Interview: Sam Raimi

Clint Morris and Robert Sanchez talk to the Spider-Man helmer


It’s a big year for movies…. And it doesn’t get any more colossal than Spider-Man 3. The web-slinger is back for a third serve, this time pitted against comic-book legend ‘Sandman’ and legendary villain, ‘Venom’.

In between trying to save the day – in the guise of his tight-wearing alter ego, Spidey- Peter (Tobey Maguire) is also trying to salvage his relationship with long-time love, Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst)… not to mention envelop his feelings for the new girl on the block, Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas-Howard). It isn’t easy being the indirect descendant of a red-back, as director Sam Raimi tells CLINT MORRIS and ROBERT SANCHEZ.

For Spider-Man 3, Raimi decided it was time to give the fans what they wanted in a super-villain – one Eddie Brock.

“[Producer] Avi Arad said you’ve had two Spider-Man pictures and there are so many kids who want to see Venom”, director Sam Raimi says in relation to one of the film’s new villains. “So he said ‘Why don’t you give the kids what they’ve been waiting for, since you’ve got a villain you love in Sandman?’.

Raimi says the decision might’ve been easy – to use Venom – but coming up with a look for the classic character was a little tougher to figure out. “We studied all the different looks and we tried to take the ones we thought would work for us but also the ones Avi thought were the most classic elements”, says Raimi, who also directed the horror classic The Evil Dead. “Venom is less of a technical challenge and more of an artistic challenge in trying to capture this very powerful somewhat spiderized, graceful but animal movement. It’s like capturing a dance form on screen.”

The character of Venom – his alter-ego Eddie Brock’s powers stem from his symbiotic relationship with the alien that serves as his costume -is one of the more fantastical characters in the Spider-Man universe; Raimi said he was concerned that having such a off the wall villain would take people out of the grounded reality of the film.

“There are a lot of fantastic elements about Venom that you could say are in conflict with the realism we wanted to have in the picture. But we just said ‘Kirsten [Dunst] and Tobey [Maguire], you’ll just have to do the heavy lifting here to bring us back down to Earth’ because Venom’s this wild goofball from outer space.”

Raimi decided to combine some of what we know about Venom from the comics with some new back-story. “In this story we are less specific but we did try and stay very true to the Venom comic books when they described his birth, the creation of Venom. We did try and stay true to the writers’ and the artists’ ideas on how that happened.”

Raimi said they decide on having two – well, three really – villains in the film from the get-go.

“I said, what villain will best represent the conflict that can dramatize his journey? If the hero runs into this conflict how can he learn forgiveness? We’ll make the villain piece someone that is absolutely unforgivable in Peter’s eyes to really take him to a place where the audience understands his desire for vengeance and they feel it so the kids will think, “yes, bring the Sandman down Spider-Man!” By the end of the piece, you want this journey with Spider-Man so they’d say, “actually, as my hero the best thing that you could do right now, the thing I’d rather have you do, is forgive this man.” We thought that would be a worthwhile summer picture and a good story for the kids if we could incorporate that. We said okay, we’re going to make it a villain that we can make Peter Parker really feel, desire, vengeance against him in a real heavy way so the audience has a sense of relief when he forgives Sandman so it means something to them dramatically. We chose a villain that did not have such a detailed back story that I would be in defiance with those comic book fans. What I didn’t tell you is when I changed those web shooters, they sent a petition with 2,000 signatures to the chairman of Sony to have me remove them from the picture. So I’m trying to steer clear of that this time. But, really we wanted someone we weren’t in defiance of because the fans do love the characters and so we wanted to add to the history of one that was slightly less detailed. The Sandman, I always thought, was a great visual character and could be a formidable foe against Spider-Man from all the great Marvel comic books and yet his background wasn’t so detailed or defined that this would be in conflict. We added to the story that he in fact was the murderer of Uncle Ben. We also liked the idea of by adding this it’s all about the awareness things. Peter Parker sees things as a proud person in this picture in a very narrow way. He’s right and they’re wrong. It’s all about taking on other points of view. There are so many more truths than the simple truths of good or bad or the name as perceived. For instance, that man didn’t kill his uncle as he had thought. It was another man. This is just an example of why we felt it was right. But, we also wanted something you could look back at the first picture and turn the whole thing on its head so that by the time you got to the end it was more than some of the parts. We thought that it would be an interesting experience with the audience and what they had seen in the first part was true, but there was so much more to the story. Like with Peter Parker, they didn’t have the whole truth and they thought they did.”

This is Raimi’s third Spider-Man movie and he says, to an extent, it’s gotten easier each time. “ What’s been easier each time is getting to know the family that we work with and really trusting them to the point that they become complete collaborators. There are so many people that make this movie, there are a lot of smaller films where it is just one person and the actors and the writer and the producer, you have a tiny little court and we have a thousand people making this. So it’s gotten a lot easier because we have gotten a system of knowing each other, knowing how we work together, trusting each other. That has made everything a lot easier.

“It was great working on the third one in many ways and it was difficult in many ways. The easiest thing was that the team was the same. Not just the producers who I became very familiar with, but I had the same production designer, the editor was the same, the animators were the same. They had learned how to move Spider-Man with great grace and they had learned from a lot of their mistakes. So it was definitely easier because of the shorthand of communication. But also, we had all learned a lot of lessons so we could make new mistakes and we didn’t have to repeat the same ones. But, also working with the actors, that was the biggest advantage of the third picture because what we’re always after in scenes is to try to find a moment that will reverberate with the audience. Like if someone is heartbroken, we want the audience to have felt that themselves and to get there we have to make it a real moment of truth. Something about it has to be real. However melodramatic the drama may be, there has to be truth in the actor’s performance. So, because I met Tobey and Kirsten seven years ago and we worked on the first picture as professional people, but then our friendship deepened on the second picture and I had a much greater degree of trust in them. I think they trusted me perhaps more and we weren’t afraid of hurting each other’s feelings, weren’t afraid of saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sometimes when you talk about emotions, words sometimes come up short when you’re trying to describe a feeling you have or a feeling that you’re lacking from an actor. The depth of our friendship and just our closeness of our working relationship really enabled us to attempt to get at the truthful moments to a greater degree. I’m not saying that we were always successful because we weren’t. We often missed them, but at least we were really close in our relationship so that we could really speak honestly with each other about what we felt was lacking and what we felt we needed.”

The challenge this time, was with the script – how to juggle a third villain (James Franco’s Green Goblin) and a love triangle?

“Spider-Man comic books had all these characters and successfully interwove the stories. A lot of what we’re doing is not introducing elements like if Harry Osborn does decide to seek vengeance it’s certainly something that’s been set up. So we have less work to do in that sense. And one of the villains we’ve tried to interweave into Peter Parker’s life and in a way that could give us insight into the first two pictures. Probably only with the Brock character is there an introduction to a whole new character but that’s okay because he can meet new people too.

“This time, the story was pretty much set up by the first two pictures. What wasn’t set up by the first two pictures was really influenced greatly from all the great writers and artists of the Marvel Comic books of the first 45 years. It was more about sorting through the material and trying to figure out how best to conclude these story lines and where, next, our character Peter Parker had to grow to as a human being.

“Here’s what we did. We first decided to approach the problem like this. Where’s Peter Parker again in the second picture as a human being? He’s a kid in all these stories. They’re kind of coming of age stories and he learns aspects of growing up. Different life lessons in each of these films and often times, the comic books. So my brother and I spoke for quite some time and we felt that the most important thing Peter, right now, has to learn is that this whole concept of him as the avenger or him as the hero, he wears this red and blue outfit, with each criminal he brings to justice he’s trying to pay down this debt of guilt he feels about the death of Uncle Ben. He considers himself a hero and a sinless person versus these villains that he nabs. We felt it would be a great thing for him to learn a little less the black and white view of life and that he not above these people. He’s not just the hero and they’re not just the villains. They were all human beings and that he himself might have some sin within him and that other human beings, the ones he calls criminals, have some humanity within them and that the best we can do in this world is to not strive for vengeance, but for forgiveness. So that was what we felt would be the next broadening of his awareness as a human being”

Raimi continues, “We wanted Harry Osborn, his good friend, that relationship with Peter Parker and him, to be resolved by the third picture. We had obviously set up the scenes to have some dramatic confrontation and evolution in this third one and we knew in our heart that Harry was a good boy and good person and was just acting under the mistaken belief that Peter had killed his father in cold blood and perhaps wanting to hang on to the notion that his father was a honorable man and perhaps that he could still be the son his father wanted him to be if he acted a little more strongly and avenged his death. It wasn’t as simple as that for him. The truth comes out and he finds his true self.

The latest Spider-Man was filmed in Cleveland; a location that Raimi says “was great. The soundstages are in L.A. All the stage work was done there and New York has always been the city of Spider-Man so we did some there too. Now, there is some car action in the story but we couldn’t ask Manhattan ten straight blocks of city dedicated to our car chase. Cleveland could. So for ten days we were able to monopolize these streets, that’s why we shot in Cleveland.”

One thing that Raimi has taken slack for is the anti-organic web-sligner.

“I think what you’re referring to is in the Spider-Man comic book written by Stan Lee. He had a mechanical web shooter and there was a great objection against the fans online that I was destroying their character. But, I love Spider-Man too, I mean also. What I was trying to do was take James Cameron’s idea, which was actually in a story that he had written that idea, and I thought, that’s a great idea of his, because it makes the great spirit of what Stan Lee did that’s so unique. Peter Parker is a regular guy. He’s one of us and he’s a hero that we can identify with who has all the common thoughts and mishaps of any of us. So the fact that he was a mechanical engineer and could create this special substance and special gadget, I felt it was better to ignore in an attempt to be truer to the spirit of the character that Stan Lee had created versus an attempt to be truer to the specifics of every detail that he created. So that was my goal. But, these people are very upset with me. They probably still are”.

Raimi loved doing different things with the new movie – including playing with the dark aspects of Parker’s personality.

“Well, in this story, Peter Parker falls victim to his own pride. He starts to believe all the press clippings about himself, that he’s really this hero and someone great. He starts to be afraid that he isn’t that person and doesn’t want to act any other way than the person that’s right. That pride manifests itself in a much darker way. Working on those sequences with Tobey Maguire and the dark Spider-Man, that was a difficult thing for me actually. It wasn’t fun for me because I didn’t like those sequences. I didn’t like watching Spider-Man go bad. It was unpleasant and I kept worrying, “gee, do I really have to do this to show how rageful and vengeful he is? Do we really have to show how pride can destroy you?” But, my brother kept telling me, “yes, because he’s going to find himself again.”

After three Spider-Man movies, Raimi isn’t sure whether he’s ready to pass on his franchise director’s cap to another filmmaker, but one thing’s for sure, he would like to do something different with Spider-Man 4 should his arm be twisted to sign on. One idea is to do a crossover movie with another superhero.

“…Somebody that creates some sort of serious conflict with Peter’s whole point of view on this job of what superheroing is. That’s one idea”.

As for a straight-up Spider-Man 4, Raimi says, “If there was a great story to tell and I had a really good take on where he could grow to now”, then he may do it. “But, I’d have to have a tremendous passion to do it because so many people love Stan Lee’s character. If I didn’t think I could do it fantastically, then I should step aside and let a younger director come in who loves the character and said he could do it with the greatest passion on the earth.”