‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ director Marc Webb talks Andrew Garfield, ‘500 Days of Summer’ and needing a vacation

Aside from his serendipitous surname, Webb wasn’t an obvious choice to reboot the franchise, but he proved to be an inspired one. Prior to directing “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Marc Webb’s only other claim to fame was helming the surprise indie hit “500 Days of Summer.” That movie connected with its audience because he worked with the actors to make the characters’ love affair feel fresh and real. For “Spider-Man,” Webb managed to keep that same light touch with the actors while still making a CG-heavy action spectacular — no mean feat.

I sat down with Webb the other day after doing a press junket with the cast of “Spider-Man.” We talked about how he managed the transition from indie to blockbuster, casting the movie, and creating a space for spontaneity on a massive production.

[Related: See showtimes for ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’]

Jonathan Crow: Going from “500 Days of Summer,” a small movie, to this must have been intimidating. What was the difference between making these two movies?

Marc Webb: It was a different process, but the foundation of both movies is that this movie is based on character the same way that “500 Days of Summer” was. Emotionally, there are a lot of similarities. It was just finding the access to Peter Parker in that and the journey he was on. I’m a fan of action movies. I have studied them and thought about them. I felt that if I expanded out from Parker, and really stayed loyal to that journey, then the rest of the film would sort itself out.

And that’s how I went about it, taking it one day at a time. Prior to shooting, I would do a lot of pre-visualization, where I would sit in a room a group of pre-vis artists and design the sequences. It was just about defining a film language while giving room for spontaneity.

JC: So, the trick you found was balancing between the special effects, most of which aren’t present on the set, and trying to get the performances that you want.

marc webbMW: Yeah. I mean, it’s really important. I wanted to create a movie that has a more naturalistic feeling to the performances. I wanted the actors to be spontaneous and try to do new and different things to create something a little a little more grounded, which is kind of crazy to say when you have a nine-foot lizard walking the streets of New York.

Fortunately, we have actors who were incredibly gifted. Martin and Andrew and Emma and Dennis, they’re all really gifted improvisers and that was a wonderful gift.

[Related: Why the ‘Spider-Man’ reboot?]

JC: Tell me about casting Andrew and Emma —

MW: Sure, yeah. When we started off, it was easy to think about the character in the abstract. But ultimately, you have to sacrifice the abstract for the concrete, and that’s a tricky moment. And it was scary at times too. So we were looking and looking and looking and I couldn’t really find anybody. And then we screen-tested Andrew and it became clear very quickly that he had the ability to embody not onlythe emotional gravitas of Peter Parker — there are a lot of tragic elements to that character — but also the humor and the wit and the lightness. That combined with somebody who can do the intense physical demands of that character while wrapped in the body of a teenager. Finding that combination was difficult, but he had that thing.

He’s really quite gifted at the nonverbal kinds of acting. He can get underneath the surface of the lines and behave in a way that we understand, because he’s always grappling with the subtext of the scene. And that makes him just damn good in acting. I just felt like he was the guy.

JC: And how about Emma Stone? The chemistry they have on screen is remarkable.

MW: Well, their relationship is the most important part of the film and I think that that chemistry is incredibly important. Emma is a superstar in the best sense of the word.

I remember they did a screen test, Emma and Andrew together — this was before they knew each other. She’s very fast and very smart and very funny and she really kept Andrew, who is also very smart, fast, and funny — on his toes. There was just something about the way they interacted that that was wonderful. They come from very different schools of acting. Emma had done “Zombieland” and stuff with Judd Apatow. She has a great comedic sensibility. And Andrew has been in “Boy A” and “The Social Network” and “Red Riding” — these very intense dramas.

But they both had this ability to be alive and spontaneous within a moment. And I think he brought out more gravitas in her, especially later in the film, and she got him to be funnier and lighter. It was really fantastic and wonderful to watch.

[Related: Emma Stone nudged toward ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ role by Jennifer Lawrence]

JC: How versed where in you in the whole mythology of Spider-Man before you got this whole thing?

MW: Well, I knew a lot about Spider-Man. I was a fan when I was a kid. I think what I most loved about that character was that he’s not a billionaire — he’s not an alien, he was just this kid. I think that’s what makes him so powerful and so relatable.

JC: Are you planning on a sequel?

MW: I don’t know. I’m at the final phases of finishing the film. I’m very pleased with the movie, and I’m excited to get it out into the world. I just don’t know. I’m going to take a vacation; that’s the first thing I’m going to be doing.

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June 2012

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