing – I think people respond to the editing and pace, and it was really important for them to be seduced by that. I shot this movie in 3D, and I wanted to render it in 3D. There are parts where it’s not about cuts, it’s not about edits, it’s about sustained shots where you really feel that sense of depth, vertigo and velocity. That’s an important part of the design process.

You’ve got some first-person shots in there, too. That’s quite unusual for a summer movie.

That came from wanting to make the movie about subjectivity. I wanted to capture this sensation of flight, I wanted the audience to feel what Peter Parker felt. So I said, why not logically extend that, and see what Peter Parker sees? And I thought that was a way to experience 3D in a way we hadn’t before. 

And actually, there’s only a handful of those point-of-view shots. I sometimes think I should have extended those a little bit. In fact, early on I had a much longer one nearer the beginning of the movie, but I shortened it, because I wanted the pace to stay alive. But that was just a way to put the audience in Spider-Man’s shoes – in the process of creating the movie, this was just another layer of that.

Going back to when the movie was in the planning stages, what was your individual take on Spider-Man? Because there were a lot of people saying it was too early for a reboot so soon after the last movie.

I knew that there was always going to be that question. And I understood it – it’s an important question that needs to be asked. It was something I asked myself, and I knew it was important to address it in the making of the film. And when they see the film, they’ll understand that I was going for something different.

Truthfully, there’s so much in the Spider-Man canon. There’s 50 years of characters and storylines that haven’t been explored cinematically. For me, it’s Peter Parker’s parents. Losing his parents was the defining moment in Peter Parker’s life. Before he became Spider-Man, I wanted to the story and the character to emerge from that moment. It’s an incredibly pivotal event, where he becomes the outsider, where the people that are closest to him are taken away.

Because of that, there’s a huge emotional consequence, where he distrusts people. It’s where that distrust of authority comes from, which manifests itself later in the film in fun ways. This is totally the Peter Parker I remembered from the comics: that snarky, sarcastic bragger, who’s really alive in this character. And he’s played really beautifully.

Andrew Garfield is excellent casting.

Absolutely. And there is that outsider quality to him. You can identify him. There’s something incredibly relatable… Andrew embodies Peter Parker in a way that is very naturalistic. He spent a lot of time on him – he went to Queens in New York, where Peter Parker’s from, and watched how teenagers moved and talked. Their slang. He wanted to make him more legitimate, more grounded – and I think he was incredibly successful with that.

And you have another Englishman playing an American character.

Well, Andrew was born in America, and raised here [in the UK]. I don’t know why it is, but he came in and won the part on talent alone. I don’t know why this trend exists, but maybe someone smarter than me could figure out why that is!

Then you’ve got The Lizard, who’s your big villain of the piece.

Ah, Rhys Ifans, the Welshman.

At what point did you decide he was the right villain to put alongside Spider-Man?

Before I came on, there was already a script, which had been tossed out. But The Lizard was the villain, and I think, what it was to me, was first of all, the possibility of the fights between Spider-Man and him could be really interesting physically. To stage and craft those, I thought could be really interesting.

But in terms of storytelling, on a metaphorical level… one of the themes of the movie is the missing piece. Peter has his parents torn from him when he was very young, and that created a missing piece, a void in him that he’s trying to fill. Curt Connors is missing an arm, literally – and he’s trying to get that arm back.

We all have a missing piece, and it’s how we choose to fill that void that makes us who we are. And they choose different pathways, but there’s symmetry in those characters, between hero and villain.

And that symmetry’s what made The Dark Knight work so well, because of the similarities between Batman and The Joker. 

Oh yes.

At the same time, was there ever a point in the production where you thought, “Why did I choose The Lizard”? He requires so many effects. Whereas if you’d gone for, say, Kingpin, you could have just an actor in a natty suit.

Kingpin would have been great. I read an Ultimates comic where there’s all those ‘Yo momma’ jokes. I don’t know if you remember that issue, but I always liked that from the Kingpin.

But from a filmmaking perspective, I was curious. I loved the idea of creating a villain, and give a CG character some personality. It’s very difficult, very tricky, and far harder than I thought it would be, but it was also a great challenge. I think it’s important to be challenged as a filmmaker.

And then there’s Gwen Stacy, who’s another vital character… 

Yeah, Gwen Stacy. The Gwen Stacy Saga, as I call it in the comics, is incredibly famous. It was a very romantic and at times controversial storyline. I love Gwen Stacy. She’s different than Mary Jane. She’s very smart. She’s as smart as Peter Parker, if not a little bit smarter, which creates a certain tension and dynamic. She’s caught between her father, who’s chasing after Spider-Man, and her boyfriend, who is Spider-Man. And that’s a dynamic everyone can identify with, but taken to the ultimate scale.

And she’s stuck between these two men who she admires and cares about, but who are in conflict. I think that’s really an interesting place for a character to be, and she does it with a lot of humour and wit. It’s a really emotional performance, which I think people will be really impressed by. I mean, [Emma Stone] has of course done some really dramatic stuff in the past, like The Help, and even in something like Zombieland, she was really strong.

Emma does some really great emotional work in this film. It’s great seeing Andrew and her connect not only in funny ways, but also in emotional ways, and I’m really excited for the world to see that.

Were they cast in tandem, then, because their onscreen chemistry was so important?

Well, we cast Andrew first. And then Emma was gracious enough to come and do a screentest, which I hope she’ll never have to do again because she’s such a massive talent. But yeah, I wanted to cast the chemistry – I couldn’t just throw two actors together and hope it would work. And there was a spark, a naturalness to them which I thought really worked.

There’s been talk, already, of where a sequel might go...

Sure, sure. You try to create a universe that has enough complexity that there’s room for more stories, and I wanted to acknowledge that. But we’ll see – ultimately, the audience decides.

But in comics, time tends to stand still. With Andrew Garfield being 28…

 [Mock disbelief] He’s 28? I thought he was 18! He lied to me! [Laughs]

So if another Spider-Man were to be made, would his age be addressed? Would he be 20 years old in a sequel?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I don’t know. But certainly, you have a commitment to creating a sense of reality, and it’s important to maintain that, but the truth is, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.

One final question, then, to wrap things up. Who’s your favourite Spider-Man villain who’s yet to appear in a movie?

You know, there’s a lot. I like The Vulture. I like Mysterio from the Ultimates. I like Kraven. I like Electro. There’s many, many that I like.

Do you think there’s one who shares as good a parallel as The Lizard?

It depends what the story is. Villains tend to help to highlight different aspects of the character. They challenge the character in different ways. If you’ve chosen what the themes of the story are, then you can back them up with the perfect villain.

Marc Webb, thank you very much.

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