As the CEO of Marvel Studios for over ten years, Avi Arad has brought some of the world's favourite comicbooks to the big screen - including the Blade and X-Men franchises, Daredevil, and Hulk. He's also a key creative force in the recent Spider-Man phenomenon, the second instalment of which sees Tobey Maguire struggling with the responsibilities that come with custom-fitted Lycra.
Spider-Man 2 is officially the fastest movie ever to pass the $250m barrier. Did you ever think it could be this successful, or are you quite blasé?
I'm quite blasé. Really, I'm not surprised, because I knew what the first movie could do five years before we made it. I knew that Spider-Man was a huge character - if you believe in mankind, then you believe in Peter Parker. If you can bring that to life and do the Spider-Man thing right - the wish-fulfilment and the metaphor for the hero - then it has to be successful. The world was waiting for it.
Did you feel you had a built-in audience, because Spider-Man is probably one of the better-known Marvel heroes...
Yes, Spider-Man has stood the test of the time with people all over the world, but they didn't know Peter Parker, they only knew Spider-Man. Kids were wearing the pyjamas before they knew what it was about, and then they saw the animation and fell in love with it. There's something good and wholesome about this hero, which you trust. But then, when you get to know Peter, you trust him even more. Plus, his relationship with Mary Jane Watson means you also have a great date movie - this great, unrealised love story. All the characters are brilliant, even the villains. You know, they're not really villains at the core but human beings - victims who go off the deep end after personal tragedy. But still it's all about hope, and optimism.
What sensibilities did you feel Sam Raimi would bring to the table for the Spider-Man movies?
I think Sam is Peter Parker. He's brilliant, generous, and gentle - just a really good, good man who has a moral code that's important to him. He loved the Spider-Man comics from an early age - his parents actually painted Spider-Man on the wall for him as a gift. I just think he lives by the same code that Peter Parker does and therefore he's probably the most qualified director to do it - and there were a lot of directors up for this.
How involved is Stan Lee? His role as executive producer sounds very hands-off...
It is hands-off but listen, he's 80-years-old, he did his thing, and he knows his legacy is being guarded by us. We gave him a cameo too and he comes to the movie and he enjoys it, so it's all fine.
Hollywood is thought to be discriminating against old writers, yet you hired 73-year-old Alvin Sargent to pen the final draft of Spider-Man 2. Why is that?
David [Koepp] wrote the first one, then he did a draft for the second one. But the first coverage of the story for Spider-Man 2 was by [Alfred] Gough and [Miles] Millar, and then Michael Chabon came in and did a draft and some pieces of that draft are in this movie. Ultimately it was Alvin Sargent who wrote what you see on screen - because there were many scenarios and stories that were flying around - but Alvin is probably the greatest living writer today when it comes to relationships and emotion and just laying out the story with a great sense of humour. I mean, just stuff like the Asian girl playing Spider-Man on the violin and those little touches that give a movie so much texture and elevate the film. He really understands those things, so when you have Alvin Sargent writing a Spider-Man, you can expect a really incredible emotional journey.
You've produced so many wide-ranging comicbook adaptations, but are there common ingredients that you look for in each one?
Yes, definitely. The characters have to be human, they have to be fallible, and they have to give of themselves. They have to do something that, at the core, we all wish we could do, but there's always a valid reason why we don't do these things - so in a way, we live through these superheroes.
If you look at someone like Daredevil, you have to respect the blind guy who put himself through law school and worked hard to bring justice, but then it fails in the courtroom because the other guy has a good lawyer. So I for one think it's a good thing when he goes off in the night and catches up with the bad guys, because they should be judged. Or look at X-Men. I mean, what society doesn't have prejudice? In any society the majority gets to decide that the minority are mutants, and it's this Luther King/Farrakhan thing in our culture that you're also seeing on screen. There is no question that evil is being done and we have a need to solve it, so these comicbooks deal with that. They are really good literature with depth and they invoke strong emotions.
Fantastic Four is another of your projects that's been a long time in development but is moving ahead now. Ioan Gruffud, Chris Evans, and Michael Chiklis have just been cast, but what about the role of Sue Storm? Jessica Alba and Rachel McAdams have been linked to the role...
Hopefully you'll know next week. They're two great actresses [Jessica Alba was subsequently cast]. Actually I'm very excited now that it's all coming together. I've been working on this for such a long time, even longer than Spider-Man. Now we have a fantastic script and a great director who is fresh, because we like inspired choices, not the obvious, and [director] Tim Story is that. We're in pre-production now and everyone's very excited - it's going to be so much fun. These characters are really wild.
Any word on X-Men 3?
We are starting the journey. The movie is coming out in May 2006 and Bryan Singer will direct again. The whole team is coming back for it but we still have to figure out what we're going to do that's new.