Talking (Spider) Sense with Thomas Haden Church

Spider-Man 3 opens nationwide on May 4th, and in anticipation of the event, CBR News will be over the coming days presenting a number of new special spider-features. We spoke earlier this week to director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire, and in this third of a series of interviews with the cast and crew of Spider-Man 3, CBR News spoke with actor Thomas Haden Church about the new film, his character, and his astonishment with the final product.

You apparently took a complete leap of faith taking this on. You were offered an incomplete script at the time you were approached.

There was no script. I wouldn't say a leap of faith, though. Between knowing the first two movies and just Sam's profile as a filmmaker and the thoughtfulness and the precision with which Tobey exacts his performances, you know, it wasn't a big leap of faith. I've never signed onto a movie that had no script. But you know, I've never signed onto a movie two and a half years before it was going to be released. There were a lot of firsts in the process.

What surprised you the most about the Spider-Man experience?

Really, the volume of time required when you're shooting. There were days when I'd work with the second unit and they'd be like, "Today we're shooting 1.1 seconds of the movie." And we'd spend all day shooting something that is that fast. [snaps fingers] Literally, these little snippets of action. When the second unit director Dan Bradley told me that, it was while we shooting the armored car sequence. Just little, teeny tiny moments. When [Spider-Man's] surfing behind the truck and it cuts to me on the top of the truck. I'm little in the frame, but that kind of shit would take a whole day to shoot. That was surprising to me, how surgical and painstaking the process is.

One of the most interesting parts is the birth of Sandman.

For my character, it's my favorite scene.

It's all computer generated - -

It isn't! That's not true. The birth of the Sandman, the sand truck and the ending, all of that is built upon a performance that I gave. They set up multiple video cameras and I would act out this whole kind of muted primordial performance or sequence, and then Scott and Spencer and all of the people involved in the special effects would start building on that. I called it a kind of video tracking or mapping - it's not the same as motion capture which is much more technical, this was just about pure performance - but they would still put markers on me which they could transfer to the computers. Over the six months of principle photography in LA, Sam and I would get together once every couple weeks - which is a lot - and I'd go through it again. It's a very emotional sequence for me because I know what I poured into it emotionally. What was particularly challenging and ultimately rewarding in seeing it in the movie is how much of the tragedy of the character comes through without eyes. There's no eyes. It's all in the way they sculpted my body and obviously one of the more salient moments is reaching out for the locket and my hand collapses, and he's got to re-manifest himself.

What's been the most challenging job of your career?

"Spider-Man 3" by far. To play a guy - not to diminish the other movies - but Flint Marco is a very emotionally isolated guy who is almost singularly defined by tragedy. It's a real daunting - I hate to be cliché - but it's a very daunting "place to go." It's not a place that I ever exist. I'm not an emotionally isolated, tragic guy. I had to draw upon my imagination in ways I've never had to. Each role is about the performance the director thinks you're capable of. That's the challenge.

Are you signed up for anything else?

I wanted "Spider-Man 3" to come out and just see what happens. I'm not in any hurry. I told Tobey the other day; I said I'm applying the "Maguire Method." I mean I'm not a movie star like Tobey by any stretch of the imagination. I'm compelled by great material, not by money or prestige. You know it doesn't really get better than "Sideways," I just hope to achieve something commensurate to "Sideways." I'm talking in terms of a great dramatic performance. But I think my performance as Flint Marco has all the dignity that a performance in anything else would have. Particularly "Sideways." I mean, that's more of a comedic performance to be certain, but there's a dignity there in the dramatic scenes and I think Flint Marco is part of that.

Do you see yourself in a fourth Spider-Man movie?

You know, if the right elements were in place. If Sam was going to be there and Tobey was going to be there.   If it was a challenging story.   If I thought that it would be a complete character arcs. That [Flint] starts someplace and it's emotionally satisfying and the resolution of the character is where it needs to be, then yeah I would consider it. Absolutely. My departure out of this picture wasn't calculated. We shot that scene four different ways and the way that it turned out, this mysterious departure from the movie, this disintegrating and blowing away in the wind, that is the very - and Sam will confirm this - that is the very last effects shot we completed because we just came up with it at the very end.

What were the others?

They were just different. And, honestly, not as good. The best of the best is in the movie. Somebody asked me if we're going to see it in "3.1" and no, you won't, because they're not as good. I think the scenes that Sam puts in the DVD are things that were real challenges to have to leave behind. And at the end, the resolution of my story with Tobey, we put in what was the best. Not something that was as good or better, but absolutely better.

Sandman is very one dimensional in the comic and motivated just by robbing. Were you relieved that they, you know, "emotionally charged" him for the movie?

From the onset Sam wanted me to know, even before there was a script, as he laid it out for me in the storyboards in our very first meeting, I knew that it was going to be a very compelling journey. I don't even like to call them "villains." They're men that have their value systems corrupted by something. With Willem Defoe's character and Alfred Molina's character and even with Topher's character, they're corrupted by lust for power or ambition or prestige, whereas it's almost ironic that Flint Marco is corrupted by his own good intentions. He becomes criminal trying to protect his daughter. At the very beginning, Sam knew the story that he wanted to tell. Sam and Ivan were really the architects of my story in the movie and Alvin and Avi and Laura were largely the architects of Topher's story in the movie. Of course they worked together and it's all an amalgam of everybody's creativity, but Sam and Ivan were really the proponents of my story. Sam's gone on record as saying as much, that he knew he wanted Sandman in this movie. It was Avi that came to him and said that Venom was the balancer. Early on there was a completely different villain. As diametrically opposed to Topher as you can get in the acting world, the actor that they wanted to play this other villain. It was Avi's idea to bring Venom in and I think it was a great early game change of plays. I think that it's a good balance of storytelling. Ultimately Topher's character Eddie Brock is very tragic. He essentially commits suicide at the end of the movie is very tragic.

Had you heard of the Sandman character before this film?

No, I was completely oblivious. I never read the comic book when I was a kid. Sam gave me an original copy of "Amazing Spider-Man" #4, which unfortunately I couldn't look at because it was in this museum quality frame job. I'd have to break the glass to get into it. Somebody in production sent me a number of reproductions of the comic book, some of the ones in the '60s that went on to flesh out Sandman's story. I read a little bit. There was something that I read on the internet that said Sam insisted that we do research with the comics, but that's not true. Somebody made that up. It was a casual suggestion that I look at some of the comic books, but we really looked to other source material. Marry Shelley's "Frankenstein." The Jewish folklore character Golem. I took a still photograph to Sam early on of Lon Cheney, Jr. just to have that inherent tragedy in Sandman's presentation and Sam agreed with me. I mean, yes, the cornerstone of Sandman is with Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. It was an honor to meet Stan. I don't know if Steve is even still alive? Do you know if Steve Ditko's alive?

He is alive.

He is alive! He was never around. I met Stan Lee before. He and I were on Conan O'Brien ten years ago together. The foundation of the character is definitely with those guys.

What were your initial reactions to the final film?

[laughs] Self-indulgence. There were a couple of scenes that were cut that I wish had stayed in. One of which I thought was kind of crucial to the story. Sam and I chatted about it yesterday and he said, "You know, I thought the information was there with the audience in a couple of earlier scenes." I always defer to him. But ultimately, I was very overwhelmed by the film. I'm constantly amazed by special effects in these movies. It's a phenomenon to me. It's the ninth wonder of the world. I don't know how they do what they do. In the process of shooting the movie, I befriended many of the people that work on the picture in special effects. It's hundreds of layers of software applications and illustration and computer graphics. It's a labyrinth of technology - and artistry. It's techno-art or however you want to describe it. It's a brilliant confluence of art and technology.

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