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Jon Spaihts talks writing Doctor Strange, Passengers, The Mummy and more!

11.04.2016by: Eric Walkuski

This is a big year for screenwriter Jon Spaihts; actually, a big two months. On November 4th, Marvel will finally unveil the long-awaited DOCTOR STRANGE, the psychedelic superhero adventure that was a passion project for Spaihts (who co-wrote with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill) from the moment it was announced. Then, in December, Sony will release PASSENGERS, a sci-fi epic starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The film is based on Spaihts' 2007 Black List script that has been struggling to make it to the big screen for years (six years ago, Keanu Reeves was attached to star). That PASSENGERS hasn't been fiddled with in all the years it has been traveling through development hell with is a very rare occurrence indeed, and represents yet another victory for Spaihts, who has become one of the hottest genre scribes in town.

Spaihts, who already has THE DARKEST HOUR and PROMETHEUS behind him, is currently working on too many high-profile projects to count. He's updating THE BLACK HOLE for Disney, CUBE for Lionsgate (read a small bit of news on that below), and THE MUMMY and VAN HELSING for Universal. He also contributed to the PACIFIC RIM: MAELSTROM screenplay for Guillermo del Toro. There are also various other spec scripts and assignments floating around his desk at this very moment, I'm sure. Spaihts was able to take a bit of time out from his crowded schedule to talk to me about helping bring DOCTOR STRANGE to the big screen, his enthusiasm for the character and his thoughts on the inevitable sequel. Additionally, we talk about PASSENGERS' long journey to cinemas, his work on THE MUMMY and the Universal Monster cinematic universe, VAN HELSING and the CUBE reboot!

jon spaihts prometheus interview

You joined Doctor Strange after Scott Derrickson was already on board to direct; what was that collaboration like, considering he's also a writer?

A very fine writer. I think Scott came on board first of all. I think I saw an announcement that they were looking for directors, and that made me aware of the project to begin with, that they were starting again to make a Doctor Strange movie. I called my agent and said, "Is there a script?" He called and then called me back to say, surprise, no there wasn't. I said, "Get me in the room right now, I've got to talk to them." So I ended up very early in the process sitting in a room with Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard, the executive producer, and Scott Derrickson. Scott and I were mutual admirers, we'd been friendly to one another on Twitter, so we knew each other a little bit. In the end, I am told, I was the only writer they seriously spoke to, and we quickly began working together. The four of us broke story and then I would go and outline and then we would get back together for months, until I had put together a very detailed outline of the film in the neighborhood of 50 pages. Then I went away and wrote the first draft. Subsequently, I went off and made Passengers, and Scott and his partner C. Robert Cargill carried the script forward from there. Then I rejoined the process at the end to help bring it home and refine the story.

Where did you start with the script; where there any issues of the comic in particular that captured your imagination?

There were a lot of discussions in the early going, very blue sky, we considered all possibilities. There were a number of big, long-running villains as possibilities. We debated whether or not it should be an origin story. In the end, we were unable to deny the emotional force and drama of Strange's origin story in the comics, which I think is truly the best superhero origin story of them all. That brought us to a fairly reverent take on the beginning of Doctor Strange, which I also think makes it really approachable for people who are not necessarily familiar with comics, I think it's a very easy story to step into as a member of the moviegoing public, anybody who loves a good story can get on board.

When did you first encounter the comic?

Very early on. I was not a rich kid, so I didn't go to the comic book store every week so I subsisted on hand-me-downs from my friends. I would always sift through whatever they would give me for anything Doctor Strange, he was my favorite from the very beginning. I love the psychedelic visuals and the cosmic scope of the story, I loved the universe-saving heroics of Doctor Strange. As extraordinary as his powers became, he was constantly coming up against beings of nearly godlike power, and being forced to fight his way through using sheer determination. That for me has always been the central appeal of the character.

Doctor Strange jon spaihts interview benedict cumberbatch

Would you be interested in writing the sequel? What else from the comics do you think we might see going forward?

I will always have difficulty saying no to Doctor Strange, should the stars align for me. There are too many stories to easily pick one. There's a beautiful series of very dark zombie apocalypse stories, they're gothic and dark and wonderful. There are huge cosmic stories with a number of entities from beyond the boundaries of our universe, some of which boast the best of Ditko's visuals. Honestly, I think you can make ten amazing Doctor Strange movies.

And they will! You've got Passengers coming out in December, that's obviously a script that's been waiting to make it to the big screen for a few years; how does it feel knowing it's finally coming out, starring two of the biggest stars in the world?

It's incredibly gratifying. It's been a very long road, as you know, and I've been aboard the whole time. To finally get it made, and to see it in such style, and to be on set and be deeply involved in the production has been the ride of a lifetime. And honestly, to have the project to myself like this is extraordinarily rare and could easily never happen to me again, even in a long and successful career. It is without question a treasured memory and long sought victory.

Is what's being released in theaters your script? In other words, has it stayed intact or has it been altered from your original drafts?

Well, to the extent that it was altered by me and it was altered in response to the inevitable needs of film production. There are things we shot that didn't make it into the movie, which is always true. There are things we thought of on the fly that we added to the movie that made it better. It has certainly evolved, for the most part for the better, but it is very true to its original bones. I think its heart is right where it began.

Passengers Chris Pratt Jennifer Lawrence

Looking forward a little bit, what can you tell me about The Mummy? I believe it's not going to resemble either the original Boris Karloff version or the Stephen Sommers version?

It pays homage to the original Karloff version, to be sure, and you'll see references there, but it is refreshing many things. By the time a monster makes it into kids cartoons and becomes a common Halloween mask, it's time to reclaim its original scariness, to inject some originality. Alex Kurtzman and I and the army of artists who labored to make the film have really found new ground upon which The Mummy can scare people.

Would you say it's more horror than action?

I call it horror adventure, I think it does both things.

How deep is this whole Universal Monsters cinematic universe going? Are they forming a monstrous Avengers?

I think in the best case scenario you will see a new universe of films being made, each with a deep mythology of its own, but one that allows those mythologies to intermingle across a wider franchise and will ultimately bring the heroes and villains of these stories into contact with one another.

The Mummy Tom Cruise Jon Spaihts Alex Kurtzman

How far along are you on Van Helsing?

Van Helsing is very far down the road in terms of its story, and we're waiting to see how the film will be put together.

Finally, last year it was announced you'd be writing a reboot of CUBE for Lionsgate. Are you still involved with that?

I have been involved with it. I think it's resting right now as we look for a new creative direction, but we still are inspired by the vision of that original, independent, high-concept film. With any luck, we'll still bring a new iteration of that story to light.

Is the director who was initially announced still a part of it?

To be honest, I'll have to check. I don't know.

Fair enough! Thanks so much for your time, Jon.

Thank you!

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