In a grey conference room roughly 2,000 miles southwest of Rock Father HQ, I took a seat at a large table just steps from The Walt Disney Archives, on the lot of the famed Walt Disney Studios. At the head of the table were two familiar faces - Paul Rudd, he of CLUELESS, the ANCHORMAN movies, HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS and countless other memorable projects, including the upcoming Netflix Original Series, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP; and Evangeline Lilly - who for six seasons portrayed Kate Austen on ABC's LOST before heading for Middle Earth to become Tauriel in the recent films based on THE HOBBIT. Like old friends that we'd never met, the duo immediately gelled with our group of 25 writers from the family space to throw down some thoughts on their roles as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Hope Van Dyne in Director Peyton Reed's first foray into big budget FX movies. And on the table in front of them sat an assortment of action figures provided by yours truly...
"I feel like we should have a big turkey dinner spread out before us," says Lilly as things get started, "Or the biggest game of poker in the history of poker," adds Rudd with perfect comedic timing. "Can I just tip my hat to the only male Mommy Blogger in the room?," she says with a smile, looking right at me - not noticing my friend Colby sitting a few seats away, a fact I'm quick to point out. "Oh, there's two! My partner is a stay-at-home Daddy, so I have to give it up for you guys!" she says, publicly showing off her new "baby bump" for the first time, as she and partner Norman Kali will soon welcome their second child.
JAMES ZAHN/THE ROCK FATHER: I'd actually like to talk a little bit about the playthings. Evangeline, I believe that you had a figure once before, for LOST...
EVANGELINE LILLY: Three times!
Zahn: Three figures! But I believe this is your first project, Paul, where you've got a vast array of toys, correct?
PAUL RUDD: I have a Brian Fantana (ANCHORMAN) Bobblehead.
Note: I'd forgotten about this, but I posted about a line of ANCHORMAN action figures from Beeline Creative back in 2013, and yes, there is a poseable Brian Fantana - I wonder if Paul knows that?
Zahn: So are you going to start collecting yourself now... or, for your children?
Rudd: I was so excited to learn that there was going to be an ANT-MAN LEGO set [available from LEGO Shop | Amazon]. I think that was the thing that I was most excited about - meanwhile, I'm sitting here playing with my legs (Rudd holds up the highly-articulated MARVEL Legends figure). So yes, I think I will be collecting some of this stuff because it's pretty cool. By the way, I've never seen this thing - me riding!
Zahn: That one actually comes with the bigger one and the little Yellowjacket... and it comes with Ultron's head (the whole room bursts into laughter). They're doing a build-a-figure thing where you have to buy the entire collection, and when you do, then you'll have completed Ultron.
At this point the comedy comes front-and-center as Rudd raises an eyebrow and opens his jacket. "Ahhhh.... well it looks like I'm getting started today!," he declares, stuffing the figures into his jacket pocket... but don't worry, they're back safe and sound here in my office at Rock Father HQ.
Shifting back into cinematic territory, Paul riding the ant (featured in much of the marketing material) is actually one of Rudd's favorite moments (aside from working with "acting Royalty" Michael Douglas, to which Lilly agrees), and one rooted in comic book history - an iconic image of Ant-Man riding a winged ant, but now that insect has a name...
"Well, you know, I have a very personal relationship with Anthony," quips Rudd about his winged counterpart. "Giving him the name Anthony kind came around later and I thought like oh, could it be Anton? It was even said early on when we were working on the script before we started shooting, like oh, like maybe if we give him a number? [I was] just playing around, like oh 'let's call him Anthony' and then it stuck -- that idea that you can have a personal attachment to ants that you can see this film, especially kids, and really like say oh my God, ants are amazing and, and that on in particular, you develop a real fondness for Anthony, my favorite."
Lilly adds: "The Anthony moment, which I can't -- I'm not going to say more, we all know what it is but we're not going to give it away to the crowd, but the Anthony moment was the moment in the movie where I was like "I love that man!"
At this point the discussion veers appropriately toward family - a running theme in a very unique superhero film - one that breaks the mold in mashing multiple genres, from action-comedy, to heist caper to family drama. There's a few different dynamics at work, with Rudd's Scott Lang trying to be a good Dad for his daughter, and Michael Douglas' Hank Pym trying to both mend a relationship with his own daughter (Lilly's Hope Van Dyne) and fend off the assault by Corey Stoll's Darren Cross, whom he'd mentored as a father figure over the years.
"I think redemption really is a big theme in the film," states Lilly. "Redemption between father/daughter and the father/daughter relationship is the powerful theme that really anchors the film emotionally."
Rudd, a father of two himself, has some thoughts on it has well: "I like this idea that we're dealing with all of this craziness with a suit that shrinks you down - and controlling ants and all this kind of stuff - and yet this constant thing with parents and children, whether it's with Michael, or my daughter and me, or Corey and Michael... this is what makes the movie more than just a visual spectacle."
"We've all had bumpy times in whatever our relationship is - with our parent or our child, and that's the stuff that I think people will relate to."
With all the different elements at play, there is one more that I take great interest in... as a father of two little girls - an element of "Girl Power"
Evangeline Lilly on the 'Girl Power' of ANT-MAN:
It's funny because actually the girl power part was not really my contribution. [LAUGHS] That was Marvel and the boys who -- I mean what guy doesn't like a girl who can kick ass - they like to see that on screen, right? What I think is important is that woman, first of all be a woman - and not a girl, and that she also has all of the dimensions that a male character who can kick ass would have. I think a lot of the time what happens mistakenly in men's very, very meaningful attempts to make strong women is they make them strong in the way that they relate to, which is wrong. I think that female strength has many more dimensions than that, and a lot of our strength comes from our women's vulnerability, our compassion, our maternal instincts, and I don't think that those things should ever be labeled as weaknesses. That's one of the things that I always look to put in and infuse these characters with - the sort of moments where you suddenly realize that underneath that very hard facade, underneath what she's trying to project to the world because she feels she has to survive or she has to do what she needs to do - there's a little girl within all of us. Even within Paul, there's just a little girl [LAUGHTER].
MARVEL's ANT-MAN is in theaters on July 17, 2015. Buy tickets now via Fandango.