Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and Emma Stone (The Help, Crazy Stupid Love) showed up at the 2012 WonderCon to promote The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the franchise which finds Andrew Garfield taking on the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in an origin story that Webb promises will be different from what we've seen on the screen before. Before putting on a presentation and taking questions from fans, Webb and Stone sat down for an interview in which we delved into what will set this big screen incarnation of Spider-Man apart from the previous films. Webb and Stone, who wasn't into comics and really only knew about Spider-Man from Sam Raimi's films, also discussed who Gwen Stacy really is, what made Andrew Garfield the right actor for the role, and how it feels to now be a part of the Spider-Man world.
Emma Stone and Director Marc Webb The Amazing Spider-Man Interview
How did the fans treat you guys out there?
Emma Stone: "Terribly. I got punched six times."
Marc Webb: "Where's your other shoe?"
Emma Stone: "I don't know. I'm bleeding."
Did you hit back?
Emma Stone: "Yes, I always hit back."
Marc Webb: "She always hits back."
Are you getting a sense of their excitement for the film now that little pieces of the film have gotten out there?
Marc Webb: "Yeah, it's sort of intimidating. Emma says this really well. It's like there's something liberating about the idea that Spider-Man is so much bigger than any one of us."
Emma Stone: "Yes, absolutely. You feel like a little cog in a really big machine, which is so nice. It kind of makes it a little bit more pressure-less, maybe not for you. But for me it feels like they're coming to see Spider-Man. That's what it's all about."
Marc Webb: "But it's been really fun. I think there's a real genuine sense of enthusiasm, and really, curiosity which is fun. I mean, you do have to honor the sort of iconographic elements of Spider-Man, but it's been fun to put ourselves in, in a different and new way."
How do you honor that, but make it your own movie?
Marc Webb: "Well, I think there are elements of Spider-Man that are just universal. I mean, he shoots webs and he soars through the sky and he's a little guy who beats up guys that are bigger than him, or fights for the little guy. I think that's a really important thing, but I think that for me there was a few things in the Spider-Man comics that I thought were really interesting. There's this story about Peter's parents and where he came from, and I thought that it was really interesting to explore the emotional consequence of someone whose parents had left them at a very young age. I like this Peter Parker that has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. In The Amazing Spider-Man #8 there's this moment where Flash and Peter are sort of going at each other. They're at a boxing match and you sort of hear what Peter is saying and he's a little surly, and I like that. There's this attitude, this sort of punk rock humor and trickster quality that I think probably comes from somebody who is a little distrustful of the world at times. In order for someone like that to become a hero, I think it's a really interesting story. That was something fun. It was really fun to explore, and then of course there's the Gwen Stacy saga, The Lizard. But I think what we tried to do was find something very emotionally grounded and that felt very real. That's a challenge when there's big lizards and soaring through the air, but that's what was really fun about it, I think."
Experience-wise, what's been fun for you showing up at work every day?
Emma Stone: "Well, I mean there were fun elements, like swinging, that I'd never done or reacting to something that's not there, which was interesting. But the greatest take-away was realizing that everything is so grounded in reality and it doesn't matter how big the world is around you or the blue screens in the background, you are doing a scene between two people and it's human and it's reality. That's kind of a comforting thing when you're in something that's so seemingly daunting and it's such a big environment. It's nice at the end of the day to know that you're just acting as you would be in any circumstance."
Does seeing the level of hardcore-ness that these fans have here about the comic make you nervous at all, living up to those expectations?
Emma Stone: "I think initially, definitely, but then you realize that there's just so much material when it comes to Spider-Man. I had done The Help right before this and that was a book, and so there was also that kind of fan base, but that's one book and this is 50 years-worth of comic book material. So, there's different incarnations of Gwen, and I realized that you can't please everybody and that you were cast because they're hoping that you can bring this character to life in the best way that you know how. So, at the end of the day, I hope that people are satisfied. I know that not everybody will be, and that's one of those trials of being human, when you learn that not everybody can like you. It is a tough lesson, isn't it? But it's important and I think hopefully people will be okay with my incarnation."
We haven't seen much about Gwen Stacy outside of the comics. What are you hoping to explore in this relationship?
Marc Webb: "Well, in the way that I think that Peter Parker eventually learns about sacrifice through Gwen Stacy, but in order to adequately learn that lesson you have to feel that really strong bond. Something for me, I think, in terms of what we set out to do with this relationship, specifically between Peter and Gwen...I mean, you remember the first time that you meet a girl in high school and that you get to share things with that person that you might not have shared with any other people, that creates a bond and an intensity that I think has a lot of currency. When you get that opportunity to be honest and open with somebody for the first time and share things about yourself that you haven't been able to before, things that you might be scared of or ashamed about, that's really exhilarating. I think that's something that people will really identify with. That was something that was fun about the relationship."
"And then in terms of Gwen as a character, she's really smart. She's got this scientific quality, and maybe you can speak more to this, but she's in sort of a weird position, stuck between the different men in her life."
Emma Stone: "Yeah, her duty to her father and her duty to her boyfriend, because she's a real confidant for him. Their intimacy is such an incredible element, and I think that Gwen has been in control her whole life. She's the oldest daughter of a police chief who is constantly terrified that her father is going to die every day. She has to have an element of being smart because she has to be. She's a valedictorian because she has to be. She has to take care of things and be responsible for her family, and I think that being able to let go and trust somebody who puts themselves in the face of death of every day, too, that's like, great, now she's drawn to another person that could die at any moment and she has to keep his secret and pick and choose between her first love which is her father, of course, like every girl. That's the first man in your life and then her first boyfriend. So, it's a pretty complex situation for Gwen, and there's a lot of, I think, sadness and fear in her life combined with the fact that she's outwardly confident and strong and smart and takes no bullshit. She's soft and 17 underneath it all."
Marc Webb: "There's a great source of drama, and Gwen is at the center of this in a lot of ways – there's competing ideas of what's good. These people, everybody's heart is in the right place, but they execute their plans in different ways, and that goes for The Lizard and Curt Connors as well. Gwen in particular is stuck between The Captain and Peter Parker and Spider-Man who have different ways about going about finding justice in their lives. I think that's a really fun thing to explore in the movie."
With the romance being so important in the story, how quickly did you see the chemistry happening between Emma and Andrew Garfield? How did you guys find that? Did you land that right away or did it take work, finding those moments where you click as Peter and Gwen?
Marc Webb: "I know that when we did a screen test…what was great was that I think that Emma brought a level of humor and levity that Andrew really responded to, and there was this immediate sense of lightness in the interaction which I think tracks really beautifully onscreen. And when you have that, you just want to spend time with them. There was another thing, there was a spontaneity on set. I don't know how much improv Andrew had done, but had you done a lot of improv?"
Emma Stone: "Yeah."
Marc Webb: "And you could tell because they were just firing it off and that was really cool, to have a very big, huge movie with a lot of visual effects and a lot of pressure and a lot of days and a lot of grilling things, and then you have these, like, wistful spirits who are just snappy. Denis Leary was really funny. That was a real joy to watch."
With 50 years-worth of Spider-Man available, why go back and explore this origin story one more time so soon?
Marc Webb: "Well, we're telling the story in a different way. And I think it's really important when you're redefining a character for the audience to experience things that they haven't experienced from the ground up. I wanted to build a character. There's just something about the movies that I see, like, I feel like point of view is a really crucial thing in the story and that you need to build up the sort of emotional building blocks so that you can experience all the other emotions in a very specific way, rather than just experience it in an intellectual way. I mean, that's why at the beginning of the movie there's a story of his parents and them being pulled from him. I think you want to feel what that sense of abandonment feels like as an audience member so that you can readily and appropriately identify. And we're creating a different universe with different rules and a different tone and different villains. We're very careful to honor the iconography of Spider-Man, but we wanted to tell it in a new and different way."
Emma, what was your first exposure to Spider-Man?
Emma Stone: "The Sam Raimi trilogy. I didn't read comics growing up. I watched a lot of movies and I guess those were my comic books. So, yeah, the trilogy, and then really my exposure increased by becoming affiliated with Spider-Man. When I found out that I was going to audition for Gwen, I looked into the Gwen Stacy story. I was so excited that it was Gwen because when your exposure has been the Sam Raimi trilogy, you only really knew about Mary Jane, other than Bryce's [Dallas Howard] in the third version, the third movie, but that's a totally different version of Gwen. So, it was like I had some backstory all of a sudden to the Peter and Mary Jane relationship because he's gone through something so horribly traumatic in his life and has such a sense of guilt that it really added so much to the story. So, I was so excited to get to be a part of bringing that story to life."
Why was Andrew the perfect Spider-Man?
Emma Stone: "He's perfect. That's the word."
Marc Webb: "I'll take that."
Emma Stone: "There we go."
Marc Webb: "We looked at a lot of people."
Emma Stone: "Like on the street? You walked on the street and looked at people?"
Marc Webb: "Yes. That's it. We looked at a lot of people, and then we started casting. No. There was something about him. I remember there was a very specific moment when we were screen-testing with Andrew, and I've told this story before, but he was eating a cheeseburger that wasn't really in the movie. It was just for the screen-test and he moved in a way that felt adolescent. He was eating a cheeseburger and he flopped his elbows around, and I didn't know what I was drawn to initially until I watched it over and over again. I couldn't stop watching it and I thought that it was so interesting and there was so many layers in the performance, but I was drawn to it. I just wanted to watch it over and over again."
"Then, beyond that, he's emphatic about finding authenticity and emotional reality in a scene, and he will not reach for jokes. He will not reach for any other kind of emotion that does not feel real or authentic. That's an enormous gift. It's a very difficult thing for actors because they're often asked to do things that are really crazy, and when you have to react to a lizard that's a tennis ball, it's a really, really difficult, tricky piece of craft. He could do that in a way that felt real, and I felt that was really exceptional."
"Beyond that, he can do sort of emotional depth and heartbreaking scenes. There's a lot of tragedy in the movie. He can do romance and he can do humor, as can Emma, but that's a very, very rare combination to find in an actor. You become increasingly aware of how rare that is as you start to try to find that. He's an exceptional human in that regard, an exceptional craftsman in that regard."
Emma, do you get to be funny because Gwen in the comics isn't known for being funny?
Marc Webb: "She is such a drag."
Emma Stone: "Such a bummer."
Marc Webb: "Such a ball and chain."
Emma Stone: "I'm literally like Charlie Brown through the whole movie. No. I think there's…I'm sure some stuff snuck in there. The nice thing is when you have a relationship - Gwen's story is really through Peter Parker. You very rarely see her outside of him, and in a relationship, a first relationship there's that levity and there's heartbreak. So, yeah, there are of course funny moments, but he really has a pretty incredible, hilarious sequence and moving."
Marc Webb: "Which one?"
Emma Stone: "Discovery."
Marc Webb: "Oh, that one, yeah."
Emma Stone: "It's pretty fantastic.
Marc Webb: "Yeah. He's great. It's very good. He does this sort of physical comedy really well."
Emma Stone: "Yeah, he's great at physical comedy. He is."
Marc Webb: "Yeah, and you don't see that very often. There's no vaudeville to train that kind of thing."
Emma Stone: "Yeah, but he took clowning in school."
Marc Webb: "Did he really? I'm sure he did. He's such a clown, a yuckster."
Stan Lee said his cameo in this is the funniest he's done.
Marc Webb: "Oh, yeah. It's good. His cameo is killer."
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The Amazing Spider-Man hits theaters on July 3, 2012.