'Ant-Man and the Wasp' Director on Wooing Michelle Pfeiffer and His Marvel Future
Michelle Pfeiffer needed a little convincing to suit up for her first comic book role since playing Catwoman 26 years ago in Batman Returns. Peyton Reed, director of Marvel Studios' Ant-Man and the Wasp (opening Friday), admits he was nervous when he met the actress alone in a Marvel Studios conference room to pitch her the role of classic character Janet van Dyne (the original Wasp).
Reed and his team had set up the character in 2015's Ant-Man, establishing that the wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and mother of Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) had sacrificed herself decades earlier, stopping a missile attack by shrinking so small that she was lost in the Quantum Realm — a mysterious area of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where time and space work differently. It was thought no one could return from the Quantum Realm until Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) proved it was possible, setting in motion the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp, a story about a family's search for their missing mother.
Heat Vision breakdown
"We used a double on the first movie. But the whole thing was, 'I want her to look like Michelle Pfeiffer, because that would be my dream casting for Wasp,'" Reed tells Heat Vision. "We cast this woman to be in the mask who had really saucer-like, Michelle Pfeiffer eyes."
Going into that meeting with Pfeiffer, the stakes were high. In Reed's mind, there was no one else who could play Janet. Pfeiffer warned Reed that on every film of her career, she had "tried to back out" at the last minute. But Reed succeeded in winning over the actress, as well as Laurence Fishburne, who plays Bill Foster, a brilliant scientist and rival to Hank Pym.
Coming just months after Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel's biggest movie to date, Ant-Man and the Wasp has decidedly more modest ambitions, but it is tracking to easily top the first Ant-Man's opening weekend with $75 million. It's also a step forward for Marvel Studios, as it's the first film in which a female hero has equal billing with a male character. While Marvel has not greenlighted a third Ant-Man, Reed and his team have talked about where it could go.
Fans are also abuzz about the possibility of characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four entering the MCU, should a merger between Fox and Disney become a reality. Reed, who came close to directing a Fantastic Four movie for Fox in the early 2000s, notes that while those merger details are far above his pay grade, the possibility of returning to those characters remains intriguing.
Read the full conversation with Heat Vision below.
It's a big deal that Michelle Pfeiffer chose to star in this movie 26 years after Batman Returns. Did she have any requests before being convinced to sign on?
I had no idea if she would even be remotely interested in doing this kind of a movie again or how she'd feel about it. So, we met. She came over and sat in one of the conference rooms, just the two of us at Marvel and kind of talked through who Janet Van Dyne was in the comics and who she might be in this movie. She was really funny, because one of the first things she said to me, she was like, "You know. I'm going to tell you up front. My process on every single movie I have ever done in my career, I've tried to back out of the movie at the last minute. That's just my M.O."
So she warned you ahead of time that she might back out?
Yeah. I thought about it. And I said to her, "Is this your way to say you want me to woo you more? Is that part of the thing?" She's like, "No, legitimately — yes, I want you to woo me more, but legitimately it's that kind of thing [that I try to back out of roles]." … Then after meeting her, it became more and more, "Now I'm convinced if she doesn't do it, I'm going to be a wreck." We gave her some comics. I said, "You can scour the internet and do all the research you want, but it's only going to get you so far, because the comics and that character started in the early '60s. A lot of the stuff in the comics is really two-dimensional, if not one-dimensional, and we want to do something different. We talked about what it could be, and I wanted her input throughout in terms of the character, without giving too much away. But for me it was a thrill to be working with her because she is incredible.
When people see it, I imagine you could then go into depth about what she brought to it.
When we started the process of coming up with the story and working on the script and the idea of, if we did decide to center the movie about the search around Janet van Dyne, who may or may not be alive in the Quantum Realm, "Well, OK. If she were alive, she's been in there for 30 years. How has that affected her? Who is she? Does she want to be rescued? Has she evolved into something else? What is it?" All of those questions. There were some answers in the books and the comics, but it was really for us to create.
It was notable that Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Michael Douglas (Ant-Man) were in Marvel movies two years in a row. Now it's almost expected to have legends like them or Pfeiffer show up in these movies.
Laurence Fishburne was another one. When we are talking about, "I want to have Bill Foster in this movie" … to have a character who is somewhat of a foil for Hank Pym. Each guy thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. And you need somebody who's got presence to go toe-to-toe with Michael Douglas. And then I met with Fishburne, and he's also a huge comics nerd. On the set he was always reading some graphic novel that I'd never heard of. So he was thrilled.
Back in 2015, Kevin Feige said the Quantum Realm would be a big deal for the future of the MCU. That was something that didn't exist in Edgar Wright's original draft before you replaced him as director. Did Kevin come to you and say, "Hey, could you add this, because it will be helpful for our next 10 years of movies?"
The Quantum Realm didn't exist in Edgar and Joe's [Cornish] original drafts. When [Adam] McKay came on, McKay and Rudd were writing drafts, and McKay also is a big comics nerd. McKay and I were talking about the Microverse. In a movie that had a lot of shrinking, it'd be great to figure out a thing in the third act that for the purposes of that story was almost a cautionary tale. It allowed us to give Scott Lang his moment of self-sacrifice, where he was going to potentially kill himself to save his daughter. It also occurred to us that we all love that sort of psychedelic side of the Marvel Universe. It's the "Microverse" in the comics, that we renamed the Quantum Realm for copyright reasons.
It was never a mandate [from Feige], but it was, "this would be really cool." Also, visually it was really fun. It just happened to make absolute sense for the third act of our first movie. … I think Kevin has this large vision for what the MCU can be, and I know he definitely has a vision for what specific things he ultimately wants to see in it, but there is an awful lot of give and take with the individual filmmakers and stories that feed into that thing.
That must be an interesting give and take, for all of you Marvel directors.
When we were editing the first Ant-Man, the Russos came in and I showed them a bunch of stuff with Paul. How Paul was playing Scott Lang and stuff. That informed what they did with him in Civil War. And obviously Ant-Man and the Wasp was hugely informed by Civil War. It's a sequel to Ant-Man, but it's also a sequel to Civil War, which further complicates things. It also gave us a really organic jumping-off point, because I became obsessed with how Hank Pym would react to Scott having taken that suit without asking and going and getting involved in some infighting with the Avengers. That's his worst nightmare, because the whole movie is about "I'm going to find a faithful steward of this technology," and then he goes and exposes it to the Avengers, and kind of worse, to Tony Stark. And then he's caught, thrown in a prison and the suit is confiscated. We really couldn't ignore that. It was great. This gives us fertile ground dramatically for the starting point of our movie.
You jokingly have said it took you a while to get over that Civil War got the Giant-Man reveal.
Finally over that.
A lot of people assumed Paul would be in Infinity War, but he wasn't. Was that a request you made, to keep him out of it?
It's this shockingly fluid thing. When they were writing Civil War, there was a point where not only were they going to get the Giant-Man debut, but they were going to get the Wasp debut too.
That would be too much!
Oh yeah, I went nuts. "No, we can't do that!" And also, there are so many characters in Civil War and also in Infinity War that it became a thing where, you can't have Wasp's coming-out party in the movie, because you are only going to be able to devote this much screen time to her, and that's what our movie really wanted to be about. Those kinds of things are conversations that happen, and they just sort of organically reveal themselves.
Coogler had an office next to mine when he first came in, and I had never met Ryan, but I loved both of his movies [Fruitvale Station and Creed] pre-Black Panther. I was thrilled he was going to be the guy doing Black Panther. It made total sense, and you knew he was going to do something fun but serious-minded and political with the material. And that was exciting to me. I cannot wait to see the movies he is going to make. I feel like he's a guy who is going to do this thing, which I love, and which I try to do too, to be like a Howard Hawks, who is going to do different movies in different genres.
Taika is always fun to be around. I knew Taika a little bit because I'm friends with Rhys Darby and Jemaine [Clement] and those guys from Flight of the Conchords. Taika has this energy, this total, anarchic energy. To have Ryan Coogler and Taika and the Russos, it's such a great mixed bag of filmic sensibilities. Every one of us are really serious filmmakers, but with different tones. It's very rare that you as a director get to spend time with other directors. It's probably the closest thing that this generation will have to a '30s- or '40s-era studio system where you are all on the lot and you are all working on different things. … I also recently saw Anna [Boden] and Ryan [Fleck] on the set of Captain Marvel, which looks incredible.
You are coming three months after Infinity War, and you've always followed an Avengers movie. How much do you stress out about release dates?
We're following Infinity War, and to me I think it's perfect for our movie. They are very tonally different movies, intentionally so. And the ambitions of the movies are different. The Ant-Man movies are going to give you spectacle, all that stuff, but it's a more intimate story and it's more of a story about family and about these characters and it's more heavily comedic even though there was some amazingly hilarious stuff in Infinity War. … I know everyone is talking about or writing about, "When is the superhero movie fatigue going to set in?" And it could be any time. That's every director's fear. "Oh, it's going to be my movie." But nobody is more painfully aware of that than Kevin Feige and the people at Marvel, which is why you want to do something different. They encourage idiosyncrasy. They want [the films] to be very specific and very different from each other.
It looks like you had a bigger budget to play with on this one. How much do you think about budget when making an Ant-Man movie?
You definitely want to know what your budget is and what your parameters are. They spent a little more money on the movie and it's nice because that's another thing. At Marvel, I don't want to say you don't think about the budget, but they are willing to try new stuff in terms of visual effects and R&D. You work with the visual development team, "I want to do a scene where this happens!" and three days later you have a beautiful visual painting of this thing as a proof of concept. Then you are like, "I want to do a scene like this. I have no idea how we are going to shoot it. But I want to see it as an audience member." And then you figure out how to shoot it, and sometimes it requires figuring out new visual effects techniques, and that part is really exciting.
You got close to making a Fantastic Four movie at Fox in the early 2000s. If Marvel Studios gets the rights to Fantastic Four in a potential Disney-Fox merger, would the prospect of getting to make a movie with those characters still interest you?
The Fox merger, if it is in fact a reality, is something that's so out of anybody's hands right now. If it were to happen, it's no secret that I have a huge affection and affinity for the Fantastic Four. I was talking to Joss Whedon a couple of weeks ago about when I first saw his Avengers movie. That's the closet thing tonally to what I had in mind for Fantastic Four, in terms of daytime Manhattan, fighting in the streets. It really felt great. Right around the time we were developing Fantastic Four, the first Incredibles came out. [I thought], "OK, that's a great Fantastic Four" movie. It's a family of heroes, the powers are shockingly similar, if not copycats of the Fantastic Four. I loved The Incredibles.
There are certainly time where we sit around and I talk to Kevin — Kevin knows, because Kevin was around at Marvel when I was developing Fantastic Four. Also knowing now, it is an entirely different landscape than when those first movies were made. There would be definitely some reinvention to be had, but that would still excite me. No question about it.
I know fans are already thinking, The Fantastic Four could be in the Quantum Realm the whole time. Maybe Peyton can just bring them out of there?
There are definitely a lot of very cool ways I think you could effortlessly introduce them into that universe.
What was something you learned from the first Ant-Man that you brought to this one?
To me it's doing some unexpected stuff. The worst thing you can do as a filmmaker is to bore the audience. It's keeping things interesting and telling a story that's unexpected and can maybe get weirdly emotional. In terms of the visuals, for me it was drilling down on that the strength of the Ant-Man movies is it's not Asgard, it's not outer space, it's the real, boring, mundane world, but experienced from weird perspectives. I always liked that.
Way back when I was developing Fantastic Four, I like the idea of the juxtaposition of here we are having coffee, and "Oh, there goes the Human Torch." Or "Here comes Giant-Man." The sort of archetypical thrill of a comic book. When I saw Superman the movie as a kid. There's Manhattan, and there's Superman. That juxtaposition is exciting to me.
Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd have great chemistry. What's the secret there?
Those guys have fun together. There is a real rapport. On the first movie, I had no idea what Michael would be like. You forget, he's not only an amazing actor, but he's an Oscar-winning producer. It's fun to see him [as a veteran producer] look around and sort of try to dissect this Marvel way of making movies. He'd never done anything like it, that was this effects-intensive, and even this genre really. I promised him, "Hank Pym is not going to just be standing around talking about Pym Particles in this movie. We want him to be doing more active stuff." And I definitely made good on my promise to Michael. I'm sure there were days he regretted it.
Michael asked for more to do?
You want to remind the audience he's not just the mentor in this thing, he was a full-on hero at one point, and he's still got that spirit to him.
It seems like Ant-Man is a perfect meld of your interests, in terms of comedy and superheroics.
Ant-Man is the sweet spot for me. Comedic and hero. Ant-Man and the Wasp and having strong female characters. My first two movies were a cheerleader comedy and a Rock Hudson/Doris Day homage. Down With Love is a movie about feminism. It was really important when we announced this was going to be called Ant-Man and the Wasp that it really is — she's not a supporting character, she's a lead character with Paul in the movie. It was important that be represented throughout the movie. That excited me. That also felt really organic to me. I want to make that movie. I'm psyched about making that movie.
Do you have aspirations for an Ant-Man 3?
I'll answer that question really honestly. Who knows, because I suspect, I don't know this, but I think any further announcement of the slate — the rest of this year is going to be about the next Avengers movie and the tee-up to that stuff. And then I think we are all hopeful. Just the same as last time. We didn't have any idea there would be a second Ant-Man until maybe a month or so after the first one came out. This was a giant question mark. With the first one, there was obviously behind-the-scenes drama that preceded me, but also, it's Ant-Man. There was a question of, "Are people going to go see this movie?" It was not a fait accompli. It could have gone either way. I think we are all interested in doing one. There is story to tell there. Definitely. There is story we've talked about, potentially. I'm very, very hopeful.
Ant-Man and the Wasp opens Friday.
by Lesley Goldberg
by Carolyn Giardina