Marvel Co-President Louis D’Esposito Talks ‘Agent Carter’ and the Spin-Off Marvel Universe
Though he might not be as well known as Kevin Feige, Louis D'Esposito (Co-President at Marvel Studios) has been one of Marvel's top producers, having worked on all the in-house Marvel films since 'Iron Man.' He's also become the regular director of the 'Marvel One-Shot' series, which have gotten bigger and better with each new entry in the series.
With the Blu-ray release of 'Iron Man 3' comes the latest 'One Shot' 'Agent Carter,' which is easily the best of the series and stars Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter as a James Bond-esque superspy, though one that isn't taken seriously by her superiors because she's a woman. It's smart and fun, giving Atwell another shot at one of her best roles (a part she's likely to reprise).
D'Esposito came up working as an assistant director for the likes of Paul Verhoven and Elaine May, but with the 'One Shot' films, D'Esposito is not only coming in to his own, but perhaps positioning himself to direct one of Marvel's next superhero movies.
We spoke to him about Marvel spinoffs, the origins of Nick Fury, 'Captain America: Winter Soldier,' 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and more.
You directed Agent Carter, but you had spent a lot of time doing second unit work, did you think about your work with Paul Verhoeven while you were doing this or, say, ‘Super Mario Brothers'?
(Laughs) Listen, every film you see has an influence somewhere, for instance Paul Verhoeven, what I picked up from him, he could put together a scene, and see how it worked from shot to shot better than anyone I ever worked with. His storytelling skills with a camera are really remarkable. Joe Johnston is the same way, beautiful eye when it comes to framing, camera movement. You pick up something from every director, some are better with the actors, with the script, with the camera and you incorporate it.
When you’re doing something like this, which is more in the ‘Captain America’ universe than the ‘Avengers’ universe, are you watching Joe Johnston’s ‘Captain America’ over and over again?
Not over and over again, but I did watch it again. I’m a big fan of that film, I think the introduction of Johann Schmidt is one of the best things we’ve ever shot. I absolutely love it. It’s so cinematic, it’s the reason why I love going to the movies. That’s not to say I don’t love all our stuff, but I’m a big fan of that in particular. I had lunch with Joe the other day, he watched ‘Agent Carter’ because I told him about it and I wanted him to see it, and he was very, very complimentary. I told him I emulated his style a bit, and he said “no, you did it in your own style," which I loved. The thing I did that was different than ‘Cap’ was – well, it was shot classic, and ours was shot classic too – but that had a more sepia look to it, this initially had a different color palette. We went with a more cool blue, we used different lenses, but we intentionally put in the color blue. I remember the gaffer saying “you sure you want this much blue?” I said “trust us.”
It’s a couple years later, so you could say it was a different film stock, maybe not Technicolor.
You know how when you see a film today that’s set in the '30s, '40s, '50s, it always tend to go a little sepia.
‘The Godfather’ effect.
Exactly. We went the opposite direction, we modernized it a bit, we did the same thing with the music for the end credits. Our visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal designed those, and our composer Chris Lennertz worked in conjunction with the animation to time when the next credit is rolling. They needed music not written yet, so I sent both of them Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” I said this sentiment is what we want, even though it’s not '40s music, but we have to adapt it to it, and I think he did a terrific job getting that feel. It should be like a secret agent, but out of the '40s.
I walked out of ‘Captain America’ thinking “Hayley Atwell, this is an actress who should be in every movie.” She’s great in this, and I hope it leads to a spin-off movie about her adventures.
Listen, we know this isn’t the last Peggy Carter story, we want to tell more because she’s so good. I remember when we first met her to play the role of Peggy Carter, and I was with Joe Johnston and we were in London and you try to keep a poker face, but I couldn’t hide and Joe couldn't hide our feelings. “She’s the one! She’s the one!” She has a certain quality, you just can’t articulate that. People gravitate to her, love her performance, even when she’s beating up people.
The first Marvel ‘One Shot’ had one set, virtually a one shot short, while the second one had an action sequence, and then came 'Item 47' and now this, they keep getting bigger and bigger.
Yes, they can’t get too much bigger or they won’t be shorts any more. Brad (Winderbaum) produced the first two, and he went to an outside company to help them make it. After the first two we decided -- because the fans liked them so much -- to up the game a little. So we decided to keep them in house. And then I said, “You know I have a lot of free time on my hands, I have a lot of weekends, I want to direct ['Item 47'].” And we had so much fun doing it and then we decided to do ‘Agent Carter’ and we upped the budget – we doubled the budget – we intentionally want to make it bigger and showcase Hayley.
And you’re doing period.
And we’re doing period, and sometimes I turned to Brad during the shoot and would say “I think we bit off a little too much this time.”
You have ‘Thor: The Dark World’ coming out in November and ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ coming out in April, are you already starting to plot your ‘One Shot’ for those movies?
Yes, the ‘One Shot’ development process is a little different than the features, obviously. With the features we set it, and everything is going towards that.
But you don’t have the 2015 plan, though.
Right. We’ve developed a lot of shorts because Eric Pearson, the writer on all them, he was part of our writer’s program and now he’s a great friend of the family. We developed a lot of shorts with him over the years, so we have some crazy ideas that happen in Asgard, and some characters done in their youth. We were developing a story about young Nick Fury going with Dum Dum Dugan to Wakanda, and they’re sitting on a plane and Dum Dum is sitting next to Nick Fury eating an orange, and the orange squirts him in the eye, and maybe that’s the reason he has an eye patch. Maybe that’s the start. It really burns, so maybe he put some tape on it.
Well, we’ve never seen him take the eye patch off, so he could conceivably still have it.
The story he doesn’t want to tell is that it happened because of Dum Dum’s orange (laughs). Obviously we shelved that.
How long does it take to shoot one of these?
This one was five days, while ‘Item 47’ was four days, and it’s five days where we didn’t stop for a moment. We were very well prepared and we knew every shot going into it. We go into location preparation to see what we can accomplish, we go with our cameraman Gabriel Beristain and the stand-ins because we usually don’t have the actors for rehearsal and we plot it all out. One thing we do for the actors, because we don’t have a rehearsal period, is if they’re not part of the books we write a bio on them, and if they are part of the books, we write a timeline, so everyone is on the same page knowing what we’re thinking, and what the characters should be and where they come from. It’s very important for an actor to know what they were doing previous to the scene they were in.
Obviously you shot this a couple months ago to get it ready for Comic-Con, are you getting ready to shoot the one for ‘Thor 2’ soon?
Soon, we usually start the process six months before [the Blu-ray release].
Do you see this as an audition piece?
As a way to maybe do ‘Captain America 3,’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2?’
I try not to think about that, but I’ve had so much fun doing these, Kevin (Feige) and I have certainly discussed the potential for doing that.
Are you using the locations while they're shooting, like ‘Guardians,’ which is shooting now?
Sometimes we try to, and it’d be great efficiency if we could, but we’re not that planned out that we know what we’re doing.
I have to ask, I saw that you worked on ‘Ishtar,’ which just came out on Blu-ray, do you have any memories from the shoot? It’s such a fascinating film.
I have about a hundred ‘Ishtar’ stories I could tell you.
Do you have a favorite?
We’re doing a scene on Amsterdam, the bar is called Amsterdam’s, and the scene is Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty come in and have to speak to the girls on the left. They speak to the girls on the right, we don’t cut, we roll out a thousand feet of film. We do it again, another thousand feet, they still talk to the wrong girls. Elaine May says to me, because I’m the assistant director, “Go in there and get them away from those actresses and make them work with the actresses they’re supposed to. So they go in again, they’re speaking to the wrong girls, I walk in, I say “Buddy, I’m this girl’s boyfriend, beat it, get lost.” And Dustin Hoffman starts having a scene with me. So I keep saying “get away, do it.” So finally he does the scene. So I have to leave because I have another project I’m working on, but they call me back for reshoots! It never made the final cut, but that was an example of how crazy that show was.
'Agent Carter' is available with 'Iron Man 3' on the Blu-ray, which arrives in stores on September 24.