It was early in the morning when I spoke to Jake Johnson. Not so impossibly early that it’s worth complaining about, but just early enough where maybe human beings shouldn’t be conducting interviews because there’s a tendency to get a little slaphappy. And, for whatever reason, the subject that kept making us laugh was the late 1970s Spider-Man television series that aired on CBS starring Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker – as Johnson tries to come up with more and more absurd fake answers about how that series influenced his version of Spider-Man. (As he admits, he’s going for the hipster vote here.) And then, like an unexpected second encore at a concert, Johnson wants to keep going over our allotted time, so, of course, we talked about the Dark Universe, because why not?
In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Johnson voices a Peter Parker we haven’t really seen before. (And, no matter what Johnson tells us, it was definitely not inspired by Nichols Hammond’s version.) This Peter is 40, out of shape, and, well, a bit down on his luck. But then he’s thrust into another dimension where Peter meets Miles Moralas and the two, begrudgingly, team up to fight the Kingpin in what is one of the best Spider-Man stories to ever be released in theaters.
But, yes, it was pretty early in the morning.
It’s pretty early right now. I was worried you were in L.A. doing this at 6 a.m.
If I were in L.A. we’d be doing this call later. I’m committed to the craft, but not that committed.
This is manageable.
I got to say at 40, it’s manageable. At 26, unmanageable.
So when you started on this did you have any idea this would become the phenomenon it’s becoming?
Honestly, when I signed onto it, it was a two and a half years ago. All I knew at the beginning was that Chris Miller and Phil Lord were producing it and writing it and were going to be very involved. They pitched me the soft story of it.
What’s that mean?
It means they said, “You’re going to be playing Peter Parker, but it’s a Peter Parker we’ve never seen before.” It’s Peter Parker at 40 years old who is more a Mr. Miyagi to Miles’s Daniel. But he doesn’t want to be a teacher. He’s out of shape. He’s going through a divorce.
Was there a weird moment between being told they want you for Spider-Man and the part where it’s because he’s 40 and out of shape?
No, not at all. I know who I am. I am 40 years old! If you look at who’s playing live-action Spider-Man, it’s Tom Holland. I think he’s just perfect. He’s young, he’s energetic. I don’t know his real age, but he seems to be in his early twenties, just like a ball of a youthful Peter Parker. If they called me and said that they wanted me to play Peter Parker that we know from the comics, I would ask them if they’re out of their fucking mind? I love the scene where Peter Parker’s crying in his spider suit in the shower. I find it really funny. It’s right up my wheelhouse.
Obviously, this is a version of Peter we haven’t seen before, but was there a version we had seen before, only this is the older version?
No. I haven’t seen all six of the movies, if I’m honest. So when I go back to who my Peter was, it was based off the comics I saw. My brother was a big comic book type growing up. None of the movies define Peter for me because I’m 40. I was born in 1978.
Remember that Spider-Man TV series from the late ’70s? It would be funny if you were like, “It was that version, that version spoke to me.”
“I used to watch that show and I found great inspiration,” but that’s just a lie. The only way I could really pull that off is if I’m like smoking a clover and have a handlebar mustache. Unfortunately, I know who I am and I’m just not that hip of a guy.
Spider-Man was played by Nicholas Hammond. You can say that, “I was inspired by the Nicholas Hammond version.”
By the way, I’m going to steal that and say it in one of my interviews. “In the late ’70s Nicholas Hammond performed Peter and it was just so different than now.”
People are going to love that.
By the way, I should’ve had that answer for Comic-Con, just to bring the house down.
A certain segment of older Comic-Con attendees would have cheered, just for the reference.
I would have gotten 25 percent of a standing ovation.
I think I’m out of time because we spent the last 25 percent of this interview talking about Nicholas Hammond.
If you want to go, we can keep going. I’m on my way to the airport, so I think I have another 10 minutes.
We could really dive into Nicholas Hammond’s work now.
Well, you know what, he should be thrilled because he was a big inspiration for this. You know, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, all of our directors, we would watch his performance and then say, “The core of what Nick Hammond is doing is what we want for this Peter Parker.” Right there, there’s your sound bite, we just got a headline for this one.
I missed Lowery Cruthers in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I wish he were in it.
You know, I have to say, so do I. Derek Connolly is the writer of it. I think I was at his apartment in Hollywood a few years ago and, on the down low, he pitched me and I think it was going to be Lowery and Bryce Dallas Howard in that little cube or whatever. I think, originally, it was going to be him instead of that younger guy. And he pitched me his comedic version and we started going back on Lowery. The pitch we were talking about, it was about Lowery had gone through shit with the dinosaurs and had to be fully recovered and we were talking about a long ponytail and sleeve tattoos. His mustache got longer. You know, I think Lowery is really funny.
I do, too.
I think his role is that universe helps. But I also think Lauren Lapkus is really funny in it. That love story, obviously a franchise can do whatever it wants to do. But as a member I’m like, what happened with that? If Lowery gets pulled off the bench for the third one, I will probably grow the mustache and throw the glasses on.
You can pitch them by saying, “You know, I had this conversation about Nick Hammond and Lowery Cruthers was brought up…”
I need Lowrey’s fans and Nick Hammond’s fans to get together, let’s not forget these two Hollywood greats.
I feel there a Venn diagram of Nicholas Hammond fan and Lowery Cruthers Fans that can come together and make some stuff happen.
I don’t think there would be a greater compliment to Lowery than to say that he is the Nick Hammond of his generation.
Do you even realize how many Nick Hammond fans are going to get mad at you for that? You are stirring the nest.
Alright, you know what, I take it back. Fake news, you can’t post it. But what I also like is the fact that Nick Hammond and Lowery are part of the same sentence.
You were in The Mummy with Tom Cruise. From the outside looking in, I’m starting to think that the rest of these Dark Universe movies are not going to happen.
Yeah, I have no idea. Even while I was doing that one, I was not really on the inside. So, I have to be honest with you, I didn’t fully understand the whole bigger picture thing.
I think you’re in the majority like the rest of us.
But what I will say is, regardless of the fact that a lot of critics didn’t like that movie, it was a hell of a lot of fun shooting with Tom Cruise for four months.
Oh, I bet. I have no doubt about that.
I’ve got some movies that I made and the critics hated it. But I read the reviews, goddammit I was right about this one, that would be a regret, not running around Africa with Tom Cruise. Thought it could’ve been anything, but man was it a great life experience. That one goes to the grave with me. So if that’s the end of the Dark Universe, I’m sorry for fans, for Universal, But, man, I have memories of being on a helicopter with Tom Cruise flying over Africa.
You should get in a Mission: Impossible movie.
I don’t know if physically I can survive two Tom Cruise movies. I’ll give you the example. I say this with peace and love. So my character in The Mummy, I can’t remember my character’s name…
Chris Vale. But, anyhow, my character is riding a horse with his character over the desert. When I met Tom he said, “It’s going to be great fun, Jake. It’s going to be you and me on a horse for a night!” But, you know, I’m a city boy! I don’t ride horses. He said, “Well, we need you to ride a horse Jake, we need you to feel very comfortable.” So I had to start training on horses. I trained with trainers in L.A., I trained with them in England, and I trained with them in Africa. The top, top horse trainers and stunt trainers. I can now get up any horse. I can gallop with them. I can trot. I can do all this stuff with any horse. The scene of my character riding across the desert, I’m pretty sure it was the tape of a stunt double because we were busy doing different stuff. Six months of my life I spent training on a horse and I don’t think it’s in the movie.
And now you’re going to tell me that stunt double was none other than … Mister Nicholas Hammond.
And thank you very much. You just won the interview, brother.
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