Julie Taymor: Well, with this project I have to say that Bono and the Edge were a really good draw.
O: I heard they wouldn't sign on unless you were involved.
JT: They were hired first, and they called me, yes. But I didn't want to do something that would basically be just another episode in a series. I wanted to do something different, so I was asking myself, "What is the essence? Why is this such a popular myth?"
O: Had you been into the story before?
JT: No, but you know my background is mythology and folklore. So I started to look at the comic books, and on page one of Ultimate Spider-Man, I found the story of Arachne. In Greek mythology, Arachne is a young girl who's full of hubris—that attitude of "We're better than the gods." She was a great weaver—she wove all the stories of the gods' misdeeds. And basically, the goddess Athena got pissed and challenged Arachne to a duel at the loom. The two female powers, the human and the goddess, wove, and Arachne's tapestry turned out better. Athena got so angry that she destroyed it—and Arachne hung herself on a single thread. Athena was so taken with this act that she transformed her into a spider and made her immortal. Really, she was dooming her to loneliness, cursing her to weave her webs in the darkness, inspiring fear and terror everywhere.
O: All that was on the first page of a comic book?
JT: Well, I've probably told it a little more dramatically, which is my way. But one morning I woke up at 5—that dream time when a lot of solutions come for me—and I had the whole concept. I went, "My God, that is the essence, isn't it?" And then of course there's Spider-Man, this teenage boy Peter Parker, who's an Everyboy. You know, Superman came from Krypton, and Batman had rich parents—both of them were singled out. But our boy from Queens could be a white boy, a black boy, a Chinese boy, a Japanese boy, a girl—anybody. He's a regular Joe. He has been given this power by a spider bite, and now he has to rise above his normal life and take that on. When I thought about Bono and his life, I went, "Oh my God—there's Peter Parker, right there."
JT: The reason Bono and Edge can write these songs is that they get the dilemma, which is: How do you be a superhero, save the world, and also be a dad and husband and drink in your pub and just be a guy? How do you balance those identities?
O: And don't they do that well?
JT: They do. So here you have this regular boy who's bullied in school. Who can't get the girl next door. He doesn't even have parents—just an uncle and an aunt. And he's been given this gift, this power, whatever that means in our times. It's a contemporary myth, but it's connected to the ancient myths, too.
O: Which you're a student of. It's fascinating to me that you haven't wasted a moment. Every single experience you have, you use to fuel your creativity, don't you?
JT: I try to. Mythology, folklore, the different places I've traveled—all of it feeds me. But I also have very good people around me. I tend to collaborate with the same people over and over. The set designer, George Tsypin, has done six operas with me. My lighting designer started 14 years ago and did The Lion King and every show I've done since. I do have a new costume designer, Eiko Ishioka. I love doing costumes, but that would have been too much for me to handle.
O: You did all the masks for this show, though.
JT: Most of them. There aren't that many—12 or 14.
O: And you did the directing.
JT: And cowriting.
O: But you have a sense of when enough is enough and too much is too much?
Next: Taymor reveals how she tackled the challenge of reinventing Spider-Man for the stage