Francine Wolfisz talks to comic-book king Stan Lee about his new TV drama Lucky Man and life as creator of the world’s ultimate superheroes
From scaling walls and buildings to super strength, the ability to fly, mind control, supersonic hearing, x-ray vision or throwing balls of fire from the palm of your hand – Stan Lee’s legendary comic book creations have displayed a wealth of superpowers over the 70 years he’s been in the business.
But one superpower has eluded them all – and it’s something the vibrant Lee, the genius behind such classics as Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk and X-Men, believes is “the greatest of them all”. “People always ask me what superpower I would have, or what power there is that I haven’t already given to a hero,” he says.
“I have always thought that luck would probably be the greatest of all because if you are lucky everything turns out right. Luck is something that affects everybody and everybody can relate to it.”
So began the idea for Lee’s newest venture, Lucky Man, which begins tomorrow (Friday) on Sky 1 and marks the first drama series he has written for UK television.
Produced alongside co-writer Neil Biswas, the series revolves around police detective and compulsive gambler Harry Clayton, played by James Nesbitt, who is in danger of losing the thing he values the most: his family. Just as he is approaching rock bottom, Clayton meets the beautiful and enigmatic Eve (Sienna Guillory), who gives him a mysterious bracelet said to bring the wearer immense luck.
Clayton soon finds his fortunes turned around, but such luck comes with a dark price.
The gripping crime drama boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Amara Karan, Eve Best, Darren Boyd, Omid Djalili and Stephen Hagan. Speaking this week to Jewish News, the American writer – who was born Stanley Lieber to Romanian-Jewish immigrants in New York in 1922 – reveals he has had three lucky breaks in his life.
The first he attributes to his mother, Celia, who insisted the young Lee should become a prolific reader. “She was always buying me books and magazines and loved to see me read. And that is where my passion for reading stemmed from.”
His second act of good fortune came when he went to apply for a job at a publishing house and discovered the opening was actually for an assistant in the comic-book department – thereby launching him on the road to a long and successful career.
As for the third: “Well,” Lee says, “that would be sitting here talking about this new show for Sky 1, which I am enormously excited about!”
With the drama having such an apt name, I ask Lee if he considers himself to be a man of good fortune. “I guess if things go your way you have to be considered lucky,” he says. “Well, then I must be lucky. I am doing the type of work that I like to do and I have been doing it for most of my life.
“A person has to do something in life and so many people have jobs where they do not particularly love what they are doing, but it is a living. “They can’t wait to leave their jobs at the end of the day, but I can’t wait to go to my job and do what I do.”
Despite turning 93 last month, Lee still plays a very active role as chairman and chief creative officer of the company he founded, POW! Entertainment.
There’s certainly no talk of retirement on the horizon – perhaps even the opposite. Lee tells me he would love to see Lucky Man become “a monster hit – and then it would be great to follow it with other successful TV shows.”
Aside from dealing with luck, his new drama also deals with ideas of superstition and fate, but while these are recurring themes his comic characters have had to grapple with over the years, Lee’s philosophy on the issues remains surprisingly grounded.
He explains: “I guess we’re all superstitious about something or other, and as far as fate is concerned anything that happens to us, whether good or bad, can be considered an act of fate.
“Whether things are pre-ordained for us is something nobody has been able to prove. Personally I don’t think I have any superstitions, I just try to survive each day.”
Lee also explains that he set his new drama in London partly as a nod to his British-born wife, Joan, to whom he has been married for nearly 70 years, but also because he believes the city provides “the perfect backdrop”.
He adds: “London has everything you could want in a city that has to smack of realism and yet have an air of fantasy about it.
“I’ve loved the city of London from its descriptions in the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle and having visited London myself I’ve loved the vibrancy of Soho,” he goes on.
“I am absolutely thrilled that this is where the show is being filmed and is set.”
As we round off the interview, I ask Lee the burning questions avid fans will probably most want the answers to – first, does he have a real-life hero, and, secondly, who out of his many famous creations would he most want to be like?
“Most of my friends are heroes in their own way, but the most heroic person I know is a heroine, who happens to be my wife,” he says.
“As for the one character that I would aspire to be out of the many I’ve created, I guess that wealthy, handsome, talented Tony Stark (Iron Man) would be the one.”
The only difference perhaps is that Lee doesn’t need a technologically-advanced robotic suit to be regarded as a hero by his legions of fans.
Lucky Man starts on Friday, 9pm, on Sky 1.