As the President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige has been shaping your favourite superhero franchises for more than a decade. He talks about how he selects filmmakers to take on newer properties and whether he thinks comic-book movies have eroded the foundations of the traditional movie star:
Anupama Chopra: You have such impeccable creative instincts, not just with the stories you want to tell, but also when it comes to who should tell those stories. You’ve picked Taika Waititi (for Thor: Ragnarok), Chloe Zhao (for Eternals) and Destin Daniel Cretton for Shang Chi – how does that happen? Do you have a spidey sense that starts to tingle when you’re in the presence of talent?
Kevin Feige: I’ve never thought of it that way. I do think that it’s easier to make a choice when there is a feeling like that, when it feels right, but to a certain extent, you’re always taking a chance. They’re taking a chance signing up with us, we’re taking a chance signing up with them. But Jonathan Schwartz, my producing partner on Shang Chi, met many filmmakers and brought in a handful to meet me, (and producers) Louis D’Esposito and Victorial Alonso at Marvel. Destin Daniel Cretton stood apart in many ways. He’s a very humble man, he’s made very very good movies – certainly smaller than Shang Chi – but very personal, character-oriented movies. And ultimately, that’s what we want at Marvel. We have the systems to make big effects and big action scenes, we want filmmakers who come in and tell very personal stories.
Destin came in and said two things to us during that first meeting that really solidified it for us. One, he said that he recently decided that he was never going to make a Marvel movie, until he heard that we were looking for filmmakers for Shang Chi, which touched him personally and made him think, ‘Oh, I have to go for this.’ He also told a very personal story in his pitch for this, which started and ended with pictures of himself as a child with his father. I’ve asked him to someday talk about that or make it public. But that was very special. It was two or three years ago, and it was our hope at that time – which has been proven to be true – that he would carry that with him throughout the entirety of this giant, big-budget movie. For people who’ve seen Shang Chi, you see how personal it is and how Tony Leung’s performance as this very conflicted, almost tragic figure of a father, and the relationship he has with his son, could only have come about and survived and been such a core part of this movie if the storyteller made it a point to never lose sight of it. That’s what we hope for when we hire filmmakers.
AC: Tony Leung really is one of the masterstrokes of this film. He’s one of the world’s great movie stars and to cast him as the Mandarin was brilliant. But there’s been so much conversation about how the rise of the superhero film and the comic-book movie has eroded the foundations of the traditional movie star because what matters is the character and not the actor playing him. What is your take on that?
KF: I don’t think that it’s eroded movie stars. When we find a great actor to embody a great character, it’s that chemistry that both, makes the character very popular and turns the actor into a movie star. I think they go hand in hand. And you look at the great work that people like Chris Hemsworth or Tom Hiddleston have done – Robert Downey Jr was doing great work beforehand – certainly with us, but even as they go out into the world on other projects. Tony Leung, however, does seem like a whole different layer of movie star. He’s a very, very talented man. I don’t think it was a masterstroke for us, it was lucky for us that he chose us to make his first Hollywood film appearance in and give all of himself and his talent to creating this amazing character, Wenwu. I’ve been around a lot of movie stars and a lot of living legends, but I was nearly speechless when I met him briefly on the set because he seems like such an otherworldly star, directly from the sky.