Kevin Feige has made a pretty good case for being the most successful Hollywood producer of recent years. The 40-year-old President of Production at Marvel Studios started barely a decade ago, graduating from being Lauren Shuler Donner‘s assistant to associate producer on the first “X-Men” movie — the film that launched the 21st century wave of comic book film — and since then, has had some kind of role or credit on every Marvel-derived project.
But things stepped up a level in 2007, when Marvel started financing their own movies, and Feige was named President. Since then, he’s supervised the impressive run of success that the company’s had with the “Iron Man” movies, “Thor” and “Captain America,” and most importantly with “The Avengers,” which teamed all of the above and went on to become the third-biggest film of all time.
That success has allowed Feige to become the rare executive/producer with name recognition, thanks to frequent interviews, and his annual appearances at Comic-Con. With the company’s latest movie, “Thor: The Dark World” in theaters in the next few weeks (read our review here), we sat down with Feige in London, where he’s currently prepping Joss Whedon‘s sequel “The Avengers: Age Of Ultron,” to discuss the new film, crossovers with T.V. hit “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” the Phase Three pictures, and the possibility of retrieving stray Marvel characters. Read on below.
After “Thor” turned out to be a hit, what was the starting point for the sequel?
Firstly, we loved the Walt Simonson run of the comics, and that was one of the main influences on the first film, too. And Malekith, and the Dark Elves in general, we thought that would be an interesting beginning for this story. But it was also really about evolving the relationship between Thor and Jane, because Jane wasn’t in “The Avengers” at all, and he promised her he’d return at the end of the first movie. And also, continuing that evolution between the brothers [that started in “Thor” and continued in “The Avengers”].
You ended up with Alan Taylor directing, who made a few indie movies, but is better known for his TV work like “Game Of Thrones.” When you’re looking for a filmmaker for a project, is there one quality they all share that you’re after?
They all have an immense amount of talent, whatever they had done before. It’s rare that they’ve made a big giant action or superhero movie, but they’ve done something impressive. In the case of Alan Taylor, it’s the best television of the past ten years. As I was hiring filmmakers for our next group of movies, I looked to the TV world, which I hadn’t done before. I don’t think I’d intentionally avoided it before, but I did specifically look to it this time, in large part because I admired the choice of David Yates for the last four “Harry Potter” movies. So I ended up with Alan Taylor for this film, and the Russo Brothers for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” And they’re very different. “Game Of Thrones” is sweeping and epic and people can sort of equate it to why we do this, while the Russo Brothers are doing a whole other thing with ‘Winter Soldier’ to their work on “Arrested Development” and “Community.” But it really was the diversity of Alan’s background that sold us.
One thing that struck me from the new movie, which seems inspired by “Game Of Thrones,” is that the fantasy locations feel more grounded and lived-in. Was that one reason you picked him?
Absolutely, that was something we talked to him about when we first met with him. We wanted Asgard, and the other realms we visit in this movie, to feel more lived in, more viscerally realized. We shot the first “Thor” film on real locations in New Mexico, and then on stages, and of course there’s going to be stage work on any big movie you do, but we did want to do more location shooting, which is why we set the film in London, went to London, did some second-unit shoots in Norway. So many of those Asgard shots are actual plate photography of landscapes that we then put the city on. And Alan had some experience with that from “Game Of Thrones.”
You’re presumably starting to think about the next wave of movies. Have you seen anything recently, film or TV, that’s impressed you, that made you think the directors might be good for a Marvel movie?
Frankly, we just finished this one, we’re deep into the edit on ‘Winter Soldier,’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” just finished production, and we’re here in London prepping “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and back in Los Angeles, Edgar Wright is officially beginning prep on “Ant-Man,” so that’s been taking up the time. At some point, middle of next year, is when we’ll start to solidify what the movies are for Phase Three, and then writers and filmmakers will follow.
Though most rumors of disagreements between yourself and Alan Taylor have been quashed, he’s admitted that you differed on the choice of composer, and his pick of Carter Burwell was eventually replaced by Brian Tyler. What was the source of the disagreement?
To be honest, we’re huge fans of Carter Burwell, “Miller’s Crossing” is amazing, I even go to a deep cut like “Conspiracy Theory,” which is an amazing score, [and] all of the stuff with the Coen Brothers. It just didn’t seem like the right fit, and we had to make a call early on. If post-production had been a year-and-a-half, we might have had time for trial and error, it might have worked. But it just didn’t seem like the right fit, and we’d just had a spectacular experience with Brian Tyler on “Iron Man 3,” and he enthusiastically stepped into this, and delivered what I think is the best score we’ve had in a Marvel movie.
“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D” has done very well so far, and part of the reason is the way it’s weaved references to the movies into the episodes. How soon are we likely to see references to “Thor: The Dark World” on the show?
Well, Jeph Loeb, who runs the TV division for Marvel, is in charge of that show, and is doing a great job of overseeing that show, and the studio’s involvement in that is limited to them going “Hey, we’re thinking of doing something like this, is that ok?” and we’ll go yay or nay. But I’ll say that it’s a smart question, and it’ll probably happen sooner than you realize. I think that’s part of the fun they’re having with that show is that it inhabits the same universe, so if there’s a big event, there’ll be ripples.
One of the fun things about the Phase Two movies so far is that they’re playing with different genres. “Iron Man 3” was very much a Shane Black action movie, “Thor 2” is more hard fantasy, the Russo Brothers have talked about ‘Winter Soldier’ as a sort-of 70s conspiracy thriller. Has that been a conscious move from Marvel, and is it likely to continue?
It’s absolutely conscious. Number one, I think there are different genres within the comic books. For some reason, novels can be different things and people can accept that, but with comic books, it’s as if it’s its own genre, when it’s not. I just binge-watched “The Walking Dead,” which is a great show, based on a comic, which has as much in common with “Iron Man” as “A Christmas Carol” does. Totally different things, both originating from comics. You haven’t asked this question, and I’m getting it less and less, which is a good thing, but for many, many, many years, going back to the first time anyone cared what the hell I had to say, ten years ago, people would say, “How much longer is this comic book fad going to last?” And my answer always was as long as they’re different, as long as we keep surprising people, as long as they don’t become redundant, it could last for a long time. And the key for them not feeling redundant is taking chances, exploring the diversity among the characters, which is why the Phase Two movies are as you’ve laid out.
People are assuming that “Ant-Man” will be more of a comedy, with Edgar Wright directing.
I’ll say this only because I think Edgar has said this before in the press: I don’t think it’s fair to say that “Ant-Man” will be any more or less comedic than our other movies. One of the great compliments we’ve gotten from the screening last night is how funny ‘Dark World’ is. But “Ant-Man” is a heist movie, we haven’t done that before. And to Edgar’s credit, that’s what he started doing eight years ago. So it’s not like, “Oh, we need a new genre, because that’s what we’re doing now,” that’s what it’s always been planned to be.
You started your career on the “X-Men” movies. What do you think the chances are of Marvel ever reclaiming those characters, or “Spider-Man” or “Fantastic Four?”
Well, I’ve gotten into the habit of saying never say never, because when I was starting with Lauren [Shuler Donner, producer] on the first “X-Men” movie, if you’d said “You’ll do “The Avengers” someday,’ I would not have believed you. But the contracts are such that as long as they keep making those movies, they can keep making those movies. So I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Do you think Disney could make them an offer they couldn’t refuse at some stage?
Anything’s possible, but as long as they keep making the movies, and the movies keep doing well, I don’t know what offer they could accept.
“Thor The Dark World” opens overseas on October 30th, and in the U.S. on November 8th.