If you’ve seen the trailers for Ant-Man, you might think that Pym Tech lies on its own little island just outside of San Francisco as pictured above, and in the context of the film it does. In reality though, it’s far stranger. In the middle of Atlanta, Georgia three major interstates converge into Spaghetti Junction, one of three such locations with that nickname in the city. Just east of this point lies the Georgia Archives building, previously the home of decades of record keeping that was phased out when everything went digital, plus it was discovered by surveyors that the building was sinking into the ground back in 1998. This is the actual Pym Tech lab, and our second day on set of Marvel’s Ant-Man was spent in its walls.
Marvel has totally redone the location too. The wooden walls and marble columns are the only things that were original to the location, with everything else having been put in place by the production. A grand portrait of Michael Douglas hangs over the room on the south side, staring out over the crowd of ne’er-do-wells that have assembled for the scene.
A woman’s voice calls out and says, “And now, our visionary CEO, Darren Cross,” which elicits applause from the group. Corey Stoll walks out smiling and puts his hand up to stop them.
“I’m here to introduce you to a technology so remarkable that it will etch Pym Technology’s name into the history books, and if you’re lucky, so will yours.”
Stoll walks through the crowd shaking hands and thanking everyone. What isn’t obvious at first is that everyone in this room are the villains of the Marvel Universe. We figure this out of course when we notice the man sporting a gigantic Ten Rings tattoo on his neck. Who else is present though? The remains of Hydra? Roxxon? Who knows, but no one good is here. Or are they?
Michael Douglas stands in the back of the room and listens to Cross’s speech with gritted teeth. Martin Donovan approaches him and asks “How’s retirement?” Douglas counters with the line that has all of us in stitches for the entirety of the day, “How’s your face?”
“We haven’t shot it yet,” Douglas tells us about what he will eventually do to Martin Donovan’s face. “He insulted my deceased wife in an office scene, and it calls for a punch, but I’m thinking, you know, I had a little military background, so we haven’t told Martin yet, but I think I’m either going to grab him by the tie, so his face goes right in to, either that or behind the head, something, you know, a little more ooh.”
Also in the scene is Evangeline Lilly, who plays Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne. In the scene we witness, she appears cold to her father and on the side of Darren Cross, though it’s a ruse.
“I’m a fairly senior level scientist at the company,” Lilly tells us of Hope’s role in the film. “I have a lot of power in the company, I’m one of the board members, I’m also the daughter of the man who created the company, which helps but in her own right she’s become a very capable, very intelligent young woman, so she very much stands on her own two feet in the company. I mean, Hank hasn’t been around for a long time.”
Cross approaches the two of them and exchanges verbal middle fingers with Hank, who leans in close to Cross and says “Be Careful,” at least that’s how it would seem in a film without a shrinkable superhero. What you’ll see in the final product of the movie though is that Hank is whispering to the ant-sized Scott Lang, who is now hitching a ride on Darren Cross. One of the points of contention between Hope and her father is that he’s passing along the Ant-Man suit to someone that isn’t her.
“She hates it,” Lilly tells us about that fact. “That’s actually become a difficult question to address in the script, why isn’t Hope Ant-Man? When Ant-Man was first invented it would’ve made sense, why would he hand it off to his daughter? That wouldn’t make any sense at all. But in 2014 it’s like, ‘Well, why wouldn’t he hand it off to his daughter, especially a daughter as intelligent and capable as Hope?’ Of course we answer all those questions, but I can’t tell you how or why.”
Part of the reason that Hank doesn’t want Hope in the suit might have something to do with his animosity toward superheroes, which begins decades before The Avengers even form.
“Pretty dismissive,” Douglas says of Pym’s feelings towards superheroes. “I mean, there are serious problems…I feel like I’m doing the American president now. There are serious problems, and some of the things that they do, Iron Man, is kind of silly compared to what’s going on in the real world.”
Hope doesn’t share these feelings however, which feeds into her own desire to get in on her father’s legacy.
“I think she doesn’t understand her father’s animosity towards superheroes in that way,” Lilly tells us. “I think that for the most part that’s because she really doesn’t understand any of what really happened in her life. A lot of stuff has been kept from her. So she’s in the dark and I think that results in a lot of bitterness and confusion about her father’s behavior.”
Their rift can be most readily seen in the fact that Hope doesn’t use her father’s name, choosing to go by her late mother Janet’s maiden name. The reasoning for this may not be totally clear by the end of the film either as Lilly explains.
“It is so multilayered. when you finish watching this movie you could dissect that question 20 times over and have 20 different answers for it, and I love that. I love the multi-dimensions of Hope Van Dyne because what motivates her to do all of the things that she does in the film, and even in the backstory sort of that you realize as you’re walking into the film is there is no clear cut answer, you know, she’s angry and hurting and has made a lot of decisions based out of that anger.”
When they’re not in character though, both Lilly and Douglas have a good report on set.
“I distinctly remember the day, the scene, that I was working when it hit me that I was working with Michael Douglas and up to that point I hadn’t given it any thought… I had to do a fairly intense like actor scene, you know, and superhero movies don’t often have a lot of actor scenes. So he had to bring it and I had to bring it and somewhere in the middle of that scene the penny dropped and I went, ‘Holy f***, I’m working now with Michael Douglas!’”
Lilly goes on to tell us that Douglas never stops bringing it on the set though, delivering an energy to the world that keeps everyone on their toes and in character.
“I think at this point in his career it would be very easy for a man like Michael Douglas to dial it in on a film like this and just go, ‘Egh, it’s a paycheck, just come, get my job over and done with and get out,’ but when they roll those cameras, even when they’re not rolling, when they just call for us to rehearse, he really brings it and he opens his mouth and you go, ‘Oh that’s how it’s done, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.’”
As we said earlier, the film deals primarily with relationships, specifically the father-daughter relationships of Hank and Hope and Scott and Cassie, but there is also the Hank and Darren Cross relationship at its forefront. The pair have a complicated relationship too, as Cross began his career at Pym Tech as a boy genius, motivated to recreate the things that Pym had done and kept locked away.
“He’s well motivated,” Stoll says about Darren Cross. “I can’t say what every individual theater-goer whether they will relate to him or not, but he definitely has a very human sort of intimate reasons for why he’s doing this to (Pym)… He was his mentor, and (Darren) is sort of starving for that affection and affirmation.”
We’re told by Kevin Feige that some allusions to Hank Pym’s dark nature from the comic books are alluded to in the film, though never outright said. The best of this acknowledgmenets comes in the form of a line of dialogue that Hank says to Darren when asked why he abandoned his apprentice, he replies “I saw too much of myself in you.”
“(Hank) wants to make a world a better place,” Douglas says. “But in doing so, I think he realizes just how dark it is, so he sees that. He picked this guy. He picked Darren as his protege early on for this company, just like he’s picked Scott for this particular job. So, there’s just as there’s a bit of thievery maybe in Pym, in terms of how he picked Scott, there’s a darkness also that makes him understand where someone like Darren can go and where he is going to go, and he feels guilty for evolving and developing this and now seeing how this can be used in a negative fashion.”
“There’s multiple motivations for why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Stoll says of Cross’s decision to pursue other avenues with the technology he’s created. “What we’ve focused on and what we’re still making sure that everything boils down to that relationship between myself and Pym, and how that’s incurred the successes that I have are how that sort of puffs me up and how my failures lead to violence.”
Much of the film will be composed of the partnership between Scott Lang, Hank Pym, and Hope Van Dyne, but in today’s scene we’re seeing the flipside of Hank, Hope, and Darren, which Evangeline Lilly still wasn’t quite sure about.
“I’ve spent a lot of time up to now filming primarily the dynamic between Hank, Scott and Hope and now having it be Hank, Hope and Darren and playing this dynamic, I’m still kind of trying to find my feet, because it is a bit complicated and a bit confusing on so many levels. They’re very complicated relationships, as most father/daughter relationships are. There’s no easy answers.”
Corey Stoll also reveals a third trifecta in the film, that of Hank Pym’s “children,” Scott and Darren, and his actual child, Hope.
“I think they’re competing siblings, competing sort for the father figure’s love. I think Scott’s not as aware of this competition as I am, but, here can only be room for, for one.”
Much like Paul Rudd as Scott Land, Stoll gets some quality time in the special effects-heavy world of the film’s fight scenes. We saw him the day before in his CG-PJs, which he affectionately refers to as “Señor Bumblebee,” and though he may have looked less than enthusiastic in doing the scene, he says he’s having a fun time doing it.
“It’s a lot of fun. I mean it definitely is very stop-start, it takes a very different sort of mode of working. It’s very abstracted. But yeah, it’s great fun… The trick is to sort of stay connected emotionally while you’re just sort of doing, you know, a second worth of sort of action in time.”
Stoll was also both jealous and not bothered at all that Paul Rudd got to wear a full costume on the set while most of his outfit as Yellow Jacket will be added in post.
“You know, it’s a sort of a double-edged sword, because I think I’m more comfortable. It takes a lot less time to get in and out of it than Paul’s does, and the end result will be cooler than any actual physical substance could be.”
The scene of the day continues to play out multiple times and from multiple angles. We hear Michael Douglas say “How’s your face?” so many times that when that scene plays out in the theater, you might hear one guy laughing like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard – that guy will be me.
As they prepare to set up the camera for a new angle, director Peyton Reed sticks his head inside the room that we’re watching the monitor in and says “Hey guys I have time for one quick question.” Without exaggeration, every reporter in the room shouts out a question over each other, Peyton puts up his hand and says “Thanks guys!” and leaves. Reed’s love for the source material can be felt as soon as he opens his mouth, but that he’s also having fun on the set of the film is what gives me (and the cast) hope for this movie. More of that hope was solidified just last week when Marvel invited myself and a group out to Industrial Light & Magic to preview some actual scenes from Ant-Man, as a nice postscript to this set visit.