Steven Weber has made a name for himself as a well-dressed conniving scoundrel in television shows like Stephen King’s The Shining, Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, and he’s had to bring all of that and them some to voice the villainous Norman Osborn in Disney’s Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. In a process he describes as “shredding” his vocal chords, in the current second season Weber has voiced the transformation of Osborn into the hulking Goblin (also known in as Green Goblin in the regular Marvel universe) and carved an indelible mark into the minds of many fans young and old. All in all not a bad day’s work for a childhood fan of the medium.
It’s true: in addition to being a television star, Weber is a longtime fan of comics and was once a member of the mid-1970s Marvel fan club FOOM (Friends Of Ol’ Marvel), and namechecks everyone from Steve Ditko to Jim Aparo in our far-ranging interview about his role as Norman Osborn/Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man and his comic roots. Weber, who’s set to star in 2014’s TNT series Murder In The First, talked with Newsarama and even did renditions of previous Green Goblins from animated Marvel lore. Sorry gang, we’re not a podcast.
Newsarama: Steven, you have a long history of playing high profile men in suits which Norman Osborn certainly is, but what make him unique to you?
Steven Weber: I definitely play, I’ll say “mean guys in suits,” for years. But me personally, I rarely wear suits and I like to think of myself as a nice guy.
What makes Norman different is the power in his hands. The potential for him to really really lose his mind through the use of all this power is the key to the character. He’s got issues – family issues, emotional issues, and power issues. He tries to use this power at his fingertips to assuage these issues, but it ultimately leads to his downfall in many ways. Norman’s alter ego the Green Goblin is physicalized in a way all the other schmucks in suits I’ve played have not be able to. They can only speak their discontent – Norman can act out on it physically.
Nrama: Is it harder playing characters that are less like yourself, or is it easier being that you can notice so many differences?
Weber: A long time ago I used to think it was easier to play someone way outside of who I was, but over time I realized it was more challenging to play someone close to who I am. I realize even through Norman as I described him earlier is villainous and arrogant, those are still parts of who I am – everyone has that somewhere.
Nrama: I’ve read you collected comics as a child and were even a member of the old Marvel fan club, FOOM. With that in mind, what comic creators or moments from those stories stick with you here, in relation to Green Goblin?
Weber: I was a big fan of Steve Ditko, and I loved The Incredible Hulk. I remember one storyline where the Hulk fought the Rhino, and it was the most dynamic and most beautiful kinetic artwork I’ve ever seen – as exciting as watching a movie. Not a week goes by that I don’t think of that moment with the Hulk lifting up Rhino by his horn and smashing him. That was where I lived, mentally, for a long time.
I was also very into the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man… Luke Cage as well. But I wasn’t a “good” comic fan, as I never kept good care of my comics. And I eventually gave them away as my hormones began in my teens.
Nrama: Unlike most villains who are known almost exclusively for their super villain identity, Norman Osborn seems just as popular as the Goblin these days. What’s it like for you playing a villain who has more depth than the standard action adversary?
Weber: It’s weird because he’s not a “Jekyll & Hyde” type; Norman’s not a good guy with a dark persona. He’s a bad guy who becomes far far worse when he becomes the Green Goblin. So it’s harder to find something sympathetic about Norman, but the writers of Ultimate Spider-Man have done a great job of finding moments here and there where we see him care about his son. Those are fleeting moments, but they add up to a lot in the larger scheme of the character.
Nrama: I really enjoy those tense scenes between you and Matt Lanter, who plays Norman’s son Harry. How do you see that relationship between Norman and Harry?
Weber: I think they write those scenes beautifully and the way it needs to be; Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t a soap opera. But that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to explore that father/son relationship. That dynamic is something I’ve always had a great fascination for. I was close with my father, and now I am a father myself. I’d like to see some time spent between Harry and Norman stripped of all of the comic book supernatural elements and get down to brass tacks like Marvel always did with Amazing Spider-Man. Yes it’s a world of superheroes, but also concerns social issues, personal issues, and the bonds between people – super or not.
Nrama: I really enjoyed what you brought to the Goblin’s voice – quite different than the previous shrieking, cackling kind of voice, but still crazy, scary and real. How’d you find that voice?
Weber: When I first began talking about playing the Green Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man, I thought he would be the Goblin of old from the old animated shows. I hadn’t seen an artist’s rendition of him for this new series, so I was expecting a sinewy “hah hah!” laugh and him throwing flaming pumpkins at Spider-Man. But when I saw the designs for Green Goblin as more of a hulk-ish figure, I knew they wanted something different.
So for my Green Goblin voice, I had to dig down deep. I’m not a hulky guy and don’t have a deep vocal register, so I had to shred my vocal chords and find an incredibly angry, violent, visceral beast. They sweeten it a bit I’m sure, but not that much. When I started we tried it a couple different ways and settled on the really scary, gravelly voice you hear in the series.
And as the character develops, you’ve heard him become more articulate with every episode. Early on he was very stilted, but as he’s merged more with Norman (and Norman’s voice) he’s become more verbose and it’s allowed me to do more with that voice.
Nrama: In the next live-action Amazing Spider-Man movie, Chris Cooper has been cast to play Norman Osborn. Are there any tips you’d give him or anyone else stepping in to play the character?
Weber: No, I’d beg him for tips. Chris Cooper is a fantastic actor who is very full of depth and subtlety. I liked Willem Dafoe’s role in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films; he’s another genius actor.
Norman Osborn/Green Goblin is a fantastic role for a specific kind of actor. He isn’t classically handsome, and also exudes a kind of sadness – and Chris Cooper can deliver that in spades for Amazing Spider-Man 2. So there’s nothing I could say. Also, Ultimate Spider-Man is a slightly different kind of animal than the live-action Spider-Man films. Our animated series has more of a sense of humor and is more smart, and it takes more liberties with breaking the fourth wall. The movies have, by-and-large, been darker, and that’s not what Ultimate Spider-Man is.
Nrama: Speaking of movies, your Wings co-star Thomas Haden Church did great playing Sandman in Spider-Man 3 back in 2007. Would you be up to do a live-action superhero movie at some point?
Weber: In my dreams? Sure. I’ve matured as an actor from playing almost snarky, sarcastic roles and have lived more life, and I’m ready for any film makers to use that to their advantage and hire me. I’m friends with J.J. Abrams and I know Joss Whedon a little bit, so I’d love to have that opportunity with the right character.
Nrama: Given your knowledge of comics, what characters from comic books are you drawn to, to possibly play on the big screen?
Weber: I was a big comic fan when I was a kid, and I crossed over from Marvel to DC and even went further back to older books.
One I always liked was DC’s the Spectre. That character really terrified me as a kid. I remember reading Batman while Jim Aparo was doing it, and his Batman was a vengeful scary guy but Spectre was so much darker. He was into making criminals suffer, and that was fascinating to me.