If you’re not already caught up in the web of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” maybe director Marc Webb and star Emma Stone can make the reboot stick in your must-see list.
PopcornBiz caught up with Webb and Stone at WonderCon in Anaheim – where they got a (super) heroes’ welcome from the assembled fanboys and fangirls as they previewed the latest trailer for the film, which kickstarts the Marvel Comics franchise again from square one – and the helmer and leading lady let slip even more secrets from the next step in Spidey’s cinematic adventures.
Are you getting a sense for the fans’ excitement for the film now that little pieces of the film have gotten out there?
Marc Webb: It's sort of intimidating. Emma says this really well: It's like there's something liberating about the idea that 'Spider-Man' is so much bigger than any one of us.
Emma Stone: Yes, absolutely. You feel like a little cog in a really big machine, which is so nice. It kind of makes it a little bit more pressure-less – maybe not for you, Marc, but for me it feels like they're coming to see Spider-Man. That's what it's all about.
Webb: But it's been really fun. I think there's a real genuine sense of enthusiasm, and curiosity, which is fun. I mean, you do have to honor the sort of iconographic elements of 'Spider-Man,' but it's been fun to put ourselves in, in a different and new way.
How do you honor that, but make it your own movie?
Webb: Well, I think there are elements of Spider-Man that are just universal. I mean, he shoots webs and he soars through the sky and he's a little guy who beats up guys that are bigger than him, or fights for the little guy. I think that's a really important thing, but I think that for me there were a few things in the Spider-Man comics that I thought were really interesting. There's this story about Peter's parents and where he came from, and I thought that it was really interesting to explore the emotional consequence of someone who's parents had left them at a very young age. I like that Peter Parker has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. In 'The Amazing Spider-Man #8' there's this moment where Flash (Thompson) and Peter are sort of going at each other. They're at a boxing match and you sort of hear what Peter is saying and he's a little surly and I like that, but there's this attitude, this sort of punk rock humor and trickster quality that I think probably comes from somebody who is a little distrustful of the world at times. In order for someone like that to become a hero, I think it's a really interesting story and that was something fun. It was really fun to explore, and then of course there's the Gwen Stacy saga, The Lizard. But I think what we tried to do was find something very emotionally grounded and that felt very real. That's a challenge when there's big lizards and soaring through the air, but that's what was really fun about it.
Experience-wise, what's been fun for you showing up at work every day, Emma?
Stone: There were fun elements like swinging that I'd never done, or reacting to something that's not there, which was interesting, but the greatest take-away was realizing that everything is so grounded in reality and it doesn't matter how big the world is around you or the blue screens in the background – you are doing a scene between two people and it's human and it's reality. That's kind of a comforting thing when you're in something that's so seemingly daunting and it's such a big environment. It's nice at the end of the day to know that you're just acting as you would be in any circumstance.
Does seeing the level of hardcore devotion that these fans have here about the comic make you nervous at all, living up to that expectation?
Stone: I think initially, definitely. But then you realize that there's just so much material when it comes to 'Spider-Man.' I had done 'The Help' right before this and that was a book, and so there was also that kind of fan base, but that's one book and this is 50 years worth of comic book material. So there're different incarnations of Gwen, and I realized that you can't please everybody and that you were cast because they're hoping that you can bring this character to life in the best way that you know how. So at the end of the day I hope that people are satisfied. I know that not everybody will be, and that's one of those trials of being human, when you learn that not everybody can like you. It is a tough lesson, isn't it, but it's important and I think hopefully people will be okay with my incarnation.
We haven't seen much about Gwen Stacy outside of the comics. What are you hoping to explore in this relationship?
Webb: The way that Peter Parker eventually learns about sacrifice through Gwen Stacy, but in order to adequately learn that lesson you have to feel that really strong bond. Something for me I think in terms of what we set out to do with this relationship, specifically between Peter and Gwen, I mean, you remember, like, the first time that you meet a girl in high school and that you get to share things with that person that you might not have shared with any other people, that creates a bond and an intensity that I think has a lot of currency. When you get that opportunity to be honest and open with somebody for the first time and share things about yourself that you haven't been able to share things that you haven't been able to before, things that you might be scared of or ashamed about, that's really exhilarating, and I think that's something that people will really identify with. That was something that was fun about the relationship, and then in terms of Gwen as a character, she's really smart. She's got this scientific quality, and maybe you can speak more to this, but she's in sort of a weird position, stuck between the different men in her life.
Stone: Yeah, her duty to her father and her duty to her boyfriend, because she's a real confidant for him. Their intimacy is such an incredible element, and I think that Gwen has been in control her whole life. She's the oldest daughter of a police chief, who is constantly terrified that her father is going to die everyday. She has to have an element of being smart because she has to be. She's a valedictorian because she has to be. She has to take care of things and be responsible for her family and I think that being able to let go and trust somebody who puts themselves in the face of death of everyday, too, that's like, great, now she's drawn to another person that could die at any moment and she has to keep his secret and pick and choose between her first love which is her father, of course, like every girl. That's the first man in your life and then her first boyfriend. So, it's a pretty complex situation for Gwen, and there's a lot of, I think, sadness and fear in her life combined with the fact that she's outwardly confident and strong and smart and takes no bulls***. She's soft and 17 underneath it all. There's a great source of drama, and Gwen is at the center of this in a lot of ways – there's competing ideas of what's good. These people, everybody's heart is in the right place, but they execute their plans in different ways and that goes for The Lizard and Curt Connors as well. Gwen in particular is stuck between [her father] the Captain and Peter Parker and Spider-Man who have different ways about going about finding justice in their lives. I think that's a really fun thing to explore in the movie.
With the romance being so important in the story, how quickly did the chemistry happen between Emma and Andrew Garfield? Did you land that right away or did it take work, finding those moments so you could click as Peter and Gwen?
Webb: I know that when we did a screen test and there was, I think…what was great was that I think that Emma brought a level of humor and levity that Andrew really responded to and there was this immediate sense of lightness in the interaction which I think tracks really beautifully onscreen, and when you have that you just want to spend time with them. There was another thing, there was a spontaneity on set. I feel like there was a real…I don't know how much improv Andrew had done, but had you done a lot of improv?
Webb: And you could tell because they were just firing it off and that was really cool, to have a very big, huge movie with a lot of visual FX and a lot of pressure and a lot of days and a lot of grilling things, and then you have these, like, wistful spirits who are just snappy, and Denis Leary was really funny. That was a real joy to watch.
With 50 years worth of 'Spider-Man,' why go back and explore this origin story one more time so soon?
Webb: Well, we're telling the story in a different way and I think it's really important when you're redefining a character for the audience to experience things that they haven't experienced from the ground up. I wanted to build a character. There's just something about the movies that I see, like, I feel like point of view is a really crucial thing in the story and that you need to build up the sort of emotional building blocks so that you can experience all the other emotions in a very specific way rather than just experience it in an intellectual way. I mean, that's why at the beginning of the movie there's a story of his parents. I think you want to feel what that sense of abandonment feels like as an audience member so that you can readily and appropriately identify. And we're creating a different universe with different rules and a different tone and different villains. We're very careful to honor the iconography of 'Spider-Man,' but we wanted to tell it in a new and different way.
Emma, what was your first exposure to 'Spider-Man'?
Stone: The Sam Raimi trilogy. I didn't read comics growing up. I watched a lot of movies and I guess those were my comic books. So, yeah, the trilogy, and then really my exposure increased by becoming affiliated with 'Spider-Man.' When I found out that I was going to audition for Gwen I looked into the Gwen Stacy story. I was so excited that it was Gwen because when your exposure has been the Sam Raimi trilogy you only really knew about Mary Jane, other than Bryce's [Dallas Howard] in the third version, the third movie, but that's a totally different version of Gwen. So, it was like I had some back story all of a sudden to the Peter and Mary Jane relationship because he's gone through something so horribly traumatic in his life and has such a sense of guilt that it really added so much to the story. So, I was so excited to get to be a part of bringing that story to life.
Why was Andrew the perfect Spider-Man?
I remember there was a very specific moment when we were screen testing with Andrew, and I've told this story before, but he was eating a cheeseburger that wasn't really in the movie. It was just for the screen test and he moved in a way that felt adolescent. He was eating a cheeseburger and he flopped his elbows around, and I didn't know what I was drawn to initially until I watched it over and over again. I couldn't stop watching it and I thought that it was so interesting and there were so many layers in the performance, but I was drawn to it. I just wanted to watch it over and over again. Then, beyond that, he's emphatic about finding authenticity and emotional reality in a scene and he will not reach for jokes. He will not reach for any other kind of emotion that does not feel real or authentic. That's an enormous gift. It's a very difficult things for actors because they're often asked to do things that are really crazy and when you have to react to a lizard that's tennis ball, it's a really, really difficult, tricky piece of craft. He could do that in a way that felt real, and I felt that was really exceptional. Beyond that he can do sort of emotional depth and sort of, like, heartbreaking scenes. There's a lot of tragedy in the movie. He can do romance and he can do humor – as can Emma – but that's a very, very rare combination to find in an actor and you become increasingly aware of how rare that is as you start to try to find that. He's exceptional human in that regard, an exceptional craftsman in that regard.