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After I did Darkman, Stan Lee called me and was like, “Hey, kid, I liked your movie.” He took me out to lunch and said we should work together. I said I’d like to make a movie about Thor. We worked together writing treatments and took it to Fox and pitched it. And they said, “Absolutely no. Comic books don’t make good movies.” This was in 1991.
I got the job for Spider-Man in 1999. And [Marvel head] Avi Arad said, “I want you to put Stan in the movie.” And I was like, “No. I know Stan, and he can’t act.” And Avi was, “I want him in the movie. We did it for X-Men, we’re doing it here.” Now imagine you’re a minor director in England doing Macbeth and you’re told, “Put the writer in the play.” It sounds absurd. “Fine, you want Shakespeare in the play, I’ll put Shakespeare in the play.” Now it’s one of my favorite parts in the movie.
My first Stan Lee experience is pretty bad, actually. I was an avid reader of Spider-Man and The Avengers in the late ’70s, and come 1980, I was working on my first horror film in New York. I was also working as a counselor at a camp in Algonquin Park. One day they decided to have a Marvel banquet and said, “Can you get Stan Lee to sign some posters?” I was so naive I said OK. I went to Marvel and asked if I could see Stan Lee. And the people there flipped. “Are you out of your mind?! You can’t see Stan Lee!” So I spent the whole cab ride back to the airport signing “Stan Lee” on all these posters. (Chuckles.) There I was, 20 years old, forging his signature.
Stan’s creations have the power of his humanity. And that power is geometrically increasing over time. His legacy will not fade. People say that about a lot of people, but in his case it’s true.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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