*Note: This piece originally appeared on Wired.com’s GeekMom. It is reprinted here with permission.
For a math whiz who spent high school avoiding farm chores by participating in school theater productions, the chance to play any role in a major comic book film is pretty cool. But for Leif Gantvoort, an actor with serious creds as both a comic book fan and geeky dad, the opportunity to play a part in the newly released The Amazing Spider-Man was, well, amazing.
While Leif’s character, “Glasses,” is the villainous thug who murders Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, Leif himself couldn’t be more different from his role in the film. I interviewed Leif after he gave a talk about his career and his role in the movie at the annual gathering of Mensa, the high-IQ society.
Charming and self-deprecating, Leif happily answered questions from Mensans ranging from the highlights of the red carpet premiere to how he spent his college days.
Still enthusiastic, Leif answered even more geeky questions from me about his role in the movie, life as a dad, and Mensan.
GeekMom: Were you a comic book fan prior to the movie? Which universe did you prefer?
Leif Gantvoort: I grew up reading DC titles. The first series I really followed was Swamp Thing and I started reading that right around the time that Alan Moore took over. That then opened me up to more writers like Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman. I became a huge fan of the Vertigo line of books, once that was launched. Then when I went to college my roommate, Sean McArdle, was a Marvel guy. He convinced me to read Marvel titles and I convinced him to read some DC titles. Needless to say, we both discovered that there was another fascinating universe out there – and we spent four years swapping books. I discovered and fell in love with Ghost Rider. Punisher blew me away. Spider-Man ended up being one of my favorites. Thank God he did that for me, or for the past year or so I would have been forced to lie.
GM: Did you know you were auditioning for Amazing Spider-Man at the time?
LG: Kind of. My manager, Amy Thompson, had suspicions of what it was. The title of the project for the audition was “Untitled Teenage Drama.” Then once I had the scenario that I was audition for explained to me – it became pretty clear what the film was.
GM: How did you feel when you discovered which role you were playing?
LG: Excited. I mean, I was and am a huge comic book guy. To be a part of any franchise like this is my dream come true. And the chance to play such a pivotal role, with such history, is truly humbling.
GM: The murder of Uncle Ben is as important to the genesis of Spider-Man as a crime-fighting superhero as the bite from the radioactive spider. Did you feel burdened by the significance of the role?
LG: Of course. I researched the character a ton as soon as I was cast. Whenever a film comes along that comes from an existing source of material, I think it’s a responsibility to be as true to that material as possible. You still need to make it your own and make it entertaining in the new format – but if there’s history to it, why not use it?
GM: What were you thinking about while you were shooting that scene?
LG: “They are going to hate me.” The crew was giving me grief, already, but as we played out the scenario over and over, that kept ringing in my head. “They are going to hate me.” I mean, Martin Sheen is just so loveable. And he’s awesome in this role. At the premiere, when I was in the audience watching him and Sally play so well off each other on screen…that line popped back into my head, “They are going to hate me.”
GM: If you had the opportunity to play any character from either the DC or Marvel universe, who would you love to play?
LG: Wow. I’ve never really thought of that. I always thought that I would have made a great Wolverine, but I also think that Hugh Jackman is absolutely amazing as that character. I think that’s every comic book guy’s fantasy, though. Everyone wants to be Wolverine. There have been many attempts to bring Garth Ennis’ Preacher to the screen and I would love the chance to play Jesse if it ever does actually happen. Or Doctor Strange – if they ever bring that to the big screen, that would be fun. The power that character has and how that influences him would be a fun realm to dive into.
GM: How do you plan to introduce your daughter to comics?
LG: She’s already been introduced. Most of the titles are pretty tame and age appropriate. She loves the line of Oz books. She also enjoys Supergirl.
GM: When will she be allowed to watch the movie?
LG: Tonight. We’re taking her tonight. There’s been a lot of discussion on it being “scary.” But my daughter is pretty good with that stuff. She saw and loved every Harry Potter movie. Coraline is one of her favorite films of all time. She’s okay with the dark side of things. Even so, she’s a bubbly, high-spirited little girl.
GM: What will you say to her to explain that you were the one who killed Uncle Ben?
LG: She gets it. She knows it’s fake. She’s been on sets with me. She’s been on sets, acting, herself. I sometimes worry if I expose her to too much, but she’s a great kid and seems to have a good understanding of it all.
GM: Is there anything you do as a parent that you think is geeky?
LG: Is there anything I don’t do as a parent that is geeky, might be the better question. I might be able to narrow the search down a bit more. My daughter and I have our own gobbledygook language that we speak to each other. It drives my wife up a wall sometimes. We play in our parked car and pretend it’s a space ship. We have epic sword battles. We play video games. We watch movies. We do it all.
GM: How does your career in acting affect your parenting?
LG: The career can be distracting, quite often. I feel that this career is a 24 hour a day job – which means that many of those hours are spent neglecting my daughter or my wife on some level. I catch myself more and more and try my best to not let it interfere, but it still happens. I haven’t missed any of my daughter’s performances at school, or any special events…yet. But I also know it might happen some day. It’s a constant struggle to be there for her, and yet be there for my career. But I find a way to do both. It’s tough, but I think many parents face that dilemma every day – regardless of what their line of work is.
GM: What led you to join Mensa?
LG: I took an online IQ test and scored really high. Thinking it was a fluke, I decided to take the at home Mensa test. I scored high again and just thought “let’s see how far this crazy train goes.” I went and took the proctored test and got in. I was as surprised as anyone. I never did well in school. I barely graduated college.
GM: What activities have you done with Mensa?
LG: Not many. I’ve been somewhat intimidated to do that first thing. But appearing at the AG helped me get over that. So, I plan to be a lot more involved, now.
GM: What subjects did you enjoy the most in school?
LG: Physics. Algebra. Calculus. Theology. Anything that challenged the way I thought. There weren’t enough of those type of classes for me.
GM: How did you wind up pursuing theater rather than math in college?
LG: I went to college with the intent of being a Math major, but not long into my first semester I realized that all of the math classes were at 8:00 in the morning and all of the theatre classes were at 1:00 in the afternoon. I switched majors not long after that. I’m still not certain it was the right choice.
GM: How do you think intelligence relates to acting?
LG: It forces me to analyze a character on a level that most actors wouldn’t. It also helps me understand what the writer wanted from the character a bit more than an actor who doesn’t think on the level of an M. There have been quite a few times where I have offered a simple solution to a problem that’s crept up during filming. It’s a tricky fine line, though. I’m really careful about stepping on other people’s toes. I never want to be “that guy.” I want to help without being burdensome. I always give others the opportunity to find a solution on their own and only speak up if it seems like they’re having trouble getting there.
Sometimes, though, the intelligence can be a detriment to my acting. There are many times that I will “over think” the character and get lost in my head somewhere. It’s one of the things I work on most, when I study in acting class – to stop thinking so much. I’ve come a long way with that, but it still creeps up sometimes.