Jon Watts interview

Set visit interviews are always dependent on what’s happening that day, so when I was on the set of Spider-Man: Far From Home last August, it wasn’t too surprising to learn we wouldn’t have time to speak with director Jon Watts in person. He was deep into production at that point, trying to nail down a dialogue scene between several actors and allowing them to riff and try alternate lines in take after take to find the perfect tonal mixture for the scene.

But Watts made time to jump on the phone with me and one other journalist a few months later for a conversation about putting Spider-Man and Nick Fury in a room together, avoiding “second movie bloat,” and much more.

Everyone will have seen Avengers: Endgame by the time this comes out, but how would you say Peter has changed, considering everything he’s been through and the scale of the missions he’s been on up to this point?

The only timeline thing that I want to say is that this movie is set after Homecoming. I don’t know that it’s going to specifically tie in – I don’t want to tie it into anything else. For me, the way I think about it as a sequel to Homecoming is that, you know how when you’re a kid and you really want to be treated like an adult and be given more responsibilities, and you beg and beg and beg for that chance, and then one day, you wake up and suddenly you are being treated like an adult, and you’re like, “Hey, wait. It was way better when I was a kid. I want to go back!” and then you can’t? That’s a little bit of the story I wanted to tell here and where it fits, for me, on Peter’s timeline of growth. The last movie he was so desperate to be a part of the Avengers and have bigger responsibilities and be more than just a neighborhood Spider-Man. And then in Avengers 3, he goes to space! So much happens, that I wanted to capture that feeling of when you’re finally given that thing you’ve been chasing…what do you do with it?

When you were making Homecoming, was there anything you realized about the process of working on a huge movie like that that you didn’t want to repeat this time around?

(laughs) “What were your worst mistakes, Jon, on the last one?” (laughs) I had a really good experience on the last movie. It’s always a time crunch. But honestly I think it was the things that I didn’t know about that I learned the most from. It’s those unknown unknowns – things I didn’t know that I had to worry about that suddenly I found myself worrying about. I felt more prepared for those this time around, because I knew they existed.

We know that Nick Fury generally has no compunctions about the ends justifying the means, but he’s usually working with trained adults and spies. How does he rationalize putting a mostly-untrained kid through these kinds of situations? Does he have any pause about that? Is that something you guys dug into?

Yeah, I don’t think Nick Fury draws a line anywhere. I think he operates in a professional grey zone. But from the very beginning, I wanted to get Nick Fury and Spider-Man in the same room together. That was one of the elements of my original pitch to Marvel. If Tony is the cool rich uncle, Fury’s more like the mean new stepdad. To put him up against this idealistic, fresh-faced young kid, I think is going to be a really fun thing to watch.

Spider-Man Far From Home

Spider-Man: Homecoming was approached as a riff on a John Hughes comedy. What sort of genre riff would you say Far From Home is?

I always thought of [Homecoming] as just being a high school movie, and I think people just associate John Hughes movies with high school movies, because there are so many great high school movies that aren’t John Hughes movies, so many great coming of age movies. This movie is more of a road trip movie. We’re getting Peter out of New York City. Weirdly, I thought there were going to be more “high school European trip” movies. There aren’t. (laughs) There wasn’t as rich of a world to draw from, so I sort of drew from everything for this one. I guess [we are creating our own subgenre]: sort of a young, James Bond, globetrotting – I think the closest thing would be If Looks Could Kill with Richard Greico, but I’m not going to say that that was a huge reference for this movie. (laughs)

When we were on the set, we didn’t get to see Jake Gyllenhaal in action, but we got to see the costume, which looks fantastic. Can you give us a sense of Mysterio’s abilities and what he brings to this team?

I don’t want to say too much about what Mysterio can and can’t do, because bringing him into the world as a hero involved some reinterpretation of the things we’ve seen him do in the comics. Part of the fun of the movie is seeing that play out, so I don’t want to spoil that.

I’m curious about the pre-vis process. How many scenes are already laid out for you before you even come on board a movie like this?

Nothing. I direct the pre-vis. That’s something I didn’t have as much experience with on the last movie. But you come in and it’s a total blank slate, and you work with the pre-vis artists and the VFX producers to direct all of that stuff, like you’re directing in animation. Taking all of those shots and planning it all out. And then you have to do it again in real life, shooting it practically or shooting the elements, location plates, things like that. But nothing is laid out. Basically, I got back from the tour on the last one, my last stop was doing press in China, and then I had a couple days off, and then came right back to the office and sat down with the writers and opened up a Final Draft document and started from there. Total blank page. Pretty crazy. (laughs)

These four Elemental creatures don’t have much of a personality or an emotional connection to Spider-Man in the way that previous villains have. What kind of challenge does that present in terms of making sure that the action scenes still have the emotional stakes that the first film had?

Well, you didn’t realize there were emotional stakes in the first film between Spider-Man and the Vulture until much later. And without giving anything away, I hope that there is more than just a total faceless, awesome CGI monster violence in the movie.

The first movie felt wonderfully contained, and it sounds like you’re again trying to keep this story largely separate from the rest of the universe. But still, this is a multi-country adventure that’s much bigger than the previous Spidey movie. How do you avoid falling into the classic sequel trap of this movie getting too big for its own good?

(laughs) Yeah, that second movie bloat is definitely something I was always aware of and trying to avoid. For me, it’s just really continuing to make the story be a personal story about Peter’s coming of age. Like I was saying, if the last one is about wanting more responsibility and not being able to get it, this movie’s about getting that responsibility and not necessarily wanting it – at least at the moment. What Peter wants in the moment is to just go on this European trip with his friends, and he doesn’t want to get swept up into this world of intrigue with Nick Fury. In a way, Peter’s story is trying to resist the pitfalls of a sequel. It’s as if Nick Fury’s saying, “Come on, we’re going to expand the scope. We’re going to go to all of these different places.” And Peter’s like, “Eh, I kinda just want to be hanging out with my friends still.” So we kind of embraced it on a mildly meta level.

On the subject of the globetrotting scale of it, what was your favorite location to work with? What were some of the challenges that you encountered from taking the action out of New York?

Everywhere was great, but it was particularly amazing being in Venice. Seeing Spider-Man in Venice is such a great visual, and shooting in Venice is completely unlike anything else that I’ve ever experienced because everything is on boats. To try to wrap your head around that, logistically, is a fun challenge. It’s something I’ve never faced before, but to try to devise how to do things that are so easy when you can just put equipment in the back of a truck or put camera equipment on the side of a car, when everything – literally everything – is being done with a boat, it really keeps you on your toes.

Far From Home Spider-Man Stealth Suit

In terms of Peter’s stealth suit, we were told that you were really pushing for ways to make that suit less cool, so you guys went with these ‘80s-style flip-up glasses. I’m picturing Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Talk about that “cool vs uncool” dynamic between Peter and an effortlessly cool character like Nick Fury.

(laughs) I don’t know who used the phrase “uncool.” I think it’s super cool. In fact, I think it’s my favorite suit in the whole movie. Without giving away too much of the plot, the idea was that this is the opposite of the extremely high-tech, Stark-designed suit that he has in Homecoming. This is something that is more in line with what would be made by S.H.I.E.L.D. This is something closer to what, of all people, what Black Widow would wear. We wanted to root it more in that grounded S.H.I.E.L.D. realism, not the super high-tech world of Tony Stark.

On a similar note, Mysterio’s costume is so stunning, and there’s so much detail that went into it that we were geeking out over when we got to see it. What were the influences of that – the little faces carved in, and the runes, those gorgeous things that probably won’t even show up on screen?

I mean, you start always with just the original drawings of Mysterio. So much of that is there: the eyes that are holding the cape on, the fishbowl head, obviously. Taking that and figuring out a way to take this crazy comic book illustration and ground it in real life, give it meaning and depth, even if you’re not necessarily saying why things are a certain way, making it feel like there was an explanation for everything that was a part of that suit. That was so much fun.

We know about supporting characters like Fury, Maria Hill, and Happy Happy – are there any Avengers team members we can expect to see pop up here? Or maybe J. Jonah Jameson?

No, no one other than the people on that list that you saw. But you know, I haven’t finished my cut yet. Anything could happen.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home opens on July 2, 2019.

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