Daniel Espinosa Morbius

Daniel Espinosa has been preparing to direct Marvel’s new anti-hero movie Morbius since he was in elementary school. He just didn’t always know it.

“I’ve been a big Marvel fan since I was a small kid. When I was 10 years old, I had a bone that was growing out of my kneecap. My mother discovered it, and it was much bigger than she thought it would be, so we had to go to the hospital,” he says.

“My mother felt really guilty, so she took me to the comic book store, and she said, ‘You’re going to the hospital for a couple of days, and you can take however many comics you want.’ It was the American comic book store, because in Sweden, we only had two comic books. I was like, ‘Really?’ And I grabbed a big bunch. For me, it was like heaven. So I went back to the hospital, and during that whole time, I felt free and alive by reading these comic books, and somehow, they became my greatest passion. So when I was growing up, comic books — because I come from a humble environment — were always the thing that kept me happy and made me feel that the world was alive and possible.”

Born and raised in Sweden and of Chilean descent, Daniel Espinosa began directing Swedish films in the early 2000s, including 2004’s Babylonsjukan (or Babylon Disease in English), which follows a young woman with a dead-end job who moves in with a group of slackers, and 2010’s Snabba Cash, which he also co-wrote, and which tells the story of a man who begins living a double life as a drug runner.

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Espinosa’s more recent films have included 2012’s Safe House, starring Ryan Reynolds as a CIA agent and Denzel Washington as the rogue he’s tasked with looking after; 2015’s Child 44 about a series of child murders in Stalin’s Soviet Union, starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman; and 2017’s Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds as members of a team of scientists who encounter a terrifying, deadly, and rapidly evolving life form while onboard the International Space Station.

Soon after touching down on U.S. soil, Espinosa realized his childhood love of comic books could be good for his film career.

“When I came to America, I thought, Oh, I would love to do a Marvel movie. I was just waiting for the right one, and because I’m a nerd, I wanted a specific one,” he says. “Then when Morbius came, Morbius had a similar kind of arc as when I was 12. He had a big comeback. I’ve always felt very close to that poor guy who was stuck in the hospital as a kid and decided to heal himself, and everything went wrong.”

The film is based on one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters, Dr. Michael Morbius. Played by Jared Leto, he tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease — but an unfortunate side effect of his treatment is vampirism. The film is part of the same Sony Spider-Man universe as the Venom films.

“When I heard about it, I said to my agent, ‘Can we have a meeting with somebody to let me do this movie?’ I got to meet with Sony, I got flown over to Germany to meet Jared. I spoke with him, and we liked each other, and then we met again and we fell more in love, and then I was attached as the director,” he says.

“I was that director who was like, please,” he laughed. “I could do this!”

Espinosa says Leto embraced method acting to get into character, walking around the set before shooting began as if he had the same physical ailments as Dr. Morbius.

“When he walks in, he is Michael Morbius,” Espinosa says. “He would often play Michael Morbius prior to him becoming Morbius, so he would always come in, you know, as a fully disabled person. It would take him like 20 minutes to come to the front of the camera, because it was so hard [to walk]. This would also create pains in his body, to twist himself like that. But it was for him to remember the pain that the character had.”

Espinosa says Leto also lost weight to play Morbius at his weakest, then gained it back in muscle for when the character acquires vampiric superpowers.

“That’s dedication,” he says. “That’s what you get from Jared.”

He also feels a great sense of kinship with actors, which he attributes to working with so many first-timers on his early films.

“With amateurs, you have to adapt to every single person. I’m close and intense, and also I have a great love for actors. I appreciate them,” he says. “I love the craft and I love their dedication. I always feel like they’re suicide bombers that explore their emotions, and we are the guys that are dressed in black, hiding and waiting for them to explode. And when they’ve done that, we have to appreciate that. We have to appreciate the sacrifice that they do.”

He hopes that Morbius — which finally received an April 1 release date after being pushed back repeatedly from its original summer 2020 date — will connect with audiences thirsting for darker, edgier Marvel films, even if they are still rated PG-13.

“I don’t think Marvel movies have to be like the classic PG-13 love comedy. I think they can be much more than that,” he says. “Morbius could be one of the movies that begins with that journey of making Marvel movies that are different.”

Morbius, directed by Daniel Espinosa, opens in theaters Friday, from Sony Pictures.

Main Image: Daniel Espinosa photographed by Jay Maidment.

A version of this story first appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of MovieMaker Magazine.