The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Q&A with Stan Lee

15 April 2014

An exclusive chat with your friendly neighbourhood comic genius.

With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in cinemas from 16 April, we have an exclusive Q&A with legendary Marvel writer, Spidey's creator, and man of a thousand cameos, Stan Lee.

In a brilliant interview, he talks about what to expect from the new movie, the origins of the character, and how he wished he'd played Peter Parker himself...

Q: What are you most excited about in The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
SL: I'm excited about every new Spider-Man movie that opens up. And for this one, I'm especially excited, because Andrew Garfield now has that character so well in hand the way he plays him; and the idea of Jamie Foxx playing Electro, and the fact that there are some other super-villains in there also, this is a movie that people are just going to love.

Anybody who likes Spider-Man -- and that includes everybody-- is really going to love this movie.

Q: What do you think Andrew brings to role of Spider-Man that's new, and different for his generation?
SL: He is so perfect in the role, he's really the way I envisioned Peter Parker being…and the idea of Jamie Foxx playing Electro-- oh, man I think that's out of this world.

Q: Who is Peter Parker to you? Who is the quintessential character?
SL: He represents the best of everyone. He [cares about] Gwen Stacy, he cares about his aunt and wants to make a good living so they'll have enough money. He's bright, and wishes he could spend more time on his studies but there are so many other things pulling at him. I think anybody would wish lived next door to them, or that his daughter would date.

Stan-Lee-ComicQ: Let's talk about the casting of Jamie Foxx's character, as Electro. What are your thoughts about him in the role?
SL: Offbeat casting is always good. Jamie Foxx happens to be a great personality, great actor, and I think what he's going to bring to this role will be sensational. I think he'll make Electro one of the great villains of the superhero genre.

Q: What we can expect from Electro, and who that villain is?
SL: You can expect some of the most incredible…scenes you've ever seen, because Electro's power is the power of electricity. He could destroy a city, he could destroy a building. Some of the visual effects are going to be unforgettable.

Q: You have been reinventing Spider-Man for each new generation. What is it about the character that always resonates?
SL: There are a number of things. One, he's just a likeable guy. Besides that, he has a very unique superpower. And visually, he's always a treat, just to see what he does.

He has a great personality, there's a lot of humor in the movie. And he's always torn between problems in his personal life and problems as Spider-Man. And that, I think, makes his stories interesting. How is he going to meld those two? And most people in the audience -- while not as extreme as Peter Parker in Spider-Man -- the average person always has little problems. You magnify that problem by a thousand degrees, and you have Peter Parker's life.

Q: Let's talk about Harry Osborn. What is his relationship like with Peter, and why do you have a character like him in the Spider-Man series?
SL: It's very important to have a Harry Osborn, because [everyone] has to have friends. Man is not an island. And if you can get a friend who's a complicated and complex person, all the better.

Q: Both your villains and your heroes are often flawed. Why is that compelling? What is it that led you to create your characters like that?
SL: Trying to be realistic. Except for myself, I don't know anybody who is totally good and perfect. Most people, you spend your life trying to figure them out. You could be married to somebody for years, and you still spend your life trying to figure your mate out.

I think it's fun analyzing people, learning a little more about what makes them tick. And with Spider-Man, in every movie, I think we learn a little bit more about what makes him tick, and what makes the other characters tick. As long as the writing is realistic -- and it may sound funny, because he's a superhero, who is fictitious -- but the idea is you have to suspend disbelief. You have to accept the fact that this is a young man with a superpower who can swing on a web.

But apart from that, everything about him has to be as real as possible. You have to feel you know that guy. And the more you feel you know Peter Parker -- and the other characters, his Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, and certainly Electro -- the more the story draws you in, because it's not just a two-dimensional character on the screen, but somebody you can relate to. You can imagine you're witnessing a real-life situation; it just happens to involve a couple of people who have superpowers.

Stan-Lee-and-Spider-ManQ: Your work is special in that it's timeless. People are always returning to the story lines, and the characters. Do you think that we, as a culture, need superheroes?
SL: I don't know that we need them. I think it's a good thing that we have them.

When I was a kid, I looked up to Errol Flynn. He was the Sheriff of Dodge City, he was Captain Blood, he was Robin Hood. I was 10, 11 years old. He was my hero. I used to leave the theater, and I'd have a crooked little smile on my face the way I imagined he smiled, and  an imaginary sword at my side, and I'd be looking around for some little girl that a bully might be picking on, so I could save her. That's how Errol Flynn affected me.

I think everybody needs an idol. Somebody as an idol, somebody to try to live up to. Sometimes you have to go to fiction to find those people.

I hope that Spider-Man is the kind of character that, if people try to emulate him, and to emulate Peter Parker, that would be a good thing. People at comic book conventions come up to me, and say how much Spider-Man meant to them when they were growing up.

Q: You have a million Twitter followers-- that is remarkable! What does that connection with your fans mean to you?
SL: There are so many people in this country, I should have more than a million. I'm a little annoyed about that...

Without fans, if you're in the entertainment business, you have nothing. Fans are wonderful. And they make it very difficult for you, because fans can turn on you in a second if you do the wrong thing, or you let them down. When you know how important they are, you spend all your time trying not to do the wrong thing, and not to let them down. So, because of the fans, the product that you create is probably better than it might have been, because you're so afraid of disappointing them.

I love the fans. I go to almost every comic book convention, and I thank them. And they think I'm imparting information to them, but I'm learning a hell of a lot. In our business, whether it's movies, television, comic books or what, the fans tell you what they think. So when I talk to fans, which I do all the time, I am really wanting to hear what they have to say. I'm a big talker, but I try to hold to myself back when they say, 'Mr. Lee, what do you think of so-and-such?' I say, 'Well this is my opinion, but what do you think?' And that's the important thing to me.

After all these years, I pretty much know what the fans look for, how they feel, what they think, and that's very important, because in the entertainment business, the more you know of what the fans want and expect, the better a job you do.

All of us are fans. I, too, am a fan. I'm sure you're a fan of something. I want actors to be a certain way. I want stories to be a certain way. So I’m always thinking of that with anything I do. You must not disappoint the fans, ever.

Q: What's the biggest thing that you've learned about Spider-Man specifically, from your fans? Is there anything that has really surprised you?
SL: I think his popularity surprised me. I don't know if you heard the story of how I came about to do Spider-Man?

We had done the Fantastic Four, and maybe also the Hulk. And my publisher said, 'Hey, why don't you give me a new superhero? We're on a roll.' So I dreamed up Spider-Man, and I came to my publisher, and I said I have a new character for you. His name is Spider-Man, I want him to be a teenager, and he has a lot of personal problems.

My publisher said, 'Stan, that is the worst idea I've ever heard.' He said, 'First of all, people hate spiders, so you can't call a hero Spider-Man. Heroes don't have personal problems, don't you know what a superhero is? And you want him to be a teenager? A teenager can only be a sidekick.'

So I didn't have much chance. But a little bit later, we were killing a magazine called Amazing Fantasy, because it wasn't selling that well. Now when you do the last issue of a magazine, nobody cares what you put in it. To get it out of my system, I put Spider-Man in the book, and featured him on the cover.

A month and a half later, when the sales figures came in, my publisher came running over to me. 'Stan! Do you remember that character Spider-Man that we both liked so much? Why don't you do a series?' And that's how it started.

I learned another thing: don't always trust the experts. They can be wrong. My publisher was the expert, and sometimes you have to go with your own feeling.

Q: You are constantly reinventing your characters, and especially Spider-Man. But you're also reinventing yourself. How do you see yourself in the canon of entertainment?
SL: I wish were a little younger, I would have tried out for the role of Peter Parker, I would have been sensational. I could have at least played his uncle. I could have played Captain Stacy - I'm going to talk to those casting directors.

But I see myself as very lucky. I had written a few stories, and somehow or other people seemed to like them, and they made movies of them. They're doing a wonderful job, and I get a lot of credit for it, which I don't deserve, so it's a pretty good situation.