Exclusive: Enter Sandman!

Some of the most exciting moments from the recent San Diego Comic-Con were the presentation and interviews for what’s sure to be next summer’s most exciting movie, Spider-Man 3.

For ComingSoon.net’s Superhero Hype!, it felt like a true rock star moment, as the dozens of other journalists rushed out of the press room to catch the presentation, and we were asked to hold back to talk to one of the cast. Since SHH! started as one of the first Spider-Man movie fansites (as Spider-Man Hype!), it made sense that we’d be given a chance to talk to some of the cast, but my first and only pick was Thomas Haden Church, who I talked to a few times two years ago while he was doing the rounds for Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” which brought Church a lot of attention and awards.

Back then, no one could possibly imagine that Church would be heading into one of the biggest movies of next year, and Sam Raimi could not have picked a better actor to play the part of Flint Marko AKA The Sandman. After the interview, I was snuck down a back elevator to the main presentation hall where we got to see a bit of rough footage of Church’s CGI counterpart in action, and if there’s anyone who might be able to overshadow the fan favorite Venom, it’s Church.

Superhero Hype!: So how has it been for you going from the world of Alexander Payne to something as enormous as “Spider-Man 3″?

Thomas Haden Church: Sam was the one who brought me in. He and I came very close to working together a number of years ago on a movie called “The Gift”… I mean, very close. Sam really wanted me to do this role, and it just didn’t work out for whatever reason. Thank God he didn’t forget me. Because of “Sideways,” they saw me accepting an award and called the next day and said, “Would you come in and talk to us about Spider-Man 3?” They had nothing. They had no script. They just knew the guy that [he] was going to be in the movie, and that’s where it started. We just started talking about it, and I’m glad they asked me to be a part of it.

SHH!: You have a background in humor and we’ve known you for so long for that…

Church: Yeah, I know. The last couple times out there it’s fairly humorless. There’s not too much comedy in this TV thing I just had come out, “Broken Trail” [on AMC] and Sandman is nowhere near a barrel of monkeys. He’s not a laugh-meister.

SHH!: Were you able to bring any of that humor to this part and did Sam want you to?

Church: No, it’s a very dramatic character. He’s definitely not the comic relief in “Spider-Man 3.”

SHH!: Sandman is not the most fleshed-out character in the comics (no pun intended), but do we get more into the back story of the character and what makes him tick?

Church: Yeah, I think so. I can’t be specific about what it is, but I will say that he’s definitely a guy who has a purpose in the movie, and that purpose is absolutely in conflict with Spider-Man’s better intentions. I wouldn’t be a villain in the movie if it were otherwise.

SHH!: So it’s not the typical “Sandman robs a bank and Spider-Man stops him” type thing?

Church: No. Like I said, there are some larger life issues at play. He’s really got a lot of stuff to work out and like I said, it’s not in Spider-Man’s best interest.

SHH!: Is this your first real experience with CGI and green screen experience?

Church: I’ve done other movies. It’s been a number of years ago now, but “George of the Jungle,” we had some extensive blue screen/green screen work, but that really is probably the only one.

SHH!: What’s involved with becoming The Sandman? Did they put you in the green suit or some sort of performance capture apparatus?

Church: No, no, no. You’re just super-imposed. In the old days, it was all matte photography, but now it’s how they incorporate you into the CG action. No, it’s usually just me however I am.

SHH!: But they didn’t throw a bucket of sand on you just for effect?

Church: (laughs) No, no, it wasn’t that amateurish or deliberate.

SHH!: It’s odd because you don’t really think about when he’s just in regular form in the comics that he’s still made in sand, so do you at least have sand pasted onto your face to give that effect?

Church: No, it’s a little more complicated than that. “Sand pasted to my face.” That’s funny.

SHH!: That would be the low budget version of the movie. I haven’t talked to you since before “Sideways” came out, so how has this ride been since then?

Church: It’s been terrific. It’s been going on for awhile now because I did “Spider-Man” and I did “Broken Trail” and been involved in some animated pictures, and now that “Spider-Man” is, for the most part done, I’m looking for whatever the next thing is going to be. But it’s been great. There’s definitely a before and after scenario with “Sideways” in my professional life.

SHH!: I’ve noticed that a lot of actors after they get nominated for Oscars, they’ll follow that up with a big budget genre flick. Is it just coincidence, or are you actively looking for more Alexander Payne-type stuff?

Church: Yeah, I’m always interested in that, but honestly, I just want to play characters. I want to play interesting, well-written, provocative guys. It’s not really about, “Oh, I had to be in ‘Spider-Man 3,’” it was the guy. Even in the midst of “Spider-Man,” I did a miniseries for AMC, but it was the guy, and it was Robert Duvall and it was a Western. But it was really the guy in that movie and being able to act opposite Robert Duvall and work with Walter Hill. I don’t get hung up on, “Oh, now I need to go do a Victorian, wintry, character-driven romance.” It’s not about that. It’s just about whatever the guy is.

SHH!: What’s coming your way now? Are more people trying to write more “Sideways”-like characters or movies for you, because Jack was a one-of-a-kind character.

Church: There’s no uniformity to it. There’s definitely been a scattershot of opportunity, but nobody’s really like, “Oh, this guy is like Jack in ‘Sideways,’ let’s get Church,” it’s not like that. Because I have tried to be fairly scrutinizing with the roles that I’ve chosen or the roles that have chosen me. Like I said, I just want it to be good. I want to be proud of it ten years from now.

Spider-Man 3 comes out on May 4, 2007…in case you didn’t know.

Source: Edward Douglas