Denis Leary blows through Hollywood job titles the way he used to chain-smoke cigarettes during his Boston comedy club days: actor, screenwriter, producer, author, television pitchman, animation voice actor and, believe it or not, fashion-show emcee and national anthem singer. The next Leary résumé line arrives July 3 with the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
“Emma Stone’s dad,” said Leary, referring to his role as the gruff, on-screen father to the film’s lead actress. “That’s the point in my career I’ve reached. It will be ‘Emma Stone’s dad’ now, which, by the way, I’m fine with being. She’s the real thing; she’s fantastic.”
Stone, coming off roles in “The Help” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” plays Gwen Stacy, the girl who falls in love with Peter Parker, the brainy teenager who is spider-bit by fate and becomes the hard-luck title hero. The web-slinger is played by Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network” actor who became Stone’s real-life boyfriend on the set and is now winning raves on Broadway in Mike Nichols’ production of “Death of a Salesman.”
Leary, meanwhile, plays the cranky but honorable NYPD Capt. George Stacy, who quickly seems like a potential father figure for the orphaned Parker even though he’s the lawman leading the manhunt for Manhattan’s wall-crawling vigilante.
“This is a Denis Leary you’ve never seen before — he’s not the cool cat bucking the system, he is the system,” producer Matt Tolmach said. “He’s got wit, he’s got an attitude, and he’s got 500 officers looking for Spider-Man — who just happens to be dating his daughter.”
The complications deepen when an overreaching scientist (played by Rhys Ifans) makes the mandatory Marvel mistake of experimenting on himself and transforms into a nasty monster called the Lizard.
“This is a darker Spider-Man, and it’s a more realistic Spider-Man, in some aspects,” Leary said of this fourth Spidey film but the first without director Sam Raimi or stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Raimi’s trilogy piled up $3.5 billion in worldwide box office but, with 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” showed enough signs of bloat that Sony execs opted to start from scratch.
“They have a lot to live up to,” Dunst told The Times not long after Marc Webb was announced as director, and no one argued the point. Webb showed a flair for sharp romance in his “(500) Days of Summer” but had zero experience with big-time digital effects. But, early on, Webb made it clear he wouldn’t try to out-Raimi the Raimi films; his would go leaner and meaner with less CG spectacle and more in-camera stunt work, all to the good considering this new “Kick Ass”-informed version of Parker as an angry young (masked) man.
Leary loved the approach — he learned in seven seasons of “Rescue Me” that using “real smoke and real flame” turned up the positive tension for cast and audience alike. He also was excited when Webb promised that the 90-day shoot in Los Angeles and New York would have time set aside for improvisation that could add crackle to the dialogue.
“Marc said he wanted us to be ready to jump off the page and be in the moment,” Leary said, “but I was thinking, ‘How much time are we going to have to do that on this giant action movie?’ But you know what? Almost every day it happened. For an actor, that’s a dream.”
Especially for Leary, a co-founder in the 1970s of the still-enduring Emerson Comedy Workshop at his alma mater. In the 1990s, on his early feature-film sets, Leary used the ability to hold his own with “guys in the acting hall of fame,” be it Clint Eastwood for “True Crime” or Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro for Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog.”
“Amazing Spider-Man” has some real-deal cast members of its own (Sally Field and Martin Sheen costar), but Leary spoke as if Garfield and Stone, both in their 20s, might end up as the hall of famers in the ensemble. He spoke in awe, for instance, of Stone’s ad-lib prowess during the filming of a dinner scene at the Stacy household.
“A lot of actors are not great at improv, but she’s fantastic at it,” Leary said. “She’s an incredibly talented kid. And I had heard that on the grapevine from people; I heard that Bill Murray on ‘Zombieland’ was saying, ‘That girl is comedy gold.’ And she is, she’s the real thing. So, yeah, I’m Emma Stone’s dad.”
– Geoff Boucher
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