10 Questions for TV Producers Stan Lee and Gill Champion | reviews, news & interviews
10 Questions for TV Producers Stan Lee and Gill Champion
10 Questions for TV Producers Stan Lee and Gill Champion
The Marvel Comics legend and his production partner talk 'Lucky Man', London and longevity
It’s a fairly big deal to be interviewing Stan Lee. Generations have been enthralled by his work, from the 1960s comics The Amazing Spider-Man and The Uncanny X-Men – which came to the UK first as US imports and later as black and white reprints via Marvel UK – to the more colourful world of Doctor Strange via The Incredible Hulk and Daredevil. Almost four decades on, the co-creator of Spider-Man (reclusive Spider-Man artist and co-creator Steve Ditko, 89, is alive and well too) and all those heroes and villains has now achieved a global level of fame and notoriety that he never quite reached until Marvel started making moves and movies that finally made those early superheroes fly.
The secret of that success? He never stops. Stan got his lucky break aged sixteen at Timely Comics, initially Timely Publications, which would later become Marvel Comics and even now, he’s hatching plans and appearances that would put men half his age to shame. Fans know that he’s always got a cameo in the latest Marvel blockbuster, and that it always gets a huge cheer in the Cineplex; meanwhile younger viewers generation after generation ensure that Marvel’s heroes will never, ever die. "When I was a kid, my favourite superhero was Robin Hood," says Lee. "I would leave the theatre with an imaginary sword at my side looking for a young girl I could rescue. I still look around for girls who need rescuing."
Now 94, Stan’s life is one that comic book fans know inside out. He and his model wife Joan (they have one daughter, Joan Celia; Joan was originally from “Newcastle, England”) have lived in the same Hollywood Hills home for 35 years, long before it became Leonardo DiCaprio's favourite neighbourhood. He remains Marvel’s Chairman Emeritus but now has his own company POW! Entertainment that he runs with company CEO/President Gill Champion – himself a producer with some 35 years experience in film and TV. And that’s what ensures us our fifteen-minute slot on the phone to Hollywood one fateful February afternoon.
Stan co-created a flawed new English hero, Harry Clayton, partly in tribute to his wife Joan and partly because he felt that luck was the greatest attribute a hero could have. Sky TV and their viewers obviously agree: the show, starring James Nesbitt and co-executive produced by Stan and Gill, begins its second series this week, with the first already Sky’s most successful home-grown show of the year. Stan has always been one of life's natural enthusiasts, including as a salesman for his work, and age has not dented this quality one iota.
RALPH MOORE: Stan, many of the heroes you’ve created hail from either America or from further-flung realms like Dormammu: was Harry Clayton always conceived as a Londoner, or did that just fall into place as the character grew?
STAN LEE: To us, London is a member of the cast and a star of the show… So yes, I always saw Harry as a Londoner and so did everybody involved. It had to be London! Of course, the other thing that makes the show so interesting is that luck is a super-power, so just in the way Spider-Man could climb a wall or shoot a web, here having the right kind of luck can change your destiny.
Stan, what are your strongest memories of London? Did you bring the family here since your wife Joan is English?
SL: My memories are beautiful because my wife Joan is English and shortly after we were married, we stayed in London and I never forgot it. We loved it so much that we’ve been back very often and it’s always a thrill. To me, there’s New York City where I was born and raised and then there’s London!
And does Luck have a part to play in a marriage that lasts into your 90s?
SL: Luck is one of the most important things in the world and really has a role to play in everything, and in marriage, I’ve been lucky enough to be married to the same girl for all these years.
Gill, Lucky Man has been a huge hit over here, with an average of 1.49 million viewers an episode. What do you think is the secret of the show’s success? Is it partly that message that luck comes at a price?
GILL CHAMPION: I think that’s the background and the key element, luck is the yin and the yang. But what fleshed it out is that the lead is a complex character and is faced with problems personal and professional. What makes the show is the casting, the city and the possibility: “Wouldn’t it be great to be lucky…?”
SL: [interjecting] I’m not surprised at al! It’s a wonderful show and a different type of show, it’s a unique show with a fabulous cast and it has a subject that hasn’t been told and has everything in its favour!
Watch Sky1's teaser for Lucky Man:
Gill, POW! stands for Purveyors of Wonder, which you run together with Stan. But what it is that makes your and Stan's relationship – do you ever get a word in edgeways?
SL: [again interjecting] Well, I do whatever he says! We yell and scream!
GC: No, it’s been an incredible working relationship, he’s generous with his time and his instincts are always right, so from there the job is to join the dots…
SL: He said that so beautifully I was not about to interrupt!
Stan, you once wrote a Soapbox [SL's often opinionated editorial columns in Marvel comics] saying: “From time to time we receive letters wondering why there’s so much moralising in our mags but a story without a message is like a man without a soul.” Since none of us live in a vacuum, can I ask how much you think comics and entertainment should have a social conscience and what you think of the world we live in right now?
SL: Ideally, anything one writes should have a social conscience: if you can write a story that thrills, and with a good message, that’s the perfect type of a story. I have always tried to have a message, not to be a preacher, but a message that shows it's better to be a good guy than a bad guy, and we try to make it clear that doing the right thing is more attractive than not.
The world is a pretty scary place right now: do you think we’re living in a comic book world?
SL: [Laughs] The world has always been like a comic book world to me! What’s happened is that communications got better and better, so now with cell-phones we can be in touch with people half a globe away. Everything has changed and we’re all living in one city now. What happens somewhere affects things everywhere, so we have to be careful and whatever stories we work on, we want them to have redeeming moral values.
Gill, what would you say has been your own "Lucky Man moment" in terms of POW! and this show in particular?
GC: I think meeting Stan seventeen years ago and the friendship, love and respect we have is that moment. He’s like my son and my brother, and my ability to learn and work with him on a daily basis has been amazing. But with the show, we finally had a chance to live and breathe a series about luck, which for Stan was always one of the most important superpowers. It’s been fun to watch from conception to birth and it's something we always think about, it’s a part of our everyday make-up.
Stan, what’s been your favourite part of Lucky Man so far? Apart from your cameo in Season 1 Episode 1? Do you have one in Series 2?
SL: I’d better have one!! My cameos are so secret, no-one must know about them! But seriously, what I like about the show is that it’s an intelligent show and I like the fact people can relate to it. And it’s very different to anything I’ve done before.
Stan, you’re 94, what’s the secret to your ability to keep working?
SL: If you enjoy what you do, if you are interested in what you do, I really think that's the best situation. I’m always trying to prove my ideas are better than Gill’s and if you’re doing work you love, it’s not work, it's play… I'm happiest when I'm working. If I'm not working, I feel like I'm wasting my time. Most people say, “I can't wait to retire so I can play golf,” or go yachting or whatever they do. Well, if I was playing golf, I would want that to finish so I could go and dream up a new TV show. If you are interested in what you do, that keeps you going!
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