On day two of our visit to the production of Marvel's Ant-Man last October, we traveled to State Archives building in Downtown Atlanta. The location was doubling as Pym Tech, now under the leadership of Pym's ex-protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). It is here where we see Pym confront Cross and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) during a special event Cross is hosting to unveil new technology. We won't go into details but Pym encounters Martin Donovan's character here and asks him about how his face is holding up.
It's an inside joke from the set since Douglas had to ask "how's your face" at least a dozen times in front of hundreds of extras and crew, and it's a call-back to a flashback sequence in 1989 that we saw while visiting Industrial Light & Magic. Let's just say they don't share pleasant history.
Between takes we had the chance to have a conversation with Michael Douglas, where we discuss him playing Hank Pym at various ages, Pym's strained relationships with his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and ex-protege Darren Cross, why he wanted to do a Marvel movie, and his thoughts on working with Paul Rudd who's not only the lead, but co-writing Ant-Man as well.
So, what did you do to Martin Donovan’s face?
Michael Douglas: Well, we haven’t shot it yet and he insulted my deceased wife in an office scene, and it calls for a punch, but I’m thinking, you know, I had a little military background, so we haven’t told Martin yet, but I think I’m either going to grab him by the tie, so his face goes right in to, either that or behind the head, something, you know, a little more "ooh." This is the only sequence flashback of Pym when he was 40, which I can’t wait to see, because actually I’m starting a new career. I’m going to get new glossies made, sort of like Andy Kaufman. Remember Andy Kaufman. Andy sort of did this sort of thing. Michael Douglas, isn’t he in his 70s? No, no, he’s 40.
What goes into that process of you playing the younger...
Michael Douglas: I don’t know anything. I know that they shot the last day, they could do it, which is really scary. Well, we can do it with the beard and mustache, you know, but we’d prefer not to, so it worked out the schedule, and we’ll do it on the last day. We’re shooting it on a Sunday, because it involves, I don’t know how much I’m supposed to, you know, you’ll police me. So, I’ll shave this off for the last, the sequence, and then whatever, hey, I’m dying to see it, you know.
In that scene you were just filming, it looks like you had a fairly chilly reception from you daughter, Hope. I was hoping maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit.
Michael Douglas: Well, she’s chairman of Pym, of the company, and as chairman, she was the deciding vote to oust me a while ago, a long time ago, because personal reasons involving her mom and family, but we now are kind of maintaining, she now understands where Darren is going and so we actually have had a new reconciliation, so we’re acting a little bit.
We heard a little bit about Hank’s history with S.H.I.E.L.D. and being Ant-Man. Now he has a disdain for superheroes.
Michael Douglas: He has some what?
A disdain for superheroes in general. Can you talk about that?
Michael Douglas: I can’t, as far as a historian on comic books. I mean before I got this, I grabbed two or three of Ant-Man and took a look about Pym. I was looking for a little hair on my face, but I’m not as knowledgeable to know...
In the movie, like what is his attitude towards the larger Marvel universe?
Michael Douglas: Pretty dismissive. I mean, there are serious problems. I feel like I’m doing the American President now. There are serious problems, and you know, I mean, some of the things that they do, Iron Man, is kind of silly compared to what’s going on in the real world.
Do you think at this point in the Marvel franchise it’s important to have a main character who has that negative cynical slant on superheroes, because all these previous movies have put them on a pedestal.
Michael Douglas: That’s a really good question. I just, I don’t know, you know. These guys are batting a thousand. They seem to have fallen into a real rhythm from the ones, from all the pictures that I have seen, this one is probably more I would say more humane, I mean, in terms of, tied into real characters. The whole ant process is relatively unique, and there are some special powers, but nothing compared to the stuff some of the other Avengers are capable of, and this one seems to have, you know, more personal stories, vis-a-vis my relationship with my daughter, Evangeline and also Scott’s relationship in the script with his daughter, trying to get them more of a family.
Aside from Marvel’s obvious track record, what was is about playing Hank that drew you in?
Michael Douglas: Well, I just wanted to do one of these pics, you know. Just I’ve never done, you know, my entire career is a lot of movies that have just been contemporary stories, with no special effects, no nothing, just kind of psychological real kind of stories. [phone vibrating] So... it records and answers the phone? So, you know, I did only one period picture that will remain... you guys will find it. It's not a really good picture at all. So, this to me was just the excitement of saying "hey, this is great. I want to get into Marvel world," you know. I want to taste the kool-aid.
And how’s it been so far?
Michael Douglas: It's great. It’s great for a lot of reasons. One, you have so many people who have done a lot of these Marvel films. You have so many departments, where this is their fifth, sixth, seventh film. So, just like actors enjoy the comfort of familiarity, when you know each other, makes it easier. Cruise had the same thing. Me and Cruise know each other and so that aspect is special, and then just all this crazy shit. You just, you know, macro shoot and the second unit is just coming in. I mean, today, the opening scene, you know, where I walk the thing and Scott, you know, as the ant hops on. You alright? That wasn’t your back? And then, you look and you sort of get into it after awhile. You look and you can see, you feel like you can see him, or his training process, where he’s learning, trying to go underground, stay small as an ant or every once in a while he breaks out of it, out of the lawn as this full sized adult, and so, you have this sequence, you know, where he can run, go to the size of an ant, get through a key-hole and then get big again. So, you have to watch him and see it and there’s nothing there. It doesn’t matter.
From what I understand, Hank is a bit lost in time. He lives in this Victorian house. Is there kind of a Miss Havisham - Great Expectations thing? What really explains that kind of behavior?
Michael Douglas: The company, everything is in San Francisco. He’s sort of a Northern California formal guy. He’s lost control of this company. He lives sort of in a time warp. He was always a bit of a tinkerer. He’s got a lab, plays a lot of other stuff in his basement, that we find out about. He’s certainly bitter about what’s happened with his company, and deeply scared about what the future might hold, and so, because he himself, after having, I feel like Steve Martin, having gotten small, so many times, it’s difficult, you know, he looks and tries to find his, you know, a guy that he can work with, and has the right characteristics, who's Paul.
We were told yesterday that the costume that Scott gets was the old Hank Pym costume. Did you get to put that on the past scenes.
Michael Douglas: No, I didn’t think that would be fair to you. I mean, what happens if it fits Scott really well and didn’t fit Hank, you know. I’d feel like shit, you know, and I know the costumer built it for Scott, so, no I mean, I certainly touched the leather, stroked the leather and a couple of other costumes that play a special part in this too.
How’s it been like working with Paul so far?
Michael Douglas: Well, he’s great, you know. He has his thing. You know, once you get somber or sober or schmaltzy, he’s going to find a humorous way to end it and he’s not afraid to put his face in the pie. You know, sometimes an ending goes, that’s sucks,, you can’t win all the time. He’s very brave, he’s very brave, funny, and he’s in great spirits now, because he’s a fanatic for the Kansas City Royals, he’s from Kansas City, and so he’s ecstatic.
I asked Corey this too - Just as a pure actor’s exercise, what are you getting by doing this film, that you haven’t done before that you’ve enjoyed doing?
Michael Douglas: It’s larger than life. There’s a certain theatricality about it. It’s arched to a degree, I mean not comedic, not off the charts, but there’s a you know, a slight theatrical quality to it. Also, Peyton [Reed], I must say, is great, and they’re very religious with the script - it has been written and rewritten a number of times, but, you know, encourage you once in a while - more than most films to try - usually it’s the tail end, to see if you can come up with something a little different, and for instance, when we put together our heist team, the other actors - three actors that were in prison - and we did a scene with these guys, just looking, going "this is not going to work." This is not going to work, these guys, and they exited and I say, you know, what a team, and it works, you know. So, I mean, that kind of freedom.
We talked to Corey and Evangeline, and Paul who wrote a portion of the script, and they all said they had an opportunity to mold the character to be what they want it to be. Did you have a chance to do that with Hank. Did you say we should do this more this way or this?
Michael Douglas: No, I came in and got it. They were working through - we had a couple of issues with directors. They were going through a few drafts. Paul was brought in, that was certainly not initially part of the whole thing, for him to write. I did raise my hand a little bit, because I didn’t know Paul that well. I said, excuse me, but the leading actor writing the script, uhhhh, you know, no, no we’re watching, alright fine. So, no, you know, I kind of assumed that there were the parameters from the comics and I mean, you have to get used to playing somebody your own age, you know.
They aged you up in the movie?
Michael Douglas: They, no, we got realistic about it, you know. They were going to go up to 75, and then it was like try to stick with the comics ‘60s and then it was 50 years, and then I said look, I don’t want to be vain, but I’m worried, I mean, I look ok for my age. I’m worried people are going to start to say, was he 9 when he made the serum? So...
Hank has such a deep relationship with ants, so did you have to do research? Did you opinion on ants change throughout the film?
Michael Douglas: Well, you know, I used to like those chocolate covered ants. I found that was a real special... I have a new appreciation for them. No, I’m fascinated by them and I’ve done a little bit of homework now, as we talk of the different types of ants that there are, and I think this is pretty cool. This is really clever how they can find this spectrum of support, and this whole idea of being able to communicate with them, you know. One thing to get down to their size, but literally treating them like battalions, and moving them and orchestrating them in walls and all of that is a gas. It’s going to be fun to see, and I finally got a picture my son is proud of. It’s taken me 40 years. Everything, I’m cool, now I’m cool.
Kevin Feige shared an interesting story about your character’s relationship with Darren and he said that you said you saw a lot in him, but then you abandoned him and you used the phrase, I saw too much. What it this darkness that Hank and Darren share that frightened Hank away from him?
Michael Douglas: Well, I think it goes back to the initial serum that I developed and what I saw and there is a dark side to Hank. He has a kind of a military background, besides his whole science abilities. He wants to make a world a better place, but in doing so, I think he realizes just how dark it is, so he sees that. He picked this guy. He picked Darren. He picked Darren as his protege early on for this company, just like he’s picked Scott for this particular job. So, there’s just as there’s a bit of thievery maybe in Pym, in terms of how he picked Scott, there’s a darkness also that makes him understand where someone like Darren can go and where he is going to go, and he feels guilty for evolving and developing this and now seeing how this can be used in a negative fashion.
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.