Meet the Cast of ‘Ant-Man’

ant-man

Marvel’s twelfth feature film, Ant-Man, opened Friday; the studio held a press conference on Saturday, June 27, at which Producer Kevin Feige, Director Peyton Reed, stars Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian discussed the film and answered questions from the audience. Paul Rudd also answered somebody’s phone.

Note: Spoilers ahead!

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Marvel President Kevin Feige opened with remarks about why they chose to make a film of Ant-Man, one of the lesser-known and less-popular Marvel Characters. “Ant-Man in the comics is a founding member of the Avengers,” Feige explained. “I’ve said that we have a big, giant poster of Avengers #1 that has been in all of the various offices we’ve had over the years, and I love looking at that and checking off, yep, yeah, that person’s been in a movie now, we’ve made a movie about that person, made a movie about that person. Ant-Man and Wasp were the two that had been the longest that we haven’t done anything with, so it was always clear that we were going to assemble all the Avengers eventually.”

“And it also was interesting to do a movie that plays with scale and that plays with action in a very different way than we’ve ever done before; I like it when all of our films are unique and all of them are different, and all of them can surprise people.”

Michael Douglas, Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd take questions from the audience.
Michael Douglas, Peyton Reed, and Paul Rudd take questions from the audience.

Rudd talked about his research to prepare for the role, since he wasn’t familiar with the Ant-Man comics. “I really didn’t know the character, and I did, before we ever started shooting, read the comics, tried to do a little bit of research, and then just kind of get into the mindset as much as possible. There was also all of the physical stuff that I wanted to kind of throw myself into, to feel as if I could play the part and not only be convincing but just help me feel the part more.” He enjoyed the challenge, and especially the fact that his being cast as a superhero was surprising and unexpected. “I think that Marvel likes to do that and I was thrilled to have the opportunity.”

What Rudd is most pleased about is his nine-year-old son’s response to the film. Despite his son having joked that dad isn’t cool enough to play Ant-Man, he very much enjoyed the movie. Rudd says “this is the first time, it’s the first thing I’ve ever done, ever, that he is like legitimately jazzed about. He can see it, his friends know about it.”

A major character in the film is Hope Van Dyne, daughter of Hank Pym; it was widely assumed by the fans that she would be the Wasp, Ant-Man’s super-hero partner. Evangeline Lilly was excited to play the role. “As a woman who came into a predominantly male film, I had a great time working with Peyton and with the producers on this character, because I could see a hunger in them to really, really do right by Hope, and do right by their female fans and the female audience. And you know, when I pick a role, one of the things that I aspire to is that somebody’s parent will come up to me after the film has come out and say, “My daughter idealizes that character. You’re her hero.” And that’s what we aim for, especially in this brand, right? We’re in the business of making heroes.”

Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) suited up for battle. Photo © Disney-Marvel
Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) suited up for battle.
Photo © Disney-Marvel

Lilly further spoke about Hope, who is the daughter of the Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (seen in flashback), saying “of course while we were filming, during post-production there was a lot of buzz on the internet – is Evangeline playing the Wasp, and is she a superhero, and I had a lot of questions directed my way about that. And I just couldn’t have felt more comfortable or more happy saying, actually, she is just a really capable, very powerful force to be reckoned with and she doesn’t have a superpower and she doesn’t put on a fancy suit and look dorky in it. And my super-suit was my power suit that I would go to work in and be a high level scientist and on the board of a very, very powerful corporation, and I do think that’s a fantastic example for young women. You know, playing the role of female scientist in a world where mostly scientists are men is a great role to play.”

“Marvel are actually doing this incredible campaign right now,” Lilly says, “where they’ve put out a competition to young women in America to create scientific gadget projects and they’re promoting the maths and sciences for young women and young girls, and they’ve put a lot of heart and love into that and they did it a couple years ago also, or last year, was it? And I was happy to be the face for that campaign.”

Rudd’s character, Scott Lang, is recruited by Hank Pym to steal his Ant-Man technology back from the company he founded before it can be sold for military purposes. To accomplish his task, Lang brings in his ex-cellmate, Luis (Michael Peña), along with two of his criminal associates, Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris). Dastmalchian found the comedic tone of his scenes “terrifying at first for me, ’cause that’s not the zone that I’m the most comfortable playing in,” though he thought he had an advantage because he is a lifelong comic fan and knew all about Ant-Man. “I thought like all my knowledge of what I know about comic books is going to go into informing my character. This is a totally new character that isn’t part of that world.”

Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) shows what the well-dressed villain is wearing this season.
Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) shows what the well-dressed villain is wearing this season.

Corey Stoll (House of Cards) plays Darren Cross, the CEO of Pym Technology, who is trying to recreate Pym’s research; he eventually becomes Yellowjacket, Ant-Man’s antagonist. His battle armor includes articulated arms that fire energy blasts. As impressive as his suit is, it turned out to be impractical to build. “We tried to make it a practical suit and we went through several iterations, and it just was not working, and so in the end it was completely CGI,” Stoll explained. “And of course I had been working out like a fiend to be able to look good in the suit, and in the end it just turned out to be for the behind the scenes footage, of me in, you know, my pajamas.” For most of the movie, Stoll’s character is in a business suit, which he also enjoyed, saying “even the civilian costumes that he wears are so outrageously villainous. I had to stop myself grinning from ear to ear every day. It really was, it was awesome.”

Rudd didn’t get off so easily; he had to get in shape to play the role and fit into the costume. “I didn’t eat anything for about a year. I worked out all the time. I took that Chris Pratt approach which is just basically eliminate anything fun for about a year,” he says, commenting that he enjoyed being able to do the shoulder-rolls and other physical activity the film required. The costume helped in portraying Ant-Man, according to Rudd. “It helped me feel the part, you know, there’s something that happens when you get in that thing, that it’s inevitable. I would stand differently, I would feel different, I’d feel like Ant-Man in that thing.” In the end, he says, “I loved the suit and I think it’s the coolest-looking suit of all of them, and I loved wearing it.”

A reporter pointed out that Ant-Man opens almost exactly twenty years after Rudd’s first hit film, Clueless. “I have gratitude and am so appreciative that I’ve been able to continue to work doing something that I love,” Rudd says, “and not only doing something that I love but working on movies that I’ve loved. You know, I always try and keep that kind of saying: I want to work on things that I would want to see, and for a large part of my career, the vast majority, that’s been true, and I’m just very, very appreciative of that.”

To which, Evangeline Lilly counters, “Who didn’t have a crush on Paul Rudd in Clueless? Can I just ask that question? Anybody?”

The real heart of Ant-Man is the emotional relationships between the various characters: the relationship between Scott Lang and his young daughter Cassie; the strained relationship between Hank and Hope; the relationship between Hank and his former protege, Darren Cross; and even the pseudo-family made up of Lang’s criminal accomplices, Luis, Kurt and Dave. “Well, that’s right out of the comics,” says Feige. “Scott Lang’s character has a daughter named Cassie in the comics and in his origin story. In the books, it’s tied directly to his desire to help his daughter, and that’s the reason he sort of resorts to crime, to try to do that. So that came right out of the comics, and we’ve never had a hero in any of the 11 films leading up to this whose motivation involved a child, or involved a son or a daughter, so that felt, again, like a reason to do this film now, which was very meaningful for us.”

Rudd concurs, adding “You know, you can have a movie that has amazing effects, and this certainly has that, and brilliant visuals, a lot of action, humor, whatever, but whenever you see something that you can connect to, that’s emotionally resonant, it stays with you in a very different way. I think that’s the key to any movie and that’s what I thought about throughout this whole film. This is what the movie is about.”

“One of the things that I loved from the beginning,” Reed adds, “and it is very different than the other Marvel movies in that way, is that one of the strengths of the movie I think is it’s these dual stories about these two fathers and their daughters, and in various different ways they are not a part of their daughters’ lives, and they have to by the end of the movie repair those relationships. And in the case of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne, they’re not going to succeed in this heist unless they repair that relationship. It’s an important thing that has to happen before they succeed, and I liked sort of the intimacy of that thematic in the movie.”

“I also think there’s an interesting kind of father-son dynamic with Darren and Hank,” Rudd says. “So this whole idea of parents and children runs throughout the movie and I think makes it one of the, really the thing that’s most relatable.”

“Yeah, definitely for me,” Stoll agrees, “I mean, it was totally central because, through the different drafts of the script, playing with motivations and I think we really came to the realization that there are, Darren is after the glory of the scientific discovery and the money and the fame and the power, but in the end it really comes down to the sort of small, little boy inside that just wants his father’s approval, and that’s so much easier to play than desire for world domination. I could relate to that more.”

“Even with Bobby Cannavale’s character, and Cassie,” Lilly adds, “I thought that was really cool that there was also the stepfather and the daughter relationship that was being looked into.”

Evangeline Lilly and Michael Peña banter.
Evangeline Lilly and Michael Peña banter.

“You know, people talk about the shrinking when they talk about Ant-Man, but it’s the other power, the being able to control ants, that’s the weirder power, that I think is going to really surprise people in the movie,” Reed tells us, describing the role that ants play in the film. “It was fun because it’s a heist movie, at its core, and instead of like, ‘here’s the guys doing this and this and this,’ it’s like ‘well, here are the ants that are doing this, here are the ants that are doing that,’ and I guarantee that’s something that you’ve never seen in a movie before.”

“There’s a definitive ant textbook that’s written by this guy, Edward Wilson, who’s considered the ant man, the actual real ant man,” Reed explains. “New York Times bestseller, maybe. It talks about all the specific types of ants there are in the world, and there are thousands of them, but also there are specific skill sets.” The things the ants do in the film are all things those types of ants do, he says. “One of the things I liked about doing research was all the things that we have the ants do, for example, the fire ants, they’re architects, they can make little rafts and ladders, they do that in real life. You know, the kid in me was like, oh, I can go on the internet and look at these ants and it’s actually real. I think that’s a really cool aspect of the movie.”

In the comics, Hank Pym is a damaged man with a lot of unfortunate history; I asked Michael Douglas whether he incorporated any of that history into his portrayal. He responded, “Well, are you suggesting typecasting?” After the laugh, he continued, “You know, I think elements of – I was not familiar with Ant-Man before this movie and Kevin and Marvel were kind enough to send me about two years of comic books, that’s when I read the script, to kind of catch up on this history and background. And I think there’s echoes certainly of the loss of his wife and the distance between him and his stunning daughter, played by Evangeline, so I think there’s remnants, elements of that. I don’t think we wanted to dwell on it but it kind of pays off a little later in the picture.”

The cast was enthusiastic about the film, with Stoll remarking, “Yeah, I would have moments of terror, you know, realizing what a huge audience there was and what a huge, incredibly passionate and well-informed audience there is, but it was just too much fun. Every day I came onto set, there was some new piece of art that Peyton would show me, or I would step onto the Pym Tech set and see the size of it, and you know, it was just all these dreams of the 15-year-old Corey being realized.”

"Let's get small." (Obligatory Steve Martin reference.) Photo © Disney-Marvel
“Let’s get small.” (Obligatory Steve Martin reference.)
Photo © Disney-Marvel

Director Peyton Reed enjoyed the fact that “Ant-Man is a pretty weird movie in a great way. I mean, it was allowed to be weird, and that was fantastic.” There were a number of technical and visual challenges, from creating the world from the perspective of an ant-sized protagonist to making ants into appealing but believable characters. “In terms of the shrinking,” Reed explained, “I went back and watched all the shrinking movies. There’s a long cinematic history of shrinking: Incredible Shrinking Man, Incredible Shrinking Woman, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, of course, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience Preshow at Disney. Innerspace. All of them. But you know, we were making what would be the definitive shrinking movie of 2015 and the drum I kept banging was it’s got to look photorealistic. We can’t have a movie where, when you’re in the normal world, it’s realistic and when you go down it feels like an animated movie. It had to look photorealistic. And Jake Morrison, who is our visual effects supervisor, we spent a lot of time together and talked about how we were going to achieve it and how we were going to shoot it, and what lenses we used, what does the world look and sound like when you’re down there? You know, when you see dust particles floating around, how does the light play? And I’m really, really happy with where we ended up because, in a movie like Ant-Man it’s got to look real. And that applied to the ants, too. I mean, that was really one of the challenges is creating ants that looked photo-real, but also giving them some real character and particularly in the case of Antony [the winged carpenter ant that Lang rides].”

“The idea that we’re going to create sort of a Roy Rogers/Trigger or a Lone Ranger/Silver relationship between Ant-Man, because in the comics that’s one of the iconic images is Ant-Man flying around on an ant,” Reed says, “and I wanted to embrace that, so I was thrilled with where we ended up in the visual effects. And again, one of the things about Marvel is you’re just surrounded by the top, top people, in all the fields, but in visual effects they just did some amazing, amazing work.”

“Can I add to that question?” Lilly asks. “I’m wondering – you said photorealism – what about sound realism? How do you know what ants sound like?”

“Well, this is great,” Reed responds, “you know, we did a Dolby Atmos mix because we really wanted, like when we shrink down, you want to really immerse the audience in this, and sound becomes even more immersive and it surrounds you when you’re small. I know, I’ve been there.”

“But you know,” he adds, “we also really had to sort of create kind of an ant language and it was important particularly in that bond with Antony and with Scott Lang, to have a sound, and so, you know, the geniuses at Skywalker Sound, you know, we started auditioning and combining these sounds and they kind of came up with a language. I don’t know if there’s an actual specific language that you can decode but please, try.”

Ant-Man is widely considered to be Marvel’s funniest film. Feige explains, “Well, I don’t think we set out and said, this will be our funniest movie or this is a comedy. I don’t look at any of our films as necessarily one thing, but humor, as we always say, is a huge element. And when you’re dealing with a concept, people riding ants, people communicating ants, calling ants “Antony,” you have to acknowledge to the audience that we know this is funny to a certain extent.”

The ANTourage. Photo © Disney-Marvel
The ANTourage.
Photo © Disney-Marvel

Among the funniest sequences in the film are Michael Peña’s scenes, especially the monologues when he explains where he got the tips that lead to the initial break-in and later to another development. Reed says, “it’s always been a heist movie, that’s part of the DNA of the movie, and you know, when Paul and Adam McKay were working on the rewrites, that was one of the things we looked at, is like how can we bolster sort of the heist language in terms of the way we shoot and write the movie? And one of the things that’s sort of a key element in these heist movies is the tip. You know, okay, tell me about that tip, I need to know that it’s legitimate.”

“It’s a real person, by the way, that I’m imitating,” Peña says. “His name is Pablo, he’s a criminal, not bull****ting at all. Like, the guy lives in Chicago. My best friend just flew in, you know, for the premier, and he’s in and out of jail. He’s the kind of guy, swear to god, when I’m like: ‘What’d you do this weekend?’ He’s like: ‘I went to jail, Dawg.’ Like who really says that for a weekend trip, you know what mean, like some people go to [I have no idea what he said here] whatever. But you know what, in actually, I think it’s like, you know, I feel like I got lucky with those scenes because they literally give them to me, like the pages, like the night before, and so I didn’t really know, you know, the story very much, so…” And then this happened. “That’s what you get when you’re part of the ANTourage,” Peña added.

“Luis had always been in the script but I think one of the things that Paul and Adam McKay added,” Reed explains, “one of the first scenes that they wrote was Luis serving waffles to the other guys. And the idea that he’s sort of this father figure to these guys, he really takes care of his criminal buddies.”

Dastamalchian interjects, “Makes sense, though, because it’s cheap. Yeah, it’s almost like Ramen.”

“And then it just grew from there,” Reed continues, “the idea that, you know, he loves fine wines and he loves expressionist art and like he’s got these very…”

“I know,” Peña asks, “but how did you guys, like, you know, go from art, fine wine… waffles?”

“He’s got wide-ranging taste. But yeah, that was something that Adam and Paul added and then we built on through the shooting and we just liked the idea of making it kinetic and feel like a heist movie, but that Luis’ tips were not always solid and he tends to ramble as he tells these stories ’cause he’s very excitable.”

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Jim MacQuarrie is a comics and animation geek, a professional cartoonist and graphic designer, professional balloon animal twister, a certified archery instructor (and yes, his arrows are green), former homeless person and occasional gadfly. He has three children who are all grown up, and an incredibly patient wife who is waiting for him to do likewise. Together they co-write the lifestyle blog Blue Collar, Black Tie.