Over the course of this season, Disney XD’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” took steps away from its one-and-done comedy roots and built a bigger, badder storyline with some bigger, badder villains. But after last week’s episode, it appears Peter Parker’s true arch-nemesis has been saved for the very last battle.
This Sunday, the second season wraps with the ominously titled “Ultimate.” After a battle with the reformed Sinister Six that saw Norman Osborn’s Iron Patriot (as played by well known TV actor Steve Weber) returned to his Goblin state, the hulking demonic villain has captured Power Man, Iron Fist and the rest of Spidey’s S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits with a nefarious scheme all his own.
For our pre-finale installment of UNMASKING ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, CBR News spoke with Steven Weber about his long journey from Norman Osborn to Goblin to Iron Patriot and back again. The actor describes how the vocal demands of the villain challenged him as no other part had before, what real life inspiration he drew from to create the megalomaniacal Osborn persona and how the path that the entire season has been following will lead into the “Ultimate” finale.
CBR News: It’s been a rough few weeks for Norman Osborn, but it must be nice from your perspective, to see him become such a crucial part of Season 2.
Steven Weber: It’s been great to watch his involvement in the story grow, and it’s actually a more intense emotional involvement, because he’s not just a monster, he’s a father. As we see the relationship between him and Peter Parker growing, that’s fascinating, too.
Of course, the whole cast of “Ultimate Spider-Man” is much younger on screen than Norman, and while the actors aren’t all teenagers themselves, I wonder how much that generational element plays out in the booth between you?
That dynamic is really present in the room, except in a more playful way. The actors who are doing the roles of the young heroes might not be teenagers, but I’m twice as old as most of them. Intellectually, we’re all on the same page. We’re kind of comic book geeks. But the guys like me and Chi McBride and Tom Kenney are up there. We’re middle-aged teenage geeks. [Laughs] Occasionally, there is a real, visible gap, and we’ll exploit it at times. We’ll go out of our way to make a reference they won’t get from early TV or radio. And they do the same with us. They’re very agile with their texting. Their fingers are a positive blur! But there’s definitely an age difference that the producers and writers exploit to good effect that does exist with us to some extent.
You’ve done an awful lot of TV work, and you’ve done animation work on and off over the years, but is this the first time you’ve been able to do a long-form animated role like this, that has so many episodes to grow into a character?
Actually, some years back I did a two-year run on a show called “All Dogs Go To Heaven: The Series.” It was me, Dom DeLuise and Ernest Borgnine in the same studio, and that was over a significant period of time. The challenge and difference here was that it’s so much about where Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin are going. Where they evolve is a surprise. I don’t have an over-arching idea of his evolution.
Plus, the vocal demands have been substantial compared to a lot of the previous voice work I’ve done. To get that kind of guttural, phlegmy, insane growl of the Goblin basically renders me vocally crippled for about a day and a half. The directors and the producers would look at me with pity — but then they’d whip me. [Laughs] They’d whip me to get that intense screaming stuff that the Goblin does. Being an old Marvel Comics nerd from my youth, even though it hurts my throat, it’s no problem at all to motivate me to be a part of this universe. The challenge is that I just have to be meaner and louder — to scream more than my previous gigs.
The speaking voice for Norman as a human is significantly different from what you sound like when you’re just speaking yourself. How did you find his voice as a man before finding the monster?
That’s interesting. Obviously, I was doing Norman before I’d even seen a visual concept of the Goblin, and the early Norman Osborns are kind of a cross between Kelsey Grammar and my own idea of what an authoritative, intellectually superior corporate mogul would sound like. It’s a reflection of my own insecurities, so I made him haughty and terse and used a kind of slightly English standard speech. That softened over time. When I saw the artist’s rendition of what the Goblin would be, that forced me to extrapolate from that toffee-nosed characterization into a really epic monster. I tried to embody that, vocally.
How did things change for you as the Iron Patriot idea debuted the season? It seems like he was pushing for an attempt at a redemptive arc.
Well, it might have been an attempt. I think that’s the key word, because even the name of his superhero identity is incredibly arrogant and egotistical. Norman Osborn is nothing if not full of himself. I had to inject his massive ego into this portrayal of his own idea of what a hero should be.
One thing that immediately came to mind with you working in this role on this show was that your old “Wings” castmate Tim Daly spent a long time on the opposite side of the hero/villain fence playing Superman. Of course, the odds of the Man of Steel and Norman mixing it up are virtually non-existent, but would you like to spar with him in animation if the opportunity presented itself?
We’ve done that in one way or another for over 20 years now, professionally and personally. I’m the more mischievous of the two, and he’s seeming the more square-jawed and white bread. We’re always playing out that dynamic. It would be fun to voice characters with him. There is a kind of cultural crossover that plays out in TV, sometimes by accident. For instance, I’m doing this new Steven Bochco series for TNT called “Murder In The First” which starts in January. I play a pilot, and the guy who’s playing my co-pilot is Tim Daly’s son, Sam. That’s an example of where a few nerds on Twitter will get it, but it still resonates in some way.
The “Ultimate Spider-Man” season is coming up on its finale with this weekend’s episode. Did you know the path he would travel from the start, or did you discover the return of the Goblin more as the viewers do?
Basically, it’s the latter. I discovered it maybe four months before the fans do. It’s all part of the secrecy that you swear to, and you put your faith in these writers who are amazing. It’s a great ride to be on.
Norman is a very megalomaniacal character no matter what state he ends in. Is that the idea that kept you grounded in the character as you went on the ride?
Yeah. It speaks very pointedly to me. I’ve always had a bug up my ass about people who are arrogant — especially in the corporate world. They become so rich and so powerful that they lose contact with and understanding of the rest of the world. It’s happening still today. It happens in our politics and in our culture. Norman Osborn, to me, is a great example of that type of personality who becomes unhinged by virtue of their own almost limitless power. Of course, that’s also his downfall or his Achilles’ Heel, as opposed to Peter Parker/Spider-Man who is a neurotic teen in many ways. He has those characteristics where he responds to peer pressure or to hormones. He basically has no money! He hasn’t risen to the same sort of megalomania that a guy like Norman Osborn has even though he himself has incredible physical power. If he ever went rogue and evil, then I’m sure he’d abuse that power, and the next step would to become a guy more like Norman where people just become objects and disposable. That in itself is an idea that I’ve had a real focus on when I write political pieces for the Huffington Post or something like that. It has that idea behind it — the arrogance that people with great power begin to wield. They become intoxicated by it.
For the finale, how do those ideas all combine into the final showdown? The Goblin seems as confident as he’s ever been when he kidnaps Spider-Man’s team. Does his potential redemptive arc evolve or devolve considering that background?
Without giving too much away, what ends up happening is that this Norman/Goblin guy kind of loses focus and loses control, as many people do. He loses contact with his own humanity, and there are moments where he’s willing to bring the temple down on everybody’s heads. That’s really all I can say about it. It’s really exciting, and it speaks to those qualities that define Norman Osborn and define the real life villains who live in our midsts from these corporate raiders and Bernie Madoff types to all the powerful people who hate the poor or hate people of other races. They look upon humanity as playthings or things to be disposed of. That’s the apex of where he goes in this last episode.
Well, regardless of what happens with Norman when this is all said and done, as a professed Marvel fan, are there any other parts in the Marvel Universe you’d like to play in the future?
Well, the funny thing is that I used to love Doc Ock, but Tom Kenney does an amazing job with him. I’d like to play more absurd characters in the Marvel Universe, if there are any to play. But for now, I’m happy to focus on Green Goblin which is a role I never expected to play. Actually, I take that back. In the earlier incarnations of the Goblin where he was a [Weber raises the pitch of his voice substantially] “Hahahahah! This kind of guy, who is throwing little pumpkin bombs!” That’s where I thought I could play him. I never expected that I’d have to dig down and find the nerves necessary to be this kind of Hulkish beast. That’d be a great match-up, actually. The Hulk versus the Goblin! But as far as other characters, it would be more absurd things, I suppose.
“Ultimate Spider-Man’s” second season finale airs Sunday at 11:00 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD.