Perfecting Their Characters: Spider-Man 3's Cast Discusses Their Process
by Alex Billington
April 30, 2007
The strongest aspect to a successful comic book adaptation are the characters that make it up. If they aren't as dynamic and identifiable as those originally found in the comic books, then the film and its story will all fall apart into a terrible mess.
In the Spider-Man films, there are three characters that we've all come to know and love: Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson, and Harry Osborn; in Spider-Man 3 we are introduced to three more: Eddie Brock, Gwen Stacy, and Flint Marko. It's the actors who must fill the shoes and know the characters inside-out, and it is without a doubt that in Spider-Man 3, each of them gives a remarkable performance worthy of living up to their on-paper comic book equals. Each of the 6 actors gives us their insight and introspective on their own character development for Spider-Man 3.
The Big Three:
Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker / Spider-Man
The pinnacle character in the franchise that we all know and love - Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker. He's been encompassed exquisitely by Tobey Maguire for all of the films, a great actor delivering a perfect performance as a character that has earned him worldwide recognition. Although at our interview Tobey didn't have too much to add in regards to his character, because he's so incredibly well established and well known from promotion during the first two films, he did add a bit about Peter's celebrity status (in comparison to his own) and Peter's darker side:
"I mean, Peter reacts very differently than I do. He is much more reflective about it and kind of soaking it in in a different way. He loves it, he bathes in it, he's swimming in it, he's like 'oh, they love me.' He just loves it, and it gets to his head and he's becoming kind of arrogant and believes his own hype. He's got a real self-importance and I love it, the scenes we're doing with Kirsten where I'm like, where Peter Parker's trying to give her advice, it's just hilarious to me. And you know, it's funny, because nobody really laughs at those scenes, but I'm just sitting there cracking up."
And when asked what his favorite part of Spider-Man 3 was, he also added:
"I probably had the most fun playing like the darker side of Peter, just because it was different and fun and kind of unexpected I felt like for the character."
Be prepared for one of the most interesting and exciting twists in the various sides of Spider-Man and Peter Parker with his dark suit and the symbiote in Spider-Man 3!
Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson
Ah yes, every man's fantasy and every girl's idol, Mary Jane Watson! As with Tobey, they couldn't have chosen a better actress to embody MJ, and everyone has since fallen in love with the… lovable Mary Jane! It was so painful to watch Peter give up his love for her in the first two, and now the third one makes it even worse.
Kirsten Dunst seemed to be one of the most familiar, or at least vocal, in regards to her comic book character versus on-screen character. She even discusses some insight in regards to Peter and Tobey:
"Religion plays a big part in comics to [Mary Jane] and Spider-Man. And even our visuals, [spoiler removed] or Tobey in the second one being over the people in the tram like he's Jesus. I mean it's very much good and evil like I think is in a lot of religions. And also it's about heroes and Peter is like everyman. I mean, when Spider-Man swings through the city it's melancholic music. He's always tortured with his responsibility and he's trying to grow up and be a man with these powers and then you have… I could compare it to Superman. When he flies through the air it's happy music, you know what I mean? But Spider-Man is always tortured with his work and tortured and so that makes him a human, and you don't separate the man from mask."
She also spoke intently about Mary Jane and how she progresses throughout all three films:
"It's nice that, now that they're older, like the things that they have to deal with in their life are coming out. And so it's nice for the fans who have seen the first and the second and the comics that they can have an extra emotional connection with all of this because we all know Mary Jane's past and I feel like Mary Jane's a strong girl but like one little tug and she unravels completely. To bring all of that from the first and second into this and all have so much to play with each other because Harry, Tobey and our trifecta, friendships and loves and hates and there's so much there. And I think it all really comes out in this movie."
In Spider-Man 3 you'll find Mary Jane in a much different situation and still progressing in her life, and as always, she's the pivotal point that Peter relies on or is torn apart by, and that's key in every one of the films.
James Franco as Harry Osborn
Harry Osborn, Peter's best friend, is the one character that has been the biggest focus of the entire trilogy (besides Peter and MJ). He's become increasingly darker and sadistic as his hatred for Spider-Man has grown. With Spider-Man 3, he's taken in some rather new and interesting directions, and James Franco easily fits into the role and is capable of delivering a performance that encapsulates the entire trilogy of films immensely. James spoke on playing the role in the third film:
"Harry goes to extremes in both directions in this film, but I didn't find it difficult playing the scenes, I feel like everything that he goes through has been justified by what has happened before. I guess I find as an actor as long as it feels real and justified, it's not that difficult to play for some reason. It was a matter of, when we worked on it, Sam [Raimi] and I really plotted out where the changes were and how those changes would happen and what were the triggers, and just made sure we knew where Harry's mental state was in each section of the movie."
Without giving away spoilers, Harry's involvement in Spider-Man 3 is much greater than the last two, and he gets his hands really dirty with some brutal fights (one we've seen already online). Seeing his character arc in these films is incredibly fulfilling when you finally see the third, and James spoke on that position:
Harry's arc in these films is not complete until this third film. And his major conflict is between his loyalty to his father's memory and avenging his father and the loyalty he feels to Peter. Harry's struggling with that through all the films, and he struggles with it most in this film.
Without giving too much away, Harry should be one of the characters you should be most excited for in Spider-Man 3, as his character has so many sides and he delivers such a fulfilling character arc. If you haven't been too fond of him yet, now is the time to open yourself to the great character of Harry Osborn.
The New Three:
Topher Grace as Eddie Brock / Venom
Although thought of as the unlikely choice at first, it was quickly discovered that Topher Grace was the perfect choice to play one of the most beloved villains in the Spider-Man universe, Venom. It's yet to be determined how much people like how Sam Raimi has envisioned him, but I can tell you without a doubt that Topher grace, as a huge comic book geek himself, took up the role with as much excitement as excellence, and delivers a performance as Eddie Brock and eventually Venom that you won't forget.
When asked about if the character of Venom "was just irresistible for you to play on so many levels", Topher gave us a bit of insight into his comic book fan background:
"Yeah, on so many levels. One I'm a huge fan of the first 2 films. I thought the 2nd one was better than the 1st which is so rare. It's clear that they have this well-oiled machine and they know exactly what they're doing - the actors and Sam [Raimi]. On another level I was a really big fan when I was a kid of the comic book. Literally when the character of Venom was being born, I was getting really into comic books reading Todd McFarland who was this new illustrator and was kind of blowing my mind and he was doing Amazing Spider-Man and he did like his own Spider-Man comic book, so I felt like I had the inside track and no one else should play it."
In one of the best character studies you'll ever hear from an actor, Topher also spoke about all the little caveats of who Eddie Brock is:
So I guess what I really brought to it was kind of a fear at the beginning that I shared with Sam, which is I don't think I'm the right guy to really play this role. In the original comic book he's like 40 and really muscle-bound and I had to work out for 6 months. I could never get to where he was in the comic book but then what Sam described to me is he wanted to take the best of both worlds approach and kind of make him this evil twin brother of Peter Parker who's basically a case study and if someone similar, you know if they have the same job and they're after the same girl. Even Eddie kind of has the edge even though they're similar. He's a better dresser and clearly has more money and kind of a better flirt.
If they both received the same power and one of those two people didn't have someone like Uncle Ben like a mentor to say you have to take responsibility for this power how would that turn out? Even Peter used it for personal gain originally. What's great about Eddie is that even though he's really slick he kind of hides a really hollow interior. Like he's got a really great exterior, he's got nothing inside, whereas Peter's just the opposite. He might not have his whole act together but his core is very strong and that's why he's able to kind of shed this power but Eddie totally embraces it.
And finally, this last bit from Topher shows quite a bit of the geek that he himself brought to the character, as he's obviously as big of a comic book geek as almost everyone, especially those at Comic-Con every year:
"But I'm the geekiest guy to ever be in a film like this that's for sure in terms of when we were at Comic-Con and they showed that preview where I turn into Venom at the end. I was jumping around backstage. Someone actually came up to me and was like "hey, man you've got to cool it. You're starring in these films you shouldn't this crazy excited." But I figured screw it. This is why you buy the bus ticket to Hollywood right?"
I'm looking forward to really seeing the response from all the comic book fans to Venom and Eddie Brock, and I think Topher pulled it off perfectly. Get ready to be given the Venom you've always wanted!
Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy
One of the most interesting additions to the list of characters in Spider-Man 3, Gwen Stacy is that "one girl" from the comic books who has always apparently made an impact on Spider-Man and nurtured hoards of fans. For some reason the Spider-Man universe always involves the most attractive females, and even in the films, the same can be said about both Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy. Bryce Dallas Howard, who is most well known for anything done by M. Night Shyamalan, is an amazing actor who always brings a lot to the screen with her presence, and despite having only a somewhat small role in Spider-Man 3, she is still certainly remembered, for scenes that you'll soon see.
Bryce has done her research, and she shows off how much she knows about Gwen:
"I'm sure as you guys know, the character of Gwen Stacy initially in the comic book was Peter Parker's first love, and she was around in the mid-to-late 60's and early 70's. And therefore I really wanted to be true to this character, I didn't want to just come in in the third film as kind of like a man-stealing, home-wrecking tart. This is Gwen Stacy! And so I was glad that the way the relationship was, was that she was friends with Peter Parker and there was a closeness there and unintentionally she created some tension in their romance. So I was very pleased with that."
She also gave a great response that should get all the fans excited when asked about fan interaction for those that adore the character of Gwen.
"Well, not much interaction other the fact that I've been scouring the internet for just every blog possible, and just reading everything that they have to say about it. Because that is a tremendous resource, I mean these are people that have devoted a lot of time, a lot of emotional effort honestly to, what's the right word, it's not like assess… it's almost like writing thesis on what the significance of this character is and in [Peter's] life and what not. So I have a lot of reverence for how committed they are. And I hope I did an OK job. I get that, I get how important that is."
For those who are fans of Gwen Stacy, you won't be let down by Bryce Dallas Howard's performance and will finally be given the opportunity to see this beloved character on screen.
Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko / Sandman
Initially Sam Raimi's choice for the only villain to focus on (not Venom) in the third film, it's already been revealed through the trailers that they discover that Flint Marko was the real killer of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. Again, an interesting casting choice, Thomas Haden Church, most well known for bringing his career back from near death in Sideways, turns out (again) to be a great choice in the Spider-Man series. Sam and everyone else on the team seems to really know how to cast the perfect actor, as I've been mesmerized with Alfred Molina after he gave such a commanding performance as Doc Ock, and now I'm already thinking the same of Thomas Haden Church as Sandman.
Thomas briefly mentions how hard it was to play the character, because he's so defined as someone who he is not, a criminal, and it's hard to find that real-life reference.
"To play a guy, I mean not to diminish the other movies, but Flint Marko is a very emotionally isolated guy who is almost singularly defined by tragedy. That's a real daunting, I had to be clichÃ©, but it's a very daunting 'place to go', because it's not a place that I ever exist. I'm not an emotionally isolated, tragic guy, and I had to draw upon my imagination in ways that I've never had to."
When asked about whether he liked the aspect that Sandman was more than just the simple one-dimensional character in the comic books, Thomas commented quite a bit about all of the villains in the Spider-Man movies.
"You know, from the on-set, Sam [Raimi] wanted me to know, even before there was a script, as he laid it out for me in the story boards in our very first meeting, I knew that it was going to be a compelling journey, it wasn't going to just be… But you know what, none of the… I don't really like to call them villains. They're men that have their value systems corrupted by something. And the irony, like with Willem Dafoe's character, and Alfred Molina's character, and even with Topher's character, they're corrupted by lust for power or ambition or prestige, where it's almost ironic that Flint Marko is corrupted by his own good intentions; he becomes criminal out of trying to protect his daughter. At the very beginning, Sam knew the story that he wanted to tell."
In Spider-Man 3 you may not love Sandman as much as Venom, but you'll actually enjoy his performance and the character and appreciate what Thomas brought to it. Despite the always-stern look on his face, Sandman becomes one of the most interesting characters in the Spider-Man movies, and was as fantastic of a choice for a villain as Doc Ock was in Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man 3 hits theaters this Friday, May 4th. Enjoy it, it's one hell of a ride!