‘Spider-Man’ Star Denis Leary On How to Bring a Movie With a Giant Lizard Man Back Down to Earth

By  · Published on July 5th, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man can get ridiculous. By its very nature, there’s an inherent silliness to Marc Webb’s reboot of the iconic character. There’s a giant talking lizard wearing a lab coat, and in terms of comic books movies, you can’t get much more cartoony than that. What stops The Amazing Spider-Man from playing as an all out cartoon is both the emotional grounding from Webb’s part and the comedic touches made with Captain Stacy, played by Denis Leary. Without ever making an obnoxious ironic smirk about that kid in unitard, Webb utilizes Leary as a way to pull the film back down to earth.

In the 1990s, we saw Denis Leary in his fair share of commercial movies, and, as even he would admit to and poke fun at, not many of them were particularly good. As of late, while Leary’s schedule was packed with his Rescue Me duties, we saw a real lack of him appearing on the big screen. What does it take to get Leary in your movie now? The possibility of a good time is certainly a part of it.

Denis Leary, who seemed to be enjoying himself during The Amazing Spider-Man’s press day, sat down with us to discuss firing shotguns, when making a movie doesn’t “suck,” and the importance of knowing structure:

Captain Stacy is used frequently as a way to ground the movie. Was that an idea you and Marc discussed?

Yeah, that was Marc, not me. That was the vision him, Matt Tolmach, and Avi Arad had in mind. Ultimately, film is a director’s medium, so it’s up to Marc, and you have to trust him. He knew what he wanted from the beginning, and I’ll give him that. I just listened to him. I didn’t have any other voice in my ear except for his. I’m glad that showed up on screen, because that’s what he’s going for.

I’d imagine trust comes into play when you have to fire a shotgun at an imaginary gigantic lizard. Is that a scene where trust is more important than most cases?

Seriously, man, I love to shoot guns. Just give me the gun, have your prop guys get the backup ammunition ready, and I’ll shoot all fucking day. I love to shoot. In that case, I don’t care what I’m shooting at. I was easily shooting that gun for five days, in various formations, for coverage and stuff. That’s why you sign up for movies like this: watch stuff blowup and shoot guns.

[Laughs] And you do get to actually “act.” You mentioned at the press conference how you usually don’t get the chance to do real acting in films of this scope, but you made Marc sound like an exception.

Yeah, it was about the acting everyday. That’s great.

You haven’t really worked in those type of films in a while, though.

I haven’t had the time. I did Rescue Me for seven years, which is really about eight years, with the pilot and the casting. Essentialy Rescue Me gave me about six weeks off every year from writing, producing, editing, and choosing the music. For the most part, when I was off, I was off. I basically turned down everything.

Plus, I’d imagine it’d be tough finding a project as creatively satisfying after Rescue Me.

There is that. Also, you know, there’s a couple of great directors I would love to work with, but I wouldn’t do the overlapping of the schedules, because it’s not fair to Rescue Me or the other project. I couldn’t see spending those six weeks working, because I’d be exhausted. I need that time to recharge my batteries and get ready for the next season of Rescue Me. It was great for me, because it kept us on focused on what we were doing. By the way, the parts that I turned down, the people who were in them were way better than I would’ve been anyway. Not sure what they lost.

[Laughs] I saw you say an interview you never watch your own work.

No, not unless I have to, like with Rescue Me. It’s easier to watch if you’re a writer or producer, since you just have a different head on. You’re not thinking about your performance, and how bad it is. You’re thinking about the entire product and focusing on the other actors and the music.

How do you usually judge whether the final outcome is successful, then? Is it based on the response?

Truthfully, I’ve been at this long enough…whether it’s good or bad, that’s ultimately up to the audience, in terms of how they respond. You know, if something’s good, it lasts. If it’s a good piece of work, it’s always going to be there, and people will watch it over and over again. I always look at it, like, that’s the be all and end all. That’s the beauty of film: it’s always going to be some place. The bad ones tend to go away, which is great. The odds are against you in filmmaking anyway, so it’s nice that the bad ones disappear and the good ones stick around.

Looking over your filmography, one film that’s stood the test of time well is Jesus’ Son.

That’s a great movie. That’s one of my favorites. Somebody brought that movie up to me yesterday, actually. I thought Billy [Crudup] was great. Everyone was great in that movie. It was so much fun working on that movie.

Do you get many experiences like that?

No, most of them suck. Most films suck. You know, you don’t find that out until a couple of weeks in. You know, I want to have a good time while I’m making something, and you can have a good time when making a film that sucks too. To me, it’s more about the challenge and knowing for twelve weeks ‐ or, in this case, a year ‐ you’re going to have a good time is a big part of the equation.

What usually makes for the good experiences? Is it getting to work with collaborators like Ted Demme?

It depends. With guys like Ted and Marc, it’s great. I’m trying to think of a couple of examples, but when you’re making something more cerebral…like, on Jesus’ Son, that director was much more involved. She gave us a lot of freedom as actors and was much more involved in the cinematography and how it looked, but that was okay. I don’t know why, but her casting her was right. I already knew Billy in advance, so we had a blast. I think that’s a big part of how I’m going to choose to spend my time now. On this one, I knew Rhys [Ifans] was going to be fun, because I heard he was fun and I also really liked Marc, so those were my two things going in. I ended up liking Emma [Stone] and Andrew [Garfield], which was just the gravy. I’m glad it works, if the movie works.

You talked about how much you enjoyed studying writing at Emerson College earlier. Being from Film School Rejects, we usually don’t hear the kindest words about college. For you, what did you get from that experience and did you see yourself as a writer first?

No, actually, I was a hockey player who wasn’t going to play professional hockey. That’s pretty much what I did with my life, up until I was 16 and knew I needed a way to make a living. I kind of lucked into this. I loved Emerson, man. I was forced to take acting and writing, because I got a scholarship and it was a dual thing. In retrospect, I’m really glad, and I try to emphasize that to my kids. My kids don’t want to be in front of the camera, but I keep emphasizing you gotta learn structure. If you don’t have the talent for writing, you gotta learn structure. Self-generation is everything, man. That’s, like, that’s it. There’s no movie without the script and there’s no script without the writing process. Thank God I learned that.

Before I go, I have to say, I’m about to start the final season of Rescue Me.

Oh, good, I hope you like the finale. I saw that with an audience, so I know what works in there. There’s one big, great funny moment that I know works. At the premiere, there was a thousand people and it got a big laugh.

That sounds great. Rescue Me, like a lot of FX’s shows, never really shied away from letting its characters be unlikable or even hatable. How often would there be a discussion over how low you could let Tommy [Gavin] get?

Truthfully, John Landgraf — who is definitely my favorite television executive and maybe my favorite executive of all time ‐ wanted the envelope to be pushed as far as it could go. The only things he was against were really organic. He was always right about what we should or shouldn’t do with Tommy. I love that guy. If we were doing another series, he’d be the first guy I want on my list to produce. I love his network and love him.

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The Amazing Spider-Man is now in theaters.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.