Dan Brightmore sat down with the actor to talk about his opinions on the superhero genre (before and after Ant-Man), his appreciation of comic books and his connection to Hank Pym.
Here’s the interview.
Did it take some persuading to sign on for a super hero movie?
No! When my agent called me and sent the script over I was like, ‘Yes! Finally.’ Actually, I was a little hurt that no one had asked me before. Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito are two of my oldest friends… I looked back at the Joker and the Penguin and they told me how much fun they had playing characters that were theatrical and larger than life. So I was excited when Marvel sent me two years worth of Ant-Man comics in a leather-bound volume to research my character and get an idea of who this crazy inventor Hank Pym was. And I was really looking forward to doing a big special effects movie.
Did the fact that distinguished actors of your generation like Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Redford have been in movies like Batman Forever and Captain America have any impact on your decision?
It didn’t initially but it certainly encouraged me and helped the negotiations I’m sure.
Did you read any Marvel comics as a kid?
I was not a comic book kid so it was an eye opener for me. People talk about comic books like they’re superficial but the reality for me when reading the story of Hank Pym – this brilliant scientist, warrior and businessman who lost his wife – gave me more character background than I’ve had on any picture before.
Are you still enjoying acting as much as you did when you made your debut on the cop show The Streets of San Francisco and in hit films like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct?
Much more so… In the beginning of my career I suffered from tremendous stage fright. I was not inherently a comfortable actor so it took years and years of being in front of that x-ray machine to feel comfortable. So I enjoy my time in front of camera much more these days.
Paul Rudd told David Letterman that when he explained to his son he was going to be in the Ant-Man movie the boy replied, “I can’t wait to see how stupid that will be!” Did you have any reservations that this could be too silly a concept to work?
No because I got the opposite reaction from my son. Dylan was 13 at the time and told me I had to do this! He was like my agent and goes, ‘You don’t understand Dad there’s a whole new audience out there for you.’ I’m like, ‘Now wait a minute…’ But most of my career is R-rated so he hasn’t seen a lot of my movies you know.
Director Peyton Reed uses CGI to make you look 30 years younger in the opening scene. What was it like to experience that transformation?
Well, the bizarre part was when I came in to the studio to add extra lines to that sequence and they’d only half finished their work. So I saw myself with a bunch of dots on my face morphing into a younger version of me. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I was like, ‘Wow! Let’s go back and do Romancing the Stone again!’ I can feel a resurgence coming on… As a producer also it was fascinating to see how Peyton handles four units of shooting: principal actors, stunts, special effects with all the green screen gear and the macro unit which gave us the point of view of the ants which is spectacularly realised. Beyond this movie and into sequels going small has so much potential – it’s gonna be very interesting.
There’s a great dynamic between you, Paul Rudd’s safe-cracker turned Ant-Man and your on-screen daughter Evangeline Lily. What was it like working together?
It was a pleasure professionally, particularly watching Paul as he rose to the occasion of being the leading man, the number one on the call sheet. By that I mean you set the tone and set an example. You’re the first one there and try and make sure everyone else on set is as comfortable as possible. He’s a lovely guy but I got a little jealous. He did the re-write and got a lot of funny lines for himself but he was great.
And Evangeline is a solid actress and a great choice for a kickass superhero movie. And don’t forget Corey Stoll who makes for a great villain. But the biggest surprise for me was Michael Pena. He just ate up the curtains! He lived and breathed the part. I never saw it coming but I was really impressed by the way he made his role bigger and brought so much humour to the film.
Do you improvise like Pena?
Sadly not, I carry the heavy load… I carry the exposition and the plot lines. I’d keep talking and be looking at Paul Rudd thinking, ‘When I finish he’s gonna have a funny line!’
Did you embrace your fatherly mentor role?
I did. It was a nice element. And as I got into the process and began to understand Hank Pym’s place in the Marvel universe I got the balance of family values as Paul’s character Scott Lang and mine try and restore their relationships with their daughters. It’s probably a little softer and less violent than some of the other Marvel films.
What kind of father are you?
Pretty good! I’m blessed and fortunate enough to have had three children. My oldest is 36 now while Dylan and Carys arrived later in my life. Having established my career before they came along I’ve had more time for them but saying that I’m probably an old fashioned kind of father. I’m a father, I’m not their friend. We get along well but I don’t make an effort to be their buddy, I’m their father.
Is Hank Pym that kind of father?
Yes, I think so. He’s a disciplinarian. In the crux of his career he didn’t have time for his daughter Hope while he was caught up with battling to save the world with his wife Janet – so not much parental guidance in that family.
So it’s no spoiler to suggest that in the future we may see more of Janet?
I would guess so. Since Scott was able to return from the Quantum Realm (the microverse where Janet was lost) it’s a hint that Janet could come back too.
Did you struggle with the weird science of the Marvel universe and the complications of the Quantum Realm?
Totally. That’s where acting comes in. Having suffered from stage fright when I was younger I’m reminded that someone once said, ‘The camera can always tell when you’re lying.’ I used to see the camera as an x-ray machine that was looking straight through me and I used to act painfully, method acting… But then one day, and I know this sounds stupid, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I just told a white lie and nothing happened.’ So I realised that acting is lying. We lie all the time and nobody stops you. I think that was the answer for all the things I didn’t understand. Just do it with some authority. I’ve got some pretty big speeches in the film about a lot of stuff I couldn’t begin to tell you about but if you do it with enough authority no one dares question it.
So would you say you were a recovering method actor?
Probably. I had some method training in the early days but my white lie epiphany was certainly the switch to making it much more comfortable and enjoying acting.
Will we see you don the latex and get suited up yourself in the sequel?
I would love to. But if you watch until the end credits you’ll see a reveal for The Wasp – Hank Pym’s daughter. I’m sorry, spoiler alert! So somewhere between my prodigy and my daughter there’s gotta be room for Pym to return. They’re a great group to work with and producer Kevin Feige is 12 for 12 – he has a vision and each film Marvel have done is a hit.
Given your experience as both an actor and producer were you concerned when Edgar Wright left the project and was replaced Peyton Reed?
A little bit… Edgar is a very talented guy and he’d chosen me. But as I became more familiar with the Marvel family I could see we were in safe hands. I’d worked with Kevin Feige’s executive assistant Louis Esposito on Basic Instinct so I knew him well. I took my lead from Paul but Edgar’s departure seemed to be relatively amicable so when Paul rolled up his sleeves for the re-write Peyton brought his own vision and combined with his energy and some elaborate storyboards we got on with it. My heart went out to Edgar because he had five years invested in this film. The beauty of being the actor and not the producer on this one is that I don’t really know the inner workings of what happened. But Kevin Feige is the anchor for these pictures.
At this stage in your career how has what you’re looking for in a role changed? Has the rise of TV played a part?
It’s always been less about the role and more about the movie. Because I’m a producer I care less about the role if it’s a good picture and so that’s the issue and the question for me. So probably that’s why with my production company I’m looking more towards television – I’ve got a first look deal with HBO.
Dustin Hoffman recently bemoaned the current state of affairs in Hollywood saying it’s the worst it’s been in 50 years. What’s your view of the industry today?
These days in the feature film world the big tent pole pictures have taken over. The smaller indie films and character driven movies that I’ve done, particularly the last few years, has been disappointing in terms of release. I did pictures like King of California and A Solitary Man where it was hard to get distribution, there’s not much of an advertising budget and that is where this whole area of cable television has come in. After my experience with Behind the Candelabra (the story of Liberace) being turned down by every major studio even with Matt Damon and Soderbergh I could see the writing on the wall. So short of being involved with big studio pictures television is an area I’d like to focus on more.
For the types of movies that Dustin and I now do the world of Netflix and HBO are doing good stuff and where our films will find their audience. So it’s all about embracing this new delivery system. I’m not just talking about a chance to develop characters in a TV series but the so called movies for television where you can make a film for a built in audience of five million viewers and still have it syndicated around the world. Hopefully your home screens and sound systems are getting bigger and better because we know that the screen they show an independent picture on is not much bigger than your television!
If you could be a superhero for one day which one from the Marvel universe would you choose?
Whoa! Some of them are pretty crazy silly… You know, I’m pretty proud of Hank Pym. Maybe I’d like to see, since they have all these fantastic computer graphics, how they could take me back to Hank Pym in his prime and play Ant-Man. A CGI prequel! That’s what I’m gonna tell ‘em, ‘Come on guys you could have my face on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body!’
What’s next for you?
There’s a bunch of other stuff going on in my life outside of the business with my production company… I’m building a hotel on the island of Bermuda, I’ve got this prize in Israel (Douglas was awarded the $1m Genesis Prize known as the Jewish Nobel Prize) so I’ve got some work to do on interfaith marriages and my work with the United Nations.
I’ve turned a few things down because I don’t wanna get ahead of my self right now and just wanna have some fun – try to get some more golf in.
Are you still going to play Ronald Reagan?
I actually stole my Ronald Reagan wig from my opening sequence! Yeah, we’re working on a project called Reykjavik (about the 1986 arms summit between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev). It doesn’t have a date yet and we’re still working on the script but I’d like to do that story.
How important is it for you to strike a work/life balance?
Oh yeah. That’s why I’ve turned down films shooting in Germany this year that clashed with the beginning of the school year for my kids. I’m happy and excited to be someone who is cancer free because five years ago I was someone who didn’t know what lay ahead. To have a resurgence in my career and a second lease of life is great but at the same time it’s a great opportunity with my kids at 14 and 12. You know how quickly it goes – in a few years they’ll be out of the house so I cherish the time.
Ant-Man is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.