Make Mine Marvel

Make Mine Marvel: Matt Salinger Interview

Chatting up the star of the 1990 Captain America film

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By Eric Drumm [Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.]

Captain America
movie poster

In 1990, the Sentinel of Liberty saw his first foray into a major motion picture with "Captain America." Years before the comic book movie boom brought us the Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, the Cap movie aimed to be the little picture that could—but unfortunately, it never made it to the big time. Seventeen years and several Marvel blockbusters later, we sat down with Captain America himself, Matt Salinger. Mr. Salinger gives a look back at the production of the "Captain America" film, Cap's recent death and where he sees Marvel films going in the future. MARVEL.COM: Let's start out with what you've been doing since the Captain America movie and what you're working on now.

Matt Salinger
as Captain America

Matt Salinger:
I am now a film and theater producer, have been for the last 10-plus years; produced 14 films all in the million to $5 million range. [They're mainly] low budget, independent—usually straight to video. Some of them have had some theatrical play, some have been very artistically ambitious, sort of art house films—they do that modern day version of Hamlet. Some of them have intended to be commercial films. I did a Diane Keaton mob comedy called "Plan B," and frankly that didn't work out that well. I've been working on this one particular play—I've produced several plays off-Broadway, around the country and internationally—but this one play, "The Syringa Tree," won the best play of the year here in NY in 2001. At this point I only have two film projects that I'm really pushing. I'm also doing something with a new kind of company that has a very new concept and a new approach to filmed entertainment—both how to make it and how to distribute it. I'm just working on the business plan now, well, finalizing the business plan, but I'm not really ready to talk about that.

Captain America
strapped to
a rocket

I still do act some. Friends call me from the past. It is still a lot of fun, but it felt irresponsible for me to make a career out of it. I've got a couple of kids in the family and I wanted to do something more self-determining, and so I started producing. I do enough acting every year to keep my instruments going and to have fun. MARVEL.COM: So how did the role of Captain America come to you? Matt Salinger: It was just another audition. I had met with the director before and he offered me something that I had passed on. But I was a Captain America fan from the time I was nine, so when I heard about this I got very excited. I had mixed feelings about the company, but the director really persuaded me, and I think he really was trying to do the right thing; he just wasn't supported by the company. That was that Menahem Golan guy who ran 21st Century Films. Menahem wanted to make a terrific film, but he was depending on other films he had doing well to finance him and we never actually even finished shooting the script as written.

The Red Skull

We were supposed to go to Alaska and we were supposed to have another week of pick-ups. And things we didn't get in Yugoslavia, we were supposed to pick up in L.A. and we just ran out of money and Menahem sort of had his people paste it together. Ultimately, it was a really disappointing experience, but I had a gas for a while. It was fun to play Captain America. I mean, he was always my favorite of the super heroes; well I called them extra-human rather than super human. MARVEL.COM: So you read a lot of Cap comics to prepare for the role? Matt Salinger: No, no, no, not really. I had read a lot growing up, but when I read them it was CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON. Remember the Falcon? I actually think they should have spun that, that would have been even better. Stan Lee was around a couple of times, he came to Yugoslavia and he was just great. Really, really cool guy and really seemed to get what we were going for.

Matt Salinger
with Kim Gillingham

They picked me instead of somebody...I know they talked to Howie Long and they talked to some, you know, square-jawed, huge-type guys, but they wanted to humanize him. I think that's one of the really cool things about Steve Rogers. He was this infirm kid who had a big heart and he wanted to help out and finally he was given the chance, but he had insecurities. He was very human. You know, he wasn't bullet-proof—as we subsequently learned, right? And I was attracted to the idea of a super hero who was very human at the same time. I know I wrote to Stan Lee once when it became clear that the company was kind of closing down production. I wasn't sure what kind of rights or power he had, but I urged him to do what he could with Menahem to at least finish the script as it was written, but if he did try, he didn't succeed. I'm glad, frankly, that now [Marvel movies are] more mainstream and the studios are making them. They might not require $100 million, but they do require $40-$50 million to make and I think the budget was $3 million when we did ours. I never had that confirmed.

Cap vs.
The Red Skull

MARVEL.COM: How do you feel about the comic movie boom that's going on now? Matt Salinger: It's great! There are typical characters that everyone can relate to and do relate to because a lot of people grew up reading them. Some have certainly been better than others. I'm not rueful. Even the director was perfectly capable of making a terrific film; he just needed the funds to do it. We had a good cast and I wouldn't say the special effects were cheesy, but they were just straining on the budget and they were underdone. There were very few special effects that you'd sort of see and say, "Oh Wow! That was cool!" And you want to have that feeling when you're watching a comic book movie. MARVEL.COM: Captain America recently met his demise in the pages of his comic book. When you heard about it, how did you take the news?

Cap takes off
on a rocket

Matt Salinger:
Well, I had two reactions. One was personal. To me personally, in a way, Captain America died a while ago. The movie process and what they did with it...what they didn't do with it ,was disappointing to me and I took that quite personally at the time and it was hugely disappointing. I'm not even thinking in terms of my career, but it was this opportunity to play this guy that I loved. I wanted to see him supported and shown up to his very best. There was an aspect of, a hint of death surrounding him in my own mind already. I also think to a certain extent what's happened to America and many people around the world—their understanding of what America is, those ideals, after listening to the presidential candidates. It's so fascinating listening to them. They're still saying America is the best and this and that. And I always believed that and I was really a patriot, but we've taken some big hits and we've done some pretty irresponsible things around the world.

Cap takes on
The "Red" Skull

And I think the Captain's shield has been tarnished a bit. So there was an aspect of that, too, and one of my first thoughts has been, "Wow, I wonder to what degree they're killing him." Because now if I were wearing the Captain's suit in Serbia or in Croatia where we filmed it, I'd be a little nervous. I really would be, and that's a pity. But you know, I guess they got into that a little bit; comics never get too political, but I would hope that the Cap would have his day again and that America will have its day again and what made us great will come to ascendance again. But you read these books like "Blowback" now and how we're perceived around the world. I think we have like 147 foreign pieces and we're perceived to be this empire and not a beneficent one necessarily, and that's hugely troubling.

Matt Salinger
as Captain America

MARVEL.COM: The Captain America movie has developed somewhat of a cult following. Do fans ever come up to you? Matt Salinger: It has?! That's news to me. Kids under 9 love it. I was not aware of that. I mean yeah, not a week goes by that I don't have an autograph request. I'm not out there and I don't have a publicist and I'm hard to track down, but people do. I still have a stack of photos. I always write, "Here's to what's heroic in us all." But I was not aware of that. I've never gone to the comic book conventions because I've never been asked and I don't know where they are.

Cap takes on
some bad guys

I'm not in that world, so I don't know. But on the street, yeah sure, I often get that. It's funny, you know. For years when I was acting, people would look at me funny and they would think they went to high school with me and they would think I knew their brother or their sister and then when I got more leading roles and I had my own series and stuff on TV, I'd get, "Oh, you're that guy that did such and such." and then with Captain America, "Oh! You're Steve Rogers!" And then it sort of reverted to—after I stopped acting or just acting a little—then it reverted to, "Did we go to high school together? You look familiar." Now it's pretty rare, but every once in a while. I was in the subway the other day and this transit cop came up to me and asked about this movie "Power" I did with Richard Gere and Gene Hackman and he said he saw me in a bunch of other movies. He knew practically my whole resume. It was bizarre.

"Red" Skull
is angry

In "Captain America," too, not many people saw it and when they did, mostly the kids saw it and he was in uniform for a lot of it. I don't get that one a lot. MARVEL.COM: Would you like to see another Cap movie come up in the future? Matt Salinger: If they do it with the Falcon, definitely. And I want a cameo.

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