This past weekend, The Martian, a sci-fi spectacle wherein the U.S. government once again exhausted an exorbitant amount of taxpayer money and resources to rescue Matt Damon, grossed an impressive $55 million at the domestic box office. It did so on the back of some nifty NASA cross-promotion, with the space agency announcing it’s discovered evidence of present-day water on Mars, as well as critical raves. Some awards pundits even whispered the Tinseltown trigger word “Oscar” in early October.
But its scalding hot screenwriter, Drew Goddard, thinks he might be cursed.
“Look, it’s my own fuckin’ fault,” says Goddard, emitting a nervous chuckle. “I pick projects that are volatile, and I’m attracted to things that are outside the norm. I’m sad because I love these things, but I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”
Goddard isn’t sore about The Martian, of course. That was a rare case in which the stars aligned entirely in his favor. You see, about a year ago, he had three projects that were all green-lit at the same time—Sinister Six, a Spider-Man spinoff centered on a group of supervillains; the Netflix series Daredevil; and The Martian. So Goddard opted for a chance to be one of the key architects of a new Spider-Man universe, serving as writer/director of Sinister Six, and executive producer on Sinister, Venom, and The Amazing Spider-Man 3. The choice forced him to surrender showrunner duties on Daredevil, as well as the director’s chair on Martian.
“We had a window, and we had Matt. So we just said, ‘Let’s go,’” recalls Goddard. “Fox and I had a very ‘adult’ conversation where we picked our favorite directors to see if they’d do it. Number one on our list was Ridley [Scott], so we reached out to him and he agreed that same night. If you wait two years, you run the risk of it never happening.”
Back to the whole “cursed” thing. Goddard’s directorial debut, the meta-horror film The Cabin in the Woods, was supposed to be released in February 2010. Its studio, MGM, chose to delay its release a year to convert it to 3D. By November, the studio had filed for Chapter 11, and Goddard’s baby was in a bizarre state of limbo. The following April it was sold to Lionsgate, and it finally saw the light of day in April 2012. It was immediately anointed a cult classic.
According to Goddard, the studio approached him and co-writer Joss Whedon about a possible sequel. “Lionsgate came to Joss and I and asked if we wanted to make one. If we could come up with an idea that wouldn’t be a disservice to Cabin, we’d do it, but we love that movie, and that movie ends pretty definitively,” says Goddard. “We don’t want to undo that.”
The next high-profile gig for Goddard involved the disasterpiece World War Z. After the film was shot, Paramount executives were unhappy with the ending, so they hired Goddard to pen a new one and massage other trouble areas in the film. Its budget eventually ballooned to $190 million, with Vanity Fair devoting a lengthy cover story to its troubled production. When the film hit theaters it defied all the naysayers, ultimately grossing $540 million worldwide.
Which brings us to Sinister Six. After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was mauled by critics, Sony got hacked. This threw their entire slate into disarray—but in particular Spider-Man and all its related properties. By February of this year, Marvel and Sony had struck a deal to bring Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nix ASM3, and green-light another Spider-Man reboot. All of this, however, left Sinister Six in a precious position—one seemingly compounded by the planned release of Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad, another supervillain team-up flick.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” he says of Suicide Squad. “I turned in the script for The Martian the same day that Gravity came out, and then when we started shooting, Interstellar came out. A friend gave me some advice when I started out, which was, ‘Whatever you’re working on, you’re going to hear projects that are cosmetically similar to yours, but don’t worry about it.’ If you can make it your own, and make it personal, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter.”
While Goddard exclusively speaks of Sinister in the past tense, adding that the film “is not happening anytime soon,” he adds, “I’m confident that Sinister was like nothing else out there. We were definitely going for something different, crazy, and fun… Sinister was me, so it was the closest thing I felt to what we did with Cabin. If Cabin was our take on the horror film, Sinister was our take on the superhero film.”
He pauses. “It might be me!” exclaims Goddard, chuckling and shaking his head in frustration. “At a certain point, I might be bankrupting studios. I just don’t know, man.” Goddard takes a deep sigh, and collects himself. “The truth is, things change, and Sony got hacked. Shit happens, man. But as a fan, I’m thrilled because I’m excited to see Spider-Man show up in the Marvel universe. That’s what I’ve always wanted. So I sort of step aside and say, ‘Great, if that’s what led to this then it’s fantastic.’”
Strangely enough, in the Sony emails it was revealed that Goddard had wanted to cast Matt Damon as Doc Ock and Tom Hardy as Sandman in Sinister Six. When I bring that to his attention, he squirms a bit in his seat. “Look, the tricky part of casting is you have these conversations, and I just want to work with the people I want to work with, and try to cast the actors I love,” he says. “I will continue to try to put Matt Damon in anything.”
As for his rumored involvement in the Spider-Man reboot directed by Jon Watts, Goddard deflects. “I don’t know anything about that,” he says. “Here’s what I know: [Marvel’s] Kevin Feige is the best in the business, and they’re going to be making an incredible movie. And I’m going to be first in line.”
Goddard is no overnight success. The towering 6-foot-5 Texan is 40, and got his start as a writer on the Joss Whedon shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. In 2005, he was hired by J.J. Abrams to write for Alias and Lost, penning nine episodes and serving as co-executive producer for the latter. Abrams also produced his first screenplay, 2008’s Cloverfield (“the truth is we’d love to do a sequel,” he says) that went on to gross $168 million.
“The basic lesson even then was: ‘Go follow what you love,’” says Goddard. “Because at the time, Joss and J.J. were fringe television producers—they were not doing what was fashionable at the time, which were procedurals. No one wanted to hear serialized genre storytelling. And I had offers from other places to do [procedurals], but I wanted to stay with those guys, because I don’t care if I’m on the biggest hit that’s on television. These are the guys that are doing what’s inspiring to me, and it’s been really gratifying to see them become Masters of the Universe. I owe them everything, for sure.”
When it comes to Hollywood, the geek has inherited the Earth. Along with his Obi-Wans Whedon (The Avengers) and Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars), a whole bunch of ex-TV scribes have climbed to the top of the mountain, including the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and more. And Goddard is right there with them. Studios and filmmakers have him on speed-dial, showing him early cuts of their films and asking for his notes.
“The thing people underestimated for a long time was the value of TV,” he says. “There’s no better training ground. Every eight days, you’re doing a new episode—60 pages of fuckin’ drama. That’s a lot of stories! I’m so grateful that I was around there for that because you can’t help but learn. If I was hiring, I’d go after TV writers, I’d go after TV directors. TV is so much fuckin’ harder than movies, it’s insane.”
Recently, and exactly 10 years since he joined the writers’ rooms for Alias and Lost, Goddard got to visit the sprawling London set of Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII.“He didn’t ask for any notes on that, but I got to visit the set and step inside the Millennium Falcon,” he says, smiling from ear to ear. “It’s crazy, right?”