Ant-Man bad guy Corey Stoll: ‘The Villain Needs to Be Scary’

Marvel’s newest super-villain on Ant-Man, The Strain, and more…

Ant-Man star Corey Stoll made his TV debut in 2004 and appeared in his first film in 2005, steadily moving into bigger and more dynamic roles until he broke through first in 2010 with Law and Order: L.A., then in 2013 with House of Cards, in which he played the tragic and alcoholic Congressman Peter Russo. From that he went into Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s FX series The Strain, in which he plays lead vampire hunter Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, while recent films have included This is Where I Leave You, Non-Stop, The Normal Heart and The Good Lie.

Now this versatile actor and comic book fan makes his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Darren Cross, the one-time protégé of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has taken over Pym Tech in the wake of Hank’s retirement. Obsessed with reactivating and enhancing the powers of the Pym Particles in order to weaponize the Ant-Man suit and sell it to the highest bidder, Cross eventually dons a new suit and becomes Yellowjacket, determined to destroy the new Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Pym before they stop his plan.

Den of Geek sat down with Stoll in L.A. to discuss comic books, playing a super-villain and what to expect from the just-launched Season 2 of The Strain.

Den of Geek: You were kind of a comic book nerd growing up. What were the first books you got into as a kid? Do you remember?

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Corey Stoll:  I think it probably started with Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four, and X-Men. Then I started growing into the Frank Miller Batman and Daredevil stuff, and then Alan Moore and Watchmen, stuff like that. And then it started getting a little bit more esoteric and more sort of graphic novel-y sort of stuff. Yeah, I was really into it. I spent every penny I had on that stuff.

Do you still have them?

No. My mom got rid of them when I wasn’t looking.

Do you still read stuff now?

I do. I tend to wait until things are collected in a thicker edition because I can’t wait. I read them so fast…I try to slow down with comics, but they just go down so quick.

Since you are playing a villain, do you have a favorite villain?

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Magneto was always….just so badass. He was badass, but also conflicted and complex in a great way. And, of course, I loved — the first movie I ever saw was Superman. The Lex Luther Gene Hackman, he’s one of my favorite actors anyway. He’s just having a ridiculous amount of fun. And I remember watching that movie while I was shooting this and just reminding myself that this whole experience is going to go by like that. I may be embarrassed if I ham it up too much, but I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t really embrace the opportunity of being able to play a super villain in a giant movie.

That’s always the trick with the villains, knowing when to go big. Do you feel like you knew when to pull it back and when to go for it?

I think I have to really give Peyton (Reed, director) the credit and the responsibility for a lot of the calibration of the character, because we had a lot of time and we did a lot of takes. There are definitely several different Darren performances in the can that you could make totally different movies. You know, one where I really did some scenery chewing ridiculousness and some where I was a lot more controlled. I think this is somewhere in the middle between what I did, and that’s just the nature of filmmaking.

The challenge is you want to have fun and this character is foolish and kind of…he can fit into that mold of the boastful coward. You can really play that up for laughs. But you pay the price in terms of then you don’t have a scary villain. The villain needs to be scary for the hero to be heroic.

You were cast by original director and co-writer Edgar Wright. How did the character change from his version to what we have now?

I think the backstory was there. That was all there. And I think it was more about just really focusing on the motivation being this father/son relationship. I think that was just really pushed. I think that was really the main difference. I think, in general, that was sort of the ongoing struggle, was to just make the personal relationships land.

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This is, I think, the first film you’ve been involved with that’s got really big special effects. Did you change your approach in any way to acting, not just in terms of the doing the Yellowjacket stuff, but also in terms of looking at a tiny Paul Rudd or something like that?

No. The hardest part was the performance capture — although I don’t think it’s technically performance capture. But, basically, for when I’m small and you see my eyes, the close-up in that, they had to do this thing where there’s cameras just around my face and I react to everything, but without moving my head. But everything else was very instinctual. Everything else was tapping into that very primal thing of being a kid on a playground pretending that he’s got a gun in his hand or pretending he’s Indiana Jones.

Let me ask you about The Strain a little bit. What kind of changes do we see happening to Ephraim in Season 2? What kind of arc do things follow as we go into the show?

We saw him drinking at the end of Season 1. And that’s where we’re starting with Season 2. He’s getting sloppier. But one thing that sort of gives me license is to have a sense of humor about this. That’s something that is really important in any sort of Guillermo Del Toro thing, is there to be a sense of humor amidst all this darkness. That’s a challenge with the show is that it’s so tragic. All these awful things keep happening to our main characters and it just gets worse and worse. I’m glad to be able to break that tension with a little bit of a “fuck it” attitude.

Just in general the show is becoming bigger on a larger scope. Before it was sort of status quo New York City and then there are these isolated horror events. And now it’s undeniable that the city is being taken over and it really is a war zone. That was a real challenge with shooting because you can’t just shoot the street anymore. It’s chaos. And there’s also a lot more of a sense of a backstory. They have these flashbacks about a lot of the characters’ stories. The story spans thousands of years and four continents.

Did Guillermo direct any of this season?

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He didn’t direct any whole episodes, but he did a lot of second unit work.

Ant-Man is in theaters this Friday (July 17).