When it was announced that not only was Sony Pictures rebooting the Spider-Man franchise once again, but that they’d be doing it in partnership with Marvel Studios, suddenly the competition to get to direct this film got intensely more fierce. The opportunities were boundless as Spidey was now officially part of the MCU, but there was also a massive challenge at hand: making the case to general audiences that yet another new Spider-Man movie should exist. Given the difficulty and opportunity at hand, it was something of a surprise when Sony and Marvel settled on Jon Watts to take the helm of what eventually became Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Watts not only didn’t have any experience with franchise or blockbuster filmmaking, but he was a relatively fresh voice in the director community with only a couple of films under his belt. Moreover, those films—the 2014 horror pic Clown and the 2015 indie thriller Cop Car—were pretty far from the tone of the MCU. But the studios and producers saw something in the filmmaking that boded well for a bold new vision for Spider-Man, and Watts came on strong with a confident coming-of-age pitch for the story.
Last summer, I got the opportunity to visit the Atlanta set of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I was struck by how cool Watts seemed about the whole thing. They were about midway through this massive production, and for someone cutting his blockbuster teeth on something of this magnitude, Watts was shockingly calm, collected, and confident. His strength of vision, tone, and character were immediately evident when we sat down for an extended chat about the film, and above all he just seemed excited to be playing in such a large sandbox.
During the course of our interview Watts explained his pitch for the Spider-Man movie, why it was important to him to have a diverse cast, and the experience of landing the job and immediately being whisked away to the set of Captain America: Civil War. The filmmaker also touched on the rumor mill that has surrounded the film since casting began and spoke about getting to collaborate with Robert Downey Jr. and obscure comics villains that would make silly adversaries for Spidey in a sequel. Check out the full interview below.
When this movie was announced there were a lot of people online who were like “The third version of Spider-Man?” Give us the pitch why this one is different and why people should see it and why it deserves to exist.
JON WATTS: Well, I can talk about why I was excited about it. First of all, it being in the Marvel Universe just immediately opened up the doors to so many possibilities. Spider-Man interacting with the other people in that universe and also just to be able to explore a different side of the Marvel Universe, I was really excited about that, because the other movies have shown what I described as the Penthouse level of the Marvel world, what it’s like to be Thor, Iron Man, you know, a billionaire playboy and all of that stuff. But what’s great about Spider-Man is that he’s a regular kid and so by showing his story you also get to show what the ground level is like in a world where The Avengers exist which is already I think a great premise for a movie. So that was very exciting, but also just Tom. By having Peter Parker be a kid, that also opens up, I think, a lot of possibilities that are only really explored at the beginning of the other two versions of the films. In the Raimi one he’s only in high school for like ten minutes, but I wanted to make a high school movie already so the opportunity to do it with Spider-Man was pretty exciting.
Who did you seek out advice from as you embarked on this journey? It’s only been 17 months since Sundance where Cop Car debuted.
WATTS: I’m trying to remember… I don’t know. I know Marc Webb like from music video days and he gave me the best advice, he was like “Just make sure to get lunch with Stan Lee. Definitely enjoy yourself.” I don’t know, it’s a pretty impressive collaboration between Marvel and Sony, so there wasn’t a single person to seek out to get advice and it felt like it was going to be a very different experience. The Russos were really cool; they sort of coached me through it.
Could you have ever imagined being in this chair when Cop Car premiered a year and a half ago?
WATTS: Not at all, I wish it was some sort of brilliant stepping stone plan to direct Spider-Man. I didn’t even think anyone would want to make Cop Car and then I didn’t think anyone would want to distribute Cop Car, and then I didn’t think anyone would want to see Cop Car. That movie is based on a recurring dream I had as a kid and we shot it in my hometown and my sister was the location scout and my other sister was the medic and my mom would cook us food. That movie I never thought would lead to anything. This is insane.
Can you talk about being on the set of Civil War and what you took from that experience and brought to this film?
WATTS: It felt like there was going to be a camera crew that jumped out and were filming me and was like “Just kidding.” I was still sort of shell-shocked. It was such secrecy and it was a long, long process to get to this final position, and they said “Okay, you got the job. Okay, you’re flying down to watch them shoot the scene. Do you have any notes for what their apartment should look like?” And I was like “What?” So you’re quickly just scrambling to wrap your head around what’s actually happening and before you know it you’re on set watching Tom and Robert do a scene and it’s just unbelievable, because that’s the first time that I’m really, other than screen tests, seeing Peter Parker. I guess what I took from it was “Wow, he’s really good, he’s going to be a great Peter Parker. Don’t screw it up,” and then “Where are the cameras?”
When you were watching that scene being filmed, was Downey already a part of the script or were you like “Oh no, we need to have him appear in our story.”
WATTS: No, the story was being developed as that was happening, but their relationship was so great in Civil War you kind of feel like you have to keep exploring.
Can you talk about the scene we were just witnessing, we saw Spidey in his old school PJ costume, interacting with Toomes for the very first time and dodging stuff, we don’t really know what’s happening.