INTERVIEW: Director Sam Raimi on Spider-Man 2!

Sam Raimi is back as director for Spider-Man 2 and like a good “to be continued” comic, Raimi will continue his work and complete the story in Spider-Man 3.

“I didn’t know that I’d be directing it. But it didn’t really change anything for me. As far as knowing that there were three parts to this story because one, the Spider-Man comic books have always been in parts. But two, the movie itself seemed complete to me. In my mind, I was working on the story and I knew how I wanted it to end. The story of a life out of balance, first lopsided in one way as he tries to be this responsible young man and then lopsided in another way as he decides the hell with it, I’m living my life, damn anybody else. And then that road leads to such moral decay that he finally has to say to himself I will go back to my lopsided life of being Spider-Man and just down this road of responsibility. Unfortunately it’s like a prison sentence to him. What he doesn’t know is that by the end of the piece, he learns, through Mary Jane Watson that he cannot go down that road alone. And so I found that he found a sense of balance by the end. So it seemed to me, complete, as a complete story. Also the story of some young man who is on the road to responsibility, learns the sacrifices that are necessary to be responsible. I felt that he had learned a lesson, so it seemed complete in a few different ways. I didn’t really think of it as a franchise movie.”

Getting to this sense of balance took a lot of thinking for Raimi. “As the first movie ended, I thought I really know this character Peter Parker. I really understand him. Some things I don’t know, I’m still figuring them out, but I really know who he is. And I have this great curiosity as to what will happen to him in his life. Will he get back with Mary Jane Watson? What about his friend Harry? How will they resolve this dark secret of Harry’s father’s death that Peter hasn’t told him. And then I realized that I have to direct this movie because I’m so curious about it. I need to see it. I’d love to tell that story. I wanna discover it. I wanna discover what happens, and the writing of it, and the directing of it. And I didn’t know if that would happen at the end of this film. But at this time, I find myself again, incredibly curious. I realize that Peter Parker, there’s so much more to learn than I thought. I may never know who he is, no more than you never know who your own husband or wife is. But the more time you spend with him, the more you love them, the more complexities are revealed to you. Often times when I’m directing a picture, I’m trying to figure out who the character is so I can direct the movie. It usually happens – at some moment, I realize who it is and I know what to do. So I just feel like I’m at a great advantage in that I know who he is. I know how to direct him then. Now I just have to really work on the story and everything else. A big problem has been figured out for me.”

With all this said, Raimi said he didn’t make an effort to put more of a personal stamp on the movie. “I just tried to get even more in touch with the things that I loved about Stan Lee’s great character Spider-Man, and a lot of writers throughout the 40 years at Marvel have contributed to Spider-Man. All the things that I loved about all of their stories, I tried to really get deeper into and connect on a deeper level with the actors, and make it more about the characters and their interaction with one another. I tried to get to the core of what I loved even more.”

Now to the nitty gritty.

Superheroes seem to lose their powers in some way or another. Does it happen in Spider-Man 2? Well, here’s Raimi’s thoughts. “I was thinking about a great issue of Stan Lee’s Spider-Man comic book where he gets the flu. And he, for a time, is really weak. It was so human to me, I thought it was great. This superhero’s got the bug that affects all of us, and just like we all have to go to work when we’re sick and we really don’t know why we’re doing this and how we’re gonna do our job, he had to fight criminals when he had the flu. I thought that was incredibly human, a humanizing thing to have happened to a super hero. It was a combination of that and a desire to put that into the picture so we could identify with him. I thought that was a unique thing that happened in Stan Lee’s comics, But also there was another issue of Stan Lee’s comics that I loved where he decided to throw the suit away. It was issue number 50, perhaps, his life problems had just become too great, so I think what happened was there was a synthesis of those two ideas, along with other elements I was interested in telling in this story. That’s where the genesis of the loss of powers came from.”

Speaking about Tobey Maguire…he was almost not cast for 2. “I thought that Jake Gyllenhaal was gonna be the next Spider-Man because I asked him to do it. When I had heard that Tobey’s back, that Tobey could be paralyzed from a stunt on the set, I realized that I couldn’t possibly have him in the picture. I couldn’t ask him to do anything where that tragedy could happen on the set, so at the same time, I couldn’t compromise the movie and not have Peter Parker take such an active role in all these scenes. So I had to call Tobey and say, ‘Tobey, from what I hear, I can’t work with you in the movie.’ And he was speechless. I don’t think he knew what I had heard. But I had heard that he could be paralyzed if there was an injury to his back. So I called Jake. I said, ‘Jake, Tobey’s back is such that I can’t be as irresponsible as to ask him to play the part. It breaks my heart because I really wanted him to be in the movie. I think he’s the right Spider’Man. But if I can’t have Tobey, you’re the man for me. I’ve been a great admirer of his work. I like him personally. We had planned, and still plan to make a film together. He was gonna think about it. He said he’s honored that I asked, he’d think about it. And before he told me whether he would do it or not, I got a call from Tobey’s manager and agent and Sony saying, ‘The representative that said that is not a doctor. We wanna have doctors examine him and find out.’ So doctors checked him out and said, ‘You know what, it turns out that he does have a back injury and if he does re-injure it, it would cause him a tremendous amount of pain. But we don’t believe there’s a high likelihood of him being paralyzed. No. That was not correct. But he could re-injure it. So I thought pain for actors is a good thing. As long as he’s not gonna be paralyzed, then it could work out.’

So knowing Tobey would be okay, did Raimi go out of his way to beat Tobey up in this movie? “Well I didn’t go out of my way to beat up Tobey physically. I think Bruce Campbell’s better for that. But I did want to beat him up emotionally and mentally. I wanted him to suffer and make the audience suffer so that they could come out of it. Because I wanted them to realize that to be responsible, you have to pay a price. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to do the right thing. You always have to give something of yourself. Your time, you have to make a personal sacrifice, you’ve got to maybe risk personal injury, you’ve got to say something that you may be ashamed to say. So I wanted to show that to be this hero had a great cost to Tobey. It wasn’t gonna be easy. So I wanted him to suffer to be that hero. So I beat him up as much as I could in the story.”

Tobey does take some good wall-slammings in 2. “He took some of those hits. Not the real tough ones. They have a special back-protector, kind of a shell that he wears on his back when we do that. And the wall is pre-scored, pre-cut from the back and it’s made out of drywall material. So it’s not terribly impactful, that particular piece. There’s other things, when we yank him out of frame, that his back does endure quite a jolt. But I think he’s healthier than even he thought.”

‘Back’ to the movie… see if you can find this joke while watching. “My brother wrote this joke, and he just thought it would be funny. We were working on the bit where Tobey’s trying to regain his powers, Peter Parker is trying to regain his powers. He’s running over the roof tops trying to make a big leap. And he says, ‘I’m back! I’m back!’ And then obviously he doesn’t have as much power as he thought, slams down and says, ‘My back! My back!’ He just thought that would be a great joke. And then we thought, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that. Tobey’s had back problems.’ Then we thought, ‘Well let’s do it anyways.’ It’ll work outside of that if it works, and it’ll be fun for the people who do know about those problems. And Tobey was aware of that and he has a very good sense of humor about himself. So he said, ‘Sure, let’s do that gag.'”

We all love Tobey and Raimi knew he was right for the role of Spider-Man because “when Stan Lee created Peter Parker was that he was one of us. Unlike Superman, who came from Krypton and was looked up to by kids with his cape, and only pretended to be a human being, Peter Parker was a human being. He was us, and trying this best to be a superhero. But really, he was just a kid who couldn’t get the girls, was broke, not particularly attractive, so as a kid, you really think, “Yes, that’s me.” But in addition, Tobey has the ability to be a very real person on screen. He’s a very nice person. He’s a good person. I think the audience can see right through someone if they’re not, on screen. They have a collective intelligence that is very accurate and piercing. And I think because he’s a good person, and he’s simple and doesn’t put on a lot of airs and doesn’t pretend on screen, he just is somehow, I think he becomes Peter Parker.”

Only one villain again. This time it’s Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina). Two were written for the earlier drafts. “I like a lot of the comic book stories where there’s a lot of villains, but I had so much of a personal story to tell this time with Peter and Mary Jane Watson, and his friend Harry, that I couldn’t. When I had two villains in the earlier drafts, it seemed to diminish my ability to get deeper into what most interested me.” Who was this second villain you wonder? Black Cat. Hmmm… will Black Cat be back? “Yeah, and I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out the story.”

Challenges in filming this type of movie are a given. Raimi says his most challenging to film were a pier scene and train scene. “They were both very difficult because the train scene was broken into so many parts and places. And they both had to be assembled together. I had to have an awareness of each and every element in each and every shot, and how those elements would not only go together, but how each shot would work with the next. For instance, I would shoot in Chicago plates of elements that I would need throughout the course of the train scene. Then I would go to New York and shoot elements there. And I had to know how they would work with the Chicago plates. Then I would shoot on stages, set pieces that had to work. Like people on a train, in front of blue screen, had to fit into those plates, and I had to have an understanding of how that would work, then I had to sometimes photograph other elements in front of blue screen or green screen that would be a composite of all those other elements. It became a very complex jigsaw puzzle for each piece and then that piece fit into a much larger mosaic. So holding that in my head was difficult. But I had a tremendous amount of help from other artists to do that.”

On a personal note. Raimi’s personal Delta 88 does have an appearance in the movie. He also loves comics. “I love so many of them. I really do. I love a lot of them, I grew up reading them. Spidey’s always been my favorite. Superman, not a Marvel comic book, is another favorite. Batman is another favorite. Love Captain America. I also love the Fantastic Four – really cool. Those would be my favorites, I guess.” Avi Arad had mentioned that Raimi had a little Peter Parker in him. “Well, anytime a writer or director writes a story, they have to become that character. They have to say to themselves, ‘What would I do in this situation?’ Or in my situation I would say, ‘If I was a nobler, kinder, more heroic person that I wanted to be, what would I do?’ And that’s a great experience to take, to write up the story and write up a picture like that. Because you understand what your own failings are. And you really start to know who the character is. You know, therefore, when you direct it, what he would and wouldn’t say and how he might say it, and if the emotion is right or wrong. Having an understanding of these characters from the inside out enables you to direct the picture. You can’t really direct the picture unless you know the character, so I have to become the character. I don’t seem to think that I’m like that noble character Peter Parker. I admire him a great deal, though.”

Just like the first film’s DVD, Raimi says that he doesn’t have too many deleted scenes for the sequel’s DVD. “I didn’t like the idea at all at first, because I really like to be private making the movies,” he says about the filming of the DVD material. “I don’t like shows. I don’t wanna put on a show, I just really want to work intimately with the actors. Most of what was shot in the movie made it into the movie. There’s a scene in a shoe store, it’s about a two minute scene. It’s a scene with J. Jonah Jameson, about a one minute scene. And I think those are the only scenes. And then there’s like 10 seconds here where something was too slow, or there’s a 15-second clip there where some piece of information was made clear by a visual, which I didn’t realize when we were working on the script. So I realized the audience didn’t need that, or some entrance was too slow, I’d start the scene in mid-dialogue. But really, pretty much what we planned was in the picture. I don’t really have a lot of stuff to put in.”

To wrap up this story, we’ll end with the age-old question of how the superhero, in this case Spider-Man, represents the role of a hero in today’s world. “I don’t’ want to ever say that anything that I’m doing with these fantasy pictures has anything to do with real heroics,” says Raimi, “I admire those men and women in the service and I know that they risk a lot for our country and for our freedom. They have my thanks and my admiration. These are simple comic book fantasy stories, but they have their importance, too. They’re much lower level. I’m very lucky to be an American and to be able to tell these stories and live in Los Angeles protected. But that having been said, I think the value of any story of a hero is that it reminds us of the good we can do in the world. And it reminds of what we’re capable of. Like myths, or stories of old. They have us identify with characters, they show them coming upon terrible conflicts and problems, and they show these characters, if they’re heroic stories, rising above those conflicts – exhibiting qualities that they probably didn’t even think that they had. Maybe it’s a growth of responsibility, like in this film. Or maybe it’s the ability to withstand more than they thought they could for the ones they love, or to risk something for an ideal they believe in, that’s greater than themselves. And when we see these stories, and when we see these characters overcome these conflicts and grow as human beings, we’re uplifted because we’re reminded – yes, we’re capable of that. I’m capable of that goodness too. And we feel touched and stirred when it works right. And that’s the value of these heroic stories. They show us the way and remind us what we should be.”

Catch Sam Raimi’s anticipated Spider-Man 2 in theaters on Wednesday, June 30th.

Source: Chuck the Movieguy