Thomas Haden Church discusses the effects of the film, the possibility of doing Spider-Man 4, and working with Director Sam Raimi

Making his mark on TV's Wings as the hilariously, dimwitted Lowell Mather, Thomas Haden Church broke really big as the character of Jack in Sideways. Now cast as the evil Flint Marko/Sandman character in the upcoming Spider-Man 3, Church is given yet another opportunity to show off his expansive range.

In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. As Spider-Man basks in the public's adulation for his accomplishments and he is pursued by Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who rivals M.J. for his affections, Peter becomes overconfident and starts to neglect the people who care about him most. His newfound self-assuredness is jeopardized when he faces the battle of his life against two of the most feared villains ever (Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace), whose unparalleled power and thirst for retribution threaten Peter and everyone he loves.

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Where you nervous about taking on a role in Spider-Man 3 when the script wasn't complete? Was it a leap of faith?

Thomas Haden Church: There was no script. I wouldn't say a leap of faith between knowing Sam's profile as a filmmaker and the thoughtfulness and precision with which Tobey exacts his performance, it wasn't a big leap of faith. I had never signed on to a movie that had no script but I've never signed on to a movie two and half years before it was going to be released.

What surprised you the most about this entire experience?

Thomas Haden Church: Really, the volume of time required when you're shooting. There were days when I would work with the Second Unit and they'd be like, "Today we're shooting one point one seconds of the movie." We would spend all day shooting a scene that is (snaps his fingers) that fast in the picture. Just little teeny, tiny moments... when he's behind the truck and it cuts to me on the top of the truck and I'm little! I'm little in the frame but that kind of sh*t would take a whole day to shoot. That was what was really kind of surprising to me.

The scene of you becoming the Sandman...

Thomas Haden Church: That's my favorite scene.

It's all computer generated...

Thomas Haden Church: It's not. That's untrue. It's all built. That scene, when I emerge from the 18 wheeler, the sand truck, and the end of the movie... all of that is built upon a performance that I gave. We would set up multiple video cameras and I would act out this whole kind of muted, primordial performance. Then all the people involved in the special effects they would start building on that. I call it video mapping... it's not the same thing as motion capture, which is much more technical, this was just about pure performance but they sort of put markers on me. I'll tell you, the birthing of the Sandman sequence, over the six months of principal photography in L.A., Sam and I would probably get together once every couple of weeks. Which is a lot and I would go through it again.

That's a very emotional sequence for me because I know what I poured into it emotionally. What was really rewarding emotionally was seeing it in the movie and how much of the tragedy comes through without eyes. There's no eyes it's just all in the way they sculpted my body and obviously... reaching out for the locket and my hand collapses, then he has to re-manifest himself.

What has been the most challenging role for you since Sideways sort of rejuvenated your career?

Thomas Haden Church:Spider-Man 3, by far. To play a guy, not to diminish the other movies but Flint Marko is a very emotionally isolated guy. Who is almost singularly defined by tragedy. It is a very daunting... it's a very daunting place to go because it's not a place that I ever exist. I'm not an emotionally isolated, tragic guy.

Each role is about the performance the director thinks your capable of. That's the challenge for me.

Are you signed up for anything now?

Thomas Haden Church: No. I have Smart People coming out in the fall. I'm excited about it. I think it's gonna be good. It's a movie I did with Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker. It's gonna be released by Miramax. I wanted Spider-Man to come out and just see what happens. I'm not in any hurry. I told Tobey the other day, "I'm applying the Maguire method." I'm not a movie star like Tobey by any stretch of the imagination but I'm compelled by great material. Not by money or prestige. It's doesn't really get better than Sideways, I just hope to achieve something commensurate to Sideways. I think my performance as Flint Marko has all the dignity that a performance in anything else would have.


Could you see yourself doing another Spider-Man movie?

Thomas Haden Church: If the right elements were in place. If Sam was gonna be there and Tobey was gonna be there, and it was a challenging story and I thought it was a complete character arc, that he starts some place and it's emotionally satisfying..., yeah I would consider it, absolutely. My departure out of this picture, I was asked in Japan if it was calculated, not at all. In fact, we shot that scene four different ways, and the way that it turned out, it's kind of a mysterious departure from the movie, disintegrating and blowing away in the wind, that, and Sam will confirm this, was the very last effects shot that was completed, because we just came up with it at the very end.

What was different about them?

Thomas Haden Church: They were just different and honestly, not as good. The best of the best is in the movie. Somebody asked me, "Are we gonna see it in 3.1?" No, you won't because they're not as good. I think the scenes that Sam puts into the DVD release, I think they're scenes that were a real challenge for him to have to leave behind. The resolution of my story with Tobey in the movie... we put in what was the best not something that was as good but barely better. It was absolutely better.


Sandman seemed very one dimensional in the comic. They seem to have changed that for the movie...

Thomas Haden Church: From the onset Sam wanted me to know, even before there was a script, as he laid it out for me in the storyboards in our very first meeting, I knew that it was going to be a compelling journey. I don't even really like to call them villains, they're just men that have their value systems corrupted by something. Like with Willem Dafoe's character, or Alfred Molina's character, or even Topher's character they're corrupted by lust for power or ambition or prestige. It's almost ironic that Flint Marko is corrupted by his own good intentions. He becomes criminal out of trying to protect his daughter. Sam and Ivan (Raimi; screenwriter) were really the architects of my story in the movie, and then Alvin (Sargent; screenwriter) and Avi (Arad; Producer) and Laura (Ziskin; producer) were largely the architects of Topher's story in the movie. Of course they all work together and it's all an amalgam of everyone's creativity, but Sam and Ivan were really the proponents of my story.

Sam has gone on record as saying as much. He knew he wanted Sandman in this movie it was Avi that came to him and said, "I think Venom is the balancer." Early on there was a completely different villain, as diametrically opposed to Topher as you can get in the acting world; the actor that they wanted to play this other villain.

Had you heard of the Sandman character before you did this movie?

Thomas Haden Church: No, I was completely oblivious. I never read the comic book when I was a kid. I'd seen the movies but, obviously, Sandman wasn't represented in the movies. Sam gave me an original copy of Spider-Man 4, which unfortunately I couldn't look at because it was in museum quality framing. I'd have to break the glass to get into it. Somebody in production sent me a number of reproductions of the comic book, some of the ones in the '60s that went on to flesh out Sandman's story.

There was something I actually saw, I don't know if it was on the internet, that Sam "insisted" that we do research with the comic series. That's not true. Somebody made that up. It was a casual suggestion that I look at some of the comic books. We really looked to other source material. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Jewish, folkloric character Golem. I took a photograph to Sam early on of Lon Chaney, Jr.. Just to have that inherent tragedy of Sandman's presentation and Sam agreed with me.

When you saw the final movie what were your initial reactions?

Thomas Haden Church: (laughs) Self indulgence. There were a couple of scenes that were cut that I wished had stayed in. One of which I thought was kind of crucial to the story. Sam and I chatted about it yesterday and he said, "I thought the information was there with the audience earlier." I always defer to him. Ultimately, I was very overwhelmed by it. I'm constantly amazed by special effects in these movies. It's a phenomenon to me. It's really the Ninth Wonder of the World. I don't know how they do what they do.

You can still see your performance in the movie through all those effects?

Thomas Haden Church: Yeah, because I acted it out. The big sequences: the birth, the emergence from the truck and the end with the giant monster... I acted all that stuff out. I see me in there somewhere.

What was the scene that got cut that mentioned?

Thomas Haden Church: I can't, I can't tell you.

Spider-Man 3 swings into conventional theaters and IMAX on May 4 from Columbia Pictures.