Through His Glasses: A Talk with The Amazing Spider-Man's Leif Gantvoort

The actor-director Leif Gantvoort plays a pivotal role in the summer blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man, and swings by PopMatters to tell us all about it: the Mensa premiere, his thoughts on if it's too soon for a franchise reboot, and why everyone should watch the movie Brick ...

The Amazing Spider-Man

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-07-03 (General release)
UK date: 2012-07-03 (General release)

Leif Gantvoort (pronounced "Leaf Gant-Fert") has been a working actor in Hollywood for over a decade and has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. You may not know the name, but chances are you've seen the face. Will his pivotal role in the blockbuster-to-be, The Amazing Spider-Man swing him up to the next level?

Sitting down with PopMatters, Gantvoort tells us about the film from the inside, from its special Mensa premiere to whether or not he thinks it's too soon for a reboot, that on top of his own career writing, directing, and getting everyone to watch Brick ...

* * *

You've had a lot of questions coming from all over the place, especially now that The Amazing Spider-Man is poised for a big summer release, so my first question is ... what question do you not want me to ask?

Anything that's specific to the character or its role in the film. That's the only stuff I can't cover. Everything else is fair game!

We'll go directly into that, then. In the new movie The Amazing Spider-Man, you play "Glasses", a cash register thief and a pivotal villain in the film. What are you allowed to tell PopMatters about him?

Um ... that's it. You know, unfortunately, just because anything else that I say about him gives note to exactly what he does in context to what happens in the film.

So anything you could possibly say might be a spoiler?

Yes! [laughs] That's the problem.

Well as I understand it he is something of a villain. You're no stranger to playing, at least, a guy with a gun in several projects. One of your more memorable roles is a character so determined to be polite that he's willing to pull a gun on someone to make sure he gets to pay the check at dinner or to give up a disputed parking space to another driver. Did that character originate in the sketch comedy show ACME Saturday Night?

Yeah, yeah, that's where that character came from. He first started on stage [at the ACME theater in Los Angeles] and it just kind of evolved into doing these short little films with him. We've done three films with that character, one with Lea Thompson, one with Dianne Farr and that one with Gregg Binkley.

You actually are a creative force at the ACME Theater. A teacher, producer, director, writer and, of course, an actor. That extends to the weekly series ACME Saturday Night, now Hollywood Saturday Night. Can you tell me of some of your favorite characters and events from the series and the ACME theater itself?

The fun thing about our show is that it's new every time we do it and [features] a new guest host, so it's mostly about the people we get to work with. I don't do a lot of characters, necessarily. I like the one-off type sketches where you find a funny premise, you find a funny scenario and you just write about that. Recurring characters are something that a lot of our other actors and performers delve in. I don't succeed at that very much, so I don't do it as much.

But memorable stories? Yeah. The people you get to work with. Your Matthew Lillards, your Robert Foresters, your Lea Thompsons; Jorge Garcia was great to work with. There's all kinds of fun people that just come and get to play with us.

The Amazing Spider-Man follows the last film in the previous Spider-Man series, Spider-Man 3, by only five years, less time than a lot of actual sequels take to be released. There are a lot of competing opinions in the blogosphere and elsewhere about whether it's "too soon for a reboot", whatever that means. Do you have an opinion on that?

[laughs] Yeah. You're right. From the beginning there's been a lot of haters. Even for me, the experience was as soon as I was cast there were blogs that popped up about me and what my role was and putting me down, like "Who is this guy? Blah blah blah.", but I think people are going to be surprised. A lot of those people's opinions have changed, you know, seeing the trailers and hearing the interviews from [director] Marc [Webb] and Andrew [Garfield] and everybody that's involved. I think that, even more so, once they see the film, they're going to realize that this isn't just a reboot, but it's a new story. It's a new way of telling something that you're sort of familiar with but it's not the same story. It's something completely fresh and new and I really like the approach that the film is taking. It's something that I, as a fan, am excited to see.

Because ... I love superhero films. I love that dynamic, but what I love more is a microscopic look at some of the aspects of the reality of what this film is going to be talking to, the humanistic approach that Marc Webb takes with analyzing this character. I think a lot of people are going to really enjoy it.

Are you a comic book fan?

Yeah, I was. I grew up as a DC [Comics] fan. I read a lot of DC titles in high school and when I went to college, my roommate was a Marvel guy, so we spent the next four years trading books. So I did get introduced to Spider-Man and I did get introduced to all those other Marvel characters at a great time and I am a huge fan.

That's kind of funny. I was actually the "Mister Marvel Fan" until college and with "The Death of Superman" and all of that I kind of shifted over and became a DC fan, so we almost had the opposite experience.

Yeah, and you had the experience that my roommate had. He was the Marvel guy and then he was like "Oh, no, DC is not half bad. There's good stuff here, too."

Are you a fan of Spider-Man specifically, as far as, say, the other movies and any of the cartoons go?

Oh, yeah. I was a big fan of the first three films. I thought Sam Raimi did a great job. You know, they were all entertaining. I think [the second] was my favorite. That one just took it to a new level for me. I love the first one, but the second one just had such great heart in it throughout. So, yeah, I've been a fan of the films. Even though there were all the haters in the beginning I was still excited to be a part of this one because I love the world that surrounds it.

There is going to be a separate premiere for The Amazing Spider-Man presented by Mensa. You are a member of Mensa, which makes me hope I don't spell anything wrong when I transcribe this interview.

I wouldn't be able to tell you if you did. My spelling is horrible. [laughs].

Going back a little bit, you were born in Florida, raised in South Dakota and you ended up acting in a few different states before coming to Hollywood. What was the acting scene like in South Dakota?

I did high school plays and I did community theatre but at that point it just wasn't something that I took seriously. It was mostly for the fun of just getting on stage and having people look at you and having people listen to you. That was an enjoyable experience.

Then when I went to college it wasn't going to be my focus. I went to college to be a math major, of all things. In the first semester it didn't take long for me to realize that all the math classes were at eight o'clock in the morning and all of the theater classes started at one o'clock in the afternoon, so my major shifted not long after I went to college.

I didn't necessarily feel like I was ready to make the move to California right out of college. I did "The Great Midwestern Tour" as I like to say. I spent a lot of time in regional theaters and dinner theater and any place that I could find a job and get the experience that I wanted to get before I made the move to L.A.

At what point did you decide that this was actually going to be your career?

I was in St. Louis at the time and I was working on a few shows and there just weren't that many opportunities there. So I finally kind of woke up and said "If I really want to test these waters then I need to go some place where the opportunities are greater. Do I go to New York and focus on being a stage actor or do I go to L.A. and try screen acting?"

I just went with my gut and I moved to L.A. That's where I felt like I needed to be. I also visited L.A. quite a few times and at that point in my life I liked the environment. I grew up in South Dakota, like you said, where it was cold. Going some place where it was never going to snow seemed like a NICE option.

How long did it take you to get your first Hollywood break?

I still feel like my big break is yet to come. I feel like [The Amazing Spider-Man] is a step in the right direction. Hey ... I'm still looking for that big thing that's going to help catapult me to the next level.

You've been on Desperate Housewives, Justified, and several, several other great projects. Do you get a lot of that "Where do I know you from?" looks from people?

Yes. Yes. But, you know, it's nice.

You've been acting professionally for about 15 years. Do you have a favorite role out of that time?

There have been projects that I've walked away from going "That was a good display of what I can do." I did a film called Lunatics, Lovers & Poets where I played the lead and I got to explore a lot of my range as an actor. It did really well on the festival circuit. I got nominated for awards here and there. That's a good film that I like to look back on and hope people can see, because that kind of displays a little bit of my potential.

What's up next for Leif Gantvoort? What other projects should we be on the lookout for?

There is one other film that I have potentially coming out later this year around October called Last Stop.

Last Stop. You play "Sam" and Mena Suvari and Brian Austin Green co-star?

Yes. It's an ensemble cast. The film focuses on six of us, the six main characters. Hopefully that will be hitting the screens soon. It's a horror film, but it's more of a psychological thriller/ horror. It's not your "boogeyman" type horror film. It's a little smarter than that I would say.

Can you tell me some of your acting influences? For comedy? For drama?

On the comedy side, I'm a huge Gene Wilder fan. He's been one of the biggest influences that I've ever had. I look forward to the day that, hopefully, I can meet him because I think he's just a marvel.

He never felt like he was "performing". Even as broad as his characters could get sometimes, it always felt like he was somebody you could connect with. Somebody that you wanted to hang out with. I think that's the test for a great actor. That's what it's all about. The connection.

On the dramatic side, I was a fan of Timothy Olyphant before I got to work with him [on Justified] and I'm still a fan of his, even more so after I got to work with him. There've been a lot of people like that, that are influential on my career.

Everybody has that one totally obscure favorite film. Nobody else knows about it, you recommend it all the time, chances are nobody's going to watch it, nobody else gets it. Can you share with us what that one obscure favorite of yours might be?

I don't know how obscure it is. More and more people have discovered it. [2005's] Brick. I love that film. It's not a mainstream film but I always say that every now and then you see a perfect film. It's not that it's perfect for everybody but it's what the director wanted, what the actors wanted, what the writer wanted when they started the project. I feel like that's a perfect film. Everything about that film is exactly what they wanted it to be. And the style of it is just brilliant. Everything is brilliant.

When anybody says "What should I watch?", I'm like "Watch Brick."

Almost on the flip side, everybody's got that one guilty pleasure. The movie that you know you shouldn't be in love with, but you absolutely are. Do you mind sharing with me what yours might be?

I like watching bad films as much as I like watching good films. I always take something away from the experience. They can be just as much fun as watching a great film sometimes. I do a [better] job of remembering the ones I like than the ones I don't like.

I'll tell you this, though, one of my good friends was in Jersey Shore Shark Attack a couple of weeks ago, so I had to sit down and watch that. That was fun. Knowing him and going on that ... train-wreck of a film that it was, but intentionally so, you know?

So that's a guilty pleasure. Those sci-fi films are a guilty pleasure to watch.

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