Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania showed just how weird the Quantum Realm really is. But that subatomic dimension was the most logical place to find Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, the main villain of the first Ant-Man movie last seen shrinking away to nothingness. What no one could have predicted, though, is that the former Yellowjacket would have transformed into M.O.D.O.K., the ridiculous Marvel Comics baddie. How exactly did that happen? We got a chance to talk to Stoll about his unlikely return to the franchise, the evolution of Darren Cross into a big floating head, and whether he knew the character’s little butt would be a part of his story.
Nerdist: Not to go all Frost/Nixon on you, but I think we should start with the most important question of them all.
Corey Stoll: Okay.
When you signed on to Quantumania, did you know that they would show M.O.D.O.K.’s tiny ass?
Stoll: [laughter] I didn’t. I don’t think that was in the script. But on my first day, when I visited the offices and they showed me all the art and the animatics, they showed me that animatic of that little grabber claw taking him out of the primordial ooze. I laughed for about five minutes straight. Then I heard that they were going to cut that scene, and I lobbied really hard to put it back. I thought it was really essential to telling this story. It was just…how can you not? So I have no idea if my lobbying influenced them or not, but I take credit for that being in.
I’m glad we got that out of the way so we can talk about the other important stuff, like your return. No one ever really dies in a superhero franchise. So did you think, or even expect, you might be back in the MCU someday?
Stoll: I hoped, but I had lost (that hope). Especially when the second movie came out and I wasn’t in it. I said, “Okay, I had a great run, and I had a lot of fun, and that’s Darren’s story.”
But I remember doing reshoots for the first movie, because in the original script Darren just gets arrested, which seemed a little Scooby-Doo. Then there was a reshoot and he turns into goo, like what he did to the little lamb or to the guy. And I said, “That’s a pretty definitive death.” That was actually what I thought we were going to do until I saw the premiere when I saw him just shrink infinitely. So I said, “Okay, that’s cool. That’s a good middle ground.” It leaves it open if they choose to bring him back.
But, obviously, many years had gone by and I didn’t get the call. Then, I think it was the first week of lockdown here in New York for the pandemic, that I talked to [director] Peyton [Reed]. He had this idea to transform Darren into M.O.D.O.K. They wanted to make sure that I would be on board for that before they wrote it. And I was like, “Yes, absolutely!” How could I not? It was a dream I didn’t know that I had.
I’m going to assume that’s not really your behind, so the only part of you that actually appears in the movie is your stretched out face.
How did you film your scenes? Were you on set at all?
Stoll: It was right at the very beginning before principal photography. I came in and we did a day of rehearsal. Then a day where I put the dots on my face. Everybody else was just wearing their street clothes and they weren’t being filmed, but we did all the scenes. So I was able to interact with the whole cast. And Peyton and [writer] Jeff Loveness were there, and it was a really great process because it was very organic. There was no waiting around for lights or camera. And you could do it this way. You could throw in alternate lines. It was really fun. It felt like the beginning of rehearsing a new play.
Darren Cross is already unstable when we first meet him. Then he spends years living this absurd existence in a surreal place. How did you go about figuring out exactly how much more he would have deteriorated since we last saw him?
Stoll: I think it’s on the page. He’s turned from being a power hungry person who wants to control the world to envisioning himself as a weapon. So it’s a completely different sense of self. He has turned himself into Kang’s weapon. And despite Kang’s complete contempt and abuse of him, Darren’s motivation for the whole first movie was to have a father figure. He wants Hank to love him. So even though Kang is abusive, at least he’s paying attention to him. It’s a pretty dysfunctional relationship, but it actually gives him what he wants. That’s really where he starts the second movie, as this abused child.
It’s interesting you say it’s on the page because you got to bring M.O.D.O.K. to live-action for the first time ever. But it’s a very different backstory and a different character. How much, if any, did you look to the comic book history of the character for inspiration?
Stoll: I read a bunch of M.O.D.O.K. stories, both the original ones and then all these more contemporary interpretations. I think this M.O.D.O.K. is very different in a lot of ways in terms of motivation, in terms of his intelligence, and in terms of his level of power. But I think he does share an incredible insecurity. I think the original M.O.D.O.K is desperate for approval and affection, too. Maybe mine is a little bit more so. And mine is maybe driven a little bit more for that desire for approval than the original. But I think that is consistent, or at least in the same world.
Quantumania gives you a memorable, hilarious death scene that is strangely touching. How did you approach it in terms of making it funny but also meaningful?
Stoll: The funny is on the page in the situation. The funny is how delusional he is and the difference between how the human characters, say how Scott and everybody, view him and realize how ridiculous he is and how he views himself. My task in that scene was to believe it. And in Darren’s mind he’s having a Hamlet death. I think the more that I played that seriously, the funnier it probably is.
In your totally biased opinion, is M.O.D.O.K. really an Avenger? Is Darren Cross really an Avenger?
Stoll: Are you saying in M.O.D.O.K.’s mind or in mine?
I’m asking you, Corey Stoll, but you can be biased if you want.
Stoll: No, he’s not an Avenger. Look, if Kevin Feige wants to turn M.O.D.O.K. into an Avenger, I’m there.
Michael: This was an actual debate at Nerdist after the movie.
Stoll: I don’t think Scott has the authority to deputize M.O.D.O.K. as an Avenger. I just don’t think he has that authority yet.
Last question. You get to be funny from start to finish in this movie. Really funny. What sequence or scene was your personal favorite?
Stoll: I think it was the death. It was so much fun to play. There was a lot that’s on the cutting room floor. A lot of really funny stuff that Paul Rudd was doing and Michael Douglas was doing. But I still think what made it to the screen is really a unique thing to be part of my legacy. Maybe they should play it at my funeral.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.