Development Hell is a live reading/performance of a non-produced screenplay from the superhero world. The performances take place in Manhattan Beach, CA. at the Comic Bug and are free to attend. Previous performances have included George Miller's Justice League, Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman, and most recently, Sam Hamm's The Watchmen. I was lucky enough to be asked to join the group of performers for The Watchmen and they've invited me back for this weekend's performance of James Cameron's Spider-Man. (August 12th at 7 p.m.)
After our read-thru last weekend, I got to talk with director/narrator Adam Marcus along with Peter Parker/Spider-Man Cole Rommel and Doc Ock Curtis Fortier. Marcus was the writer and director of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and the upcoming Secret Santa. Fortier has appeared on the Hollow Ship and 12 Sided Die and Rommel was part of Fox and Bing and the TV movie Just a Guy. Both actors will be appearing in Secret Santa.
DAN WICKLINE: You are taking on one of the most iconic characters in the world; a character that has appeared in seven movies in the last 15 years and played by three different actors. How do you approach playing this character? How much does the previous performances influence your decisions?
COLE ROMMEL: I'm really excited to be working with you and all the other cast members and crew on this awesome project! When Curtis asked me if I would play Peter Parker/Spider-Man, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! He is such an iconic character and just so happens to be my favorite superhero (everyone that knows me is very aware of my love for Spidey). I grew up collecting and reading Spider-Man comics, so naturally I would read them as if I was him and do my own interpretation of what I thought he'd be like, just like every kid.
I am the type of Spider-Man fan that actually has enjoyed all of the movies that have been made (I know there are people who would strongly disagree with me) mainly because I get to see Spider-Man do all of the amazing things in almost real life. I think all of the "Spider-Men" and "Parkers" before me did amazing jobs, and my main goal is to give this character I've loved and wanted to be for almost my entire life the best performance I can, while still trying to put my own little spin on it!
DW: What do you think makes this character so iconic? Is it more than the look? How important is the Peter Parker side of the character to the role?
CR: I feel like Spidey is so iconic mainly because he is probably the easiest superhero to relate to. I think a lot of it has to do with how young he is starting out, it helps to appeal to masses of people from different ages. We have all had a childhood and experienced all the challenges along that road! I think a lot of what also makes Spidey so iconic isn't Spidey.
I know I said it, but I think that Peter is almost more important in the story because he is just an average kid/guy. The compassion and loyalty that Peter has for not just his friends and family but for the people around him in the world is what makes him amazing the suit and the powers just give him the tools to do what he wants to accomplish! I also like that he has flaws as well and makes mistakes because after all, he is human.
DW: How much was Spider-Man around when you were growing up? Did you get to read the comics, watch the cartoons and the movies? How familiar were you with the character before reading the script?
CR: Like I said before, I've been collecting Spider-Man comics since I was 10 years old. I started out with Superman comics, but there is a funny story as to why I switched over to Spider-Man: I grew up playing baseball pretty much my while life, and I was playing on a little league baseball team when I was 10 years old. We were playing a game and I had hit a double right up the middle of the field, and as I rounded first and started running to second, I could hear my coach cheering and saying, "Slide," because the play was going to be close at second base. So I jumped into the air and slid feet-first into the bag, and I was safe!
After the inning, my coach called me over and said he was gonna start calling me Spider-Man. I asked him why, and he told me that when I slid into the base, I did this really cool-looking slide that looked like Spider-Man! So naturally I went and bought my first Spider-Man comic and instantly fell in love. That year for my birthday, I got a brand new batting helmet and on the back of it was the name "Spider-Man." Every time I stepped up to the plate with that helmet on, I felt like a superhero. It was amazing! Ever since that moment I've been practically obsessed with the wall-crawler.
DW: Doc Ock is as far from a stereotypical villain as you can get. Bowl haircut, goggles, out of shape. What do you think it is about him that makes him one of the most popular Spider-Man villains?
CURTIS FORTIER: I think his popularity comes from just that. He is not your stereotypical super-villain. I mean, anybody can be a super-villain with good looks, mutant powers, or lots of money. Doc Ock has none of those, yet he doesn't let that stop him. He has his intellect, and to him, that's all that matters, and he uses that to its fullest. The problem is, he's so developed his mind, he forgot to develop his empathy for other "inferior" beings. It's fun to see him outsmarted by a smart-alecky high school kid that we all love.
DW: What's your approach to playing this character? Are you looking at Alfred Molina's performance, or going a different direction?
CF: I'm going in a different direction. Alfred Molina went for a very intellectual Doc Ock. My take will be more of a man who only experiences the world and his emotions through science. Anger, joy, desire, even sexual attraction occur through that filter for him. It's been a lot of fun exploring that, and I can't wait to do it in front of an audience at The Comic Bug.
DW: You've been part of Development Hell from early on. Why did you get involved and what keeps you coming back?
CF: The owner of The Comic Bug, Mike Wellman, came up with the idea to read unproduced comic book movie scripts. He knew I was an actor and asked me to be in the first one. It was so much fun! Mike is always looking for ways to promote comics in positive and entertaining ways, and I was so glad that he asked me to be a part of it. There was no question that I would want to participate.
The reason I keep producing and casting these is because Development Hell is such a great opportunity to not only play wide-ranging roles, but to play iconic characters (I mean, I'm playing Doc Ock!). And it's always great to work with the amazing and spectacular actors that come aboard each time.
DW: When you sit down to do a new Development Hell, how much of your decisions for tone and direction for the actors come from on the page, and how much is it your own vision of the work?
ADAM MARCUS: It really depends on the material. For example, when we read Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman, Joss' writing style dictates the way you present the material. It's so specific, especially the humor, that you're guided by the words. Now in the case of James Cameron's Amazing Spider-Man, the writing is not quite as pointed. It leaves more room for interpretation. It is definitely a movie written by people who love comics and that punchy style, so we're leaning into that. It's kind of fresh in its own way, and I think it will allow an audience to have an experience they won't necessarily get with the current batch of Marvel films.
DW: What made this particular version of Spider-Man different from the six films we've gotten over the last 15 years? How much of it was carried over into the later films?
AM: Again, I think the tone is more of an homage to comic books, themselves. It's a real "comic book" movie. It's a little bit of a throwback. I think Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were definitely influenced to some degree by this iteration, but it really is its own thing in many ways. The latest Spider-Man film, Homecoming, is my personal favorite of the Spider-Man films because it captures a certain naivety and locality that I feel the other films didn't seem to really go for as much. Cameron's script is pure fun. Doc Ock is truly the Doc Ock from the comics. That kinda says it all.
DW: Development Hell is more than just a table read. What makes it a unique experience that fans should see for themselves? Besides the free popcorn, I mean.
AM: Well, let's not sell the free popcorn short. 'Cause it's good. Really good. And let's not forget the amazing free poster by Rafael Navarro! But what makes Development Hell really different is that it's almost akin to an old time radio drama. The actors are insanely good! Many of them are from the Skeleton Crew troupe and you'll see them in movies and television shows weekly. Also, Chris Saunders of the Thirsty Crows does an incredible job of creating a score for these readings, along with sound effects, so that the experience becomes very rich.
And most importantly, it's a chance for an audience to experience what might have been. I mean, who wouldn't want to see James Cameron's take on the wise crackin' web-slinger! The Development Hell team allows the audience to experience that "might-have" dream together. That's what's magical about this kind of theatrical experience. We, as fans, get to collectively imagine the possibility of a great movie that never got to be. But now it kind of does. And that's pretty cool. And the popcorn is AWESOME.
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That's right: comic artist Rafael Navarro (who is also part of the cast) has done up a free poster that will be given out at the show, along with free popcorn — and the show itself is free. It all starts at 7 p.m. PDT sharp on Saturday, August 12th at the Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach.