IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Denis Leary Talks 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Friday, 29 June 2012 07:59 Written by  Dana Gardner
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Denis Leary Talks 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Opening in 3D, 2D, and IMAX theaters on Tuesday, July 3 rd is the much-anticipated Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. The film is directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) and is equipped with a new cast that includes Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker and Emma Stone (Superbad, Easy A) as Gwen Stacy. The cast also includes Denis Leary (Wag the Dog, True Crime) as Captain Stacy, Rhys Ifans (The Informers, Anonymous) as Dr. Curt Connors / The Lizard, Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The Departed) as Uncle Ben, and Sally Field (Forest Gump, The Flying Nun) as Aunt May.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Denis Leary, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts like myself, to talk about his new film, The Amazing Spider-Man. Mr. Leary plays Captain Stacy, the father of Peter Parker’s girlfriend who happens to also be the captain of the NYPD that is in hot pursuit of Spider-Man. The actor discussed developing a close bond with co-star, Rhys Ifans, working with his talented young co-stars, inspiration for his role, and he also reminisced on growing up in Worcester.

Here’s what the talented and very funny actor had to say:

IAR: In your early stand-up career you were very anti-authoritarian but recently you’ve played a few roles as an authority figure, can you tell me a little about your role as Captain Stacy and do you enjoy playing authority figures?

Denis Leary: Well, I don’t know about a lot of authority figures. I don’t think Tommy Gavin (Rescue Me) is an authority figure but maybe I’m wrong. I didn’t write him that way. I thought he was a guy that hated authority. I actually said to Marc Webb, why do you want me to play this guy? He said, "Because you’re this and you’re that and you’re this." He said Tommy Gavin and my character from The Thomas Crown Affair were like (Captain Stacy) and I said, okay, whatever, let’s dive in and see what happens. So it’s kind of interesting but I like it because Tommy Gavin was a lot of fun to play but it was a really heavy role. It was heavy lifting.

Was your role as Captain Stacy a breath of fresh air for you?

Leary: Yeah! I didn’t have to write it. I didn’t have to do any of the production work or worry about anything. I trusted Marc Webb and I ended up really liking Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They were really good actors as opposed to just young hotshot stars, which they could’ve been. They were great. Rhys Ifans was a guy I always wanted to work with. It turns out he’s one of the funniest people on the planet. Actually the first day when we all got together to rehearse and talk with Marc Webb, Rhys just started making me laugh. I was like okay, he’s the guy in the back of the room who makes a funny remark when the teacher turns his back, which is what I am. So we kind of bonded right away. I knew I was going to have a blast with this guy. So that was pretty cool. It then ended up that we were the two troublemakers on the set and Emma and Andrew were the two that would say, "Hey guys, stop fooling around!" The two fifty-year olds are the idiots.

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are pretty young actors, what was it like working with them? Did you give them any advice?

There’s no bragging, it’s just fact: I worked with Clint Eastwood; I’ve worked with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman in the same movie. That’s big time hall of fame heavy hitters and in the De Niro and Hoffman movie (Wag the Dog) we did a lot of improvisation. So it was really interesting to watch a twenty-two year old and a twenty-six year old come in and start throwing the tools on the table and really seriously getting down to work. It’s funny; Rhys also said it because we were talking about it one day. I said, I don’t know about you but when I was their age you don’t even want to know what I was doing. Then Rhys said, "Me too, but maybe that’s why it worked out because we’re playing these roles and they’re playing those roles." It all worked out. I saw Andrew play Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman. Did you see that? It was unbelievable, and that’s an astonishing, really hard play to do. He was great in it. So he’s going to be around. He’s going to have a gigantic, really long career. He’s like a character actor. So is Emma Stone.

Were you a fan of any comic book superheroes growing up? Were you a fan of Spider-Man prior to making this film?

Honestly, no, not at all.

Did you first get exposed to Spider-Man working on this film?

Leary: I saw the other Spider-Man movies because my kids were small. My wife’s a big fan of Spider-Man. I really love the new Batman. I like Michael Keaton’s Batman and I really like Christian Bale as Batman but that’s about as far as I go. That ended up being a positive thing because I didn’t have any preconceived notion about who Captain Stacy was or any of that stuff. I got everything from Marc Webb, and producers Avi Arad, and Matt Tolmach. So that was good for me. But it’s harder for Andrew and Emma because they have to carry that weight in terms of expectations. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when the movie comes out people are going to stop me on the street and tell me I fucked up the whole Captain Stacy thing. I’ll say, it wasn’t me, it was Willem Dafoe. Didn’t they tell you? I wasn’t Captain Stacy, I was the Green Goblin, didn’t they tell you? That’s my answer if they don’t like it.

Captain Stacy is an important character in the Spider-Man universe, what was your inspiration for the role? Did you study the comics at all?

Leary: No they didn’t make me go back and read any of that stuff. I went off of Avi Arad. Nobody is going to know Marvel and it’s characters better than him. Between him and Marc Webb and Matt Tolmach they had all the answers. Matt Tolmach is a great producer, and Avi really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to these comic books and the movie versions of them. With Rhys they were trying to get a bad guy who was a very sympathetic and empathetic figure. It was really wild to watch him when they were starting the transformation. He’d spend like two hours in make-up getting scales put on, and then you watch his work when he was doing his scenes. I was astonished. What an interesting guy to play this role! He is such a good actor.

As you mentioned, you’ve worked with a lot of great directors in the past but this is only Marc Webb’s second film as a director. What was it like for you working with him?

Leary: I guess it’s just born into him. He loves actors. He’s only done that one movie, (500) Days of Summer, which I had seen. I used to joke with him every couple of days and ask him if he’s losing his mind yet. He always said, "no," and he never did. He was always in a great mood and he always knew what the scene was about. We had a conversation about Death of a Salesman the other day, he, Andrew, and myself. Marc Webb is a storyteller. We were talking about that play and the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which I would consider American Shakespeare; that and Scorsese’s movies. Marc is a real, emotional storyteller. That’s what he’s about. Real, emotional storytelling is what he kept talking about on the set. So I’m glad to hear that the movie works if that’s the case.

On another note, I wanted to say that it’s a pleasure to meet you because I’m also originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, and besides the inventor of the rocket, you’re our big claim to fame. Now that you’re an established actor how do your Worcester-roots influence you?

Leary: You’re from Worcester! No way? Where did you go to school?

Saint John’s High School.

Leary: I went to the original Saint Peter’s; we fucking hated Saint John’s! But I have a nephew that went to Saint John’s. It’s all changed now. When these kids talk about Saint Peter Marian, I’m like fuck you Saint Peter Marian. My nieces went there and it’s bullshit. They have their own baseball field now. We didn’t have any of that. We hated Saint John’s though. There was a hardcore rivalry. But besides the inventor of the rocket, we also had Bob Cousy (Boston Celtics) and Richie Gedman (Boston Red Sox). Richie Gedman dated my sister. He was a year behind me. He took my sister to the prom; my older sister. I still remember that.

Lastly, I wanted to ask you a very important Worcester question ... what is your favorite hot dog stand: Hot Dog Annie’s in Leicester or Coney Island Hot Dogs on Southbridge Street?

Leary: Hot Dog Annie’s! But I have to tell you something, my old man worked for the gas company for years, he was a mechanic when he started out over there and Coney Island Hot Dogs is in the neighborhood I come from, right downtown there in Main South. I grew up on Benefit Terrace in Main South, which is like two blocks from the old Saint Peter’s but my favorite place is Miss Worcester Diner, because my old man worked at the gas company and the Miss Worcester is like a five-minute walk from our apartment. About ten years ago they came out with Miss Worcester paperweights for your desk that were made out of wood and I got one from my cousin Mary. I always loved it, it was just crap. That’s the way I remember it. The Lamplighter is over there! Well I have to tell you something, I was back there for the ten-year anniversary of the fire. That firehouse that they put in downtown at the site of the big fire is unbelievable. It’s one of the most amazing firehouses I’ve ever been to. It’s super modern and it’s got all the computer hook-ups and everything.

Didn’t you have something to do with the building of that firehouse?

Leary: Well, I…listen it’s the firefighters! It’s all up to them, all I did was put my face on it. When I was growing up there was shit downtown. There was that stupid mall, after I left, I moved to Boston when I was seventeen, and of course that’s when The Rolling Stones played there. Remember that? I said, ‘You’ve got to be shitting me?’ They played at Sir Morgan’s cove. I used to hang out and drink there and watch bad local bands, and then they got the Centrum with a hockey team and fucking concerts would actually come there. I said, man, it’s classic, when I leave, everything gets good. When I moved out of Charlestown, the same thing happened, of course everything got nice in Charlestown too. It’s just how it goes. I can’t believe it, another guy from Worcester, that’s too funny!

The Amazing Spider-Man swings into 3D, 2D, and IMAX theaters on Tuesday, July 3rd!

To read our exclusive interview with director Marc Webb about The Amazing Spider-Man, please click here.

To watch our exclusive video interview with editor Alan Edward Bell about The Amazing Spider-Man, please click here.

To read our exclusive interview with Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, please click here.

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