After 11 movies that have just gotten bigger and more epic each time, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe focuses on The Avengers’ founding member Ant-Man. Armed with the unique ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), protect the secret behind the very special Ant-Man suit from people looking to use the technology for much more sinister things. The film also stars Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian and Judy Greer.
During a conference at the film’s press day, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll were joined by director Peyton Reed and Marvel’s Kevin Feige, and they talked about why Ant-Man is an excellent addition to the MCU, the challenges of effectively playing with size and scale, that Marvel takes female characters very seriously, how the Ant-Man and Yellowjacket suits were brought to life, researching ants and keeping things photo-realistic, and the importance of the father-daughter storyline. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
KEVIN FEIGE: Well, Ant-Man in the comics is a founding member of The Avengers. We have a big, giant poster of The Avengers #1 that’s been in all of the various offices we’ve had, over the years, and I love looking at that and checking off each person who’s been in a movie. With Ant-Man and Wasp, it’s been the longest that we haven’t done anything with them. It was always clear that we were going to assemble all of The Avengers, eventually. It was also interesting to do a movie that plays with scale and action in a very different way than we’ve ever done before. As I’m sure you all have heard me say, many, many times, I like that all of our films are unique and different, and that all of them can surprise people. This is our 12th film in the Marvel Universe, so it felt time to do something even more unique and different, which I think this is.
Peyton, how intimidating was it to be the one responsible for playing with scale like this and doing something so different?
PEYTON REED: I had no idea what Kevin was talking about. There’s a high bar with these Marvel movies, and one of the things that I really discovered, working with Marvel, which I loved, was that they have a really creative hunger and they really don’t want to repeat themselves. They encourage these movies to be really idiosyncratic. And one of the things I love about Ant-Man is that it’s a pretty weird movie, in a great way. It was allowed to be weird, and that was fantastic. So, there’s a high bar there, and that energizes everybody.
Paul, what was it about this character that excited you?
PAUL RUDD: Well, there was a lot. First, there was the fact that it was different than anything I had ever done. I liked the challenge. I thought it would be an exciting adventure. And I enjoyed the fact that when I was cast, people went, “Huh? Really?” You wouldn’t necessarily think [of me], and I think that Marvel likes to do that. I was thrilled to have the opportunity.
How did you prepare? Were you a fan of the character before, or did you read some of the comics?
RUDD: Growing up, I really didn’t know the character. Before we ever started shooting, I read the comics and tried to do a little bit of research, just to get into the mind-set as much as possible. There was also all of the physical stuff that I wanted to throw myself into, to feel as if I could play the part and not only be convincing, but just feel the part more.
Paul, since your nine-year-old thought that you weren’t that cool when you said you were going to play Ant-Man, as he seen the film yet, and has that been redeemed?
RUDD: There was nothing to redeem. My kid, more than anything, likes to make me laugh. Even at nine years old, he has such a funny sense of humor. So, when I told him, that’s what he said. This is the first thing that I’ve ever done, ever, that he is legitimately jazzed about. He can see it. His friends know about it. We were at Disneyland two days ago because they have a sneak preview Ant-Man event there. We went there and I was sitting next to him, and to see, as a parent, the look on my kid’s face when he was watching this, I’ll never forget it. As soon as it ended, he just looked at me and said, “That’s awesome!” And every time a commercial is on, he’s like, “Dad! Dad!” He’s so excited. I’ve never experienced that. It’s cool to be able to share this with my own family, and especially my son.
Evangeline, without spoiling anything . . .
EVANGELINE LILLY: Yeah, right! They all start that way, but then they spoil away!
When you say “It’s about damn time,” did you feel like you were speaking for all woman kind?
LILLY: Amen and touché, sister! I think there is a lot of excitement from female audiences about this character, in general, and about the fact that Marvel are really, really taking female characters very seriously. Looking at their line-up, you can see that they have great intentions. And as a woman who came into a predominantly male film, I had a great time working with Peyton and the producers on this character because I could see a hunger in them to really, really do right by Hope and by their female fans and by the female audience. When I pick a role, one of the things that I aspire to is that somebody’s parent will come up to me after the film has come out and say, “My daughter idealizes that character. You’re her hero.” That’s what we aim for, especially in this brand. We’re in the business of making heroes.
Michael, did this boost your stature with your own kids?
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: My 14-year-old’s reaction was like an agent, saying, “You know, Dad, this could be a whole new audience for you.” So, I took that to heart, and here I am.
Paul, it’s been about 20 years since Clueless. What has the journey to leading man been like for you?
RUDD: I have gratitude and am so appreciative that I’ve been able to continue to work, doing something that I love. And it’s not only doing something that I love, but I’m working on movies that I’ve loved. I always try to keep that saying, “I want to work on things that I would want to see,” [in the back of my mind]. For the vast majority of my career, that’s been true, and I’m just very, very appreciative of that.
LILLY: Who didn’t have a crush on Paul Rudd in Clueless?
REED: How dreamy was he in that movie?
LILLY: He was so dreamy!
RUDD: I know, it’s crazy! I fell in love with me. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?
Corey and Paul, what was it like to wear the Yellowjacket and Ant-Man suits? Were they comfortable?
COREY STOLL: Well, we tried to make it a practical suit. We went through several iterations, and it just was not working. So in the end, it was completely CGI. Of course, I had been working out like a fiend, to be able to look good in the suit. In the end, it just turned out to be for the behind the scenes footage of me in my pajamas.
REED: We’re going to cut an entire piece for the DVD and Blu-ray that’s just shots of Corey in his motion capture suit.
STOLL: It’s certainly less intimidating.
RUDD: I’m biased because I love the suit. I think it’s the coolest looking suit of all of them. I loved wearing it. It was not that uncomfortable. Even on my days off, I wore it. It helped me feel the part. There’s something that happens when you get in that thing. It’s inevitable. I would stand differently. I would feel different. I would feel like Ant-Man, in that thing.
LILLY: Even though he looked like a total dork.
RUDD: They kept the soundstages a little bit cooler because it doesn’t really breathe that well. It was cool. I would sometimes catch myself and go, “God, this thing is amazing looking!” I didn’t eat anything for about a year, and I worked out, all the time. I took the Chris Pratt approach, which was basically to eliminate anything fun, for about a year. That’s a good way to prepare to play a superhero.
Corey, were you nervous or anxious about taking on a character like Yellowjacket?
STOLL: I would have moments of terror, realizing what a huge audience there is and what a huge, incredibly passionate and well-informed audience it is. It was just too much fun. Every day that I came on to set, there was some new piece of art that Peyton would show me, or I would step onto the Pym Tech set and see the size of it. It was just all these dreams of 15-year-old Corey being realized. Even the civilian costumes that he wears are so outrageously villainous. I had stop myself from grinning ear to ear, every day. It really was awesome.
How much research into ants did you do, and how difficult was it to visually portray the various types of ants, and their various duties and jobs?
REED: There’s a definitive ant textbook that’s written by this guy, Edward Wilson, who’s considered the actual, real Ant-Man. He’s a New York Times best-seller. That book talks about all of the specific types of ants there are in the world, and there are thousands of them. Also, there are specific skill sets. One of the things that I loved about the movie is that we introduce at least four of these specific types of ants. If you ask Evangeline Lilly, she can tell you the Latin names for all of these ants.
LILLY: Only mispronounced.
REED: It was fun because it’s a heist movie, at its core. Instead of, “Here’s the guy doing this and that,” it’s like, “Here are the ants that are doing this and that.” I guarantee that’s something that you’ve never seen in a movie before. People talk about the shrinking when they talk about Ant-Man, but it’s the other power, to be able to control ants, that’s the weirder power that I think is going to really surprise people in the movie. One of the things I liked about doing research was finding out what all the ants do. Fire ants are architects. They can make little rafts and ladders, and they do that in real life. The kid in me was like, “Oh, I can go on the internet and look at these ants.” It’s actually real. I think that’s a really cool aspect of the movie.
Peyton, what were the challenges in dealing with an ant-sized environment?
REED: In terms of the shrinking, I went back and watched all of the shrinking movies. There is a long cinematic history of shrinking, with The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Innerspace, and all of them. We were making what would be the definitive shrinking movie of 2015. The drum I kept banging was, “It’s gotta look photo realistic.” We can’t have a movie where the normal world is realistic, and then you go down and it feels like an animated movie. It had to look photo realistic. Our visual effects supervisor and I spent a lot of time together, and we talked about how we were going to achieve it, how we were going to shoot it, what lenses we were going to use, what the world would look and sound like when you’re down there, and how the light would play. I’m really happy with where we ended up. In a movie like Ant-Man, it’s gotta look real, and that applied to the ants, too. One of the challenges was creating ants that looked photo real, but also giving them some real character. Particularly in the case of Ant-ony, the idea was that we were going to create a Roy Rogers/Trigger, or Lone Ranger/Silver relationship with Ant-Man. In the comic, one of the iconic images is of Ant Man flying around on an ant. I wanted to embrace that, and I was thrilled with where we ended up with the visual effects. One of the things with Marvel is that you’re just surrounded by the top people, in all the fields. In visual effects, they did some amazing work.
What about sound realism? How do you know what ants sound like?
REED: We did a Dolby Atmos mix because when we shrink down, you want to really immerse the audience in this, and sound becomes even more immersive and surrounds you when you’re small. We also really had to create an ant language. That was important, particularly in the bond with Ant-ony and Scott Lang. We started auditioning sounds, and the geniuses at Skywalker Sound came up with a language. I don’t know if there’s an actual specific language that you can decode, but please try.
Michael, Hank Pym is a really damaged guy in the comics. In your research, how much of that damage plays into your mind-set, in playing the character?
DOUGLAS: Are you suggesting typecasting? I was not familiar with Ant-Man before this movie, and Kevin and Marvel were kind enough to send me about two years of comic books when I read the script, to catch up on the history and background. And there are certainly echos of the loss of his wife, and the distance between he and his stunning daughter, played by Evangeline. That pays off a little later in the picture.
Paul, how was it to explore the father-daughter storyline in this?
RUDD: The father-daughter aspect was the thing that I hung the whole thing on. You can have a movie that has amazing effects, and this certainly has brilliant visuals, and a lot of humor, but whenever you see something that you can connect to that’s emotionally resonant, it stays with you in a very different way. I think that’s the key to any movie, and that’s what I thought about throughout this whole film. That’s what the movie is about.
The father-daughter relationship is a very important element in this storyline. How did you arrive at that?
FEIGE: That’s right out of the comics. Scott Lang’s character has a daughter named Cassie in his original origin story. In the books, it’s tied directly to his desire to help his daughter. That’s the reason he resorts to crime. We’ve never had a hero, in the 11 films leading up to this, whose motivation involved a son or daughter. That felt like a reason to do this film now. It was very meaningful for us.
REED: One of the things that I loved, from the beginning, is that one of the strengths of the movie is these two dual stories about these two fathers and their daughters, and it is very different from the other Marvel movies, in that way. In various different ways, they are not a part of their daughters’ lives and they have to, by the end of the movie, repair those relationships. In the case of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne, they are not going to succeed in this heist unless they repair their relationship. It’s an important thing that has to happen, before they succeed. I liked the intimacy of that thematic in the movie.
RUDD: I also think there’s an interesting father-son dynamic with Darren and Hank. This whole idea of parents and children runs throughout the movie, and I think makes it one of the things that’s most relatable.
LILLY: Even with Bobby Cannavale’s character and Cassie. I thought it was really cool that there was also the stepfather-daughter relationship.
STOLL: That, to me, was totally essential. Through the different drafts of the script and playing with motivations, I think we really came to the realizations that Darren is after the glory of the scientific discovery, the money, the fame, and the power, but in the end, it really comes down to the small little boy inside that just wants his father’s approval. That’s so much easier to play than desire for world domination. I can relate to that more.
Kevin, are we ever going to see Ant-Woman?
FEIGE: There is not an Ant-Woman. Well, maybe there is, somewhere in the comics. But there is a Wasp, and if you stay through the credits of the movie, there’s a chance you’ll see something. We have plans for her, in the future, and we see that not so subtly in this film.
Evangeline, Hope stands out as the biggest bad-ass in the entire film. What was it like to play someone whose a full-on superhero without even wearing a costume?
LILLY: That was the most exciting thing for me about the role. Of course, while we were filming and in post-production, there was a lot of buzz on the internet about, “Is Evangeline playing the Wasp? Is she a superhero?” I had a lot of questions directed my way about that. And I just couldn’t have felt more comfortable or more happy saying, “Actually, she is a really capable, really powerful force to be reckoned with, and she doesn’t have a superpower, and she doesn’t put on a fancy suit and look dorky in it.” My super suit was my power suit that I would go to work in, to be a high level scientist and the chair of the board of a very, very powerful corporation. I think that’s a fantastic example for young women. Marvel are actually doing this incredible campaign right now where they’ve put on a competition for young women in America to create scientific gadget projects, and they are promoting maths and sciences for young women and girls. They put a lot of heart and love into that also. I was happy to be the face of that campaign. Playing the role of a female scientist, in a world where scientists are mostly men, is a great role to play.
Kevin, this is probably the funniest Marvel movie yet. Was that a goal, especially coming off of something as dark as Avengers: Age of Ultron?
FEIGE: I don’t think we set out to say, “This will be our funniest movie,” or “This is a comedy.” I don’t look at any of our films as necessarily one thing. But, humor is a huge element. When you’re dealing with people riding ants, people communicating with ants, and calling ants Ant-ony, you have to acknowledge to the audience that we know this is funny, to a certain extent. And even when we had Paul, people were like, “Is this a comedy, because you cast a comedian?” We cast the guy we thought could be a kick-ass superhero, who also happens to be funny.
LILLY: And he’s not a comedian. He’s an actor.
FEIGE: Yeah, Exactly. He’s a very, very good actor.
RUDD: This panel is good for my head!
FEIGE: In terms of coming off of Ultron, when we put these two films together, in this year, it was always knowing that one could be the antidote to the other. Ultron was a gargantuan exercise, so we thought that it would be fun to do something that was funny, but that dealt in a very different kind of scale, and that had the same thrills and action elements, in a very different way. It’s a flying country in one film, and it’s a little girl’s bedroom in the other film.
Paul, if Ant-Man could be the Jiminy Cricket to any of The Avengers, who would it be and what would you advise them about?
REED: There’s the physical side that you would think of with The Hulk. Scott Lang also shares a passion for science and technology, like Tony Stark has. He also has very specific feelings towards them, as a whole, because he’s learning a little bit about them and he’s aware of their presence from Hank Pym, who has very specific opinions.
Ant-Man opens in theaters on July 17th.