The cast and crew of Sony Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” opening July 3, swung through New York City this past weekend to participate in an appropriately epic group of press conferences over the course of three hours. The first film of the rebooted Spidey franchise boasts “500 Days of Summer” director Marc Webb at the helm, which pretty much guarantees a more emotional, Peter Parker origin-heavy narrative.
Cast members in attendance included Spidey himself, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Sally Field (Aunt May), Webb and producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach. They touched upon subjects ranging from the physics of Spider-Man to Stone and Garfield’s chemistry and improvisational skills to Stan Lee’s cameo to the special attention paid to Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s beginnings. We’ve combed through the day’s discussions to bring you a character-by-character round-up, sharing everything we learned, straight from the mouths of the folks behind “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
ANDREW GARFIELD (PETER PARKER / SPIDER-MAN)
As you’ve seen by now, “The Amazing Spider-Man” features Peter Parker-designed mechanical web shooters. The question remains, did they actually work on in real life? “Do I lie or do I tell the truth?” Garfield said, chuckling. “No, it was a nice exercise in imagination.” In regard to the substantial swinging scenes portrayed in the film, Garfield praised stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong, calling him a “father figure” and citing the experience as “spiritually overwhelming.” “He pushed me. There were things that I was scared about and…he told me to…go beyond what you think you can do because you might surprise yourself.”
Discussing Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man, Garfield likened his character’s arc to some very personal experiences. “It was important to me that he started with a heroic impulse, without the physical power to do anything with it,” Garfield shared. “That was always how I felt growing up — I felt like an underdog, and I was a skinny kid. Now, I just realize that being skinny is okay. I played rugby and I was good at it, but I got concussed all the time because I was a weakling. So that was something I always identified with for Peter. He always felt stronger on the inside than he did on the outside. And there’s nothing better than seeing a skinny guy beat the crap out of big guys.”
As “a fan, first and foremost” of the Spider-Man comics, meeting their maker was, “Like being in a room with Mickey Mouse.” “He’s too iconic to be real, so I wasn’t nervous,” recalled Garfield of his first encounter with Stan Lee. “He’s amazing. He’s everything that you think he is. It was just beautiful because when you really truly understand what he’s given to us — he’s given so many kids hope and joy — he cannot be thanked enough for that.”
Garfield’s embodiment of the teenaged Peter Parker involved spending time with actual teens in Queens, along with research and inspiration from a book of photographs titled “Teenage.” And the emotional and physical demands of the role took a toll on his sleeping and eating routines. “We all have that one fictional character that we care about so much, and if ever that opportunity came along for any of us to play…when that moment comes, you go, ‘Oh my God, I’m not allowed to sleep, I’m not allowed to think about anything else! I need to dedicate everything to this person that’s given me so much in my life!'”
Asked what’s scarier, shooting action scenes or love scenes, Garfield admitted it was the former. “I actually felt more safe when I was swinging around,” Garfield said. “The romantic scenes are freefalling in a way, as they should be. Especially because it’s Emma [Stone], and she’s terrifying.” Garfield also readily revealed that the iconic Spider-Man costume wasn’t particularly comfortable, though he was upbeat about it. “Every actor who plays a superhero is like, ‘The costume sucked.’ How dare we complain? We’re the ones that get to wear it! It’s the dream! Let me just put it this way: the fantasy of wearing those costumes is really awesome.”
EMMA STONE (GWEN STACY)
Emma Stone had always wanted to play Mary Jane, so when she was called in to audition for the part of Gwen Stacy she was baffled. “I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know who Gwen Stacy is — because I hadn’t read the comic books growing up,” Stone divulged. Luckily, it only took a little research for her to fall in love with Gwen’s story. “It is so incredibly epic and tragic and incredible in the way that [Peter’s relationship with Gwen] affects Peter going forward with Mary Jane,” Stone told the press.
Once she’d familiarized herself with the character, the actress worked with costume designer Kym Barrett to bring Gwen Stacy’s signature headband, thigh-high boots and coats to life. Though she admitted she’s more girl-next-door than the traditionally voluptuous, beauty queen-esque character, Stone worked to morph the personality from several versions. “In terms of her as a character, [the movie version is] kind of a hodgepodge of different versions of Gwen,” Stone explained. “She’s not very hippieish, and I don’t think she will ever be birthing Norman Osborn’s twins — or moving to London. We tried to keep some of that moxie in there, and some of that self-assuredness.”
Gwen’s love of science sparked a fascination with biology for Stone, who was home-schooled and whose aunt and uncle are renowned scientists who worked for Merck on the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. She broached the fact that delving into research for the role made her angry that she didn’t go to college, for the first time in her life. “I went to these labs and…we looked at biophotonics…and I was learning about regeneration and we were injecting axolotls and seeing how they removed their arms and studying the regeneration. I was like, ‘What do I need to do to intern?’ You need to be a college graduate. And I was like, ‘But I know what you’re talking about! I can learn!’ It made me so upset. I don’t like the word ‘smart’ anymore, because what does ‘smart’ mean? Does it mean that you’re able to learn or does it mean that you graduated college?” Thanks to her newfound love of the subject, Stone is now planning to take at-home biology classes,.
As for the love story between Gwen and Peter, Stone said her tactic was to “unlearn” in order to get back into a 17-year-old’s mindset and experience the feeling of first love. When asked to explain the chemistry between her and Garfield, she said, “Can one explain chemistry? It really is indefinable. It’s just some soul thing.” And as for the moments when Gwen swings in the film, Stone said, “That was awesome! Thankfully I’m not afraid of heights. I loved it, other than the bruising. Harnesses bruise, you guys!”
RHYS IFANS (DR. CURT CONNORS / THE LIZARD)
Ifans had interesting shoes to fill playing the sympathetic amputee Connors, as well as his genetically-mutated alter-ego The Lizard. Of course, the actor had plenty of help getting into reptilian character — Ifans was exposed to designs for The Lizard throughout, and cited his long hours in the make-up chair as unique opportunities to study the character. The real-life rock and roll star (his current band is called The Peth) joked, “There wasn’t any kind of rock and roll inspiration for Connors because you need two hands to play guitar!”
He found a kindred musical spirit in Webb, however, who often played music while filming to set the mood. “When we were shooting the scene where Connors for the first time sees his new hand appear through this kind of reptilian chrysalis, Marc played Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ sung by Lou Reed,” Ifans recalled. “It’s a beautiful song about addiction. We let this whole song run, and let this hand appear, and it was just really moving. That’s the way Marc works.”
DENIS LEARY (CAPTAIN STACY)
In true stand-up comic form, Leary took the stage with the mic in hand and never sat down, treating the assembled press to a comedy special-style Q&A. He admitted that his role as Gwen’s strict, law-enforcing father was a nice change of pace after 7 years as a writer/producer/actor on “Rescue Me,” because all he had to focus on was the acting. His experience with Webb — who Leary calls an “actor’s director” — allowed him to bring his improvisational skills to the table, skills that extended to his young co-stars, who impressed the veteran comedian with their mature, off-the-cuff acting abilities. “I didn’t know what to expect from Andrew and Emma,” Leary admitted. “And quite frankly, they were the real deal. They were all about the work, they were able to improvise — which not everybody can do. Everybody thinks they can, but they can’t, really.”
Leary recalled a specific moment during the dinner scene in the film, which pits Peter against Captain Stacy for the first time, much to Gwen’s chagrin. “It was one of the first things we shot in the movie…we were playing around, improvising…and I still wasn’t there yet, but I was supposed to be intimidating Andrew’s character,” the actor said. “Marc walked in after a take and he just kneeled down next to me and he said, ‘Hey, you really gotta step it up.’ And I was like, holy fuck. I mean, that’s how good they are.”
Speaking to the physicality of his role, Leary was all too happy to hand off the heavy stuff to stunt doubles. “The one thing I wanted, I told Marc, ‘I’m shooting that shotgun every time.’ There was like four days of that. That was a blast. I did some of the falls, you know. Shit that that makes you look cool I’ll do. But once it gets a little dangerous…that’s when that CGI shit comes in handy!”
Leary also admitted that he went into the role cold regarding his character. “I’m not a comic book guy — my friends that are Captain Stacy and Spider-Man nuts, I stopped talking to them,” he said. “Because that’s insane, the shit that they want you to know about the character. I just listened to Marc…and I focused on the other actors and that was it.”
MARTIN SHEEN (UNCLE BEN) / SALLY FIELD (AUNT MAY)
Watching the two screen legends giggle and banter on stage was grounds for an “Evening with Martin and Field” pitch, to say the least. Sheen entered first, chatting up the room, which caused Field to announce, “It’s the Marty show!” when she walked in. Both actors admitted that they hadn’t seen the movie yet, and also didn’t read the comics growing up. “I read ‘Little Lulu.’ That was my girl,” said Field. “As far as Spider-Man is concerned, I’m 21 years older than he is, so I missed it totally,” said Sheen. “I do recall the afternoon cartoon. My kids would rush to the TV to see that. But that was as close as I ever got.”
Field and Sheen both discussed the fact that Webb didn’t have the actors watch dailies, which was fine with them since watching dailies is debilitating, “Because then you start imitating yourself,” Field explained. “That is the difficult thing about ever watching a film that you’ve done, because you become aware of your own physicality in a way that isn’t good for you to have in your own mind.” In some ways, Sheen and Field felt as though they were making a very different film within the larger movie — a small family drama. “[Webb] wanted us to be simple and direct and honest with each other and just enjoy each other’s company and not to play any image of the characters — which are very well known,” Sheen said. “We laughed a lot,” added Field. “That it was a 3D movie was off because…some of the scenes that Andrew and I had together…as far as we knew, we were shooting a little kitchen drama,” she said.
MARC WEBB (DIRECTOR) / AVI ARAD (PRODUCER / MATT TOLMACH (PRODUCER)
Webb called casting the leads for “The Amazing Spider-Man” a “terrifying prospect” due to the film’s iconic personalities, but Garfield’s “childlike quality” in 2007’s “Boy A” caught his eye. “When he was auditioning…he had a rare combination,” the director recalled. “He could do the emotional gravitas…but he’s also funny and alive and light and sarcastic, and those are the kind of attributes that I really wanted to explore in the film. We screen-tested him and I was in the editing room later that night just kind of going through the dailies…I was watching his take and I just kept on going back and looking at it and looking at it…it was fascinating because he has a level of detail and nuance that’s really pretty extraordinary.”
Webb was more familiar with Stone’s previous work, calling her “fast and…alive but she can also do emotional depth.” But he knew he’d need to cast the chemistry. “I remember seeing them together — we were all there, behind the monitors, just watching them have fun and open up and be spontaneous, and there was just some magic that was happening between them.”
“One of the questions Marc raised in the very beginning…was the physics of Spider-Man,” Tolmach recalled. “Where are these webs going to go? You can’t just fire webs up into the sky — they have to affix to a building. It complicates his journey.” And shooting in 3D complicated the journey behind the camera, as well, requiring special conception for sequences, longer holds on shots and different pacing in the edit room.
Recalling the first time he met with Stan Lee to discuss the comic book legend’s cameo, Webb said, “When I got hired for Spider-Man, the first thing I did is I got Stan’s number from Avi. We sat down to lunch and he’s like, ‘So, Marc — let’s talk about my cameo!’ He kept on trying to add lines to the scene.” Arad — who called Lee’s cameos “a tradition that we cherish” — admitted, “I get the calls complaining, ‘I didn’t have a line!’ I said, “You’ll get the laugh, don’t worry!”
Arad said that he didn’t give Webb stipulations regarding what he could and couldn’t change in the reboot, saying that the only guidance he offered were for Webbto study “where are we in time, what high school is like, what science is like, is Peter now finally at the stage that it’s believable that he can do his own webs?” Webb, who admits he’s more of a Peter Parker fan, said, “We’ve seen the story of the origin of Spider- Man; we haven’t always seen the story of the origin of Peter Parker. I think there were details that surrounded, say, the spider bite and his reason for getting bitten that I thought were important in a backstory and an ongoing world that I had thought of early on.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man” swings into theaters July 3.