‘Amazing Spider-Man’ Producer: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Are the Hepburn-Tracy of Modern Time
If Kevin Feige is the Nick Fury of Marvel Movies, Avi Arad represents those video-conferenced faces that show up in ‘Avengers.’ He’s the producer who saved the company from bankruptcy then got the ball rolling, leading us to this halcyon time where fanboys can expect multiple comic book movies a year.
Like a true Marvel character, his great accomplishments came at a great cost. By getting the Marvel movies cooking and to minimize risk he set up properties at different film studios. That’s why ‘Fantastic Four’ is at Fox and ‘Spider-Man’ is at Sony, while the rest of our heroes are eating shawarma at Disney. It’s the original sin of our summer movies, but try to remember that without the original success of ‘X-Men,’ none of this would have been possible, and that was Avi Arad’s doing.
Beside him is Matthew Tolmach, wearing a handsome vest with no flair. He was the head of production at Sony/Columbia Pictures for eight years and ‘Amazing Spider-Man‘ is his first big picture as a producer.
We only had a few minutes to chat, and like a chump I wasted a few minutes babbling about movie swag before talking about why Emma Stone is the key to ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ and how her chemistry with star Andrew Garfield reminds them of a very famous movie couple…
Matthew Tolmach: I was a studio executive for however many years, we put our twelve movies a year. I have stuff you wouldn’t believe. I look at some of the hats and sometimes I think, what the heck movie was that? Seriously, just the other day I found something. You want a ‘Spice World’ hat?
I’ll respectfully pass. But it’s weird what makes it into your rotation. For about year I schlepped a ‘Hamlet 2′ bag around.
MT: The Steve Coogan film! Pam Brady wrote that, hilarious film.
Good film, whatever reason it didn’t do so well, but I carried that bag around for a year and people asked about it and I always recommended it to people on Netflix. So, hell, I guess the bag was worth the cost.
Avi Arad (joking): I only wear from my own films!
Okay, let’s get down to business. ‘Spider-Man’ is back. There was going to be a fourth one, but now he’s young again, blah blah blah.
MT: Perfectly summed up.
So everyone has an understanding of Peter Parker, but one of the things you get to do new, here, is introduce Gwen Stacy. She was in ‘Spider-Man 3′ a little bit, but now she’s the female lead and you got to create her from whole cloth. Let’s talk about how you approached the casting.
AA: It’s starts with Emma. Emma had experience with Sony.
You made ‘Zombieland’ with her . . .
MT: ‘Zombieland’ and also ‘Superbad,’ and ‘Superbad’ was her first acting job. [Ed. note: 'Superbad' was Emma Stone's first movie role but she had been working in TV since 2005.]
AA: For me, she was a new quantity. I remember watching ‘Easy A’ and being just blown away by her quickness and her ability to go from “there’s no cloud in the world” to “it’s pretty cloudy out there,” and when the door opens there’s no cloud in the world again. That’s very much the Marvel way of telling stories. It’s very Jewish this way! If you get engaged you break a plate against the wall, you get married you break a glass.
MT: Yeah, what’s with all the breaking?
AA: There’s the first temple, the second temple. . .You can’t be happy for too long! But, anyway, we looked at a lot of great girls. A lot. She’s the stand out. She is going to be acting for a quite a long time.
MT: When we hired her to do ‘Superbad,’ and no one knew who she was, there’s the scene where Jonah walks into Home Ec, right? They’re cooking and it is when he first meets Emma. Jonah’s as funny as anybody in the world in that scene, and the scene is all about him being funny, right? Then I remember seeing the scene in the dailies and she had turned that scene into something else. She reduced Jonah to the kid with the crush. She matched him, immediately, comedically. She did something that the quote unquote girl is the scene isn’t traditionally intended to do. But that’s her. When we were talking about Gwen Stacey we needed someone who is Peter’s equal and then some.
And also someone who differentiates herself from Mary-Jane and Kirstin Dunst.
AA: Yes, it was important to accomplish a few things. We have a new Peter Parker, a Peter Parker of today in high school. We wanted an assertive, strong, beautiful girl. A girl who is more impressed with brain than brawn. Unlike Mary-Jane, Gwen Stacey falls in love with Peter Parker, not with Spider-Man. Her intellectual equivalence, or even superiority, allows her to see something in Peter that the other high school girls don’t.
You know there’s the scene where the other girl only is interested in Peter for him to photograph her boyfriend’s car. You can tell that Peter isn’t an active dating guy, but he has his eye on Gwen. But Gwen has HER eye on him, and this is how today’s girls are, they pick what they want.
Gwen Stacey is not a wallflower waiting for Peter to approach her.
AA: She sees that Peter has potential. There’s the scene in the beginning, after the fight with the bully [Flash Thompson] where she acknowledges him. You feel like it is the first time anyone has done that.
There’s a nice switcheroo, when she asks if he knows his name, and you think she’s oblivious to him, but it’s revealed, “Of course not, I know you, we’re in a class together, how dumb do you think I am?”
MT: It turns everything on its ear. It’s a beautiful, smart and funny girl finding value in him. It’s really important for Peter’s development. And, listen, that takes a lot for an actress to pull that off. It’s very modern and very real.
AA: On camera the chemistry is real. Those scenes are where Marc Webb really gets into his element. It’s the hardest thing to do and they do it. These two are like Hepburn-Tracy of modern time. It’s a war of brains that turns into attraction.
MT: That fantastic, awkward scene of them in the hallway, it was always scripted, but there was some terrific improv that really brought the magic awkwardness. Marc is a good director – he creates the atmosphere to let that sort of thing happen. It’s not like he sits back and says “let’s see what happens.”