Sam Raimi: Sam Raimi Interview: The Ultimate Multiverse of Madness

For Sam Raimi, the final weeks of making his first superhero movie since he helped kick-start the genre’s modern era with his Spider-Man trilogy are pure multitasking madness. The director works from his Los Angeles home. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in three places at once — virtually watching over composer Danny Elfman laying down a score with an orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London, while also listening in on actors rerecording dialogue, and supervising the movie’s sound mix. 

All of this is possible because Michael Waldron, a screenwriter who brought a comic touch and a humorous flair to Disney+’s show, was involved in the process. LokiRaimi was busy filming the movie, so he finished the screenplay. He’d taken over the project after Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange2016 was the year that the sequel was ended. “creative differences”; with a script to redo and a shooting deadline already in place, Raimi was behind schedule before he’d even started.

Raimi seems to enjoy the chaos of Doctor Strange’s latest movie, which opens in theaters on May 6th. Raimi was the man who made the indie horror classic “Gonzo Indie Horror.” The Evil Dead At age 20, he invented camera techniques and created new levels of homemade makeup. Multiverse It is essentially a direct sequel three different Marvel properties, the original Doctor Strange last year’s Spider-Man: Spider-Man is not coming home. Disney+ TV shows WandaVision, with Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff on board as the film’s second lead character. 

“It’s a really complex movie,”Raimi said that reshoots were used in 2022 partly to clarify the story. “It’s probably the most complex movie I’ve ever had anything to do with. Not just dealing with one character, or even five characters, but multiversal versions of those characters — and each one has a storyline.”

In an age of “visionary director” has become a marketing cliché, Raimi is the real thing, his camera a living, even violent presence in his films. His absurdist horror masterpiece is his career highlight. Evil Dead 2 (1987) and the comic-book-movie-without-the-comic-book Darkman (1990) to the masterful, noirish dramatic drama Simple plan (1998). Of course, there are the aforementioned. Spider-Man movies, which helped pave the way for Marvel’s current multiplex domination. 

Raimi hadn’t made a movie since 2013, but at age 62, he’s ready for a whole new chapter — and as he reveals, maybe even another Spider-Man film. “I’m hoping to find my next project very quickly,”He says, “and keep it on the floor, as they say. I feel invigorated by this movie.”

What are your feelings at this stage?
It feels very good. When we started, we had a deadline to start shooting with a script that I didn’t really have anything to do with. And [screenwriter] Michael Waldron, [producer]Richie Palmer and the Marvel team, as well as myself, had to jump in, start over. I was very rushed and panicked — a lot of trepidation. But we persevered. We saw the delays in Covid as a blessing, because they allowed us to spend more time on the script. We were able to start filming, even though we were still writing the script. This was a great moment. I feel so relieved. We are now at the end of that part.

WandaVision was supposed to follow this movie, which changed some of its story continuity right? How did these changes work?
I’m not really sure what the WandaVision Schedule was and how it changed. I just know that halfway, or maybe three-quarters of the way into our writing process, I’d first heard of this show they were doing and that we would have to follow it. So we really had to research what they were doing. WandaVision was doing so we could have a true through line. I didn’t see all of it. WandaVision; I’ve just seen key moments of some episodes that I was told directly impact our storyline.

There’s always a larger plan at work in the MCU. What was your creative freedom?
Well, let me say — and this may sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth — that Marvel allowed me complete creative freedom. It had to adhere to so many Marvel lore rules. [so]Even though I was completely free, the direction of the movie and the future visions of Marvel influenced my decisions. Within those parameters I have freedom, but I’ve got to tell the story of those characters in a way that ties in with all of the properties simultaneously. We had to make sure, for instance, that Doctor Strange didn’t know more than he had learned about the multiverse from There’s no way back. And yet we had to make sure he wasn’t ignorant of things that he had already learned. Everything was influenced by the past.

Spider-Man, There’s No Way Home Originally, it was supposed to be after this film.
It was done on the fly. “Now this is happening. Now that’s happening.”It was fun to juggle. It must have been like that for all the writers and directors of these huge Marvel properties with a long history. It was a very chaotic, wonderful, creative — I don’t want to use the word “mess,” because that’s unfair — but it was just a cascade of ideas. We’d take the best ones and quickly weave together the fabric of this universe. It was quite exciting.

Do you feel like audiences have a certain desensitization to this type of fantastic spectacle now — that you have to keep upping the ante?
I think that’s been true for every filmmaker in every decade. What is the best time to start? King Kong It was published [in 1933], a lot of filmmakers must’ve had heart attacks. I mean, I’d watch a movie like E.T. When it was first released and what did you think? “Oh, my God, what am I doing in this business? I’ll never make a movie that brilliant.” But as filmmakers, we’re also inspired. As much as it is a terrifying prospect to see something like that, it also sends a message that it’s possible. It’s no surprise that filmmakers look for new technologies and innovative ideas. There’s always ways to up the game.

Yet, the first shot of Evil Dead, You could see something special about your work. You are the only one who moves the camera like you. What is the origin of this?
It started from limitations and trying solve them. It was possible because of limitations. Evil Dead, we couldn’t build the monster — so we had to just use its point of view. We tried to make that view as bizarre as possible because we knew the audience would be able to create their own monsters from what was provided. To make the edges of the camera look distorted, we used a large lens to cover it. We put it on a stick that we could raise up and lower down over objects — it was literally flying. It would also be taped to my hand, and I would wave my arm up-and-down while running to keep it as smooth as possible. Our most important filmmaking lesson was that the audience can create something more efficiently than we can. They just need the right tools to help them build their monster.

Sam Raimi is the director of ‘Darkman,’ 1990.

©Universal/Everett Collection

You’ve said you had concerns about taking this movie on, because of your Spider-Man 3 Some of the negative reactions to this film and their experience
Yeah, because these characters are so beloved, and you’ve got to tread very carefully. I have a sense of the absurd that maybe people don’t want to see applied to their most-beloved superheroes. You’ve got to step gingerly when working with iconic characters. So for a time I thought, maybe it’s best that I don’t mix with these much-beloved characters. I don’t want to be untrue to them or myself.

My agent called me back, and said, “There’s an opening on Doctor Strange 2, are you interested?”You just said: “What the hell? Yeah, let’s make it.”Doctor Strange is my favorite character. I loved the first movie. It was very original. I was intrigued by Benedict Cumberbatch. I realized the truth. “Oh, Kevin Feige is now the head of Marvel?”So I chose to work for a boss whom I trusted. All of these things played a major role in my success.

Kevin Feige worked for you Spider-Man movies. Do you recall what you saw of him back then?
He was a young, hardworking man who worked closely with Avi Arad. [then]The head of Marvel. Kevin was always available to assist on set and behind-the scenes. Thank goodness I was kind to the kid!

This is what it all comes down to.
Yeah. Hi boss! [laughs]

What was striking about Benedict’s creation of different Doctor Strange versions in this movie?
The little details Benedict would add to make himself stand out from the rest. Subtleties and distinct styles of speech. He really is an actor’s actor, and he uses all the tools at his disposal quite elegantly. You can call him “Actor’s Actor”. “Action”Then, just let yourself get lost in the performance for the next two minutes. Just remember to call “Cut,” because he’s so spellbinding.

What actors or characters have surprised you the most?
Benedict Wong? I didn’t know how funny he was in person, or how lively of a presence he was on set. He’s really super creative, and a great joy to work with. His work is truly enhanced by his energy and sense of humor.

Elizabeth Olsen clearly has a strong understanding of Wanda Maximoff, which I discovered when she spoke with me. How does that impact things?
She had just come from that Emmy Award-winning show all about her character and the character’s growth. It would be foolish to try to tell her who she is or what she was feeling at that time. I can craft the the story going forward with her, but she’s got to be an integral part of the storytelling or it wouldn’t make any sense.

What aspects of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor StrangeWhat were your favorite things?
It had a lot of Eastern philosophy. I loved it. His mind-blowing presentations, such as the astral forms and how it felt to assume, visually, a greater consciousness, were truly amazing. It was amazing, the sequences and visuals that he showed us. We were able follow his example and move forward with something similar. 

Which of these, do you think, was Michael Waldron’s contribution to the screenwriting process?
Wow, what a great guy. He was a marvel of imagination and an expert in Marvel history. He is an expert on these characters, their interactions, and their backstories. Without that, I would have been dead. Then he added a super-fertile mind. He enjoys to see the characters interact and show their true selves. So he’s like a novelist, writing a Marvel comic book. And it’s great because that’s what’s so unique about Stan Lee’s Marvel superheroes — it’s the human aspect of them, their flaws, their mistakes, their personality quirks. Michael loves the fact that Doctor Strange can be a bit egotistic and has issues with insecurity. 

What were your main goals for the reshoots that you did late in the process of editing?
There’s a lot of points where the audience says, “I don’t understand this. I don’t understand this concept.” Or, “I’m aware of this concept, and then you explained it again in the third act.” “Oh, you’re right. The audience knows that already.” Or: “They had to know that in order to accept this next story beat.”It’s a lot about test screenings, understanding what is confusing in a complicated picture, or learning things which have outstayed their welcome. Recognizing when something is too slow, and even though it’s a proper beat to put in, the audience doesn’t need it. They will figure it out themselves so what seems like a natural step is now, in the editing. “Hmm. That’s slowing us down. Let’s skip it and let the audience make the leap themselves.” But it’s also about recognizing what they really like, and sometimes expanding those things that they’re really reacting well to. It’s recognizing what’s original about the picture, and when you’ve got the opportunity to, expanding upon that.

This is what you saw Doctor Strange Movie as a chance to redeem yourself after Spider-Man 3? There are many enjoyable things about that movie, by the way, though you’ve said some awful things about it.
I’m sorry. It was a terrible experience. To make amends for it, I wanted to make a Spider-Man film. [The aborted] Spider-Man 4 — That was really what thatWas about. I wanted to end on a high note. I didn’t want to just make another one that pretty much worked. I set a very high standard for myself. And I didn’t think I could get that script to the level that I was hoping for by that start date.

So, then, what’s this movie about for you?
This one’s really more about having enjoyed the Marvel movies quite a bit and wondering, “Do I still have what it takes to be able to make those?” I remember how hard it was — it’s like a marathon. And it’s like, “Yes, I do have it in me. I’m going to show those kids how to make a superhero picture.” [Laughs.] I’m joking. It had something to do. Since those Spider-Man films, things have changed. There are new technologies, new techniques, as well as the development of techniques we were involved with back then to create new, larger and better systems. It was amazing to be able to jump into another superhero movie twenty years after the original. Spider-Man.

What are some examples of the technologies from that era that you’re excited to see progressing?
As simple as that. [legendary visual effects supervisor]John Dykstra visiting me to discuss the movie I was filming called The giftI asked, “How do you want Spider-Man to be created?” And I replied, “Well, John, I’ve been thinking about making a rig that we would attach to a skyscraper. And we would have to have pretty big engines on this thing to be able to drive it downward and fly over other buildings. And he said, “If you try and make a device like that, you’ll end up killing people. I’m going to stop you right now, Sam. That’s never going to work.”I said, “Then what are we going to do?”He stated, “I believe that we can do it in CGI.”

And I told him I’d never seen a CGI character that I would believe as a human being. He replied, “Well, look. We don’t have the tools to do it right now, Sam. But if we start developing them, the technology can be ready by the time we need it. And I thought, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. I said, “I’m in.”

What did you most miss about the Spider-Man movie?
I’m sorry for the great cameo Bruce Campbell had.

Rumors claimed that he was to portray Mysterio.
It was one possibility. There were other possibilities, but this was the only one. Kraven, the Hunter was missing from my thoughts. That character was going to be in the next movie. Spider-ManI’ve always wanted to see Kraven face Spider-Man on the big-screen. That would be truly unique, I thought. He’s the ultimate hunter, and Spider-Man is like the most agile trickster of the skies. And I wanted Peter to continue his journey as a human being.

From the stuff that was beloved to the stuff that was not so beloved — what lessons did you take from that Spider-Man Trilogy, when you went in Multiverse of Madness?
Oh, that’s a good question. The lesson, I suppose, would be [to]Follow what you believe. It would have been a lot easier if I did that at the end. [Spider-Man 3] would’ve been a little better.

Is it possible to do this in Hollywood? Is it possible?
Yes. Sometimes it can be very difficult. It can get very difficult at times. Spider-Man 3 I think Sony knew that it was in preproduction. “Wait a minute, this is an asset of ours now. This is a big income-generating thing. This can’t go unsupervised. This needs to be controlled.”It may have had something to do.

SPIDER-MAN 2, Avi Arad, Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi, 2004, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

From left to right: Avi Arad and Tobey Maguire. Raimi is on the set of ‘Spider-Man 2’2004

©Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man is back as part of the Marvel multiverse thanks to No Way Home. You would be willing to make a Spider-Man movie version again after all the time.
If there was a great story there, I think it’d be … my love for the characters hasn’t diminished one iota. It would be the exact same things that would keep me from moving forward that kept me from moving forward. “Does Tobey want to do it? Is there an emotional arc for him? Is there a great conflict for this character? And is there a worthy villain that fits into the theme of the piece?” There’s a lot of questions that would have to be answered. If those could be answered, then I’d love to.

Your success is partly due to your Spider-Man movies work is that they really were Peter Parker’s story — and the simplicity, humanity, and sweetness of the love story, which wasn’t necessarily what people expected from you.
That was something that I always found so appealing in Stan Lee’s Spider-Man Comic books: Peter Parker had a love story. He was actually interested in two different women throughout the course of his series. However, I recall as a child thinking “I got to get the next Spider-Man comic book, because I’m really into the romance of it.”Not because I wouldn’t tell my fellow boys, but because I was embarrassed.

Kirsten Dunst claimed that you had given her a scrapbook of famous movie kisses in preparation for the upside down kiss. Was that your thought?
Oh, I just wanted to let her know that this was a very special moment for the movie, and I wanted to communicate it in some way that some moments can be remembered for a long, long time if they’re done right. I just wanted to gear her up, to let her know that she’s going to be great in this, and that I wanted some of her Kirsten Dunst magic in that moment. After that meeting, I believe she turned her back to the camera and began performing her magic. Tobey also did it. They created something very special.

There’s also a certain eroticism to that moment, which is something that subsequent superhero movies haven’t always been able to touch on, even as gently as you did. It’s a tricky thing to incorporate, and yet it’s inherent in the material if you’re willing to bring it out.
Yeah. You can see the sexiness in these Spider-Man comic books: all the spandex and latex superheroes. That’s always been an aspect of the comic books. It’s some of the best boy-watching or girl-watching — if you’re a teenage kid — that’s around.

I’m not sure everyone realizes that you and Stan Lee went around trying to get a Thor movie made way back in the early 1990s. What were your experiences like?
They were fantastic. We worked on a story based on his Thor stories, then we took it around to pitch to the different studios — and I couldn’t believe that they didn’t regard [Lee]Back then, he was regarded more highly. This was 1991, or so. He was treated as an ordinary writer. “Oh, great. You write comic books. Big deal.”I recall visiting eight different studios and then looking through eight different rejection slips. “How could they say no to this?” They’d say things like, “People are kind of touchy about their gods,” and I’d go, “Yes, but it’s not like a religious picture. He’s the God of Thunder!” They so didn’t get it.

It was around that time that you’d said you were worried about being too associated with genre material, and then you made several movies, like Simple Plan They were much less genre-driven. In your mind, did you think you were moving beyond the types of films you’d made earlier in your career forever?
I mean, if I said I thought a certain type of genre was trapping me, I didn’t mean to say that. I’ve always looked at genre films as the place where I can get another job when things go bad. I can continue telling stories there. I can remember the ending. Army of Darkness I was told by a reporter that he had come out. “Is this going to be your last movie? Because you seem to be just doing all the same old tricks.”Just went. “Oh, my God, really?”

It was then that I realized, “I don’t want to be doing the same old tricks. I want to be trying to do new things.” I tried to branch out, doing different things that I hadn’t done before — like a Western [1995’s The Quick and the Dead], or a crime thriller, or other things that just hadn’t occurred to me to do. That’s really why I made those films in the Nineties, from all those different genres. I was trying my best to be a storyteller and expand my knowledge.

It seemed like you tried a variety of techniques to make the run of four movies. [from The Quick and the Dead to 2000’s The Gift]It happens a lot.
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what I thought. “I’m not going to rely on the camera to be flashy or splashy. I’m going to make the audience invest in these characters. I’ve got to learn more about how to tell a story not just through the lens, but through people.”That was a lot I learned from my interactions with great actors, such as Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda, Bill Paxton, Cate Blanchett and Kevin Costner.

At the time that I applied for the job, Spider-Man, I finally had 10 years of experience working like that — and thank goodness, because those Spider-Man Movies and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness This required everything I knew about filmmaking, including how to direct actors and visual effects. It tested every area of knowledge I had been able to learn in this industry.

Is there anything that was more difficult about making this movie?
The hardest part for me was the deadlines. I didn’t have the script or the story. [ready] … being halfway into it and not knowing what the ending was. Michael’s trying to stay a couple days ahead of us with the next page coming out of his computer printer, and it’s hard because you want to make sure that everything is supporting the whole — that the themes are running through the picture. But when you don’t quite know everything about the picture, it’s hard to do that job as effectively as possible.

Let’s say there’s a character from another universe — Perhaps from the Marvel films that Fox made — who suddenly shows up in the movie. That’s very exciting for the audience, but it feels like that excitement of recognition could push you out of the story. How can you balance this?
I think if that situation appears, sometimes the best answer is to just let the character who’s experiencing this new character react truthfully. If there were a famous character from another universe who appeared in, Multiverse of Madness I’m not sure that our Doctor Strange would even know who he was; he might blow him off and not make it any big deal at all. Sometimes a truthful answer can be more entertaining or funny than a fake one. They are put in a situation like “Man, you don’t know who that guy is? Oh, my God!” It’s like if some schmo was meeting James Bond onscreen for the first time, and said, “Buddy, you’ll have the martini the way I serve it. Get me?” “Don’t you know that’s James Bond?!” That’s a different kind of fun for the audience to have.

What did you make of the fact that there’s this book called “the Darkhold”That I believe is in this film. It looks like it is a cousin to the Necronomicon. Evil Dead movies.
I do have knowledge about the Darkhold. WandaVision and the comic book, but I’m not allowed to say whether it’s a part of this picture or not. I’m sorry.

It doesn’t matter what, it should be entertaining. It bears some similarities to the Necronomicon.
It is indeed a source for much mirth. If it was in the movie, that is, it would’ve been funny.

You were bounced from Spider-Man 3 In Drag me to Hell [Raimi’s highly underrated 2009 horror movie]And then, there was Oz the Greatest and Most Powerful [a riff on L. Frank Baum’s Oz characters]. That was in 2013 — and this is your first film since then. Are you going to retire?
No, I just couldn’t find a script that I really loved. I didn’t feel passionately about something enough to direct it as a feature film. It took me a while, and it was painful. It is something I love to do. It’s all I really know how to do.

Your friendship with Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, has always intrigued me. What have you learned about them over the years.
A strong work ethic. We did more than just make movies. Crimewave, Oder me asking for help on Darkman, or Working on short stories and writing them together Proxy for the Hudsucker screenplay. There were other things we did that weren’t published. Their work ethic was amazing. They would spend 14 hours at the typewriter. And then just break to go to Denny’s, come back and go back to it. The next morning was just the same way: A cup of coffee, we’d begin, and it wouldn’t stop. It’s like, “Oh, my God, these guys are freaking serious writers. They don’t do anything but write and pace.”Ethan and Joel spent hours searching for the right line and the right insight. I was impressed and humbled by their efforts and laughed until my eyes hurt. And those few times I could help on their level, I felt extremely rewarded.

You actually wrote Proxy for the HudsuckerThe Coens made this in the Eighties.
Right. That was what we wrote over several years. Joel and Ethan had begun it, and then they got me involved. They put it aside for a while, just like they do with other scripts. They said it one day. “Sam, we’re gonna shoot it. We got the financing. Do you want to be second unit director?”I said, “Yeah, sounds great.”I was able to capture a lot of the fun bits they had in mind. Second unit directing can be a lot of fun. Especially when you’re working for your friends. They do all the hard work.

Did you direct the skyscraper fall?
There are just a few images in it, including the point of view. A few of the montages. The stuff without the main characters. I was merely a tool. They pointed my camera in specific directions and told me to follow them. I did. 

Ethan Coen could be a director, according to some reports. Is it possible that we won’t see any more Coen Brothers movies?
No! I think there’s got to be more Coen brothers movies. As long as the sun rises, there’s gotta be another one. They are my favorite..

What was the first time you realized you wanted to be a professional filmmaker?
It was probably when I was in 10th Grade and met Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel, and Tim Quill who were all making Super 8 movies. And it was. “Oh, my gosh, these guys get together every weekend. They’ve got partners. Somebody can film. Somebody can throw the pie. Somebody can take the pie in the face. This is everything we need.”One child had costumes like two jackets for suit jackets that he bought at a garage sale. A tripod was also found by another child, which I thought was quite interesting. “It’s possible. I can join up with these guys, and they have similar interests.”It was a huge advantage to me to find someone else after I had made movies for three years by myself starting at the age of 12. It was something I could do for the rest my life. At that point, it seemed possible.

Before you ever made a directly comic-book-influenced movie, to what extent did comic books influence the way that you approach filmmaking?
They have been a great influence on my life, especially the great artists of DC or Marvel comics. They were a constant source of inspiration for me as a youngster. When it was time to design the shots for the movies I was making, I went straight to comic books as the only illustration story system I knew.

When you’re directing a gigantic movie like Multiverse Are you still using a muscle memory you have from making low-budget movies??
It’s not as much as it should. Because that’s what I should be doing with every shot and every moment, thinking “What’s the best technique?”It’s not just about “We’ve got to make the schedule, put it on a crane. I know it can work from there. It may not be the absolute best choice, but we’ve got to keep momentum going for this unit, because I’ve got to get off this stage by five o’clock today, and they’re going to tear it down.”

When you were young, your family suffered a devastating loss. How did the death of your older brother impact you?
My brother Sander was that man, and he was an inspiration to me. He’s the one that first showed me Spider-Man Comic books. He was also a magician. I remember he would perform at kids’ parties. He was a great inspiration to me and helped me realize my passion for performing. I was greatly influenced by him. He died when he was 16 years old. I was just 10 at the time. So I didn’t get to know him as well as I wish I could have. He was an amazing role model for me.

I feel that in his absence, he inspired me to pursue magic more in an effort to make my parents happy. That love of magic was similar to my love for filmmaking. After I quit magic, I switched to filmmaking. It was another way to manipulate time and place, entertain people, and even mystify and throw them. My brother Sander is what I think influenced a lot of my passion for filmmaking.

Your stage illusionist skills were quite impressive, didn’t you?
I would perform at County fairs — not even state fairs, county fairs — and kids’ parties, where it’s like 23 of these little monsters in front of me. I would perform a magician’s repertoire of illusions, and I’d make balloon animals, and try as hard as I could to get out of there before the last balloon animal was given out. Because the balloons are already popped by the kids and they want more. You can end up getting caught at a kid’s party, making balloon animals for like two hours if you don’t do it efficiently and quickly, then pack up and get out.

Is there a metaphor?
[Laughs.] I don’t know. I don’t know. You’ll have to find it.

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