Director Peyton Reed Talks Making "Ant-Man" His Own

"Ant-Man" director Peyton Reed doesn't shrink from a challenge.

The story of "Ant-Man" long and laborious journey from the comic book page to the big screen stretches back to the early 2000s and the pre-Marvel Studios. Pre-Disney days when "Shawn of the Dead" filmmaker Edgar Wright and writing partner Joe Cornish began work on the film. The project progressed in fits and starts for almost a decade until, following Marvel's astonishing ascent at the multiplex, it was formally put into production in 2013 with Wright behind the camera.

But even though casting had largely been completed, creative differences over the story led to the filmmaker to part ways with the studio and by May 2014 Marvel was looking to tap another established cinematic storyteller to take the reins -- and, with a little over a year to the release date, quickly.

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Enter Reed, a filmmaker with a string of stylishly crafted comedies -- including the box office hits "Yes Man," "The Break-Up" and the cult favorite "Bring It On" -- and an long-simmering appetite for Marvel-style adventure. Working star Paul Rudd and screenwriter Adam McKay ("Anchorman") to re-work the story, Reed made the bold decision to take the director's chair and put his own stamp on the material -- bold in that the Venn intersection of Wright and Marvel fans were so crestfallen when that relationship went sour they'd practically lost faith in whatever final film would emerge, no matter who helmed it; bold in that certain critical circles began sharpening their knives predicting Mighty Marvel's first big misstep, regardless of Reed's track record; and bold in that he had a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time to make "Ant-Man" his own.

CBR News: This project was at a turning point when you were invited to collaborate on it, so what was it about "Ant-Man," as it existed then, that made you feel you could do something with it? And what was it about the team that you were going to be working with that also helped make it an easier "yes"?

Peyton Reed: Well, I got a call from Kevin Feige. I, sort of as a fan of the Marvel movies, was aware of what was going on. But only in the way that probably you were. But I got the call from Kevin -- I had developed "Fantastic Four" back in 2003 with Kevin, I'd come in and pitched on "Guardians," and I think it was no secret that I wanted to do a movie like this for a long time. I grew up as a kid reading Marvel comics, so I came in and could actually converse about Kingpin and Scott Lang and Ant-Man and all that. I had definite ideas, as a fan, of what I'd love to see in a movie and the tone that I wanted to strike.

Listen, I read the existing drafts. I had my reactions to it. There were elements of it that I love and thought were fantastic, and elements that I thought could be deepened and strengthened. It happened to coincide at the point where Adam McKay had signed on to co-write the screenplay with Paul. I'd known Paul and Adam for some time and never had a chance to work with them, so it just made sense across the board to me. Knowing Marvel, you know that they have a system in place to do this like nobody else can these days. I knew I was going to be supported by an amazing team of visual effects people, so -- listen, I jumped at the chance.

I don't think any director relishes coming in when someone else has developed a movie. But my big question was, I want to be able to put my fingerprints all over this movie. I want to make it my movie. Not to the detriment of anybody else's contributions, but that's how I am on any movie. I want to make it my movie. "Ant-Man" is something where there's 40/50 years of source material there, so it predates all of us. So anyway, I jumped in.

I was really pleased to find it somewhat counterintuitive in the studio system. Marvel is really unlike any other studio going. I felt incredibly supported. I also was pleased to find that on a movie this big and this expensive, you can shift and change things on the fly and the system accommodates it. I also found that Kevin and everybody else at Marvel -- there's a creative hunger there. They don't want to repeat what they've done before. They want to try to take new and different and sometimes deeply weird ways into material, and that really appealed to me. They were psyched about it. I happen to really work well in this environment. I've really enjoyed the process.

I've heard from your cast about how much collaboration the actors got to have, a lot of those last-minute scenes being added or shifted around. I'm sure there were some sort of plug-ins that you had to figure out in regard to the bigger Marvel Cinmatic Universe, little seeds that you want to plant there. How much of that was just super fun, how much was a little nerve-wracking, and how much was sometimes just letting the process guide you.

I'll start by saying that any movie is nerve-wracking. They've all been nerve-wracking. Movies, by their nature, they cost a lot of money, and you have to martial a lot of forces to get it done. So that's the same on every movie. Again, this movie was sort of a bullet train that was already speeding when I got on, but I was exhilarated by that.

There's a Duke Ellington quote, weirdly, where he talked about his creative process. He said, "I don't need time. What I need is a deadline." I think what he meant by that is that there is this sort of "fear of God" factor, this exhilaration you get knowing that, now, we have a release date. Here are the elements. Here is this A-list cast that we have. We have like the top visual effects people and we have amazing writers. We have every reason in the world to make an amazing movie.

I was really thrilled at the process because we were able to change stuff. Marvel does an amazing thing that for a director is very liberating. You shoot the movie -- in our case, I think 76 days -- but they've already set aside a time in two, three, four, however many months from now. It can be two days, it can be two weeks, depending on the movie, of additional photography time. You don't know what you're going to shoot. You don't know how much you're going to need to shoot. But all the actors are going to be available, and the resources are there.

It's so liberating. I have never worked on a movie where you get in the editing room, you're making the movie all over again in the editing room. There's always something, if you cut a scene out, like ah, if we just had a connector scene that got us from A to C. That'd be great if we could shoot that. This systems is like, yeah, let's shoot it. Or, if there's a funnier joke to be had or a better way into a concept, you can do it. It's incredibly liberating.

Stuff like, for example, Michael Peña giving these sort of roundabout tips about the heist was fun. That was something that didn't exist in those scripts that we brought to it. We shot it, and it was really, really great. And we decided like, there should be another one at the end and that might be the way to sort of [call it back] -- "What if we ended the movie that way?" And we shot it. It was fantastic. It tied in some of these loose ends. It gave us our Stan Lee cameo. And I like that process. Because every movie, you make it when you write it. You make it when you shoot it. And you make it again when you edit it.

I feel like Paul Rudd doesn't always get all the credit he deserves for the multi-faceted range of talents he has -- he can do anything from Judd Apatow to Neil LaBute, and you're getting to work with him on a couple different levels: he's a leading man, he's sort of the quarterback of your acting ensemble, and he has a hand in the story. So tell me, what was the fun of the creative process with Paul?

Paul is one of those actors who is so amazingly talented that he makes it look effortless. That's the blessing, but it's also the curse because I think people take that kind of actor for granted. He makes it look so easy. But being on the inside and seeing the incredible amount of preparation and hard work that Paul puts into it -- I've said this before, and I truly believe this: I think Paul Rudd is our Jimmy Stewart. He's an incredibly relatable actor. He can do drama. He can do comedy. This role requires him to play some notes he might not have played before. I mean, we introduce him in the movie in a prison fight, looking incredibly rugged. I love the idea as a director, to be able to present a different version of Paul Rudd in this movie.

And he's got an incredibly quick mind. I love that he was one of the co-writers on the movie, because not only did he know his own character inside and out, he knew the whole arc of the movie. He's as generous as a writer as he is as an actor. He's not one of the guys who's like, "I've got to have 15 lines in this scene, you get three." He's not that guy. I was pleased to find that working with Paul he's exactly as advertised. You get a sense of Paul like, "Oh, I'd like to hang out with that guy," and you would like to hang out with him.

Tell me a little bit about the influences that you drew from for the movie -- from shrinking movies to heist movies to the comic book source material. How did those ingredients come together for you, and what did you reference, specifically?

Well, I went back and re-watched a lot of the shrinking movies that I'd already seen: "Incredible Shrinking Man," "Fantastic Voyage," "Inner Space," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." There's a long history of shrinking in movies, and I knew that we sort of had to be the definitive shrinking movie for 2015. But it's also a heist movie, as you said, structurally, so I went back and watched "Ocean's 11" and "Thomas Crown Affair" and a bunch of heist movies just to remind myself just of those tropes and the rhythms and the tone of the movie.

I really wanted it to be visually kinetic -- forgetting the ants and the shrinking, but just the look and feel of the movie: I wanted it to be compositional and poppy and really, really kinetic. I told Kevin when I first met, I was like, "Here's the other thing I want. I want 'Ant-Man' to be a tight, taught movie that comes in at under two hours and is a ride -- like, a repeat viewing experience. I want it to be funny, intense -- and I want it to actually have some emotion that will sneak up on the audience that they are not necessarily going to expect by going to see a movie called 'Ant-Man.'" I'm thrilled that Marvel not only allowed all those things but encourages them. He's like, "This sounds awesome! Let's do it."

If this movie performs in the way that I think we hope it will, do you want to own this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a few more movies, like James Gunn and "Guardians," or was this the one you wanted to do, and now you're looking for a project wildly different from "Ant-Man?"

I have to say, I dove into this movie and I really fell in love with these characters and this world. When Paul went off to do his role in "Captain America: Civil War," with the Russos -- I had invited the Russos to the cutting room to show them a bunch of "Ant-Man" before they went off to shoot "Civil War." I definitely had a lot of days like, "Well, Scott wouldn't say that, or he would do this..." or whatever. I felt very protective of these characters.

Absolutely, if we are fortunate enough to be able to do a sequel, I would love to do it. I mean, I do feel -- listen, Stan Lee created these characters. They've been around far before I got involved with "Ant-Man." But in the cinematic realm, I really, I fell in love with these characters and I would love to continue help tell those stories.

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