With its July 3rd release date quickly approaching, it wasn’t a surprise that The Amazing Spider-Man had a panel presentation at WonderCon 2012 with actress Emma Stone (aka Gwen Stacy) and director Marc Webb. This gritty and grounded take on Peter Parker’s origin story and evolution into Spider-Man is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films of the summer.
Prior to their panel presentation (read Dave’s recap here), Emma Stone and Marc Webb talked to the press about the idea that Spider-Man is bigger than any one person, honoring the iconography of the story and character while still making it their own movie, living up to fan expectations, what they’re hoping to explore with the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy, why they decided to return to the origin story, and what made Andrew Garfield the perfect Spider-Man.
Collider: Are you getting a sense of the excitement for the film, now that little pieces have gotten out?
Marc Webb: Yeah, it’s intimidating. 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 makes it a little bit more pressure-less. 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. You do have to honor the iconographic elements of Spider-Man, but it’s been fun to put ourselves in it, in a different and new way.
How do you honor that iconography, but also make it your own movie?
Webb: Well, I think there are elements of Spider-Man that are just universal. He shoots webs and he soars through the sky and he’s a little guy who beats up guys that are bigger than him. He fights for the little guy. I think that’s a really important thing. 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 whose parents had left them, at a very young age. I like that this Peter Parker has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. In The Amazing Spider-Man #8, there’s this moment where Flash and Peter are going at each other. They’re at a boxing match, and you hear what Peter is saying and he’s a little surly, and I like that. There’s this attitude that’s a punk rock humor and trickster quality that 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 that was really fun to explore. And then, of course, there’s the Gwen Stacy saga and The Lizard. 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.
Emma, what was fun for you, in regard to showing up for work, every day?
Stone: Well, 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. 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 real. That’s 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 how hard-core these fans are about the comic make you nervous at all, in living up to that expectation?
Stone: 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, so there was also that fan base. But, that’s one book, and this is 50 years worth of comic book material. There are 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 that 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 with this relationship?
Webb: Well, I think 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. In terms of what we set out to do with this relationship, specifically between Peter and Gwen, the first time that you meet a girl in high school, and 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 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 before, 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. But, she’s in a weird position, stuck between the different men in her life.
Stone: Yeah, there’s her duty to her father and her duty to her boyfriend because she’s a real confidante for him. Their intimacy is such an incredible element. 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, every day. 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. She has to try to let go and trust somebody else who puts themselves in the face of death, every day. It’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, like every girl.” That’s the first man in your life, and then there’s your first boyfriend. So, it’s a pretty complex situation for Gwen. There’s a lot of sadness and fear in her life, combined with the fact that she’s outwardly confident and strong and smart, and takes no bullshit. She’s soft and 17, underneath it all.
Webb: There’s a great source of drama, and Gwen is at the center of it, in a lot of ways. There are competing ideas of what’s good. 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 The Captain and Peter Parker and Spider-Man, who have different ways of 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 you see the chemistry happening between Emma and Andrew [Garfield]? Did that happen right away?
Webb: I know that, when we did a screen test, what was great was 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 on screen. When you have that, you just want to spend time with them. There was a spontaneity on set. You could tell that Emma had done a lot of improv because they were just firing it off, and that was really cool. We had this very big, huge movie with a lot of visual effects and a lot of pressure and a lot of days, and then you have these wistful spirits who are just snappy. That was a real joy to watch.
With 50 years worth of Spider-Man to draw from, why go back and explore this origin story again, so soon?
Webb: Well, we’re telling the story in a different way. 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. I feel like point of view is a really crucial thing in the story, and that you need to build up the emotional building blocks, so that you can experience all the other emotions in a very specific way, rather than just experiencing it in an intellectual way. That’s why, at the beginning of the movie, there’s the story of his parents being pulled from him. You want to feel what that sense of abandonment, as an audience member, so that you can readily and appropriately identify. We’re creating a different universe with different rules and a different tone and different villains. We were 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 those were my comic books. So, it was the trilogy. And then, my exposure really 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 Dallas Howard’s portrayal in the third movie, but that’s a totally different version of Gwen. So, it was like I had some backstory, all of a sudden, to the Peter and Mary Jane relationship. 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.
Marc, why was Andrew Garfield the perfect Spider-Man?
Webb: We looked at a lot of people, and then we started casting and there was something about him. I remember that there was a very specific moment, when we were screen testing with Andrew. 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. I just watched it over and over again. I couldn’t stop watching it. I thought that it was so interesting, and there were so many layers in the performance, and I was drawn to it. I just wanted to watch it, over and over again. 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 kind of emotion that does not feel real or authentic. That’s an enormous gift. It’s a very difficult thing for actors because they’re often asked to do things that are really crazy. When you have to react to a lizard that’s a 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 emotional depth and 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. You become increasingly aware of how rare that is, as you start to try to find that. He’s an exceptional human and an exceptional craftsman, in that regard.
Why was it important for you to restore the smart-ass element of peter Parker?
Webb: I think it emerges from a kind of attitude. There’s a punk rock quality to Peter Parker, that I identified with when I read the comics, and that I really liked. He has this chip on his shoulder. That humor is something that’s so crucial and so part of the DNA of Spider-Man and the comics. I liked a little bit of that wise-ass quality, and Andrew really took a shine to it and was able to pull it off. He hadn’t done a lot of funny movies before this, but he can be very wistful.
Is Gwen also funny?
Stone: I’m sure some stuff snuck in there. The nice thing is that Gwen’s story is really through Peter Parker. You very rarely see her outside of him. And in a relationship that’s a first relationship, there’s levity and there’s heartbreak. Of course, there are funny moments, and he really has a pretty incredible, hilarious sequence. It’s pretty fantastic.
Webb: He’s great. It’s very good. He does this sort of physical comedy really well.
Stone: Yeah, he’s great at physical comedy.
Webb: You don’t see that very often. There’s no vaudeville to train that kind of thing.
Stone: Yeah, but he took clowning in school.