Even though Drew Goddard has an impossibly good attitude about the whole thing, considering his cinematic track record — Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods, World War Z, and this weekend’s new release, The Martian — it would be totally understandable if he were just a little more angry about The Sinister Six being scrapped after Sony’s new partnership with Marvel Studios (the same partnership that lost Andrew Garfield his role as Spider-Man). When Goddard talks about his villain team-up script, his face lights up. He’s obviously extremely proud of the work he did on a movie that has a good chance of never existing. But, as Goddard says about the film’s future, “I’m going to keep fighting.” When I ask if there’s any chance it could fit into Marvel’s fairly ambitious lineup that extends out over the next four years, Goddard replies, “I’m too sad to ask.”
The fallout from the Sony hack, which led to changes at Sony — and in Sony’s approach to its films — can be felt with The Martian, a Fox movie. Goddard, who adapted the script from Andy Weir’s book, who was supposed to direct the film. And, yep, he left to write and direct The Sinister Six. Goddard, who was directly involved in the hiring of Ridley Scott, explains just how that all went down and recounts the conversations involved that led to him leaving The Martian and just how he found out that The Sinister Six wouldn’t be happening.
I met Goddard this past Monday morning at the bar area of his New York City hotel. Goddard, a very tall man, is (and should be) proud of what The Martian accomplishes. But with Goddard — who still has only directed one film, The Cabin in the Woods — there’s always just a hint of “I realize two movies got away from me” in almost everything he says. But, like he says, no one is going to feel sorry for him. And no one doubts he’s going to be just fine. (But he really wants to make that Sinister Six movie.)
Is it true there were three versions of The Martian? One with more jokes, one with less jokes and the one we see today, which is somewhere in the middle?
I don’t know if it was exactly three, but we did have a couple of different cuts, and we tested it a couple of different ways and played with it. You know, finding the right balance between tension and comedy is always tricky. Our first test screening tested very well. And that, of course, got us all cocky — then we changed a bunch of stuff and it went way down.
What was the change?
One of the things — and we found this was amazing — after Mark gets left, he operates on himself, and then he says, “fuck.” We took that “fuck” out because we kept playing with it because, with the MPAA, we weren’t sure how much swearing was allowed and we knew it had to be PG-13. And without that, the scores dropped dramatically. That first “fuck” tells the audience it’s okay to laugh.
And that he’s worried.
He’s worried, but you can laugh.
It serves both purposes.
It’s what attracted me to the book. The very first sentence of the book is, “I’m pretty much fucked.” I wanted to capture that feeling where one word can be both despondent and funny at the same time. And when we pulled it, the audience didn’t know for a good 30 minutes how they were supposed to feel. It was weird, watching with an audience, you really see that “fuck” is important.
Halfway through the movie, you get a sense of where the movie is most likely going, but I still felt stakes. That seems like a tough trick to pull off.
I got the question a lot with The Cabin in the Woods about protecting the twists. And I always said, “I don’t care about twists. I like my movies to play better the second time than the first time.” I’m not pro-spoiler. As a fan, I like to go into a movie unspoiled.
But if that spoiler is the only thing that makes the movie work, there’s a problem.
For sure, but I do like to protect people who don’t want to know because I don’t want to know. It’s more fun. So it’s that weird balance. But, at the same time, I agree with you 100 percent: If it’s about one twist, you’re doing something wrong. With The Martian, it’s like, I don’t care. It’s not about that. It’s not about if he’s going to live or if he’s going to die, fundamentally. It’s about these people coming together and what they do and what they believe in.
You wrote a movie where there’s no antagonist.
Yes. I think it was a huge draw to me.
Were there other forces telling you, “C’mon, add in an evil senator,” or something?
Jeff Daniels’ character is much more antagonistic in the book. One of the things that happens in Hollywood, they spend 90 percent of their energy in development meetings talking about bad-guy plans. It’s amazing how much energy is spent talking about it and no one gives a shit about bad-guy plans. Everyone is like, “Well, Die Hard had a great bad guy.” And I’m like, “Yes, well, name the next one,” and no one else can. It runs out after Die Hard. That’s the list of great bad guys. And I got sick of fucking writing them. You just get tired of it.
In Die Hard 2, it’s someone at an airport and he’s mad.
The Marvel movies have had this problem. The only villain who has really hit is Loki.
And if you look at it, it’s because he’s the trickster. The villain archetype I like is The Joker and Loki. And they don’t need motivation! Their motivation is, “We like causing trouble.” Which is, to me, the best motivation.
Heath Ledger’s Joker pretty much says that, “I’m a dog chasing cars.”
“Do I look like a guy with a plan?” It’s great.
Jeff Daniels’ character is against the rest of the crew going back for Mark because he doesn’t want to risk their lives. That is completely understandable.
It makes perfect sense. It was funny, we were talking to Mike Massimino, who is an astronaut, yesterday, and he would say, “Oh, we’d go back. We wouldn’t even hesitate.” But he was saying that from the astronaut’s point of view. I don’t know what the head of NASA would say. The best drama for me is when both sides are right, but they cannot coexist.
How did you tell Fox that you decided not to direct The Martian?
Well, it was a very adult conversation, which was nice. It was more like, “Guys, here’s the problem.” It was a scheduling problem. And I think if I had gone in and said, “I can direct this, but we have to wait two years,” I think they would have said yes. But I said I didn’t want that because I really believe this was a delicate situation. Remember, this wasn’t a best-seller; this was an e-book.
Which has a huge cult following.
But at the time, Fox doesn’t understand that. They can’t even hold the book. “We bought an e-book?” I’ve seen enough movies go down that my gut said, “Let’s make this.”
And you left to make The Sinister Six.
It was Sinister. It was the one that got jumped up. And the irony is, of course, that’s the one that didn’t get made [laughs]. But, that’s what you do.
But now having seen The Martian, and I want to word this in the nicest way possible, but I couldn’t help thinking, Why would anyone give this up?
It’s good to hear. But, again, that’s hindsight. The truth is, what I said — and this was their plan, too — let’s look at our list of directors and if we can find somebody we are all excited about, and if we all like it, then we will do it right now… and then we sent it to Ridley and he said yes that night.
I am a fan of a lot of Ridley Scott movies, but I don’t often think of Ridley Scott and comedy.
It’s a couple of things. First, I wasn’t worried. I’ve known Ridley because we’ve talked about working together for a few years. And there are moments in Thelma & Louise that I think are funnier than any comedy.
That’s a good point.
But the other thing you realize, you go: It may not be the movie I would direct, but it’s going to be good. That’s the trick.
I read that you still have hope for The Sinister Six. How real is that?
I have no idea.
Is that just you talking?
It’s just me talking. Because when you’re dealing with something like that, it comes down to billion-dollar companies figuring out their agendas for the next 20 years. So at the end of the day, I have no idea who is thinking what.
Do you have an eye on Suicide Squad? Obviously a different movie, but if a movie about a group of villains does well, maybe that gives you leverage?
But it wasn’t ever about that. It was about “Sony got hacked.”
Right, but with Disney and Marvel involved with Sony and Spider-Man now, it’s a whole new ballgame.
And it could probably still fit in.
Yeah, I did design it so that it could stand on its own, partially because those are the movies I like. It’s like what we talked about with Daredevil, just treat it like you’re doing your run. If you get your chance, just make it your own. [Laughs] And I can say for sure that the Sinister Six script I wrote was my own.
Does that feel like the one that got away?
You know, going into this, it’s a volatile business. Projects go down. That’s what happens.
You’re saying that, but I’m looking at your face and it’s saying something different. I can tell you are proud of that script.
It’s a tough one.
You’re not happy with the situation and you’re happy with the script.
Without question. I love that script. And I love my team; we were deep into prep.
How does that conversation happen?
It sucks. It was ongoing. When the day the FBI showed up at the Sony offices and they start pulling computers, I look at my assistant and go, “Oh, this is bad.”
But that didn’t necessarily mean all the movies were going to get canceled.
No, but we knew because of the situation — you know, Sinister is not a cheap movie — this is a giant movie, and when people start getting fired, it’s not good. It’s never good. So, we sort of knew. It was a long, ongoing process they were nice enough to involve me. At a certain point, I said, “If you’re asking me, the filmmaker, I want to go make this movie, I love it. If you’re asking me, the fan, I want to see Spider-Man and Captain America in the same frame. I want to see that.” Again, it was a very adult conversation when you make hard decisions. It’s Hollywood.
On the internet, your name gets attached to a lot of projects. There were rumors you were going to direct the new Spider-Man.
Yeah, but that’s just rumors.
So that was never true?
No, and I’ve learned to just stop reading the internet, especially stuff like that. I mean, I get it… my mom will be calling me, “You’re doing this?” And I’m like, “No, Mom.”
And now The Cabin in the Woods is still somehow the only movie you’ve directed. After the delays, that had to feel good when that finally came out and got the reaction it did. Did you feel vindicated?
No, it’s weird. By the time it gets to anyone, I’ve watched it 400 times. I really have; I’ve lived with it. So, at a certain point, you become distant from it. You just go, “It’s done.” The studio was in the middle of a bankruptcy, and I was still finishing the color timing, and I just watched it and I went, “I love this movie. I don’t fucking care. I don’t fucking care if it never comes out.”
I don’t believe that.
You’re right. It’s not that I don’t care. But I can live with it, because I’ll always have it.
But you knew you had something special and knew people would like it.
I hoped that. But you really don’t, that movie is crazy.
I just can’t imagine you watching it and saying, “I don’t care if no one sees this.” I don’t believe that at all.
Well, it’s not that I don’t care. To me, it’s the making of it that’s special. The rest of it is all bonus, if that makes sense… and you do trust that these things will work out.
Is that why you still have a positive attitude about The Sinister Six?
Yeah. You can either view the volatility of Hollywood negatively or positively. It’s just a choice. It’s not changing. It’s always going to be a volatile business. It always is. And the truth is, I make it hard on myself because I pick volatile projects. There’s a much safer career path I could have taken, so I can’t complain about it too much because it’s my choice. If you look at The Martian or whatever else was being offered to me at the time, I promise you the other things were safer… if you don’t like the project, that’s where you get into trouble. If you feel like you’re doing something cynically for money or because, oh, it will get made or it will be a hit and then it doesn’t work? Then, you’re miserable. You just are. I’ve seen it happen to my colleagues and you’re like, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place.” If you do what you love, it tends to work out.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.