Big things come in small packages, and though the superhero-shrinking sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp is decidedly lower-stakes than its mammoth Marvel predecessor Avengers: Infinity War, its pleasures are still sizable. This time around, director Peyton Reed puts Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd on equal footing as their superpowered characters Hope Van Dyne and Scott Lang team with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to search for Hope’s long-lost mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Reed recently called up Vulture to talk about enticing the screen legend to take part in his movie, and confessed to a little bit of jealousy when his characters go off to play in the Avengers sandbox.
How did you get the idea for Michelle Pfeiffer to play the Janet Van Dyne, this classic Marvel character?
There’s a brief flashback in the first movie where you see the original Wasp, and you don’t see her face but through her mask, you can see her eyes. I was talking to Sarah Finn, who casts all the Marvel movies, and I said, “She should have big, saucerlike Michelle Pfeiffer eyes.” Honestly, if we were ever going to get to make another movie — which was by no means a guarantee — I always thought of her as that character, so when we did get to make a second movie, she was really the only person I ever thought of.
How did you woo her?
I had no way of knowing whether she would be interested in doing this kind of thing but I met with her at Marvel and the two of us sat in a conference room and talked about the movie, the tone, the character, who Janet was in the comics. Michelle is a very meticulous, well-researched actor, so when she finally said yes, I was thrilled. I’ve been a fan of hers for so long, and The Fabulous Baker Boys and Married to the Mob are two of my favorite movies, and I could point to a million others. She’s really one of the great actresses in American movies, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m assuming that you also were obsessed with Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, since this is the first comic-book part she’s played since?
No doubt about it, she’s amazing in that movie. So charismatic, threatening, sexy … and funny! Even in the dramas she does, Michelle Pfeiffer has such a great sense of humor. To be able to work with her [on Ant-Man and the Wasp] is incredible, because she has this crazy movie-star energy … it’s one of those indefinable things that she and Michael Douglas have where they’re just stars. Her screen time is not big in the finished movie, but she takes that role and she makes such an impact. I think she’s terrific.
The only downside to putting Michelle Pfeiffer in your film that she’s not in enough of it, Peyton!
Ah, it’s tricky. I mean, her presence is felt throughout the whole movie because it’s predicated on the search for her, but hopefully we’re sort of setting the stage. There’s a lot more that the audience hopefully wants to know about that character and where she goes, so we’ll see what the future holds.
And the past! There’s a moment in the first scene where you de-age Michelle Pfeiffer and it’s truly stunning how you pulled it off.
It’s scary every time. In both Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, the first scene features these younger characters, and you don’t want to alienate the audience in the very first scene of your movie. And stupidly, I chose to do it on three of the most recognizable actors in movies: Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and also in this movie, Laurence Fishburne. Moviegoers all know what they looked like 30 years ago, and they’re going to come at it with a hypercritical eye.
When I interviewed you for the first Ant-Man, Paul Rudd had gone off to film Captain America: Civil War, and you joked, “It’s like your girlfriend broke up with you and now she’s going out with this very high-profile guy.” What was it like when you actually saw the movie?
The first time I saw an early cut of Civil War, I was still extremely jealous. It was like watching your girlfriend make out with someone else! [Laughs.] But I was also struck, narratively, that we would have to address those events in the next Ant-Man, and my mind immediately went to, “What do Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne think of this? He took the suit without asking and went off and fought with the Avengers? They’re gonna be pissed!” And that very quickly led us to the jump-off point of Ant-Man and the Wasp, where it’s about this partnership between these two heroes but they could be estranged in the beginning. It made sense on a technical level and an emotional level, and it was a real narrative gift.
Were you excited by how much audiences responded to the character in Civil War? I remember watching it and thinking, wow, this is gonna make anticipation for the Ant-Man sequel even bigger.
So many more people saw Civil War when it was released than saw Ant-Man, so it really kind of expanded his fanbase, but it also said to me that audiences accept Paul as an action hero. When we were making the first movie, he had never played that kind of character, and in the first half of that in particular, we played Paul more as the laconic straight man. After seeing Civil War, we really felt like we could let Paul cut loose and be funnier than he is in the first movie, and that’s something Paul and I talked about from the beginning.
And now that Ant-Man is presumably going off to appear in the fourth Avengers movie, have you decided to embrace polygamy?
It’s bittersweet. I’m resigned to the fact that my girlfriend just cheats on me constantly now. I’m a cuck! I’m a Marvel cuck.
I mean, there’s the headline right there.
Oh no. What have I done to myself? [Laughs.]
Final thing: I wrote a piece recently ranking the gayest Marvel movies, and …
Oh, was that the thing Taika posted? I love me some Taika Waititi, he is the greatest. Well hopefully if ours isn’t the gayest, it’s the second gayest Marvel movie. Because Thor: Ragnarok, he went all in, man.
Can you make the case for Ant-Man and the Wasp? Should it be high up on the list? What have you got to offer?
I will make the case for shirtless Paul Rudd in a bathtub, or just straight-up Paul Rudd, generally. I’ll make the case for Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer’s hair and wardrobe …
The feathered hair on Michelle Pfeiffer is a look!
I’ll make the case for the very thought-out color palette, and the giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser. Oh my God, and a Partridge Family music cue! Come on! If you see the movie and you think it’s almost as gay as Ragnarok, I would love it.