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Denis Leary on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” comedy, and life after “Rescue Me”

denis leary the amazing spider-man

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The Amazing Spider-Man” hit theaters recently, and the new film by “500 Days of Summer” director Marc Webb aimed to give the Marvel wall-crawler’s movie franchise a fresh start with a modern origin story that puts the character’s cinematic canon more in line with his comic-book roots. The new film also boasts an impressive cast led by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as Peter Parker and Emma Stone (“The Help”) as his first love, Gwen Stacy. They’re joined by veteran comedian and actor Denis Leary, who plays tough-as-nails police captain George Stacy.

While there’s been no small amount of debate over the last year regarding the “Amazing Spider-Man” cast and the direction Webb is taking the franchise, one piece of news that seemed to receive universal approval is Leary’s casting. After seven seasons as the lead actor and head writer on “Rescue Me,” the FX Network’s critically praised drama about the lives of New York firefighters, Leary seemed like the perfect fit for the role of Captain Stacy — one of the major characters that shaped Spider-Man’s early years.

IFC spoke with Leary during the press junket for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and got his take on the superhero movie experience, what type of scene he’ll never let a stunt actor perform, and life after his intense, seven-year run on “Rescue Me.”

IFC: First off, I’m curious how you ended up in the role of Captain Stacy. “The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t your usual sort of film, though the role certainly fits…

Denis Leary: Well, I talked to Marc [Webb] on the phone and even I said to him, “Why are you thinking of me for this?” I had just got done playing Tommy Gavin [on “Rescue Me”] for seven years, so I didn’t see it, but Marc was very clear in what he wanted. So I just listened to him. His vision was very clear about what he saw for the movie. That was the anchor of the whole thing.

IFC: Among other things, I assume that all of the green-screen work involved in a film like this was probably an unusual experience for you. Did it feel like a very different type of film than what you’re used to?

Leary: We actually didn’t do much green-screen stuff. Marc was very adamant about doing as much in front of the camera as he could, as opposed to going CGI or green screen. So we sometimes had a large green-screen in the background on actual city street locations, and there were times when Rhys [Ifans] had a green sleeve on his arm, but even in some of the biggest actions sequences we did a lot in front of the camera. For instance, at the end of the movie with me and Rhys and Andrew [Garfield], we did a couple of weeks of really detailed work with all three of us, no stunt doubles. There was a lot of action right in front of the camera, and it never felt like the usual action movie. It wasn’t the kind of action where it felt like a lot of small pieces cut together.

IFC: What I liked about your role is that you get to have some heroic moments of your own — that Spider-Man doesn’t get to have all the fun. You get to take on a supervillain with your shotgun and kick some ass. Do you enjoy moments like those in projects?

Leary: Yeah, there was a sequence in “Rescue Me” where Tommy shoots up a bar owned by the guys he works with, and the scene involved a rifle. Peter Tolan directed it and he shot it like an old Western in terms of the action, and I remember Marc making a reference to that. So I said, “Listen — I want to shoot the gun. When we get to that part of the movie, I don’t want any stunt-double stuff there. I want to shoot that shotgun.” I love stuff like that. I’m a big Western fan and a big action-movie fan, so that’s all me. Even when the camera is on my back and it could be the stunt double, it’s me shooting that shotgun. I did as much of that scene as i could.

IFC: Working on a television series, I’m sure you have to keep certain things secret, but nothing compares to a big comic-book movie like this when it comes to everyone trying to get early peeks and spoilers and stuff like that. What was it like to work under conditions like that?

Leary: Yeah, I’m used to having to protect information in television with cliffhangers and finales and all that stuff, but it’s not the same thing as a franchise thing like this. They’re interested from the beginning, and there are paparazzi taking photos of everyone to see what they look like in character and everything like that. People are going online and talking about the way people look. To Marc’s credit, he was like, “I can only listen to a certain amount of that and then I have to go back into this world and shoot.”

IFC: Did you find yourself following along with any of the buzz?

Leary: No, I’d just get to the set and Avi [Arad] would say, “They’re concerned about…” this or that. Fortunately for me, every time there was anything mentioned about Captain Stacy, it was like, “They think Captain Stacy looks pretty cool.” I was like, “Of course they do. It’s me.” [Laughs] But I understand it, though. If we were doing Batman, they have the right to be concerned about the suit.

IFC: Over the last few years, we haven’t seen you in too many movies — but we’ve heard your voice quite a bit. Is all the voice-acting work a product of your busy television schedule, or is it something you’re gravitating toward for other reasons?

Leary: It’s because I’ve had no time. When I do something, I’m 100% in, so even when someone would offer me a role that could shoot on the weekends, I’d be like, “That’s going to kill me, and it will kill your production, and everybody would hate me on ‘Rescue Me’ and everyone would hate me on your movie.” I had about two months off every year during “Rescue Me,” and that was my downtime. I was working 90-hour weeks.

IFC: Given that sort of schedule, is doing a movie like “The Amazing Spider-Man” like a vacation for you?

Leary: Yeah, definitely. We shot [“The Amazing Spider-Man”] for a long time and people were complaining, but I was like, “It’s easy for me, man. I don’t have to do any of the writing. When I go home at night, I watch ‘SportsCenter’ and go to bed.” I didn’t have to rewrite scenes or anything, so it was great.

IFC: Beyond the work schedule, it must have been refreshing to be in something with a lighter tone than “Rescue Me,” given how tense and dramatic the show was…

Leary: I’m sure even now there are people who worked on “Rescue Me” who talk about what a nasty mood I was in for seven years. And I’m like, “Listen, my character was in a nasty mood for seven years.” Sure, on certain days he was in a great mood, but it’s hard, because you have to go to work with that tone. Even if it’s not on the forefront of your brain, at some point in the day it’s going to be. But it worked, so I don’t care.

IFC: I always think it’s interesting when comedians make the jump to acting and don’t go the sitcom route or do comedies that are basically an extension of their standup routines. What is it that drew you to drama instead of comedy when you shifted into movie and television acting? Why do you think that happens with some comedians?

Leary: I don’t know. It really depends on the person’s interest. I was never interested in doing a sitcom, which is fine. Ray Romano was, and Ray’s sitcom is an American classic. And then I saw Ray’s serious show, “Men of a Certain Age,” and he was good in that, too. I think it’s just that my interests were always twofold. When I was doing standup, I always wanted to get out of the standup world and take it back into the theatrical world, like with “No Cure For Cancer.” Those guys thought I was nuts when I talked about that, though. When I was doing standup, guys were desperate for stuff like Letterman and “The Tonight Show,” but I never auditioned for any of that stuff. I had no interest in it. I didn’t want to change my language or subject matter, but I also wasn’t thinking in five-minute chunks. So it just depends on the person. There are some guys I know for a fact, like Louis C.K., who always talk about how not-great of an actor he is, and he’s terrific on his show. But I know Louis would play a fantastic dramatic role in something, too. He just needs somebody to grab him and say, “Come in here and do this.” It’s all about what interests they have at the time and what they want to do.

IFC: So what’s next for you? In an ideal world, would you keep doing movies for a while, or would you jump back into another television series?

Leary: I’d love to do another television series. I really love the writing process, and as an actor I really like how much you get to examine in television. I think the medium has taken off in terms of talent and people’s interest if you make a good show. I loved it, man. I think that some of the best talent in the world is working in television right now. Great actors, great writers, great directors… even Martin Scorsese! It’s great to have talent in movies and television at an even keel. There’s a lot of great shit to watch now.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.