In October we visited the set of Marvel’s Ant-Man, the first film project to be produced at Pinewood’s new Atlanta location where Marvel Studios will be working from consistently going forward. Captain America: Civil War (which brings back Paul Rudd as Ant-Man) is shooting there as I type this and in February 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will be shot there as well.
On the first day of the two-day exploration of the production we observed an action sequence being shot on a stage involving a helicopter and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man while shrunk, but before he suited up we sat down to talk about the movie and how his role went from being the star of it, to also co-writing.
Our interview touches on how Paul Rudd was cast, what happened when Edgar Wright and Marvel parted ways on the project, Adam McKay’s involvement, working with Michael Douglas and Peyton Reed, wearing the Ant-Man costume, and what’s appealing about playing a character like Scott Lang who has flaws.
Keep in mind, the following interview took place long before Rudd’s role in Captain America: Civil War was announced. He had only met the cast at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 a few months earlier before taking the stage.
This Ant-Man suit looks amazing.
PAUL RUDD: Yeah, it’s not so flashy.
[Laughs] Kevin [Feige] was telling us that the once Adam McKay came aboard, he did a bunch of writing on it as well. Tell us about that and what he brought to it script-wise?
PAUL RUDD: The bones of this story, the foundation of it was there. Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright did such a great job. We certainly added things, enhanced some storylines, changed some things, and added some scenes. It was a fairly sizable rewrite but the story is theirs. As far as the specifics, there’s obviously some… [Laughs] I’ve been instructed not to divulge, but it kind of came about organically. It was obviously never part of the plan when Edgar and Marvel parted ways, there had been a rewrite that was kind of a different take on the story. So when we were meeting directors and all sorts of stuff, Adam came in. Adam I have a pretty good relationship, and so it just came about. It was never anything that I think either one of us had been planned on, but I think it was more of an issue of this movie is going to start, and the script needs to get to a place that Marvel wants to take it, and so we just spent some time working on it together. And then Adam was just on for a little bit, and it’s a constant work in progress [laughs].
When you and Adam McKay work on a script, the obvious conclusion is it’s going to become much funnier. Is that the case?
PAUL RUDD: No, as far as the tone, some of that is always discovered in post. Adam and I both, at least from a filmmaking point of view, love to do lots of different versions of things and takes. And I think that when we worked together in the past on Anchorman, we’re doing lots of alts and jokes and things like that. I think both Adam and I, our default is to go to comedy, although Adam is way better at it and much funnier than I am. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. But the tone of it and what we were trying to write and what we were doing was not a comedy per se. I think it fit more in line with what people have come to expect from these films and Adam certainly is passionate about Marvel and comics. He grew up reading all of them and was a fan, so I think he spoke the language anyway. It will have funny parts in it, sometimes you take them out because you don’t want to diminish the drama or the action. It isn’t Anchorman. You would think it would be a silly, joke-heavy movie, and it’s really not, but there are moments of levity. We are dealing with ants here, after all.
[Laughs] You’re most well-known for a lot of comedies. This is new for you to a movie that ultimately helps launch Phase 3 of Marvel – How do you prepare yourself for that, going into it knowing that you’re going to make a Marvel movie? What was the ultimate decision for you to play Ant-Man?
PAUL RUDD: When I signed on, it was Edgar. Edgar is the one that came to me, and Edgar I’ve known for years and I’m a fan of his. There were so many things that were really interesting and appealing, but when I signed on it was through him. He’s responsible for me being here. Outside of that, I was certainly intrigued and excited about doing something that might be a little outside of the box. You wouldn’t think of me necessarily first for this kind of thing. Most people wouldn’t. But I didn’t feel that it was so different… all of these things are character-based. The characters are dealing with conflict, whatever it is. My career took a left turn after Anchorman. I had done some comedies before, but I’m not a comedian. I didn’t study sketch comedy; my background isn’t that. It just happened that I worked with those guys, loved it, and continued to work with a lot of comics after the fact. But I like to do lots of different things, so it didn’t seem so crazy to me, but as far as the other stuff I don’t really concern myself with it. It did feel different. It certainly felt like “wow this is the big leagues.” I’ve never done a movie with this big of a budget. These movies are going to be seen all over the world. I was aware of all of that, but I didn’t think about it. I thought “okay, if this works, then that’ll really change some things perhaps and if it doesn’t then, I might not be working [laughs] very soon afterwards,” but I didn’t let it deter me.
The other thing with any new character coming in the Marvel universe is that they will end up becoming part of the Avengers. We were talking to Kevin earlier about how in addition to the cast needing to work within a movie, they need to work within the larger Avengers group as well. Now I know obviously you were all at Comic-Con together. Have you had a chance to hang out with the other Avengers?
PAUL RUDD: Nope.
You haven’t been welcomed into that family?
PAUL RUDD: One, I don’t know what the future holds and where I would fit into all of that if I do. Hanging out with them, I haven’t. I have met a couple of them, and the only time I ever hung out with any of them, and it wasn’t even hanging out with them, I was just in the same room with them, was at Comic-Con. I was a wallflower; I was walking around with The Beatles. Hanging out with at Comic-Con with The Avengers is definitely an E-ticket. I did talk to them there for a little bit though, it was pretty cool [laughs].
Talk a little bit more specifically about the character of Scott Lang. He is a smart guy, he obviously cares a lot for his daughter, but he’s also kind of a loser. He’s a thief. Is there any degree to which he is kind of a small person before he puts on the Ant-Man suit? How would you characterize his personality?
PAUL RUDD: Maybe some of his choices that he makes with his life are questionable. Maybe the motives are honorable or maybe they’re not, some people don’t think they are, but I think that he’s somebody who cares about his daughter. I think that’s the motivating factor towards the choices that he makes. Certainly in the comics, that’s his story. I think he’s a smart guy who maybe has to re-evaluate what’s really important in his life, what kind of person he wants to be.
There was a thread through several films that you had done where you have these legendary actors who ended up playing your father, whether it is Jack Nicholson, Albert Brooks, you get to go toe to toe with these real legends in very intimate moments. Here you’ve got Michael Douglas who is an obvious precursor. How has he been? Especially listening to the Comic-Con stuff, it sounds like he has very little patience with superheroes in general. [Hank] Pym is not the warm, fuzzy, father figure. What’s it been like with him on set?
PAUL RUDD: Well, it’s just been amazing. The last time I saw him, which was a few days ago, all he did was tell me stories about The Streets of San Francisco, and what a great way to spend your day at work, it was incredible. I have worked with some incredible, incredible actors. Legends, the best that there are. I don’t know how it happened. Every day, I go “this is just incredible.” Paul Newman played my grandfather in a play that I did. It was a similar kind of thing where it takes me a little bit of time to just calm down. Hopefully it’s just a few days and hopefully it happens where I can get to the point where I just feel like “alright, it’s cool, it’s normal, we’re hanging out,” where I can then ask them some stories or tips, things like that. And it’s been great working with him. He’s such a good actor. He approaches things, because he’s also a producer, he approaches story and character and the making of a movie from all kinds of angles. But the gravitas that he brings to everything just feels like “this is the big leagues, I’m playing the big leagues now,” that’s what it can be like. And inevitably, mid-way through a scene it happened on How Do You Know when I was working with Nicholson, we’re in the middle of shooting a scene and he’s screaming in my face and I’m in the scene with him as my character, he’s playing my dad, and all of a sudden I’m like ‘The Last Detail’. I remember things and moments. There’ll be scenes where it’s happened here. We’ll be doing a scene and I just think “Oh my god, Wonder Boys, how good is he.” I mean we all know he killed as Liberace but come on, fucking Falling Down? I’ll have those moments where we’re shooting and it’s just one of those “how did I end up here?” kinds of things.
When we were talking to Kevin, he mentioned that at the start of the film your character is getting out of prison where he’s been for about four, five years. Is he aware of what’s happening with him and this universe? Does he know that Iron Man’s out there or that aliens have invaded New York, or is he learning these as he goes along?
PAUL RUDD: Oh gosh, well, we should probably write that into the script. Hold on just a second [laughs]. We don’t dwell on certain things too much. There are some things that have happened in the world that are kind of common knowledge. But this story is fairly contained, I think, though clearly Hank has a history with several of those folks.
So you said Edgar brought you on. What has it been like working with Peyton [Reed] on this movie and how familiar were you with his past work?
PAUL RUDD: I had met Peyton several years ago. He was trying to get a movie made that I don’t think ever got made, but I met with him on that and was really impressed by the guy, really liked him. He’s very personable and smart and then I over the years got to know him because we have some mutual friends. I was understandably upset when Edgar left, but I was also excited when Peyton came on board. The experience working with Peyton has been great. He’s also somebody that knows and loves the source material and understands the world and is open to new ideas and trying different things and I think that we are approaching some of the material and scenes from the same point of view, which is always reassuring.
What’s the coolest or craziest thing you’ve done on set so far that you haven’t done before?
PAUL RUDD: Staying away from the craft service table, that’s the craziest thing I’ve done.
[Laughs] Ant-Man has the strangest powers of the superheroes we’ve seen so far in the MCU. What’s it like to get ready for “we’re gonna shrink you down and put you inside an ATM?” Or today you’re gonna talk to an ant or ride an ant, what’s it like?
PAUL RUDD: I mean, you just imagine what it would be like, and you just pretend. It’s kind of that thing that you hear other actors talk about in interviews where it’s like “I had to wear a suit with ping pong balls on it and to talk to a big tape mark and imagine that there was something there.” There is this… it’s a very specific kind of feeling stupid. Acting in general you just feel kind of stupid doing it anyway, but when you’re pretending to be rolling around and dodging a foot or riding an ant. You’re having to really do it seriously and there’s nothing there. You’ve got to put faith in the process. The best, most talented people are working on this thing to make it look like it won’t—
Do you post pictures of ants on your trailer?
PAUL RUDD: I don’t post pictures of ants, but I have seen ants in my trailer sometimes. There’ll be an ant in my house or on my car I’ve seen ants and I have a very different relationship with them now. Other times I might’ve flicked them outside and now I look at them as divine intervention and friends. I’m like “oh, this is your place, I’m just a visitor here.” [Laughs]
Did your comedy/improv background help you prepare for situations like that?
PAUL RUDD: I don’t know. I have no idea. I think at its core it’s just believing the situation and throwing yourself into it wholeheartedly and trying not to be self-conscious or judge what it is that you’re doing. That’s always a challenge and it’s always the challenge, but it’s also fun. This is really fun stuff. Later on today, I’m going to be hanging out of a helicopter and I’m going to be pretending like I’m flapping around and ants holding onto a seatbelt. Taken out of context, that’s just ridiculous. But it’s also the kind of thing that we all did when we were five years old when we were playing in our living room. I used to play Starsky & Hutch with my sister, you know hanging off the back of a van, jumping around. We all believe it when we’re kids, it’s just holding onto that I guess.
When you’re making films, you can make choices and go in with different things to work with, but with this so much is pre-vis and storyboarded before going on set, what kind of room do you have to make different choices and play around within this universe?
PAUL RUDD: When it comes to dialogue, I think that we’re allowed to do different things, and do sometimes. Not all the time. I’ve worked with actors on things where every take is different. This isn’t necessarily that, but when it comes to certain stuff that’s choreographed, something that has to match up, earlier today I had to punch through a window and it had to line up, then it gets very specific and there’s not a lot of room to try something different. But Marvel does want to open things up and see what’s possible. That’s one thing I have found to be the case is that they love to try different things. They’ll be the first to say “let’s see how it goes” or “let’s see what it is,” and that’s always fun. I do like working like that to start each take and maybe not know exactly what’s gonna happen. And even on something like this, that exists, something this big.
We just came from the costume department and got to see the suit and I think we’re gonna get to see you in it later.
PAUL RUDD: Yeah.
Can you talk about just getting a superhero suit made just for you? Does that help you alleviate some of the silliness?
PAUL RUDD: Literally it’s like you put it on, you can’t help but feel kinda cool. It’s a superhero suit, and it’s a really good one too. The first time I ever put it on was just in a fitting and there were several fittings and it takes hours, it had been a lot. You stand differently. It just feels like a suit, and because of that, you’re working from the outside in. Everything starts to change and yeah, it’s pretty cool.
When you first signed on to do this and they gave you that Ant-Man bible with all of the key storylines that inform your character, was there something in particular about Scott Lang that you really latched onto, and thought that’s my entry point into this guy, and I can build on that? Was there anything specifically that struck you about him?
PAUL RUDD: His flaws. The things I probably draw into the most are his flaws and he’s good at what he does. His kind of moral conundrum, what’s the right thing to do. It isn’t the suit, it isn’t the special effects, it isn’t the action, it’s none of that stuff that draws me necessarily to a character. It’s what human emotion, whatever he’s going through that is relatable and empathetic. That’s really the stuff that you play. That’s what I’d say drew me into this guy, what stood out.
Scott in this has a relationship with his daughter, and Hank has a relationship with his daughter as well. Can you talk a little bit about how that informs the film and what you drew out of that relationship?
PAUL RUDD: It’s something that I think we really did want to focus on and maybe build up a little bit this idea of familial relationships, parents and children, and commonalities that maybe Hank and Scott share, qualities that maybe Scott has that Hank can relate to, something that kind of creates a kinship I think.
Marvel’s “Ant-Man” stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne, Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, Michael Peña as Luis, Tip “T.I.” Harris as Dave, Wood Harris as Gale, Judy Greer as Maggie, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, and Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym. Directed by Peyton Reed and produced by Kevin Feige, Marvel’s “Ant-Man” delivers a high-stakes, tension-filled adventure on July 17, 2015.
Ant-Man opens in theaters July 17, 2015; Captain America: Civil War – May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot – July 28, 2017;Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Black Panther – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019;Inhumans – July 12, 2019.