The Marvel Cinematic Universe's next big thing is the smallest superhero in its roster, with one of the weirdest power sets, ever -- which is why the cast and filmmakers had a blast bringing him to the big screen. And they promise you'll be laughing with Ant-Man, not at him.
At a recent press conference the principals behind "Ant-Man," the latest entry in the increasingly expanding MCU -- Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, director Peyton Reed and actors Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. -- assembled to reveal their reasons for jumping on board the initially unlikely attempt to craft a feature film around the shrinking, insect-commanding Ant-Man. Chief among them is the character's rich history: the originator of the name (and suit), the brilliant scientist Hank Pym, was the creation of no less than the legendary writer/editor Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber and definitive Marvel artist Jack Kirby dating all the way back to 1962, as well as a founding member of the Avengers.
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Even the second version, ex-con Scott Lang -- created by David Michelinie and artist John Byrne -- has been bouncing around since 1979. But could Ant-Man's scaled-down adventures hold their own on the big screen alongside the established, presumably more epic widescreen exploits of the likes of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America? Spurred by filmmaker Edgar Wright's belief in the character's potential (though he would later exit the project after many long years of development) that the braintrust at Marvel and an A-list assemblage of on- and off-screen talent agreed: Big thinking, big heart and especially some big laughs could make Marvel's tiniest superhero into one of Hollywood biggest properties.
Kevin Feige: Antâ€‘Man in the comics is a founding member of the Avengers. We have a big giant poster of [the cover of] "Avengers" #1 that had been in all of the various offices we've had over the years, and I love looking at that and checking off: "This person's been in the movie; that person's been in a movie..." Now we have a movie about that person. Antâ€‘Man and Wasp have been the longest that we haven't done anything with. And so it was always clear that we were going to assemble all of the Avengers eventually.
And it also was interesting to do a movie that plays with scale and that plays with action in a very different way than we've ever done before. And as I'm sure you all have heard me say many, many times, I like that all of our films are unique and all of them are different and all of them can surprise people. Now, this is our 12th film in the Marvel Universe, so it felt time to do something even more unique and even more different.
Peyton Reed: There's a high bar with these Marvel movies, and one of the things that I really discovered working with Marvel, which I loved was, they have a really creative hunger and they really don't want to repeat themselves. And they encourage these movies to be really idiosyncratic. And one of the things I love about "Antâ€‘Man" is it's a pretty weird movie, in a great way. I mean, it was allowed to be weird, and that was fantastic.
Paul Rudd: It was different than anything I had ever done. I liked the challenge. I thought it would be an exciting adventure. And I enjoyed the fact that when I was cast, people went, "Huh? Really?" You wouldn't necessarily think that, and I think that Marvel likes to do that, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity.
Growing up, I really didn't know the character. And I did before we ever started shooting, read the comics, tried to do a little bit of research, and then just kind of get into the mindset as much as possible. There was also all of the physical stuff that I wanted to kind of throw myself into to feel as if I could play the part and not only be convincing, but just me feel the part more -- I enjoyed being able to do shoulder rolls and be kind of ripped for the first time.
Michael Pena: There's one shot where you like thoroughly enjoyed being ripped.
Rudd: I was very self-conscious during that day of shooting.
Pena: Like, overly self-conscious.
Reed: I remember what you had for lunch that day we shot your abs. You had one almond.
Rudd: I tell you, and I felt so bloated.
Michael Douglas: I was not familiar with Ant-Man before this movie and Kevin and Marvel were kind enough to send me about two years of comic books when I read the script to kind of catch up on this history and background. And there are echoes, certainly, of the loss of his wife [Jan Van Dyne] and the distance between he and his stunning daughter played by Evangeline. I think there are elements of that, and it kind of pays off a little later in the picture.
Evangeline Lilly: Of course while we were filming and in post-production, there was a lot of buzz on the Internet: "Is Evangeline playing the Wasp? Is she a superhero?" And I had a lot of questions directed my way about that. And I just couldn't have felt more comfortable or more happy saying actually she is a really capable really powerful force to be reckoned with and she doesn't have a super power and she doesn't put on a fancy suit and look dorky in it.
My super suit was my power suit that I would go to work in and be a high level scientist and the chair of the board of a very, very powerful corporation. And I do think that's a fantastic example for young women -- playing the role of a female scientist in a world where mostly scientists were men, is a great role to play.
I think there is a lot of excitement in the focus groups that we've seen already with the female audiences about this character in general and about the fact that Marvel are really, really taking female characters very seriously. And looking at their lineup, you can see that they have great intentions.
And as a woman who came into a predominantly male film, I had a great time working with Peyton and with the producers on this character because I could see a hunger in them to really, really do right by Hope and do right by their female fans and the female audience. And when I pick a role, one of the things that I aspire to is that somebody's parent will come up to me after the film's come out and say, "My daughter idealizes that character. You're her hero." And that's what we aim for, especially in this brand, right? We're in the business of making heroes.
Rudd: This is the first time, it's the first thing I've ever done, ever, that my son is, like, legitimately jazzed about. He can see it, his friends know about it and we were at Disneyland two days ago and they have kind of a sneak preview, the "Antâ€‘Man" event that's there. We went there and I was sitting next to him, and to see, as a parent, the look on my kid's face when he's watching this -- I'll never forget!
As soon as it ended, he just looked at me and he's like, "That's awesome!" And every time a commercial [comes] on, he's like, "Dad! Dad!" And he's so excited. And I've never experienced that, and so it's so cool to be able to share this with my own family, and especially my son.
Douglas: My 14-year-old's reaction was like an agent: he's saying, "You know, Dad, this could be a whole new audience for you." So I took that to heart, and here I am.
Pena: My son was like, "Don't mess this up, Da Da." So I was thoroughly, really nervous, because I want to be the cool dad, but it was really loose on set. And because I was a nervous wreck, and Paul's like, "Just do what you want, man. Let's do things. Let's explore, and let's have fun." And after the first week, it got to be a lot of fun.
David Dastmalchian: [Comedy's] not the zone that I'm the most comfortable playing in, and then you get to show up, and you're with these guys? Oh my God. I was terrified! And then I'm a life-long comic fan, and so I thought, all my knowledge of what I know about comic books is going to inform my character -- but this is a totally new character! It isn't part of that world. I showed up the first day, and I learned quickly that I just needed to hold on. And the guys were so generous -- everybody in the film, they just kept throwing me the ball and giving me the opportunity to play. And as long as I didn't break, that became my biggest challenge, because these guys are so funny.
T.I.: To be introduced into the Marvel universe and to be a part of just a stacked franchise, a cast of so many well trained actors and actresses. I mean, I wanted to not mess it up. Just come in and contribute what I can to the film, and Paul's an incredible lead. And Michael's just the right amount of an A-hole to where it comes up big on the screen.
Pena: Thanks, bro. That means a lot.
T.I.: Any time, dude.
Corey Stoll: I would have moments of terror, realizing what a huge audience there is -- and what a huge, incredibly passionate and well-informed audience there is. It was just too much fun. Every day I came on to set, there was some new piece of art that Peyton would show me, or I would step on to the Pym Tech set and see the size of it. Just all these dreams of 15-year-old Corey being realized. Even the civilian costumes that he wears are so outrageously villainous. It was just -- I had stop myself from grinning from ear to ear everyday. It really was awesome.
Well, we tried to make [the Yellowjacket costume] a practical suit. We went through several iterations, and it just was not working. So in the end, it was completely CGI. Of course, I had been working out like a fiend to be able to look good in the suit. In the end, it just turned out to be for the behind the stage, behind the scenes footage of me in my pajamas.
Rudd: I'm biased because I love my suit, and I think it's the coolest looking suit of all of them. I loved wearing it. It was not that uncomfortable.
Pena: You wear it all the time. It's kind of annoying.
Rudd: Even on my days off. It helped me feel the part. There's something that happens when you get in that thing. It's inevitable. I would stand differently. I would feel different. I would feel like Ant-Man in that thing.
Lilly: Even though he looked like a total dork.
Pena: "You can take it off now, bro."
Rudd: "No, just five more minutes. Just five more minutes." They keep the soundstages a little bit cooler because it doesn't really breathe that well. It was cool. I would just sometimes catch myself as I went, "God, this thing is amazing looking!" As far as getting skinnier to try and fit in it, I mean, I didn't eat anything for about a year. Worked out all the time. I took that Chris Pratt approach which is just basically eliminate anything fun for about a year, and that's a good way to prepare to play a superhero.
Feige: Scott Lang's character has a daughter named Cassie in his original origin story. In the books, it's tied directly to his desire to help his daughter and that's the reason he sort of resorts to crime, so that came right out of the comics. We've never had a hero in the 11 films leading up to this whose motivation involved a child or a son or daughter. So that felt like a reason to do this film now, which was very meaningful for us.
Rudd: The father-daughter aspect was the thing that I hung the whole thing on. You can have a movie that has amazing effects, and this certainly has that -- brilliant visuals, a lot of humor -- but whenever you see something that you can connect to that's emotionally resonant, it stays with you in a very different way. I think that's the key to any movie, and that's what I thought about throughout this whole film. This is what the movie is about.
Reed: One of the things that I loved from the beginning -- and it is very different from the other Marvel movies in that way -- is that one of the strengths of the movie is these two dual stories about these two fathers and their daughters. And in various different ways, they are not a part of their daughters' lives and they have to by the end of the movie repair those relationships. And in the case of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne, they are not going to succeed in this heist unless they repair their relationship. It's an important thing that has to happen before they succeed. And I liked the intimacy of that thematic in the movie.
Rudd: I also think there's an interesting father-son dynamic with Darren and Hank. So this whole idea of parents and children runs throughout the movie and I think makes it one of the things that's most relatable.
Stoll: And that to me was totally essential. Through the different drafts of the scripts and playing with motivations, I think we really came to the realizations that Darren is after the glory of the scientific discovery and the money and the fame and the power. But in the end, it really comes down to the sort of small little boy inside that just wants his father's approval, and that's so much easier to play than desire for world domination. I can relate to that more.
Reed: One of the challenges was creating ants that looked photo-real but also giving them some real character. Particularly in the case of [Ant-Man's flying carpenter ant] Antony, the idea that we were going to create a sort of Roy Rogers/Trigger, Lone Ranger/Silver relationship between Ant-Man, because in the comic, that's one of the iconic images of Ant-Man flying around on an ant. And I wanted to embrace that so I was thrilled with where we ended up with the visual effects. Again, one of the things with Marvel is you're just surrounded by the top top people in all the fields. But in visual effects, they just did some amazing work.
There's a definitive ant textbook that's written by this guy Edward Wilson, who's considered the Ant-Man, the actual real "Ant-Man." [He wrote a] New York Times bestseller that talks about all the specific types of ants there are in the world, and there are thousands of them. Also, there are specific skill sets. So one of the things that I loved about the movie is that we introduce at least four of these specific types of ants. If you ask Evangeline Lilly, she can tell you the Latin names for all of these ants.
Lilly: Only mispronounced.
Douglas: I'm not as good as Evangeline, but not only do I have an appreciation for them, but the writer, he really did. I mean, they came up with such detail of different types of characters, between working ants, carpenter ants, flying ants, fire ants. It's just great.
Reed: It was fun because it's a heist movie at its core. Instead of like, "Here's the guys doing this and this and this..." it's like, "Here are the ants that are doing this, here are the ants that are doing that..." And I guarantee that's something that you've never seen in a movie before. People talk about the shrinking when they talk about Ant-Man, but it's the other power, the being able to control ants that's the weirder power that I think is going to really surprise people in the movie.
One of the things I liked about doing research was, all the things that we have the ants do, for example the fire ants. They're architects. They can make little rafts and ladders. They do that in real life. So the kid in me was like, "Oh, I can go on the Internet and look at these ants..." And it's actually real. I think that's a really cool aspect of the movie.
Douglas: That's the fun about special effects, isn't it? It's really good acting exercises because you've got to look at stuff that's not there. My best fun, I enjoyed was whenever I had a break, I would leave the first unit and then I'd go down to the second unit, which was the stunt guys, and see what they were doing, and then, the third unit, which was the special effects, all the green screen stuff. But the fourth unit was the macro-photography of the ant, which is going to blow your mind because you've never seen the ant's perspective before. And it's just spectacular.
Feige: Humor is a huge element. When you're dealing with ants -- people riding ants, people communicating with ants, calling ants "Antony", you have to acknowledge the audience that we know this is funny to a certain extent. And even when we had Paul, people were like, "Oh is this a comedy because you cast a comedian?" We cast the guy we thought could be a kick ass superhero who also happens to be funny.
Coming off of "Avengers: Age of Ultron," when we put these two films together in this year, it was always knowing that one could be the antidote to the other. That "Ultron" being as gargantuan of an exercise as it was, that it would be fun to do something that was funny, yes, but dealt in a very different kind of scale -- that had the same kind of hopefully thrills and action elements but in a very different way. So it's a flying country in one film and it's a little girl's bedroom in another film.
Marvel's "Ant-Man" arrives in theaters July 17, 2015.