With the success of the "Avengers" movie series, there are millions of new fans who are getting exposed to the world of Marvel Comics. And while fan-bases spring up for Tony Stark or Agent Coulson, there's another name that most audiences are unfamiliar with, but is just as important: Kevin Feige. Starting with the first "X-Men" movie in 2000, Feige has produced every Marvel movie that's hit the big screen. In 2007, he became Marvel Studios' President of Production, which means every major Marvel movie decision -- from hiring Joss Whedon to casting ScarJo as Black Widow -- now has had to go through him.
Moviefone recently spoke with the Marvel head honcho about how he came to gain such an important and powerful role. During our conversation, he explained what kind of risks the fledgling studio can make in the future, looked at Tom Hiddleston's unique appeal to the ladies and went into how the company takes care of its oldest comic creators.
You are in a very powerful position at Marvel, and you're the movie gatekeeper to this whole world of characters, but how did you become a Marvel fan?
First of all, there are a lot of gatekeepers and a lot of people here at Marvel that work on the films that lead to what you see on the screen. But, it was more movies than comics for me. I was much more likely to run to the movie theater on Friday than I was to run to the comic shop on Wednesday. The best thing about comics for me is that they felt like movies. I would read the comics and go Why aren’t they making movies of this? I could go to the theaters and see this. I don’t understand. And a bunch of the movies I loved growing up could have been based on comics: the "Indiana Jones" movies, the "Star Wars" movies, the "Star Trek" movies, "Back to the Future" and "Robocop." I mean "Robocop" was the best comic book movie that wasn’t based on a comic book. It was always movies, movies, movies for me, and unfortunately when I was growing up, the Marvel movies were not of particularly high-quality. You’d still get excited whenever you saw a teaser poster for the "Fantastic Four" or the early nineties "Captain America" film. I didn’t even see many of those cause you could just smell that these weren’t necessarily "real" movies.
Richard Donner’s "Superman" was a huge influence on me and I still feel that’s a paradigm for all of the comic book movies and what they aspire to. When I was in film school at USC, I was interested in getting an internship, and I went upstairs in the Lucas building, where they posted companies that needed interns, and sure enough, there was a Warner Bros. production company run by Richard Donner, looking for interns and I went Oh my god! To this day, that was the last resume I’ve ever filled out -- in 1994. It’s been twenty frickin’ years to the "X-Men" and to Marvel and to "The Avengers."
Looking at the success of "The Avengers," that’s definitely a new benchmark in what a comic book movie can be. How has that success made you rethink the approach to the Marvel movies? Do you feel like you can afford to get even riskier?
We got to that success because of the risks that we took along the way. To announce four movies over how many years, and being in production on "The Avengers" before "Thor" and "Cap" even came out, the whole adventure was risky. It solidifies our viewpoint that if you take creative risks that you believe in, for an end result, then it can work. I don’t think we can say Hey, now we can be riskier. Each of these movies cost a lot of money already. It just solidifies the notion that for Phase 2, play the long game, stick with what you believe in, and when there is a fork in the road and one seems safer and maybe a little boring, and one seems risky and harder, we always go the risky and harder way. That’s what people will see in "Iron Man 3," "Thor: Dark World," "Captain America: Winter Soldier" and certainly in "Guardians of the Galaxy," which is one of the ones that I’m most excited about because it’s so outside the box and so weird and so different. People like grand experiments and things that haven’t been done before, the unexpected.
There was a lot of talent involved in "The Avengers," but I think the guy who came out of nowhere, so to speak, and developed the most rabid fanbase was Tom Hiddleston. Has the immense reaction to his portrayal opened up the possibilities for the future of the character?
I’ve been surprised and happy that so many cast members and characters have gotten that response. Hiddleston is a case in himself. We discovered that when we were going around the world promoting the movie, in Moscow and in the the U.K. and in Rome, and all these people behind the barricades at the premieres were holding “Loki’s Armies” signs or wearing homemade helmets with horns on it. We sat around years ago saying we needed a villain in the MCU, as complex and dynamic as Magneto is. Magneto is one of the best villains in both the comics and in the movies. The way that Tom brought Loki to life, with all of those different emotions and up to Hulk smashing him into the ground, we’re already having fun with Tom on the set of "Dark World." We hope to have that continue. Even if you didn’t read comics or weren’t versed in mythology and had no idea who Loki was -- and he’s kind of out there with his big horns -- they responded to him, particularly women. Tom is an amazing looking specimen but also because of that darkness, I think they find a sexiness with him as a badboy.
When "Avengers" came out there was a vocal fanbase of "Avengers" co-creator Jack Kirby that thought his role in this big pop culture event was being underplayed. With "Guardians of the Galaxy" coming up, there's already hype around those characters -- especially Rocket Raccoon, who was created by Bill Mantlo. What kinds of safeguards and policies do you want to be in place for Marvel to protect the comic creators who are in their older years now, but whose work is entertaining millions of people around the world?
Well it’s a complex question, but I will say that Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley will take the lead on a lot of that and they are actually quite, quite good in acknowledging and letting us know as we share the scripts and character lists with them [by saying]: Here are the creators of this. Here is where they are. Here is who they are, and figuring out what we can do in terms of recognition. If you look at the special credits sections of all the Marvel Studios movies, you’ll see lots and lots of names, probably half a dozen or so, that apply to even the small characters, much smaller than Rocket, that are included in the movie. In terms of Kirby, I always thought of the "Thor" movie as one of the biggest testaments to what Kirby did because at every turn with the production design, we wanted to embrace it. The helmet design, those horns on Loki. “Do you really want those to be that big?” “It’s gotta be that big.” I love that stuff, it’s tremendous.