Sam Raimi

Spider-Man 2

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“It was great because I could make this large studio picture and still make my own personal drama ”

Sam Raimi's career has mirrored that of New Zealand director Peter Jackson. Both men started out making low-budget, stomach-churning horror movies before graduating to major studio franchises. With Spider-Man 2 set to become one of the most successful films of all time, Raimi is already hard at work on Spidey 3...

Spider-Man 2 has already broken box office records. Why do you think this particular comicbook franchise has connected with so many people?

I don't ever know why things are successful and why other things aren't. The box office is such a strange place that has to do with so many things I don't understand. But I do think that in order for a movie to be effective, and maybe popular, it's got to reverberate with some truth that the audience holds. It's got to have some element in it that they recognise in themselves and they can relate to in a meaningful way - and in a way that excites them.

In these Spider-Man films, what we tried to do - and what Stan Lee, the creator of the comicbook, tried to do originally - is create a real character at the centre, someone that the audience can identify with. Peter Parker is a regular kid - he doesn't have any money, the girls don't find him particularly attractive, he's not very popular in school. So he's a very identifiable character, and we're able to take this journey with him. We don't watch him from afar like Superman. He's one of us but on a great adventure in life and he's growing as a human being throughout the course of it.

Were you given more freedom on the sequel because of the success of the first film?

I was given a lot of freedom on the first one, although I didn't necessarily feel I had earned that freedom. But once they gave it to me, I kept my mouth shut and just went with it. And I would say I got total freedom on the second one. It's not a condition I expect to continue but I really enjoyed it while I was making this film. The studio was so supportive - it wasn't like they wouldn't question my decisions or keep me within the budget we'd agreed upon and be strict about it - but it was a very freeing creative experience for me. I never had a problem. It was wonderful.

Was there anything you wanted but couldn't get - like two extra mechanical arms for Doc Ock?

[Laughs] There was nothing that was reasonable that I wanted and couldn't get. You know, I always wanted to do things differently later, but I had already spent the money so I had to stick with the decision, like with the arms. Overall it was great because I could make this large studio picture and still make my own personal drama about the character and his love story at the centre of it - very much as I would for an independent picture. That's why I'm so happy. Because if Peter Parker, without Spider-Man, had been an independent picture - just a love story with Mary Jane Watson - I don't know that I would have changed anything. I never felt like I was just making this generic picture for a mass audience. In fact, I think the audience is smarter than any individual. There's some collective intelligence that grows and increases like bees in a colony. They laugh sooner and pick things up sooner, so you've got to be more on guard and be more intelligent as a filmmaker.

There are a lot of nudge-nudge moments in the film, especially the moment when Spider-Man hurts his back. Was that a reference to the controversy surrounding Tobey Maguire's fitness for work, a jibe at the media, or just a happy coincidence?

All three! Actually what happened was, my brother and I were writing this scene where we wanted to show him trying to get his powers back and leap over these buildings like he did in the first one, but this time it doesn't work because he doesn't quite have all of his powers back so he falls, grabs a laundry line, swings against this wall, falls on a car roof, and hits the ground. So my brother said, let's have him say, "I'm back! I'm back!" as he leaps over the building and then when he slams on the ground, have him hold the bottom of his spine and go: "My back, my back!"

Well, at first I thought that was really funny and then I said, "You know Ivan, although I think it's funny, because we've had this problem with Tobey, maybe we'd better not do it." Because, I mean, he has had a back problem. And then Ivan says, "Oh screw it, we'll just do it anyways. For those who know about the problem with Tobey's back, it'll be an inside joke, and for those who don't, it should be funny just for what it is."

But how did Tobey feel about it?

I said to my brother that the only concern I had was telling Tobey about the joke. He might not have wanted to do it, so I was a little cautious. But I told Tobey I thought it would be funny and he said, "You know what? That will be funny. It's OK if they laugh at me. Let them laugh at me!" I thought that was very brave of him.

You had a lot of writers on this project. You started with David Koepp, then went on to Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, then Michael Chabon...

Actually, I think Gough and Millar wrote the first draft. Actually what happened was, first I would work on the thematic elements myself and storyboards, and then full scenes with my storyboard artist. I would work on these moments that I wanted to have in the picture and I figured out the ending of the picture - basically where the characters had to go - but without the story. Then we hired Gough and Millar to take some of those elements, add some new elements and to write. And then David Koepp came aboard, and then Michael Chabon came aboard and did a draft - great writer, he infused a tremendous amount of soul into the character of Peter Parker, and he's a very funny fella too. And then my brother Ivan and I worked a little bit on the script again - he'd helped with the first Spider-Man - and then the great Alvin Sargent came aboard. He worked with Ivan and I in a little room for about a week with notecards up everywhere, and then Alvin wrote. After that, Ivan and I contributed tiny bits and gags beyond that, and then Alvin rewrote. It was a long process.

You're currently at work on the script for Spider-Man 3...

I just finished this morning [Monday 12th July] - I mean the basic story. I'd been working on it with my brother.

The sense you get towards the end of Spider-Man 2 is that Peter Parker and Harry Osborn will face off in the third. Is that a fair assumption?

Well I'm trying to... I can't tell you.

What can you tell us?

It's going to follow the natural progression of the growth of these two individuals, Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. It will be a love story and it will track the relationship as they encounter new conflicts that separate them. And hopefully their own will and love for each other will bring them back together in the piece. Harry will be a problem, but I'm not certain if Harry will become the Goblin or not. The thing I'm really not certain about is if he comes to feel, "Now I have the means to destroy Spider-Man - I was too weak before but now I have a way and I will become the man that my father always dreamed I could be." Or, does he feel: "Now I understand why Spider-Man had to destroy him, because he was a mass murderer and now my anger can drain away from me." It could be an answer to a question and it ends the pursuit, but I'm not certain which way to go.

Producer Avi Arad commented that you were the real-life Peter Parker. Do you see a lot of yourself in the character?

I think it's true. When Stan Lee created the character of Peter Parker, he created someone who was like all of us - he's just an average person, so in that way I relate to Peter. However, when you write and direct Peter, you have to get into his head and in those cases you have to imagine yourself to be a stronger and better individual than you really are - somebody with a great amount of dignity and sense of self, and a great ability to sacrifice for the well-being of others. And when I imagine myself to be Peter Parker, I have to imagine myself to be all these things that are better than myself. And you start to think, Why aren't I like that anyways? Why do I have to imagine myself to be noble and self-sacrificing? More than showing similarities to the character, it points out how different I am to this character with those attributes that I so admire in him. So it's a humbling experience, actually, and it's had a positive effect on me.