Corey Stoll on the big risk of his buzzy 'Ant-Man' character M.O.D.O.K.: 'I knew it could go down in flames'
Fellow "Quantumania" stars William Jackson Harper, Katy O'Brian and David Dastmalchian also weigh in about bringing new heroes to the MCU.
Warning: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania spoilers ahead!
Jonathan Majors is getting major love for his performance as Marvel’s latest supervillain, Kang the Conqueror, in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And rightfully so. Majors delivers a layered, soulful performance as the multiversal big bad who will eventually fill Thanos’s giant shoes as the MCU’s Public Enemy No. 1 in 2025’s team-up Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
Kang, who previously arrived in variant form in the first season finale of Disney+’s Loki, isn’t the only new character making noise in the Peyton Reed-directed Quantumania, which introduces a multi-species ensemble that has drawn comparisons to Star Wars.
Corey Stoll’s M.O.D.O.K. (short for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing), a longtime comic book villain who is also the subject of a stop-motion-animated Hulu series, has elicited a giddy response from Marvel fans and bloggers. The goofy supporting cast also includes William Jackson Harper, who gets plenty of laughs as the mind-reading Quaz, and David Dastmalchian’s “walking bag of ooze” Veb, while Katy O’Brian’s freedom fighter Jentorra is one of fandom’s new favorite shipping candidates.
We talked to Stoll, Harper, O’Brian and Dastmalchian for more insights into the MCU’s eclectic new inhabitants.
Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket, played by Corey Stoll, was the central villain Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangaline Lilly) face off against in 2015’s Ant-Man. He was presumed dead seemingly shrinking into oblivion during the film’s climax.
“In the original script for Ant-Man, he gets arrested, and then we did a version where he turns into goo,” reveals Stoll (The Many Saints of Newark, House of Cards). “Then in the final version, he just sort of shrinks infinitely, which left it open, obviously. So I was really glad to see that’s how they ended up, with possibility of him coming back. But I wasn't expecting anything. And then after Ant-Man and the Wasp came out [in 2018], I just assumed that it was one and done. Then out of the blue, I got this call from Peyton and he asked me if I was familiar with this character named M.O.D.O.K."
Turns out Reed imagined Cross was transported to the quantum realm, and in Quantumania, was reinvented as M.O.D.O.K., a Marvel Comics favorite heretofore presumed unadaptable, at least in live-action form (Patton Oswalt voiced the animated character in the Hulu series). M.O.D.O.K. is now a henchman, er, cybernetically enhanced man, for Kang, with his comics-accurate giant head and hilariously tiny limbs.
“I was like, ‘That's the craziest thing I've ever heard, and if that were to happen, that would be the craziest role I would ever play,’” Stoll recalls, after hearing Reed’s pitch. “And, you know, of course I was gonna do it. … I got this sense from him that he sort of felt like he had to sell me on the idea. But I felt like I’d just struck the lottery, to play this insane character.”
Our #MODOK character poster arrives #MODOKtheAvenger #AntManandtheWaspQuantumania pic.twitter.com/rMmXTZK8CC
— Asad Ayaz (@asadayaz) February 24, 2023
M.O.D.O.K. is played for fun — mainly at the expense of his absurd appearance — right down to his funny-slash-touching death “as an Avenger.” The character has also been a lightning rod for criticism given his intentionally wild design.
“I mean, I knew that it could go down in flames. It was definitely scary,” says Stoll, who admits it was “really disturbing” to see his giant face on a massive movie screen at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. “But I also thought there's no way I couldn't do it.”
William Jackson Harper (The Good Place, The Underground Railroad) had never done anything of the scale of a Marvel movie, and he was dying to try. “I’m a huge geek for these movies, man,” he gushes. “I’ve watched them all so many times, and I wanted to be in one.”
Now he’s a new fan favorite as Quaz, a new character created for Quantumania who has telepathic powers — something he views as more curse than blessing.
“He’s just over it,” Jackson says. “It’s right there in the script. It’s a great little grace note, which is that everyone’s gross, and he's just been seeing gross stuff all of his life. There are these big stakes, and people are thinking about gross stuff. So I think he’s burned out. I think he’s a little bit over it. That felt right to me. [Every time he meets someone], it’s just sort of like, ‘Oh Lord, here we go.’”
The experience made Harper quickly realize he’d never want to be a telepath: “I know what I’m walking around thinking about when I’m by myself, and it ain’t pretty all the time,” he laughs. “Sometimes it’s noble, sometimes it is not. So I definitely don’t need to hear anybody’s thoughts ever.”
Quaz owns one of the movie’s funniest lines when Veb asks Scott “how many holes” he has. “Seven,” Quaz interjects, with the camera cutting to Rudd’s face as Lang quickly does the math and nods in agreement. It’s a moment that, judging from social media, has viewers also doing the math in their head right there in the theater.
“Do you count things that you have that are a pair?” Jackson asks. “Is that two separate holes, or is it essentially one hole? They’re just bifurcated in some way. I don’t know. I've gone down the rabbit hole myself a couple of times.” (Here’s the easy explainer on Twitter.)
As Evangeline Lilly recently professed to us, the most exciting thing for her about Quantumania was the number of women she got to work with. There’s her onscreen mother (Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne), Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie (now played by Kathryn Newton) and the newcomer Jentorra, a freedom fighter also battling Kang.
Jentorra is played by Katy O’Brian, who has seen plenty of action in big genre properties (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Lightning, The Mandalorian), but who felt like Quantumania was a significant change of pace.
“I haven’t gotten to play very many good guys, so that was a really big plus for me. And I was really excited to play not only a good person, but like a leader,” she says of her Jentorra, who in the comics appeared in Hulk storylines but was reinvented for Ant-Man. “Oftentimes, I’m just a henchman or something. This was kind of a really big part for me because I actually get to be powerful. I get to be strong. I get to be emotional. I get to be all these things that I kind of feel like I am more of in real life than a bad guy.”
Jentorra has become an instant hit among fans, including those who are convinced that Cassie has a crush on Jentorra due to a look the teen gives the warrior. “It’s probably more of a ‘respect’ crush,” O’Brian laughs. “Like, ‘Oh man, that person’s really cool.’ But you see what you wanna see.”
And there are other viewers who are already shipping Jentorra with Valkyrie (while Tessa Thompson’s Thor character is known to be bisexual, Jentorra fans are presumably playing off the fact that O’Brian is married to a woman in real life.)
“I can totally see that,” she says. “And that’s more age-appropriate, in my opinion.”
Like Stoll, David Dastmalchian is an Ant-Man series vet taking on a new character in Quantumania. But unlike Stoll, Dastmalchian’s previous character was never killed off. His fan favorite Kurt was one-fourth of Lang’s X-Con security crew, along with Michael Peña’s Luis (known for his hilarious play-by-play reenactments) and Tip “T.I.” Harris’s Dave. So where was the X-Con crew during the events of Quantumania?
If you’ve seen the movie, it’s pretty obvious there was no room for the guys, given the majority of the action takes place in a new world. “I think [Peyton] tried his dangedest because he had contacted me previously and just said, ‘Dude, it kills me. There’s not space. This story is so packed, and we’re spending our whole story in the quantum realm. He didn’t wanna just throw some silly cameo at the wall. He wanted it to be a proper exploration because he cares about these characters. So I know that was a really hard choice for him.”
Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad, Dune) was admittedly sad after the conversation. But then soon after came a call with another offer from Reed. He wanted to know if the actor would play a character never seen in the comics: the inquisitive slime-like Veb, who spews goo that, once ingested, allows those in the quantum realm to understand each other’s languages. “He goes, ‘I’m not doing this without you. It’s gotta be you,’” the actor recalls. “So I wore the mo-cap suit and it was one of the most joyful acting experiences I’ve ever had.”
To get into character, Dastmalchian says he revisited Marvel’s The Micronauts comics. “I was thinking about a lot of the adventures I've read over the years of teams like the Fantastic Four and the West Coast Avengers, and the different kinds of odd intergalactic interdimensional beings that they've come in contact with,” he adds. “I also felt like there was so much heart in this. I felt like my kids would really love and cling to Veb. And so stuff like SpongeBob, which we all really love as a family … some of the characters that live in that world had an influence on me.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now playing.
Watch the trailer: