featured Interview

Interview: Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura Talks ‘Madame Web’ and How It Fits into the ‘Spider-Man’ Cinematic Universe

February 15, 2024Ben MK

Over the past decade and a half, the comic book genre has gone from a barren wasteland to an oversaturated landscape where Earth's mightiest and most screen-worthy heroes regularly do battle to save the universe. When it comes to female-centric superhero movies, however, the glass ceiling may have been shattered, but there's still much more room to grow. While films like Wonder Woman, Black Widow and The Marvels may have whet moviegoers' collective appetite for more women-focused genre efforts, the reality is that these adventures are still few and far between. But with Madame Web, director SJ Clarkson and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura are setting out to fill that void, in Sony's latest Spider-Man spin-off.

I caught up with Lorenzo di Bonaventura to chat about Madame Web, its place in the larger web that is the Spider-Man cinematic universe, and whether there are any plans for a sequel.

First there was Venom, then Morbius, and now Madame Web. What makes Madame Web special, and how does this movie fit into the Spider-Man cinematic universe that it's clearly a part of?

di Bonaventura: We're consciously not worried about whether we're in the universe or not. We look at it as the comic [shows] the character we're trying to tell the origin story of. And it freed us from the burden of trying to link into all those things, in a way. So our intention with this is that you meet an extremely scarred human being who, through the process of this movie, comes to not only heal, but also accept the emotional responsibility of taking in those three girls and protecting them. So I think it's very different than those other movies, and less dependent on the visual extravaganzas that these kind of movies have to deliver.

You're no stranger to blockbuster film franchises, having worked on both the G.I. Joe and the Transformers series, among many more. How did your experience working on all those other movies come into play here, and how did Madame Web end up evolving through the course of its production?

di Bonaventura: Hopefully you're able to take certain things out of one production and put them into another. One of the things that was very important to SJ and I was that this would have a very grounded nature, even though there are some extraordinary things. And Transformers taught me how to look at visual effects as a component to reality, as opposed to just the visual effect. So when you look at what we did do from a visual effects point of view, we're not as reliant on them, and when we use them, we're less dependent on it because we're grounded. So that ability to understand the difference is where having done the other films really helps.

And what definitely evolved over time was probably more a sharpening [of the character] — understanding the emotional fragility that actually comes to be part of [who] she is. And you only can do that once you have an actress and once you begin to go in different directions with the script. So that was really fun.

And speaking of Madame Web's lead actress, did you and the filmmakers always have Dakota Johnson in mind for the role? How did she come to be a part of the film, and what did she bring to it?

di Bonaventura: No, I think when you start you rarely have a single idea of who it could be. And I think what is great about Dakota is she has a vulnerability and a femininity that feels very motherly. So when Dakota came to mind, the reason that she was selected was because you could feel that vulnerability. I think that if you had an actress that feels very hard, it would have made the journey very tricky for us.

Dakota is supported by a trio of up-and-coming actresses — Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O'Connor. Can you speak a bit about what they brought to the movie as well?

di Bonaventura: I worked with Isabela on one of the Transformers movies, and it was really interesting to see how she's grown as a human since that time period. So I had a good sense of her before we started. I did not have that with Celeste and Sydney, and I think what's unexpected is Sydney is playing a much more demure character in this than a lot of times we've seen her. It really showed you how good an actress she is that she could pull that off. And I think each of them are very different people, so it was great to put the three of 'em together. Because if they're three characters, they kind of become a blur if you’re not careful. So the idea of how to make them [all] singular and true to the origin stories of those characters from the comics was an interesting challenge.

Speaking of origin stories, of course Madame Web is an origin story for its lead character. But the film version of how Cassie gets her powers doesn't quite align with what comic book readers might already know. Can you shed some insight on those decisions to deviate from the comics?

di Bonaventura: What we were attracted to was the ability to tell a longer story for that character. So we decided that the origin story allowed you to get to understand Madame Web in a different way. And then, eventually, we will get to the character that you know. So there's a lot of freedom, and a real challenge in that if you don't get it right the fans will really be upset. And I think we got it right. So it made it exciting for us.

Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?

di Bonaventura: I have a favorite moment, which is the moment on the rooftop when she comes to understand that she can project. In a way, it's the flowering of who she is. It's a funny scene to say, but I guess my favorite scene is the scene where Adam Scott and [Dakota] are sitting post rescuing a woman and having Chinese takeout and being incredibly available as human beings. It's both funny and you really buy the friendship of the two. A lot is accomplished in one scene. I find that scene very charming.

And was there a scene or an aspect of the film that was especially challenging, from a production standpoint?

di Bonaventura: Yes, one of the hardest things was to repeat the scenes only slightly differently. And also, that wasn't just from a production point of view, that was also from a creative point of view. So I would say that was the most complicated thing we did. And then you had to think about how the camera was coming in on each scene. It was a struggle for us to understand it. So that was a really interesting challenge to get that right.

Judging by how Madame Web ends, there’s definitely a lot more to be told with these characters. Do you foresee a Madame Web sequel in our future?

di Bonaventura: Really, the audience determines that. Because if we're successful, then the studio will want to explore some more. We definitely have some ideas about where it could go, and I would say that where we hope it to go is, again, character-based. And the three younger characters, they have a good amount written about them. So there's a lot to draw from in, hopefully, the next installment.

Madame Web is in theaters now.

You May Also Like