Writer/director Adam McKay has a reputation as one of the funniest behind-the-scenes talents in show business, but what he really wants to do is tell superhero stories.
McKay has stood at the epicenter of some of the most important and influential comedy-making moments of the past two decades, as a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, a writer on "Saturday Night Live," the screenwriting and producing partner of Will Ferrell on films like "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "Step Brothers" and "The Other Guys" and a founder of the website Funny Or Die.
But when his friend and frequent collaborator Paul Rudd invited him to team up to tweak the script for Marvel Studios' "Ant-Man" following the exit of original writer and director Edgar Wright from the project, even McKay was surprised to discover how deeply pleasurable -- and personally meaningful -- working on the adventures of the comic book company's shrunk-down superhero would be.
CBR News: Aside from your friendship with Paul Rudd, what are the elements that made you want to jump into this project?
Adam McKay: I grew up as a Marvel fan. From third grade on, I've been reading Marvel Comics. I tell this story that when I in sixth grade, I made my dad take me to Marvel Comics in Manhattan. I went up there as a kid, and sure enough, it's just an office, and we left, and I was sad. And then this guy with glasses and a moustache came up and said, "Oh, your son seems sad." And my dad said, "Oh, yeah, he wanted to see Marvel Comics." And he gave us a bunch of new comics that were coming out the next month. I realized about a year later, that was Stan Lee! So I'm very tied to Marvel Comics, very loyal.
Then, when I met with Kevin Feige, I saw that he got it, too. That he wasn't just some stuffed suit. Like, he really gets the electricity behind this. So, I was just in, and I said, "How can I help?" Paul really wanted me in the fold, and it was just one of the funnest experiences I've had since I've been out in Los Angeles.
What was the experience of working with Marvel like.
Well, that was it. The fun was, "Oh, my God, we get to go back to our heroes, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and look at what they did and to bring it to this new audience, and to feel that excitement when we first read those comic books." That was really what it was. I'll just never forget, in fourth grade, picking up "X-Men" and I saw Wolverine. The first time I picked up "The Avengers" and heard about Wonder Man and Vision and all these characters, that led me to reading all these old issues.
Greek kids in the year 300 B.C. read about the Greek Gods, and this is what I read, so I was in absolute heaven. My wife was like, "Why are you working so hard on this? I'm not going to see you for two months? We're getting paid alright -- it's not that much." And I was like, "I have to do this. This is heaven." Yeah, it's one of the great joys I've ever had working in movies.
How hard are you looking for other projects with Marvel to get behind the camera as director yourself? Are you actively trying to get Marvel to greenlight a particular property?
We're kicking around ideas. Kevin and I have been talking, and he knows I'm in. From his side, he seems like he wants me in, so it's all going to be about timing. Obviously, I have other projects going on: I'm finishing "The Big Short." I have some other ideas I'm kicking around. I obviously want to get back to work with Will Ferrell, who's my lifelong collaborator. So it's all going to be about timing, but he knows I'm in. Anytime they want to pull the trigger, let's go.
Tell me about the secret about your collaboration and friendship with Paul Rudd.
When "Anchorman" was dead in the water, when no one wanted to make it, Paul called me and said, "I want to meet with you about this script. It's the funniest script I've read." And I told him. I said, "Every studio in town just said no to this." He goes, "I don't care. I'm in, man." So we cast him, and he was great. He still had to audition, because we're annoying like that, and he was amazing, so we cast him. And then when I got on set with him, I was like, "Oh, my God. This guy is so funny, and he's clearly a writer." He started going toe to toe with Ferrell and [Steve] Carell and [David] Koechner. So when I heard this project came up, and I started talking to Rudd, I knew he could write. He's just a very egoless, kind of amazing guy. He sort of made the whole thing a pleasure.
What's your nerdiest possession?
That's a great question! All right -- what do I got? All right. Here's what I got. I have an autographed photo of Neil Armstrong and Gregory Peck, and it's Neil Armstrong showing Gregory Peck around Mission Control. I bought it with Neil Armstrong, but then I got Gregory Peck to sign it, like six months before he died, and I'm geeked about that.
How do you not walk around with that to show people?
And I have a copy of "Avengers" #1. Those are my two geek heavens.
"Ant-Man" arrives in theaters July 17.