The ever-unpredictable Denis Leary goes from loose cannon to straight arrow as "The Amazing Spider-Man's" top cop
Author Sam Polcer
IT MAY SEEM UNLIKELY, but Denis Leary—who first gained notice in the 1990s as the chain-smoking, leather jacket-clad motormouth whose “No Cure for Cancer” comedy routine was a standup sensation—has a thing for uniforms. From a plainclothes detective’s suit-and-tie for the critically acclaimed dark comedy “The Job” to the firefighter’s coat he sweated in for seven seasons of his Emmy-nominated drama “Rescue Me,” the rant-spewing comic seems remarkably comfortable in institutional garb. (In real life, Leary once dreamed of wearing a jersey in the NHL but instead flunked off his high school hockey team. He ended up studying writing and acting at Boston’s Emerson College—and the rest is history.)
Most recently, Leary, 55, donned the uniform of New York’s finest to play Captain Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man. His no-nonsense cop spends much of the film chasing after the slippery web slinger (The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield), who also has happens to have designs on Stacy’s daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone).
Play had an easier time cornering Leary, who shared some insights about life on a blockbuster set, playing against Tony nominee Garfield, and what the wardrobe for his dream role looks like (hint: it includes a cowboy hat).
The Amazing Spider-Man is your first live-action film since your FX drama, “Rescue Me,” wrapped last year. How does working on a movie production of this scale compare with a TV show? Did you get a bigger trailer?
I actually had a pretty big trailer on the show, so it wasn’t that—it was the naps. On “Rescue Me,” I was in charge of the writing and production as well as acting, so those were 90-hour workweeks. I really enjoyed the experience but there was no downtime. And we had gotten ourselves to a point, probably a year in, where we could shoot seven to 10 pages of dialogue a day because we knew that we’d have to go shoot a large action sequence at the end of the week. So the best part of Spider-Man, for me, was when a very worried assistant director would come up to me and say, “OK, tomorrow we really have to do a lot of work—we’re going to do a page and a half of dialogue.” So the biggest difference was that I got to take about three different naps a day. It was great.
It looks like a stunt-heavy movie, though. How much of that did you do?
As opposed to some of the other movie action heroes, I’m very proud to say I did not do many of my character’s stunts. I just told those guys, “Listen, here’s what I do: I do vigorous walking. And I’ll fly in the helicopter, ’cause I look cool doing that.” But when it comes to rappelling out of the helicopter—that’s basically just falling backward really fast out of the sky. I had done that on “Rescue Me.” So I said, “I’m not doing rappelling, OK?” We had great stunt doubles. Besides, Andrew Garfield was doing most of his own stunts as Spider-Man. I said, “You don’t need me. Just put the camera on him.”
You did, however, get to wield some serious firepower.
That was awesome —there was like a whole week of me shooting a shotgun. I loved it. When I saw that in the script, I said, “Just hand it to me and tell the stunt doubles to get a sandwich.” And believe me, my dream job at this point—because I’ve gotten to do everything that I’ve ever dreamed of and beyond in Hollywood—is to do a Western. With Clint Eastwood, if I can.
I’ll spread the word.
I think you should. Me, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall. In a Western. I’ll be the bad guy.
It’s reassuring to hear you say that. With your good-guy turn in Spider-Man and yet another installment of the Ice Age kids’ films this summer, one might think you’ve softened a bit. Then again, this year you’re coming out with a Christmas book that has a title we can’t print. Is it important for you to work at both ends of the edginess spectrum?
It’s where my brain’s at, you know? While I was pushing those two movies, I had a big-band swing song called [another title we can't print] on Funny or Die. That kind of sums up my career: always some comedy, a little bit of drama and then a funny song with a dirty title. That’s just me.
But you’ve stayed away from mainstream sitcoms.
I wasn’t into cleaning up my language or my subject matter. In college, my training had been acting, writing and comedy. But the one thing I had no interest in was sitcoms. So when they were offered to me when I first hit, I just kept saying no. I was just going by my gut. And you know, things work out. I mean, I look at Ray Romano, who was in the comedy clubs when I was just starting out. I think it’s an amazing show that he pulled out of his standup material, playing himself—not every comedian can do that. He was fantastic. I could never have done that show.
Speaking of impressive performances, director Marc Webb assembled quite a cast for The Amazing Spider-Man. What was it like working with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone?
Andrew was 26. I don’t know if you saw him in Death of a Salesman on Broadway, which he was nominated for a Tony for—that was a proving ground. But even just from his film work, it’s obvious the kid has a very deep toolbox and that he’s for real. But Emma’s just … she’s 22 years old! My son’s 22. It’s unbelievable how mature she is. She’s a great dramatic actress. She’s a great comedic actress. She can improvise. She’s got everything, you know? It’s a little scary.
Was there much room for improvising in a movie like this?
There was, much to Marc’s credit. I’ve done a lot of big-budget movies where there’s no time for improv, so I thought he was crazy. Yet some of the lines that made it into the movie were actually ones that we came up with ourselves. That scene between me and Emma in the hallway, where she doesn’t want me to come into her room, the sequence that’s in the movie is almost completely improvised. That’s virtually unheard of in a giant studio action summer blockbuster.
Considering you have a daughter in real life, how much of a stretch was it to play Captain Stacy intimidating Peter Parker as the guy trying to date his daughter, Gwen?
Not much! [Laughs.] We actually started with that scene. I couldn’t believe how good Andrew was. I was trying to stare him down, and he wasn’t even blinking. He started to intimidate me after a while. Marc came up to me after the first three takes and he was like, “Listen, you have to step it up here.” And I’m like, “Yeah. I know. I get it.” So I really had to dig down deep to scare Andrew, which I did on the fourth or fifth take.
Do you have any memories of being on the other end of that staring contest, growing up?
Yeah. Many, many, many times. There weren’t a lot of moms and dads who were happy to see me show up at their dinner table.