A helicopter sits on a pad in a sound stage with blue screens surrounding its exterior – it’s supposed to be flying, after all. Inside, Corey Stoll sits with a few other men while Paul Rudd delivers lines off camera. Rudd might be present for this moment technically, but we can’t see him since he’s the size of an ant in the context of the scene.
“You’re just a thief,” Stoll says with prime disdain. “Did you think you could stop the future with a heist?”
“It’s not a heist,” Rudd replies. “It’s a demolition.”
Stoll turns his head back toward the window, and delivers a soft-eyed reaction quite unlike any other Marvel villain before. It’s a pretty impressive smolder since Stoll is literally reacting to nothing, fella’s got acting chops.
Tucked away from the prying eyes of eager fanboys and girls is Pinewood Atlanta, the latest extension of the legendary studio system. It sits about twenty minutes southwest of Atlanta proper in Fayetteville, Georgia, and on this day in October 2014 the studio is open for business with its first production, the long-awaited Ant-Man from Marvel Studios.
Mired in controversy for the past few months, there’s an air to this set visit that I’ve never felt on any other – apprehension lingers. Following the public departure of director Edgar Wright, and even cast member Patrick Wilson, the film has stayed the course and is halfway through production, having previously been in development for over six years, but questions remain.
“The concern or panic was that we weren’t gonna make the movie we all wanted to make together,” Marvel Studios president and producer extraordinaire Kevin Feige tells us on set. “That was where the panic set in. That we were heading toward something that none of us would be pleased with. So in a way, when we decided to move away, it was a relief that we weren’t gonna make a big mistake together.”
Thankfully, it was not long after Wright left that director Peyton Reed jumped on board. Having previously worked with Feige on an unmade version of The Fantastic Four at 20th Century Fox many years ago, the pair worked very closely with each other and developed a relationship that would continue through the years. Feige even went on record admitting that when they were developing Guardians of the Galaxy, their final choices to direct were James Gunn and Reed, so he’s been on their mind many times before.
“It’s obviously very well documented, the drama that preceded me on the movie,” Reed admits. “I went in and I hadn’t seen any materials. I hadn’t read a script or anything and I went to meet with the guys and read the different drafts of the thing and then saw some of the earlier visualizations of what it was gonna be, and they blew me away just sort of like the stuff that had been done in the movie and I definitely, when I read the different drafts had a strong point of view about what I felt worked really, really well and what I felt didn’t work so well. Then I also kind of brought through my own personal relationship with the comics my relationship reading comics all those years and how I felt about Hank Pym and how I felt about Scott Lang and like I wanted to bring those to the movie.”
“It wasn’t until we brought him in, talked about what we had done on the film, what we wanted to do on the film, and he saw his way into how he could add his voice to the film (that he agreed),” Feige says. “Many of what are my favorite moments in this movie did not exist eight months ago.”
Though he may not be directly leading the crew on the film, Edgar Wright’s presence is still felt on the set. In fact, he is the very reason that star Paul Rudd is wearing the costume.
“Well, when I signed on it was Edgar and Edgar is the one that came to me,” Rudd tells us in a T-Shirt and gym shorts, just before putting on his super-duds. “When I signed on, it was through him, he’s responsible for me being here. Outside of that, I was certainly intrigued and excited about doing something that might be a little outside of the box, You wouldn’t think of me necessarily first for this kind of thing, most people wouldn’t.”
Rudd plays Scott Lang in the film, a thief that at the start of the film will be getting released from prison after five years inside. Lang doesn’t have the money or influence that Tony Stark has, nor the gusto and super soldier blood of Captain America, and he certainly doesn’t have the magic hammer or gamma blood of Thor and The Hulk, but he’s got skills that none of them have. This is where Ant-Man is already fundamentally different from the other Marvel Studios fare, Scott is a bad guy seeking redemption whose abilities come from years of breaking into buildings and stealing things. His putting on a suit and shrinking to the size of an ant is just an added bonus.
“Maybe some of his choices that he makes with his life are questionable,” Rudd says of his character. “Maybe the motives are honorable or maybe they’re not. Some people don’t think they are, but I think that he’s somebody that cares about his daughter, I think that’s the motivating factor for some of the choices that he makes. I think he’s a smart guy who maybe has to reevaluate what’s really important in his life and what kind of person he wants to be.”
“He’s a guy I think who gets an adrenalized at the idea of a heist or a job or something like that,” Peyton Reed says. “So he’s conflicted about that and it’s led him to make some really terrible life choices that he’s trying to change and kind of is struggling to stay on the straight and narrow.”
Which is the second diverging path that Ant-Man goes down, it is the first Marvel Studios film to deal with the idea of the “legacy hero,” a long-standing tradition in the comics. Scott is given the Ant-Man suit, and his task, from Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man in both comics and the film, who is played by the legendary Michael Douglas which Peyton Reed called ‘perfect casting.’
“He’s crushing it,” Feige says of Douglas. “I don’t think people have seen him like this in a long time… You watch him and you feel like, I haven’t seen this guy in a long time…We wanted to cast somebody who you would realistically believe if we made an Ant-Man movie in- ‘70s or ‘80s, he could have played him.”
“It’s an amazing thing to sort of have a line of what would feel like a Marvel comics line and hear it come out of Michael Douglas’s face,” Peyton Reed says with a smile. “I believe the science of that. I believe it, and then having Michael on the set like ‘What the f*** is that? What does this mean?’ It’s amazing. His voice is just like this national treasure, man. It’s amazing.”
Rudd also echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, but he revealed that Douglas has spent time on set spinning yarns about his iconic filmography, which Rudd will get wrapped up thinking about during a take.
“It’s happened here where we’ll be doing a scene, I just think, ‘Oh my god, ‘The Wonder Boys’ what a great, how good is he,’” Rudd says, laughing. ‘And we all know he killed in’ Liberace,’ but come on, f***ing Falling Down!”
Another left turn for Ant-Man that separates it from the other Marvel Studios pictures? It’s a film about family. Scott is seeking redemption because he wants to be there for his daughter. It plays an integral role as the film unfolds and comes full circle in the film’s climactic fight scene, which I won’t spoil, but you’ve seen glimpses of in the trailer. It’s not just Scott and his daughter that explores the family relationship in this film, but also Hank Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lily).
“We can focus more on the character stuff instead of the science stuff,” Feige says of the film. “To focus on this criminal. This smart guy, who’s fallen into a life of crime because he’s good at it and because it comes easy to him. To see that journey and hopefully root for him to get his act together, to get back together with his daughter.”
In the comics, Hank Pym is the godfather of a lot of technology available in the Marvel Universe. From the sentient and psychotic Ultron (created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in the MCU) to the Pym Particle, which allows him to shrink down. The character will have developed this technology already by the time the film begins, and he’ll have a history in the MCU that we’ll also see explored.
“It’s not about the trial and error of inventing the Pym Particle, Pym Particle is invented,” Kevin Feige says of the film’s plot and focus. “(Pym) has been on adventures as Ant-Man, as we’ll see in this movie beforehand.”
Feige went on to tell us that Pym worked in years past as a secret agent for S.H.I.E.L.D., and even went on missions with his wife Janet Van Dyne, who will appear as Wasp for a brief moment in the film.
“We will see Janet Van Dyne in action in this film, and sort of what happened to her,” Feige admits. “Then we will understand why the reason that (Hank) doesn’t want his daughter to follow in those footsteps. One of the reasons why he’s always so upset about superheroes in general, dismissive of them in general and also a reason why he doesn’t want (Hope) to put on the suit….But, Hope is infinitely more capable of actually being a superhero in the beginning of this film. That’s ultimately when Hank reveals for the first time for the audience, and even the first time to Hope, what actually happened in the past and why he’s so nervous about putting on that suit, but there are things that we see towards the end of the film that indicate she could, she could get one of her own.”
Back on the set, they begin filming the first part of the scene detailed earlier, as a tiny Paul Rudd (who will be added in post) jumps around the cabin of the luxury helicopter and Corey Stoll fires a gun in his direction. Feige would later show us a test reel of the rest of the sequence, which sees Ant-Man fly out of the helicopter and return to his normal size so he can grab a strap and hold on.
When he climbs back in the cab, Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross has taken that time to put on his Yellow Jacket suit, the modern “version” of Pym’s design, equipped with lasers and all. The pair begin to duke it out again and shrink in size, falling into a briefcase, which tumbles out of the chopper and to the ground below. It’s become a running joke that the recent Marvel Studios films have had a climax of something falling from the sky, and Ant-Man is kind of no different, except instead of a helicarrier, a Kree war ship, or an entire European town, it’s a briefcase, and our hero is inside.
As the production continues working on the scene, we head over to the macro-photography unit. Inside, another sound stage on the lot sit a number of stations where life-size objects are being photographed with gigantic lenses. A bathtub, a record player, an air vent, a pipe, all sit under their own lights with an operator capturing the most miniscule details, all of which will appear the same size as Paul Rudd.
“Some of it will just be reference as we move it into visual effects, some of which will end up being plates that we actually use for when Ant-Man’s that big,” Feige says. “It is pretty amazing…There’s a lot of sort of unique processes that they’re using to gather all this stuff. There’s not an incredible shrinking woman giant telephone, or giant pencil, or anything like that because we’ll put him into those actual environments.”
We’re shown another reel of the macro photography which includes shots inside a running vaccuum cleaner, an ATM, and a coffee cup, all set to the “Mission: Impossible” theme song (a tempt score you won’t hear in the movie).
After our jaunt to the other buildings we’re corraled back into our interview/monitor room. Everyone checks their phones, some watch the take currently being filmed, but then the door opens, and Paul Rudd enters in his full Ant-Man costume. We were like kids meeting Santa for the first time.
“Normally I have to go through this, and then it zips, there’s connected wires and screws, and it’s a little bit like a pit crew,” Rudd says of putting on the suit.
He went on to tell us about the first time he saw the helmet for the film.
“I had that feeling of when I was a kid and I was so into the Stormtroopers, and also the surgeon droid for some reason. Those helmets, I used to draw them. I was really intrigued by them and when I saw the ant man helmet, I’m like, it has a similar kind of look to it, the way the eyes are, they’re kind of… I bet kids are gonna be into drawing this helmet.”
Though Rudd admitted to having not broken any of the helmets at the time of our interview, it wouldn’t have mattered if he had since there seventeen versions of the helmet had been made for the film. Each with varying degrees of openness and flexibility, there’s no shortage of masks for Ant-Man.
We would later learn that Rudd had been waiting for us to come back so he could surprise us in the costume. While we were busy talking with Kevin Feige and seeing the costumes and macro photography, Rudd had entered the room expecting to surprise us at least twice. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the role if he tried, even if he shrunk it.