“When I was first introduced to Peter Parker, I fell in love with him,” says Amy Pascal. In fact, she and Spidey go back a long way.
As the former chair of Columbia Pictures and later co-chairperson of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pascal oversaw the production and distribution of the wallcrawler’s first proper Hollywood outing: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. She presided over Raimi’s two Spidey sequels and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot series.
When she stepped down from the top job at Sony, Pascal launched her own production company and, after finally agreeing a deal with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios, she produced Spider-Man: Homecoming – the first solo outing for Tom Holland’s Spidey. She also produced last year’s Venom spin-off and the animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Like we said, Pascal and Spidey go back a long way – “since the day that Avi [Arad, former Marvel Studios boss] introduced me,” she tells Den Of Geek. “I’ve been really lucky, that’s for darn sure.”
Relaxing in a London hotel suite with her feet up on the sofa, Pascal is a lot more laid-back than you might expect from a high-flying Hollywood producer and former studio exec. She admits that she wasn’t an avid comic-book reader, “unless it was like Archie [Comics] – Betty And Veronica, that was more my thing.” But, she says, the character immediately made an impact on her.
“The wonderful thing about getting to tell stories about Spider-Man is that he has all the same issues that the rest of us do,” she says. “He’s incredibly relatable. And whether it’s Peter [Parker] or it’s Miles [Morales], or it’s Toby [Maguire], Andrew [Garfield], Tom [Holland] or Shameik [Moore], there’s something about the person behind that mask that I find poignant and moving and inspiring.”
For her latest Spidey-venture, Pascal is once again teaming up with Marvel chief Kevin Feige to bring us Spider-Man: Far From Home – the sequel to 2017’s Homecoming and the MCU’s follow-up to the cinematic behemoth that was Avengers: Endgame. Once again, Brit actor Tom Holland is stepping into the Spidey suit, and Pascal is none more pleased that their casting decision has paid off. “Tom brings some of the essence of what makes Peter, Peter,” she says. “There’s a humility and an innocence and an eagerness there, as well as athleticism and a sense of timing and comedy and pathos. He sort of is the whole package.”
Holland’s tenure as Spidey very nearly didn’t happen, though, with a lot of back and forth between Sony – which owns the big-screen rights to the character – and Disney/Marvel. Ultimately, it was Feige and Pascal’s working relationship that got the deal through and finally allowed the webslinger to join the epic Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“When I first met Kevin, he was rushing out and getting Avi coffee,” she laughs. “For the first couple of years I knew him, I don’t think he opened his mouth. But clearly, he was absorbing everything that was going on. I’ve never met anybody like him. Not only is he a kingmaker, he’s brilliant and kind and inclusive. And I can’t say enough about how much fun it’s been doing this [project] together.”
But as much as she’s enjoyed getting involved in the MCU, Pascal is also adamant that these movies have to stick to their own guns. “I think it’s really important that, regardless of what world it takes place in, the movie has to be able to stand on its own,” she says. “It has to stand on its own from Homecoming and the other Spider-Man movies, too. It has to work without the before and after.”
And with these Spidey films sort-of representing the MCU’s take on the ‘teen movie’ genre, a lot of that uniqueness, she says, comes down to the film’s director, Jon Watts. “He’s great with teenagers and kids, and he definitely brought that tone to it from the very beginning – from when he forced Kevin and I to hire him, which he definitely did!” Pascal laughs, before signalling her support for his continued involvement with the franchise. “He is a director to be reckoned with,” she says. “And he better be making all of these movies!”
One way in which the Far From Home filmmakers tried to move away from previous Spidey films was to take ol’ webhead out of his NYC-shaped comfort zone. “Homecoming was made to take place in Queens, and it was supposed to be on the scale that it was,” Pascal says. “But with Far From Home, we wanted to put Peter in a place where he was completely out of sorts and where he was going to be really uncomfortable. Because in this movie, he’s running away from something that he doesn’t want to deal with. We wanted these kids who had never gone to Europe to be in a place where the world was opening up to them in a very different way.”
One thing that’s clear is that releasing a Spidey film in today’s cinematic landscape is a very different experience to when Pascal first started working with the wallcrawler: the boom in comic-book movies was only just beginning, and they were still seen by Hollywood as something of an unknown quantity.
“It was a different time,” Pascal says, thinking back to the early ’00s. “But we were lucky enough to have Sam [Raimi] to guide us and make emotional superhero movies, which was what he came in and said the first day we met. You have to fall in love with the character. In the end, there isn’t anything else. And I think Sam’s Movies, Marc’s movies, Jon’s movies – they all adhere to that same thing. A lot of [superhero] movies have gotten a lot bigger, but that’s not really what Spider-Man is. It’s more of a personal story.”
Not that just making a comic-book movie guarantees you success today, mind. Pascal had two big hits last year with the unexpected box-office success of Venom and the praise heaped on the Oscar-winning Into The Spider-Verse. “You have to give the studio and [Sony Pictures exec] Tom Rothman enormous kudos for both those things,” she says, modestly. “Because those were not easy decisions. On paper, both those projects weren’t going to be as easy as making other movies. But being brave, taking risks is how you win.”
As well as her Spidey projects, Pascal has been busy producing smaller, female-led projects such as Molly’s Game and Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Little Women. “I mean, my life has been women and Spider-Man,” she laughs. “But what’s important to me is putting characters on screen who we can be inspired by. If you look at Jo March and Peter Parker, they’re two people who are real people dealing with real things and who do amazing stuff. I’m always looking for the same thing. I think stories are how we understand our life. I’m looking for characters that I think people can relate to, regardless of whether they’re wearing superhero costumes or not.”
Talking about taking risks, Pascal is still on the lookout for challenging projects. A few years ago, for example, she made a winning bid for the movie rights to Crash Override: How to Save the Internet from Itself – video game developer Zoë Quinn’s memoir of the Gamergate controversy. That adaptation might still be in the development stages, but it’s an interesting pick; the producer herself is no stranger to the darker side of the world wide web, especially given the fallout of the infamous 2014 Sony hack. “I think that [how the internet is evolving] is one of the most important things happening in our world,” she says. “Because it affects everything, doesn’t it? It has completely changed the world, as technology always does, but Gamergate leading to what it led to…It’s a really important thing [to explore].”
As much as making superhero movies has gotten ‘easier’ in terms of them becoming a more mainstream prospect, the “change” that Pascal alludes to – the age of social media – also means that these productions are under more scrutiny than ever before. That must be a challenge, right? “Yeah, but you can’t make yourself too crazy,” she says. “I mean, you have to pay attention, because the fans are mostly smarter than you. But you also have to make your movie. You have to believe in your filmmaker and you can’t be a slave to what everybody thinks all the time, or you’ll be paralysed. And sometimes you’ll be wrong. And that’s okay. I’ve been wrong a lot. But if you don’t do something, then you do nothing.”
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.