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Kevin Feige Talks Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy And Doctor Strange
The Marvel boss updates us on the state of his cinematic universe

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This week, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige dropped by the Empire Podcast, recorded in Leicester Square's Empire Cinema, to update us on the studio's plans for Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and more. Exactly what happened with Edgar Wright? Who's going to blink in the face-off between Captain America 3 and Batman V. Superman, currently scheduled for the same release date? And does he speak Groot? Read on - or if you're more into the whole listening thing, listen to the Empire podcast.

Kevin Feige Talks Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy And Doctor Strange

Are you fluent in Groot now?
There is a way to understand him yes. After the course of the movie the audience will find themselves much more fluent then they ever thought they would be in Groot. Peter Quill goes – actually we might have cut it out of the movie – but there is a moment where he says, ‘I can’t believe it, I’m speaking Groot.’ A lot of thanks to that is the way the characters have been reinterpreted in the comics in recent years. A lot of it is James [Gunn, the director] and the way that he wrote the draft and brought Groot to life. And a lot of it is Mr Diesel himself, who did an amazing job and took it very, very seriously when he came into record Groot. He got, from James, very specific direction and requested very specific direction for each and every line because, as you know, he means something different every time he says it.

James said he was the one who kept pushing for another take.
The biggest disappointment to me is not that [Edgar] will not be making the movie. The disappointing thing for me is not being able to make a movie with him; it’s the personal relationship.
Oh yeah, and he was right. The emotional arc of this character, who is a tree and only says three words, is quite astounding. Vin delivered it. It’s one of those rare times where I think the internet, which is not always a force for good, was helpful, because Vin has 15 trillion facebook followers and keeps his fans abreast with what’s going on, including his upcoming meeting with Marvel! That started an entire thing online, at least on the websites we read all the time, about what’s it gonna be? What’s the role? And he would tease them along by being, ‘Oh you know, big things in store’. Well, there were big things in store; they were just long-leading discussions going on. But this fervour came up and he was like, ‘So what are we going to do? We gotta get something going!’ But we knew the movies in the not-too-distant future and there wasn’t anything that was presenting itself immediately.

Then I thought, well, we had referenced The Iron Giant, in terms of Groot. Iron Giant speaks more than Groot does. Obviously Vin did that voice and it’s awesome. In the same way actually the Iron Giant starts out as this mechanical beast and by the end the last thing he says is so emotional, that is exactly what James had written for the arc of Groot. I thought, ‘James, I think we could get Vin to do this. I think he would be into this’. He was like, ‘Hey, that would be great. Is he gonna do it?’ and Vin loved it and his kids are obsessed with Groot now and it really worked out well.

So this doesn’t prevent Vin from playing another character in the Marvel world?
Guardians is our tenth movie. Hopefully we will make 10 more movies, and 10 more movies after that. So to a certain extent if you are gonna close the door to additional parts for different people, your pool is going to start to narrow rather dramatically, certainly for someone like Vin who is doing a very specific thing for us as Groot. There’s easily an opportunity down the line. But I don’t know what it is yet.

How do you keep track of everything at Marvel? You said today that there’s no giant wallchart with string and post-it notes, so do you continually discuss things?
Pretty much. It is the way we’re structured. It is a relatively tight organization and all of us talk about everything. Then the various people all go off and handle their own movies. So there are people who are responsible for each individual movie but all of us are in conversation. There is handful of us, like myself and Louis D’Esposito and Alan Fine, that oversee all the movies.

So you spread the information about between all of you just in case one of you is taken out by a HYDRA attack?
Yes, there various people in the loop. I’ll tell you a funny story about Hydra, by the way, and how you can’t really tell what will pick up. It was [Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely, the excellent screenwriters of Captain America. They had a fun idea to put a Garry Shandling cameo into The Winter Soldier, to show how deep Hydra goes. He leans over to Sitwell and whispers in his ear ‘Hail Hydra’. Then the weekend the movie came out, this meme starts with Bert and Ernie, with all these fun things. I then went to the film school that I went to, at USC in LA, and spoke to the graduating class and stood up there very awkwardly in my cap and gown as 450 students came by and got their diplomas and shook hands with Jim Gianopulos, the primary speaker that day and Dean Daley. I would say, out of the 450 graduates, a good 25 or 30 students when they shook my hand leaned in and went ‘Hail Hydra’. I was not expecting that, it was very cool!

Kevin Feige Talks Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy And Doctor Strange
Feige introducing former Ant Man director Edgar Wright at Comic Con 2012

It’s been an interesting time for Marvel recently. You had the whole hullabaloo with Edgar Wright and Ant-Man. What happened there? Suddenly it seemed that people felt Marvel was less invincible than you once were.
I don’t know if we ever thought of ourselves as invincible, quite the opposite. If you start thinking you’re invincible you start making bad decisions. We think we’re very vincible, and worry all the time!

We’ve been with Edgar for eight years, we saw the premiere of a number of his films in this very theatre. The biggest disappointment to me is not that he will not be making the movie. It was determined by him and by us that that would not be the best thing for the movie. The disappointing thing for me is not being able to make a movie with him, right now. And it was amicable and we sat in a room together and said this isn’t working. I just wish I or he had figured that out somewhere in the eight years leading up to it.

But we said, OK, let’s put out a statement and let people know it’s not screaming and fighting and dramatic. It just came down to creative differences. And I said, ‘Well, nobody’s ever gonna believe that because that’s what everybody always says.’ And Edgar said ‘But that is what it is.’ He was nervous about what the perception would be, and I said to Edgar ‘Don’t worry about it, because the perception will be that the evil studio squashes the innocent filmmaker’. That will be the perception no matter what, and that is the perception, but it’s much more complicated than that.

Again to me, it’s reading in the early days of online fandom with Ain’t It Cool News back in 1999 that Bryan Singer was a terrible choice for X-Men and Hugh Jackman is way too tall to be Wolverine. We’re very thick-skinned and we’re used to the second-guessing and the colour commentary during the process. We’ve done what we’ve always done, which is block it out and make the best movie possible because it always comes down to the end product, when the lights go down on opening night and the clean slate appears and what is the experience of the movie. And clearly we believe that we’re on the road now with Peyton Reed to the best version of Ant-Man that could have existed.

Have you given yourselves enough time with that film?
People called the entire notion of becoming our own studio a risk. It only becomes a risk if it fails.
Our schedule is not that dissimilar right now from Iron Man 3 and the original Avengers. And Ant-Man is not that visually complicated as either of those two films.

So what made you choose Peyton Reed? He was attached, long ago, to a ‘60s-set Fantastic Four.
It was not actually ‘60s-set. He had done a film called Down With Love which was really good, which was ‘60s set and I think that’s where some of the confusion came in, but it was, I believe, going to be very very cool. We had a year or more on that version and we weren’t Marvel studios then, and I was just one of many people involved in that first version. And over the years we had stayed in touch with him and frankly had come very close on many movies with him to working with him again. When Edgar left this project, we talked about a number of different filmmakers and had few a few meetings with a few filmmakers and ending up reaching out to Peyton knowing that Peyton is not a slam dunk. He’s not just, ‘Oh, a movie, I’ll take it’. He had to be convinced that the big bad studio hadn’t squashed the filmmaker, that we were doing what was right for the movie. He read all the previous drafts and everything that had been created and is elevating it, and really having a clear vision of his own to bring this to life. The cast is incredibly engaged and we’re starting on August 18.

It just seemed so late in the day in terms of the decision that you and Edgar made. Why was that and what exactly were those creative differences?
Well, it’s not worth, right now, going into that in super-specifics. I wish it wasn’t as late in the day as it was, but it just had become clear that there was an impasse that we had never reached before. We’ve worked with lots of unbelievably talented filmmakers like Edgar before, and of course there are disagreements along the way. There’s always been disagreements, whether big or small; that’s the collaborative nature of filmmaking and in particular the collaborative nature at Marvel that has producers, not just me, that are very involved and very opinionated. We had always found a way around it, a way to battle through it and emerge on the other side with a better product. At no point do we hire filmmakers who do everything we say, and at no point do we hire filmmakers that we let just do anything they want. There is always a middle ground that we find, and it just became clear that both of us was just being too polite over the past eight years I guess! Then it was clear that, ‘Oh you’re really not gonna stop talking about that note?’ ‘Oh, you’re really not gonna do that note?’ Alright, this isn’t working.

Kevin Feige Talks Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy And Doctor Strange
Guardians Of The Galaxy

People have talked about Guardians being a risk. Even if that’s true, it seems like it’s one worth taking because it opens up this whole new world.
I think that’s true. When we do a movie that people don’t consider a risk…Maybe people would say that Avengers 2 isn't a risk, but I think the way were doing it and the way we’re making it people consider a risk. But that has become very valuable to us. People called Iron Man a risk. People called the entire notion of becoming our own studio a risk. It only becomes a risk if it fails, and there is always the chance of that. There’s that chance for anything, no matter how high profile or how unknown, to fail. So one of the fun things about becoming our own studio for me was having the creative oversight. It was having Marvel be the ones that could drive the creative.

The emotional arc of this character, who is a tree and only says three words, is quite astounding.
Now we always knew that someday – and we thought it might be with Iron Man 1, maybe casting Robert Downey was the worst decision anyone could make – if it had turned out to be a bad decision, at least it had come from a place of enthusiasm and excitement and our heart being in the right place. And if it had failed at least it was an attempt to do something interesting, as opposed to who’s in the number one movie this weekend, get that person. They’re not right for the role, but that doesn’t matter. Not that that happened a lot on the other movies we became involved with before we became our studio, but it happened sometimes. Usually it didn’t work, which allowed us to make decisions that we thought would work whether other people considered them risky or not.

With Guardians and with hiring James Gunn it was exactly as you say about exploring another vast side of the Marvel universe from the comics, in a way that Thor touched upon and Avengers touched upon. But we really just blow it out completely. We always wanted to do a space movie and we also wanted to do a big space opera, an epic movie. What the publishing folks had done over the years with Guardians just made it the candidate to do that. And what James Gunn was able to bring to it is what I hope all your listeners will go experience when it comes out, which is an unbelievably unique vision.

How big a challenge was it for the writers to introduce all these characters and worlds? With Avengers, you’ve had many different films to introduce that huge cast.
I think that was part of the fun doing the movie, to do a team-based movie from the start and tap into the Wild Bunch, The Magnificent Seven and all those great ensemble movies where you do meet all the characters in the body of the film. James very much embraced that and was able to listen. But really what you’re saying, and what we have tried to be very sensitive about is, there are a weird looking people and a lot of weird names and a lot of weird planets, so how the heck are people going to digest all of that? If the movie was only about memorising all the names and the places and the backstories, it would be very tough, but the movie is about the experience. What James has done and so brilliantly is anchor the movie in very grounded ways.

The hero is from Earth, as he was in the comics. He was abducted in 1988, so all of his references that he uses throughout the movie are based on pop culture from the ‘80s, which if you grew up in the ‘80s or not a lot of people are familiar with. Suddenly a guy in the most alien environments mentions something that is so out of place in a movie like this. The brilliance of James is, although that was always inherit in the movie before he joined us, he wanted to anchor the movie with this human character, with these references.

Kevin Feige Talks Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy And Doctor Strange
Superman V Batman: Dawn Of Justice: Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as the titular characters

DC seems to be getting their act together, cinema-wise, and going absolutely toe-to-toe with you with Captain America 3 released against Batman V. Superman. How do you feel about DC coming up against Marvel?
I don’t think it is quite fair to say DC is finally getting their act together. The Dark Knight movies were rather successful and genre-defining, they altered the genre in big ways. So I think there has always been competition that way. I mean Iron Man was the number one movie of 2008 until The Dark Knight came along, and I loved it. frankly. I love that the number 1 and the number 2 movies of that year, and it has happened a number of times since then, being comic-book movies, even if it wasn’t one we made. Here we are now, 14 years since the first Marvel movie I worked on. At that point it had been eight years and for about those eight years people had been asking ‘How much longer gonna last?’ ‘When are people gonna get tired of these movies? And my answer always was ‘People only get tired if a whole slew of terrible ones come out’. And it was our job to make sure that doesn’t happen. If there are other people out there interested in that not happening as well, I’m all for it!

I wouldn’t say just because he has only done horror movies means that Dr. Strange is going to be a horror movie.
So I continue to be all for quality entertainment for moviegoers to enjoy on weekends. If it is on the same weekend I enjoy it slightly less. But we are doing what we’ve always done, which is sticking to our plan and sticking to our vision for the movies going forward and we have a very large vision that we’re working on for Cap 3 and for all the threes movies and just because another movie plops down onto one of ours doesn’t mean we are going to alter that. Maybe we should, but we’re not going to.

Does the choice of Scott Derrickson, who's best known for horror, as director for Doctor Strange indicate where the film is going?
I would say you can certainly look at the past work of the filmmakers we hire as a bit of an indication for the tone of the movie, but not necessary everything. The Russos, who are well known for their sitcoms, there is nothing sitcom about The Winter Soldier! No, I wouldn’t say just because he has only done horror movies means that Doctor Strange is going to be a horror movie. It means he is a talented filmmaker who we think could add something unique and very fresh to the particular franchise. But there could be scary moments. There are scary moments in all our movies! There are some scary people that Strange has to deal with, I will say.

To listen to Feige's interview, as well as much more, check out the Empire Podcast below

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