Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ team untangle secrets of their groundbreaking movie

October 6, 2018

by Carla Hay

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Jake Johnson, Lauren Velez, Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

The animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was one of the most talked-about revelations at the 2018 edition of New York Comic Con in New York City. Not only were fans given a huge surprise treat by seeing the first 35 minutes of the film before the panel discussion took place, but those in the audience who saw the sneak preview were also raving about it. Simply put: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (which opens in theaters on December 14, 2018) has the makings of being an award-winning hit.

The movie also represents the first time on the big screen that Spider-Man will be played by characters other than Peter Parker. The main Spider-Man in “Into the Spider-Verse” is Miles Morales, a half-Puerto Rican, half-African American high schooler from Brooklyn, who almost reluctantly becomes the masked webslinger under the mentorship of Parker. The trailers for the movie indicate that Morales’ love interest Gwen Stacy will also take on the persona of Spider-Gwen, plus there are other variations of Spider-Man in this movie’s alternate universe. (No spoilers here.)

After getting rapturous applause following the sneak preview, several members of the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” team took to the stage for a discussion panel. They included Shameik Moore (voice of Miles Morales); Jake Johnson (voice of Peter Parker); Lauren Velez (voice of Rio Morales, Miles’ mother); Brian Tyree Henry (voice of Jefferson Davis, Miles’ father); producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller; and directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey. Here is what they said:

Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, Jake Johnson, Shameik Moore, Lauren Velez, Brian Tyree Henry, Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Phil and Chris, how did you get involved in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”?

Lord: When Sony came to us and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do Spider-Man as an animated movie?” And the first thing we thought was, “Yeah, that would be awesome to see a comic book come to life, but wouldn’t it be the seventh Spider-Man movie? It would have to feel like something super-fresh.” So we said we wouldn’t want to do it unless it was Miles Morales’ story.

Miller: It seemed like they really wanted us to do this, so we could make some demands. And so, we used the fact that this story had been told a lot of times to our advantage, because the expectation now is, “How can we do it differently?”

The visuals are stunning. Peter and Bob, can you talk about the visual approach and how the story is set in Brooklyn?

Ramsey: As Phil said, this was a chance for us to really lean into a medium that was made for Spider-Man … How can we take advantage of a medium that has been visually expressive for so many years and tie it into the original source material? And so, we started to lean into flash frames and visuals that are really reminiscent of drawings, but we had to figure out a way to do it with a computer, which is its own giant task.

And then separately, we’ve seen the Peter Parker story. We know. We haven’t seen the Miles Morales story. Brooklyn is such a character. There are so many things that were born out of New York: hip-hop, graffiti, Miles. How do we view the movie with a character that is the city? Each borough has its own flavor.

Persichetti: The great thing for us, as filmmakers, is that the stars all kind of lined up, and we were in a situation where we had producers/creators—Phil [Lord]  and Chris [Miller]—who had a vision, and a studio that said, “You can do that,” even though they didn’t know what we were going to do.

Every step along of the way, everyone on the team pushed as far as they could into his idea of using animation to be more expressive, be like a comic book, honor the original source, and to try to bring New York 2018 to life in a way that everybody in the audience can understand, so everyone can go through this experience in Miles’ shoes. Hopefully, we got it right.

Ramsey: And I think the secret was we didn’t tell them how bold of a visual approach we were going to take until it was too late to change it.

Jake Johnson and Shameik Moore at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Shameik, what was it like to inhabit the Miles Morales character?

Moore: I can relate to the upbringing we’re looking at. I’m not actually Latino, but I feel the spirit. I’m very excited. When I was younger and I first saw Miles Morales, I was like, “Dude, there’s a black Spider-Man out there.”

I wrote it down in a journal filming this movie called “Dope.” I said, “I am Miles Morales. I am Spider-Man.” And two years later, I got the opportunity, with these guys. We made an amazing movie. It really is a crazy thing.

Jake, what can you say about the Peter Parker character in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”?

Johnson: It’s Peter Parker at 40. Peter Parker who’s a little chubby. Peter Parker who’s a little depressed. I just saw [the movie] this morning. It’s just so exciting, and I’m fired up to be in it.

Jake, how would you describe the relationship between Peter Parker and Miles Morales?

Johnson: They become partners in crime. They become unlikely friends. There’s a little bit of “The Karate Kid.” They end up needing each other to get out of a situation, and they become friends along the way.

Bryan Tyree Henry at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Brian, how would you describe your Jefferson Davis character as Miles’ father?

Henry: It reminded me of my father. I was raised by my father for … most of my formative years—junior high through high school—puberty, mostly. My father was a Vietnam vet, and there was this kid he was trying to raise. Looking at the [the movie], I was like, “Oh, that’s what he was going through!” I didn’t think I was that bad, but I was off the chain!

There is nothing more important to me than to see a black boy and his father. We’ve seen the single mom trying to bring up a teenage boy to be a man, but it’s really nice to see … Miles Morales has both of his parents. He’s bilingual and raised in Brooklyn. His mom works in a hospital, and [his father] is a cop.

He had a damn good upbringing. We made a good man! It’s important for everyone to see that Miles is part of that. It was very important for me to be part of that, to be someone trying to raise [Miles] right and make him a decent man … And to play the husband of Lauren Velez? I jumped at the chance. Our son is the bomb! It’s an honor to be on this panel with all these creators. And Miles is “dope.” See what I did there?

Shameik Moore and Lauren Velez at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Lauren, can you talk about your Rio character, who’s Miles’ mother?

Velez: This is my first animation [project] ever. I had no idea what to expect at all. I’m floored by everything. I’m floored by the storytelling, the visual style. Is that animation? Look at the depth of that. So much if it is beyond what I expected. I really have the most amazing family.

My son [Miles] is so dope and my husband is amazing. I’m the daughter of a cop [in real life], and seeing this [movie] made me think so much of my own family and growing … [Miles] doesn’t come from a broken home. He comes from a real stable, professional parenting environment and parents who want the best for him, and want him to achieve his highest potential. That’s why they’ve sent him away to a school that is better for him but is still diverse; he’s not completely away from his world. All of that I thought was so important.

And the bilingual aspect of it. I’m Nuyorican, and I think Miles is such loving, wonderful son on the cusp of manhood. I feel like [Rio] supports him in moving toward being the man she wants him to but still wants to nurture him and hold on to him and take care of him. I think, secretly, she thinks his art is so dope, and she supports that.