THE SPIDER-MAN SAGA
"Who am I? You sure you want to know?
The story of my life is not for the faint of heart"
Sam Raimi . 2001
Marvel chief Martin Goodman wanted more characters like 1961’s The Fantastic Four. And so it came to pass that Peter Parker was born in the final issue of the Amazing Fantasy comicbook (#15) in 1962. Martel legend Stan The Man Lee writer-artist Steve Kitko, created the teenage hero - imbued with all the personal problems that other teens wrestled with. And sthey loved him sre-o much that Goodman launched The Amazing Spider-Man books in 1963.
Spidey was later born on the small screen with ABC’s Spider-Man series, 1967-70; Fritz The Cat creator Ralph Bakshi recalled a sparse $14,000-per-episode budget. The show remains best known for its inevitably tacky signature tune (“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.”) A second toon series lasted 14 chapters on CBS, followed by a live-action show, The Amazing Spider-Man, 1977-79, starring one of The Sound of Music kids, Nicholas Hammond.
The big screen version got stuck in
development hell for nearly 25 years
There are those who say it should have remained there. You will not find them in this survey of the casting of Sam Raimi’s trilogy - and the shock aftermath.
The first film was going to be produced for $6m budget by Cannon in 1986. Albert Pyun,. future helmer of the second Captain America, 1990, was hired to direct Scott Leva - champion gymnast, stuntman, stunt co-ordinator, 2nd unit director, director and sometime actor - as our hero v Curt Connors, the Lizard. Cannon planned to shoot two weeks up to Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider.... and Pyun would then shoot Masters of the Universe Part 2 while Leva built up some muscles.
Leva went on to win a 2006 technical achievement Oscar for the design and and development of the Precision Stunt Airbag for falls. Cannon could have done with one of those bags, because...
Cannon went bankrupt...
and Spidey was sold to Carolco.
When Carolco (home of Rambo 1 & 2 and Terminaytor 2) made a writer-director deal with James Cameron in 1993, Charlie Sheen campaigned for the lead. Cameron was more keen on the younger Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of his future Titantic.
Villain of the piece was to be Doctor Otto Octavius alias Doctor Octopus alias Doc Ock - set for Arnold Schwarzenegger. (He had been on Pyun’s wish-list for Captain America). In his next draft, Cameron set Electro and Sandman against Michael Biehn as Spidey. Cameron went off into The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss taking Biehn with him and in all three movies - just for the hell n of it - Biehn was bitten on the hand.... a la Peter Parker.
Then, Carolco went bankrupt...
and Spider ended up at Sony
... which joined forces with Marvel and wizard helmer Sam Raimi. He seemed the right guy for the job. At home, he had a collection of... 25,000 comics.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man . Nicolas Cage, Hollywood’s #l comicbook fan, was Raimi’s early Spidey choice and later idea for the villain. Nic took his Cage name from the first black superhero, Luke Cage, and he kept cropping up in comicbook castings (Superman Lives, etc). Just never the movies.
The studio wanted Cameron’s choice: Leonardo DiCaprio. Or Wes Bentley, Chris Klein or Heath Ledger (the future Joker in The Dark Knight). Meanwhile, Jay Rodan, a South Africa-born Canadian actor (a future TV Marc Antony) lost one of his earliest LA auditions. Scott Speedman, the British Felicity TV star, also lost his. So did James Franco (but won the son of the psychopathic villain, Green Goblin). Jude Law met with Raimi but had something better to do: Spielberg's AI.
And like most youngsters meeting Raimi, Freddie Prinze Jr just had to play his boyhood hero. “His comics taught me how to read.”
Raimi preferred DiCaprio’s pal, Tobey Maguire - and his test convinced the suits. He beefed up for the gig... and signing on for two sequels similarly beefed up his bank account... by $26m.
Mary Jane Watson . About a dozen years earlier when Spidey first looked likely to leap into cinema, his main squeeze Mary Jane Watson was aimed at Jennifer Aniston and all the usual late 80s gals: Christina Applegate, Drew Barrymore, Justine Bateman, Neve Campbell, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Connelly, Cameron Diaz, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Alyson Hannigan, Nicole Kidman, Diane Lane, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lori Loughlin, Alyssa Milano, Tatum O’Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Natasha Richardson, Molly Ringwald, Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, Kyra Sedgwick, Ally Sheedy, Brooke Shields, Tori Spelling, Tiffani Thiessen, Uma Thurman.
Once the 2001 version went into pre-production, all of these girls wre ladies and just too old. Raimi saw heaps of new girls - and Kirsten Dunst just pulled ahead in the final furlong. As seen on the DVD, Eliza Dushku read (with Tobey Maguire) for the role. Elisha Cuthbert reported that Reese Witherspoon sat next to her at the auditions,. “And Amy Stuart walked in afterward. “Who cares if I get the part? I’m all right in this town.” Except she never got the parts - Lois Lane in Superman Returns or Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, 2006.
Also losing out on the first film’s upside-down kiss were Raimi’s first choices: Kate Hudson and Alicia Witt. Said Alicia: “In my fantasy I was always the savour. I’d come to Peanuts-land and save everybody. Charlie Brown would fall madly in love with me. Peppermint Patty was so jealous.” Oh, er... really!
As for Witherspoon, she soon left them all far behind - with her Oscar for Walk The Line, 2005
Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin . Raimi’s first choice for the Green Goblin (after thinking of him as Spidey) was comicbook-mad Nic Cage - who finally made a comic cuts movie with Ghost Rider, 2006. (The Village Voice called it: Queasy Rider). Robert De Niro didn’t take his offer seriously (nor when invited to be Doc Ock in Spidey 2). Edward Norton was then caught between two franchises after him - he preferred to join Sir Anthony Hopklins in Red Dragon. (Norton played The Incredible Hulk for the same Columbia company in 2007).
After Cage (and Jim Carrey) quit, John Malkovich refused the nasty Goblin. Not really his genre, “and what they offered wasn't in any way an inducement for me to do it.” (he did, have talks, however, about being Vulture, in Raimi’s un-made #4). Ironically, the role finally went to Willem Dafore, Malkovich’s co-star in Shadow of the Vampire... which happened to have been produced by Nic Cage!
Aunt May Parker . Who should be Martha Kent, er, Aunt May be? Marion Ross, 74, Ron Howard’s TV Mum on Happy Days, 1974-84... or Rosemary Harris, 75, mother of The Chisholms, 1997? Harris won.
In London, a young man of 19 bought the DVD - well, a pirate copy - in Portobello Market, with his mate, Terry McGuiness. “We went back to my skanky apartment in North London and we watched it twice in a row,” he told Tobey Maguire, “and then we practiced your final line in the mirror!”
That teenager was Andrew Garfield.
“Hi, my name is Spider-Man and I'll be your superhero today”
Sam Raimi . 2003
According to the most prestigious member of the writing team - Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon - the film was once going to a wet dream for geeks - featuring not just Doc Ock but Black Cat, The Lizard. and the new Green Goblin. Hey - far too many, said Chabon, really earning his money. Much better, he suggested, to scale down the costumed capers to just Spidey and Ock. Keep something for an encore...
There was a bigger problem.
Tobey Maguire’s agent wanted a pay-hike
Mr Agent wanted $25m or 10% of the gross, whichever added up to the most. Sony’s reply was shorter. Initials, even....
Peter Parker/Spider-Man . Surprise, surprise! Jake Gyllenhaal, who was Kirsten Dunst’s lover at thje time, was being asked to suit up when it appeared that Maguire would sling his webs no more. In the end, Jake never got to wear any of Spidey’s 35 costumes, but the very fact that he was checking the wardrobe had Tobey agreeing to $17m and rushing back to work. Works every time!
Incidentally, Jake may have fancied Spidey, but refused both Bat and Supie in Batman Begins, 2004, and Superman Returns, 2006. Plus Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet, 2010.
Dr Otto Octavius/Doc Ock . When James Cameron planned Spider-Man in 1993 his villainous Doctor Octopus was set for his Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then... Ah, the hell with all these rights hassles, let’s go do True Lies. Ten years later, with Arnold elected as Governor of California, Raimi hot-listed such old reliables as Chris Cooper, Robert De Niro (already Sam’s target for Green Goblin in Spider-Man 1), Ed Harris and Sam Neill. Yawn,. Anyway, none of them were interested in wearing some 75 lbs of tentacles.
X-Files TV star David Duchovny passed - didn’t anyone know he had already refused Eric Bana’s Hulk that year. Liev Schreiber didn’t seem keen on comic-cuts, either. He would also reject Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight, 2007, and Stryker in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009.
And then, Raimi’s wife, Gillian Greene - daughter of Bonanza’s Lorne Greene - saw Alfred Molina in Frida... (He had replaced De Niro in the film). And the British Molina was a Marvel fan. Case closed! He l called Ock’s four, 13 ft long mechanical tentacles: Larry, Harry, Flo Moe and “bloody heavy.”
John Jameson . Jerry O’Connell was an early notion for John Jameson, aka Spider-Man’s enemy, the ex-astronaut now known (on full moon nights) as Man-Wolf. O’Connell was seen Superman Returns in 2006.
“I don't understand - Spider-Man doesn't kill people. What happened?”
Sam Raimi . 2006
As Sam Raimi became the first director to helm three chapters of the same superhero - five years before The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan would match him - everything fell into place quite easily. True, Sam preferred Vulture (Ben Kingsley was in talks) to Venom and his “lack of humanity.” but Venom it was, even if Sam kept up the public pretence of hating him - venomously - until launching a winning clip at San Diego’s 2006 Comic-Con.
With no reported rivals (if you know better, do please let me know), Topher Grace quit TV’s The 70s’ Show and gained 24lbs of muscle over six months to be Peter Parker’s rival at the Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock/Venom The recently Oscar-nominated Thomas Haden Church then gained 28 muscular pounds for Flint Marko/Sandman - a favourite character of both Sam and Tobey Maguire.
Gwen Stacy . The only known battle saw two stunning blondes, Elisha Cuthbert and Scarlett Johansson, surprisingly trounced by Ron Howard’s plain daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, as Peter Parker’s sexy lab partner, Gwen Stacy. (Scarlett also lost Lois Lane in Superman Returns, 2005).
Globally, this was the most successful of the Raimi trilogy and, obviously, plans started with Raimi, Maguire, Dunst, etc, for #4,5,6. Dylan Baker’s Dr Curt Connors was due back - merging, at last, into the Lizard. Raimi also had talks with John Malkovich about Adrian Toomes/The Vulture... with Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight’s future Catwoman) as Felicia Hardy, but as Vulture's daughter, the Vulturess, and not her usual alias, Black Cat.
Another Pulitzer Prize-winner, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, joined the writers’ bullpen. Sam may have lost the Venom battle, but for Spider-Man 4, he made it clear that he didn’t want Carnage althoiugh Toxin would definitely pop up in the back-to-back productions of #4/5.
Fine, said Marvel. But we don’t want the Lizard. Why not? Faceless figurines don’t sell well!
“We all have secrets. The ones we keep... the ones kept from us.”
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Marc Webb, 2010
New readers start here... Genial director Sam Raimi, the only director to ever call me “Sir” (it was like interviewing Elvis), had finished his first trilogy - earning a staggering $2.5bn, second only to Batman’s prowess). He was prepping another trio when - shock! horror! - he dropped out. His team, with him. They had all signed for #4, with Tobey Maguire on $50m for #4 & 5. There was the usual talk of Raimi wanting too much money (as if Marvel and Sony didnlt owe him), but that is not Raimi’s style. He simply felt the script (well, four of them) was all wrong and if he was to get it right, he couldn’t hope to have #4 ready for May 6, 2011... “and retain creative integrity.”
Hey, if Bond can do it...
why not Parker, Peter Parker?
Once Maguire and Raimi quit, Sony voted re-boot. With “a smart, sensitive, and cool new Peter Parker who can inspire us and make us laugh, cry and cheer,” ordered Marvel.
Peter Parker . The new director was Marc Webb, who had only made one feature - (500) Days of Summer in 2008 - after various shorts and videos. He described the film as “a story about a kid who grows up looking for his father and finds himself.” And checked through 20 youngsters from the Juno star to the rather obvious new scceen heroes Troy Bolton, Edward Cullen, Harry Potter, Tintin (aka Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell,) for the younger Spidey. The winning Brit, Andrew Garfield was older than most candidates at 27! And 29 when the 3-D film opened in 2012. Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn) and Twlight-er Taylor Lautner were the youngest: 18.
The other also-rans included: Michael Angarano (beaten by Jake Lloyd to Star Wars: Episode I, 1997), Michael Cera, Frank Dillane, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Eisenbderg, Patrick Fugit, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Henrie, Josh Hutcherson (who won the next hot trilogy: The Hunger Games), Aaron Johnson, Logan Lerman, Taylor Lautner, Logan Lerman, Xavier Samuel, Jim Sturgess, Anton Yelchin.
“Though his name may be new to many,” commented Webb, “ those who know this young actor's work understand his extraordinary talents. He has a rare combination of intelligence, wit, and humanity. Mark my words, you will love Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker.”
“I’ve been waiting for
this phone call for 24 years”
”For someone,” declared Garfield, “to call me up and say 'Hey, we want you to pretend to be a character that you’ve always wanted to be all your life, and we’re going to do it with cool cameras and cool effects and you're going to feel like you're swinging through New York City. Do you want to do that?' 'Let me just consult with my seven-year-old self and see what he thinks! Like every young boy who feels stronger on the inside than they look on the outside, any skinny boy basically who wishes their muscles matched their sense of injustice, God, it's just the stuff that dreams are made of, for sure. I've been preparing for it... ever since Halloween when I was four years old and I wore my first Spider-Man costume.”
What did the old Spidey think of all; this? “I was particularly excited at two moments,” Tobey Maguire told Garfield when interviewing him for Vman magazine. “One was when Marc Webb got involved... an interesting and cool choice. Then, I was certainly curious as to who was going to play Peter Parker. When I heard it was you, I was literally like: Fucking perfect!”
(Positions were reversed in 2012 when Maguire was chosen over Garfield for Yann Martel - author of the book adapted for Ang Lee’s film, Life of Pi).
Gwen Stacy . Most of the potential Gwens met Webb without knowing who they were testing for ... Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, or perhaps even Parker’s first love, Betty Brant. These other hopefuls included: Dianna Agron, Emily Browning, Lily Collins, Brooklyn Decker, Hilary Duff, Ashley Green, Georgina Haig, Amber Heard, Anna Kendrick, Lindsay Lohan, Olivia Lovibond, Dominique McElligott, Teresa Palmer, Sara Paxton, Imogen Poots, Emma Roberts (her aunt Julia had been short-listed for Mary Jane Watson in in th 90s). Scout Taylor-Compton, Mia Wasikowska, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
(Both Diana Agron and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were also in the frame for Lois Lane in Man of Steel, 2011. MEW also lost SHIELD Agent Maria Hill in Disney’s first Marvel film, The Avengers, 2011. Instead, she married Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunte. Lily Collins, Ashley Greene, Teresa Palmer also lost The Gangster Squad to Emma Stone in 2011).
“The chemistry between Andrew and Emma was stunning,” said Webb, “and made Emma the clear choice. At the heart of the story of Peter Parker is not only the amazing Spider-Man, but also an ordinary teenager who is wondering what he has to do to get the girl. Andrew and Emma will bring everything audiences expect to these roles, but also make them their own. Much to my surprise, it was fun to find out that our choice for Gwen (Emma) is also a natural blonde.”
Dr Curt Connors/the Lizard . The suits had told Sam Raimi in 2009 that they did not share his enthusiasm about Dylan Baker reprising Dr Connors, oly finally merging into the Lizard. (Remember: Faceless figurines did not sell well! Sam disagreed. Sam went. When the same suits, give or take a jacket or two, started talking re-boot, guess who Marc Webb’s baddy was. Right, the Lizard!
“He’s the literal embodiment of the theme,” explained Webb, “which is we all have a missing piece. He has no arm. Peter has no parents, and he fills that void with Spider-Man.”
Michael Fassbender, Magneto in the X-Men franchise, wasn’t keen. Nor was his 2009 co-star in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Christopher Waltz. . He had just been been the bad Chudnofsky in The Green Hornet - enough with villains, danker! Enter a Welsh Lizard: Rhys Ifans.!
How did The Amazing Spider-Man (original title for Spidey 2) make out? Almost amazing, said the geek of all geeks, Harry Knowles, on his Ain’t It Cool News site. He fell - and heavily for Garfield and Stone. But... “The movie is actually more along the lines of Spider-Man 2,” he said “Just not that consistent.”