Interview: Sam Raimi for "Spider-Man 2"

By Paul Fischer Friday June 18th 2004 03:08PM
Sam Raimi for "Spider-Man 2"

Sam Raimi has been one of Hollywood's most unique filmmakers for over two decades, but it took the first Spider-Man to to truly turn him into a force to be reconned with. Now, with Spider-Man 2, Raimi balances the needs of an audience with his own distinct style, a combination which pays off in spades. Paul Fischer reports. Question: WHAT WAS THE ADDED CHALLENGE YOU HAD IN DOING THE SECOND FILM? Answer: Well, it was in trying to figure out what the audience wanted to see in part two because I really wanted to please the audience that the story could've taken in the second 'Spider-Man.' So I tried to think about what they must've been attracted to in the first one. I think that they came up with the answer in that they were probably most attracted to the characters and the stories of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. And that's versus the bigger extravaganza type of FX or visuals or making it louder or bigger. So I tried to concentrate the story and the writers on focusing on the relationships between Tobey Maguire's character and Kirsten Dunst's character and James Franco's character. And Peter's relationship with his aunt. These are the things that I thought the audience would be interested in most. So that's what I pursued. But the biggest challenge was trying to figure out would want to see. Not what they would expect to see necessarily, but what they were really connecting to. Question: YOU'RE FOREVER KNOWN AS THE MAN WHO GOT THE COMIC BOOK MOVIE RIGHT, WHAT DID YOU DO DIFFERENTLY FROM OTHER'S WHO'VE FAILED? Answer: I don't know. Thanks for that lovely compliment though. I was just trying to concentrate on the things that I loved about Stan Lee's great creation 'Spider-Man.' I've been given so much help along with the writers being given help. All of the Marvel comic book writers who've gone before, they'd been writing 'Spider-Man' for forty years now. So in making this movie, we can stand on the shoulders of these giants, and have these great stories and visuals all at our disposal to pull upon. So I think the advantage that I had maybe over some other motion picture filmmakers is that I had this great wealth of material, great stories, great writers, great characters that I had at my disposal. And I already loved the stories. They already worked. So it was easy. Well, not easy, but it was a great help to have this material to build the movie from. Question: THERE SEEMED LIKE A LOT MORE INTENSE VIOLENCE IN THIS ONE AS OPPOSED TO CARTOON TYPE VIOLENCE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? Answer: From the first 'Spider-Man,' this movie seemed more violent? Can you tell me what parts? Question: WHEN DR. OCTAVIUS GOES BERSERK AND IS THROWING PEOPLE AGAINST THE WALL. IT SEEMED MORE INTENSE. AND THE SURGERY. Answer: The surgery, yeah. I was wondering if that was going to be too violent. I hope that it's not too violent. Maybe it is. I didn't really make a conscious choice to make it more violent. Although I don't disagree with you. I think that what happened was that I was trying to establish in the minds of the audience that this man, that these tentacles, that this man, Dr. Octavius, had become this monster. And as this monster, he had killed or these tentacles had killed. So he was going to be on the lam and hunted. But perhaps it's more violent then it needed to be. I didn't mean to make it more violent. I just wanted to show that he was a character to be frightened of. Question: DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD MORE FREEDOM TO MAKE THIS A TYPICAL SAM RAIMI FILM? Answer: I had a tremendous amount of freedom, a little bit unearned, on the first movie. But I didn't want to say anything. When I got the job, I really thought that the studio clamps were going to come down. 'Oh, you have to make it like this. You have to make it work like this.' But they really let me have anything that I wanted which was really surprising and fantastic. So I just kept my mouth shut and enjoyed myself trying to make the best picture that I could. Yes, I even had more freedom on this picture if that's possible; to construct the story, to create any visuals that I wanted, to really do anything that I wanted. Question: THERE WAS AN EPISODE WHERE TOBEY TALKED ABOUT HIS BACK BEING SORE, WAS THAT A CONSCIOUS STATEMENT ABOUT THE CASTING ISSUES EARLY IN THIS PROCESS? Answer: Yes, there's a joke in the picture where Tobey is trying to get his powers back. And he jumps to his aunt and says, 'I'm back. I'm back.' But he doesn't really have his powers completely back and he falls, hurts his back and says, 'My back, my back.' Yes. What happened was that my brother wrote that gag, and then after writing it we said, 'Oh my God, maybe we shouldn't do that because of the problems with Tobey's back.' Then we said, 'No. It'd be really funny if we did do that. It'd be fun for the people who did know that problem.' Because of it was thought of independently, it might be funny for the people who don't know about it. I hope that it's fun. It's the funniest thing, the publicist said to me, and that's supposed to be a joke, that moment. And so the publicist said, 'Don't worry, when we were in the audience last night and when that thing with Tobey's back happened and he hit the car, no one said a word.' [Laughs] I said, 'Oh, that's great.' Question: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER CAMEO SPOTS THAT YOU HAVE IN THE FILM LIKE ??? IN THE ELEVATOR? Answer: Well, what happened was that I've always worked with a team of actors and filmmakers ever since I was a kid in Michigan making super 8 movies. We'd make our movies and sometimes Bruce Campbell would be in front of the camera. Sometimes Scott Spiegel would be in front of the camera. We would switch off directing and shooting the pictures. So we've always made movies together, and when we make movies we bring our pals into them. Then Bruce became the star of the movies because he was the good looking one. He wasn't necessarily talented in front of the camera. But that's just how it worked out. So we still make those choices. You know, I put my little brother in the movies and he's still in the pictures. My mother makes me put him in the pictures. He's JK's assistant. Question: I SEE THAT ALFRED GOUGH AND MILES MILLAR STILL CREDITED ON THE PROJECT. IS THAT BECAUSE THEY WERE THE FIRST WRITERS ON THE PROJECT AND WHY DID IT TAKE SO MANY DRAFTS AS OPPOSED TO THE FIRST ONE? Answer: Well, a lot of people worked on the screenplay. 'Spider-Man' is really the property of all of these different writers for Marvel for forty years, and all the kids of America who have created their own 'Spider-Man' stories in their heads. So I didn't think that it had to necessarily be the domain of one writer or the property of one writer. 'Spider-Man' is everyone's. Because the source material came from so many sources, I just wanted to get a lot of ideas from a lot of people and put them together into the best picture that I could. Question: AND THE FINAL CREDIT? Answer: On the writing? Well, not all the writers are credited. Dave (sp?) Koeppe wrote a very good draft. My brother Ivan [Raimi] contributed a lot. But the Writers Guild has their own system. I can't say that I know what it is of determining credit, and that's how they assign the credit. Question: WILL THE THIRD ONE BE THE LAST ONE THAT YOU'LL DIRECT? Answer: I can't imagine that I'd have the strength to direct another one after the third one. Question: ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH BETTERING YOURSELF IN THREE? Answer: Not myself. I don't know about that. I just really want to take Peter Parker to the next step in his journey. I'm very curious about it myself. What will happen? I have some things that might happen. And I really think that I know the character very well. I don't know everything about him, but I know him really well like a good friend and maybe closer than a good friend since I've spent so much time getting into his head wondering how I might react here and there, pretending to be Peter Parker like any writer or any director. I was only pretending that I was a little nobler and kinder of a person than I am. What would I do if I was nobler? What would I do if I was a little braver? And the right thing meant more to me than anything. What would I do if I was the person that I really wanted to be? That's how I can write or direct Peter Parker. So it's a really uplifting experience to have anything to do with that character because you can.I guess that this is the case when I read a story that has a heroic character in it. I'm saying the obvious thing, obviously, but when we read stories of heroes, we identify with them. We take the journey with them. We see how the obstacles almost overcome them. We see how they grow as human beings or gain qualities or show great qualities of strength and courage and with them, we grow in some small way. We see how it's possible at least. We feel uplifted and we've succeeded and we're given insight. We're reminded how things are done in this world, in the right way. So I get to take the journey with that character. That's why it's so refreshing for me to work on it. I'm just going to work on the character and his journey [On the third film]. I'm really curious about it. I'm going to try and tell the best story that I can. Again, there's so much great source material to draw from. Question: IN A MOVIE WITH SO MUCH GOING ON, HOW DO YOU KEEP THE CHARACTERS FROM BEING OVERWHELMED BY ALL THE ACTION? Answer: Well, as I was saying earlier, I guess about the audience. Those who liked the first 'Spider-Man,' and what they may liked about it, I came up with that answer. I thought that they liked the characters and their interaction and Tobey and Kirsten. And so I focused everything on the story and development and the deepening of those characters and any complexities to the story. Then the FX came around as a result of that story. It wasn't like a story built around an FX sequence. So I think that the way it went about prevented it from letting the FX overwhelm the story. Question: DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE WAS GOING TO BE A THIRD FILM DURING THE MAKING OF THE SECOND, AND IF SO, WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE PROBLEMS OF THIS BEING CONNECTED TO A TRILOGY? Answer: No. I wasn't concerned about that. I did know that there was going to be a third movie when I was making the second movie. Like in the first movie, I was trying to put things in there that would have a pending outcome like a serial, like a comic book so that you'd have to keep turning the pages and wanting to read the next issue. That quality of ending a comic book and needing to see that damn next issue. That's what I was trying to get in this picture. I wanted the audience to have that feeling. So I definitely knew that there was a third one and I was trying to create an anticipation and desire for it. I really like that feeling when I read a comic book. To be continued, that's where it comes from when you used to see that. But I wasn't worried about it being some connecting piece because I was always interested in telling this unique story about Peter Parker, a beginning, middle and end story of this character, the journey towards responsibility and a story about a life out of balance. How that starts one sided, how he tries to find the other lopsided way of life and how by the end of the piece he might find a balance. A way of going down this road that he thinks is a miserable and lonely road. Yes, he does have to take this journey down this road to responsibility, but he learns by the end that he doesn't have to take it alone. So I felt that I had a very complete story and a place where the character had come to some great understanding of life even though he's just a kid and there's so much more to learn. I felt that he had learned something and something that gave him an end to his suffering at least for now, a certain amount of his suffering. So I thought that it complete. Then as a secondary idea, I put in elements that needed the audience to see the continuing story. Question: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH ALFRED MOLINA? Answer: He's really a wonderful person, Alfred Molina. I'm so lucky to have had him in the role of Dr. Octavius. I was looking for someone who could perform the part. My wife said, 'You've got to look at this guy, he's in "Frida,"' my wife Gillian, and so I watched the movie. It was a brilliant movie and he was outrageously good in it, so good. I only realized later that I had seen him in many other pictures, but he's such a chameleon that I didn't know it at the time. When I met him, I expected him to have a Spanish accent. I was completely bowled over when I found out that he was a Brit. So it was very weird. He's very funny. Why he was chosen was because we needed a really solid actor. Someone who could stand across from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and be as top caliber as I consider them to be. Also, someone who could create a real person, who had the ability to project real warmth so that Peter could connect with him as a human being so that we could connect with him as someone who was worthy of following. He was someone who became tragic because of what they had lost as a human being and someone who could become noble at the end by finding it again. So be able to do that, I think that someone has to have a good soul. They have to be a good actor and have a good soul. I think that the audience can see right through someone who is trying to do that, but doesn't, I think. I think that the audience collectively is super smart as far as issues of human character go. They can see right through a lot of things like that. So really felt that he was a solidly good person. I thought that he was a great actor from all the movies. And he had to have a physical element to him because this characters in the comics was always illustrated as a large man. Then after working with Neil Spisak the production designer, James Acheson the costume designer, and John Dykstra our visual FX designer, I realized that I needed a large man to put these arms on. Otherwise, they may dwarf a small man. It had to have a visual symmetry. It had to work as a visual, I mean. So he was a larger man, a great actor, seemed to be a good person, had a good sense of humor and my wife said so. Question: WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT BRINGING IN LESS OF THE FAN BOYS AND MORE OF THE FEMALE CONTINGENT? Answer: I wasn't really thinking, 'I have to trade this demographic.' I hear that all the time at the Sony meetings. It was more about the audience a whole, trying to figure out what I like about 'Spider-Man.' Did they like the same thing? If so, where can I go? I didn't think about breaking the audience down quite like that, but I did want to please them as a whole. Question: IS IT HARDER TO DO 'SPIDER-MAN' INDOORS? Answer: You mean to do 'Spider-Man' stunts indoors? Well, he's a very agile character who uses a lot of space to move as elegantly as we've imagined he might. But it creates different limitations and it forces you to think about different ways to choreograph him. At first it seemed difficult and it was difficult. Question: HOW WORRIED WERE YOU THAT YOU WEREN'T GOING TO GET TOBEY BACK BECAUSE OF HIS INJURY? Answer: I was so worried about Tobey's back that I didn't think we could make the with him. I thought that. his back was in such a state I was told by someone, I don't know who, some manager or agent or representative, but I was told that his back was in such a state that if it got injured anymore, it could maybe lead to paralysis. So at that moment, I said to myself, 'I can't be irresponsible. I can't make a movie about responsibility and then grab this kid and make him do stunts where he's going to be paralyzed. And I can't compromise the movie either.' This whole movie that I'd been working with the writers on was all about Peter Parker. He's got to be on wires. He's got to be jerked up into the air super fast. He's got to tackle people. He's got to jump. He's got to take falls. He's got to run. There's just a tremendous amount of physical stunts that Tobey would have to do. So I couldn't ask him to do something that would endanger him. Nor did I want to be in a position where I kept shorting the movie where I was afraid to ask him to do it because I have a great responsibility towards the picture. So at that point, I guess that I realized we'd have to recast the role. As much as I love Tobey, and as much as I had to fight for him on the first film, I didn't think that it was any longer feasible, period, to work with him. So that's really what it was. The doctors came to us and said, 'Look, he is okay. Yes. He can bend his back more. It's more about pain. He won't be paralyzed.' I like causing actors pain. So if it wasn't about the paralysis, that became a whole different issue. So at that point, I thought that Tobey was responsible enough to take the choice onto himself, and I felt okay with that. If it's just cause going to cause back pain and not paralysis, he could have the part. Question: WILL HE BE BACK IN NUMBER THREE? Answer: He'll be back in number three, yes. Question: WAS THERE ANY CLOSE CALLS WITH HIS BACK ON THE SHOOT? Answer: No. No, not that I'm aware of. I don't think that happened. Question: SAM, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO SEE ON THE DVD? Answer: There's not a lot that didn't make it in the final cut just like the last time. Pretty much what we had planned ended up in the picture. Now, 'There's ten seconds here that was a nice moment, lets trim that up to keep the pace going. This is interesting, but it turns out that that information in this particular scene is clear. We thought that maybe it wouldn't be clear, but we had this line here. It turns out the visual which we weren't thinking about when we made the script made it clear. So it seems redundant. Lets cut this out.' That's pretty much the type of things that were cut out. Question: IS THERE A JK SCENE THAT GOT CUT OUT? Answer: You know what, yes. There's a JK scene. I don't want to tell you. It's a surprise. Question: THAT'LL BE ON THE DVD? Answer: I think that Sony is planning to put it on the DVD later. I think that they're thinking is that they might do a 2.5 version. I think that they're thinking is that once the dad has spent the money to take the family to the movies, and then once the dad has bought the kid the DVD, they can still smell a few more bucks from the dad's pocket. The kid will say, 'Hey dad, I've got to buy the new one.' 'Didn't I take you to the movie and buy you the DVD already?' 'Yeah, but there's a new five minutes on this one.' I think that's what they're planning. Question: IS THERE ONE VERSION OF 'SPIDER-MAN' FOR WORLDWIDE RELEASE? Answer: Yes. There's only version of the movie that I'm aware of [Laughs]. Yeah. Question: WILL ??? COMEBACK AS MAN-WOLF? Answer: I don't want to say because I don't know yet. Question: THERE'S ALSO MENTION OF DR. STRANGE, WILL HE BE IN THE NEXT ONE? Answer: Right now, actually, he's not planned to come back for the sequel. Question: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING THE SAME VILLAIN EVEN IF IT'S A DIFFERENT VERSION OF IT? Answer: This will not be your grandfather's Green Goblin. This will be a brand new creation. Question: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE VALUE OF GENRE PICTURES, YOU'VE MADE THEM IMPORTANT? Answer: I see this movie, all of these elements for me have always been within the 'Spider-Man' comic books. The love story with Peter and Mary Jane. His relationship with his aunts. The guilt of trying to pay down the guilt of his uncle's death each time that he puts on that suit. So I have the advantage of being able to bring it to life with real actors. And they bring a lot more to it obviously then a two dimensional illustration. I think that it's probably already in those comic books. The actors through their performances just added so much life and of course you get the advantage of music. The soulful music of Danny Elfman. The power of the big screen is great. Question: HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED, ARE THERE SAM RAIMI GROUPIES NOW? Answer: No, not really. I have the very same life that I lived before. I'm still driving my Ford. And I'm very, very happy. I don't need anything more than I've always had. Question: DO YOU WANT TO GET BACK TO YOUR ROOTS AND DO SOME FILMS LIKE YOU DID BEFORE THESE MOVIES? Answer: Well, my interests have changed. When I started to break into the business twenty four years ago or twenty five years ago and I was shooting that movie in '79, I was trying to make the picture as visually interesting as possible. Since I knew that I didn't have a good story and I didn't have movie stars and it was only sixteen millimeter, it was going to be really grainy, I was just trying to make it interesting and exciting for the audience in some way through sound design and lighting design. That's the great thing about a supernatural horror film. If you're breaking into the business, you can really experiment with those elements because your job is to create an unseen world, a world that doesn't exist. So for a young filmmaker, it's a great learning ground, a great world to explore your craft. That's what interested me the most really, exploring the craft of film. But as I grew older and I matured and became a married man and had children, my interests lays in stories more and characters and people and life itself. I'm still fascinated by the technical aspects of film. But now only as a device to tell these stories. That's it, I guess. Question: HOW DID YOU LOOK AT THE FIRST 'SPIDER-MAN' FILM AND GO, 'WE CAN DO THIS BETTER?' Answer: I don't know. I didn't really look at the first film like that. I was just so interested in what would become of Peter. I was looking forward more. I wondered if he could really live without Mary Jane Watson. I wondered if I could. I wondered what would happen to him after two years of being Spider-Man. And what poor Harry must be thinking. But I didn't really look back and say, 'How can this be better?' I did in some respect as far as personal like when we were organizing the offices. I said, 'Hey, lets get an office where we don't hear that stereo coming through the wall like last time.' There was some horrible noise coming through the wall, I remember. 'That was really a good actress, lets use her again.' That's more how I looked back. Working this those people, this movie was so about everyone making the movie. It's really, unlike a small movie, the success or failure of a big picture really depends on the team that makes it. I mean from the production designer to the costumer to the visual FX designer to the editor to the sound designer, the mixers. These guys are generals that really make the movie in the trenches. And they surround themselves with really fine artists and craftsmen. That's really how these pictures are made and it's so big. It's such a humongous task that really no individual could make a movie this big. It finally boils down to how good of a team you have to make a picture like this. Question: IS THE THIRD ONE SET TO OPEN TWO YEARS FROM NOW? Answer: I think that Sony has a release date. Question: SO THREE YEARS FROM NOW? Answer: Yes.