We hear a lot about the importance of Miles Morales as a character, which is 100 percent true, but we’ve all seen characters deemed important not quite break through. Not like Miles Morales anyway. When I asked Shameik Moore what makes Miles such a great character – who is voicing Miles for the second time now in the upcoming Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – he distills Miles into a simple and poignant answer: “I think people love Miles because he’s the kind of human that you would want in your life.” Yep, that’s it. What a great answer. (Actually, ahead, Shameik Moore has a whole host of great answers.)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which, somehow, came out five years ago) wound up grossing just under $400 million worldwide and wound up winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film for its trouble. It became a cultural event. Now, the sequel – directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson; the first half of a two-part story – goes even bigger as Miles, who, deep down, just wants to be accepted, teams up with (but isn’t let into) the Spider-Society – a multi-dimensional organization made up of the most elite Spider-Mans of the multiverse, which reunites Miles with Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). Run by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), the mission of the group is to keep the multiverse in order by making sure each universe’s Spider-Man has their “canon event.“ The event that makes each Spider-Man who they are, like, for instance, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben dying. Miles and Miguel don’t really see eye to eye on all this, which sets off a chain of events that will take us into the next film, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.
Ahead, Shameik Moore takes us through his relationship with Miles Morales. When he worked on the first film, he was pretty close to Miles’s age. Now, five years later, what’s it like going back to Miles? How does he feel when he hears people talk about Miles and they don’t realize he’s the voice of Miles? Does he want to jump in and say something? (Hint: he does not.) It’s obvious how much joy Miles brings Moore and, honestly, when you speak to Moore, the feeling is pretty infectious.
I get the sense doing press on this movie is a lot more intense than the last one…
It’s been an adventure. This is the first press tour I’ve done like this, but the first time around was a lot of fun, too. We did some traveling as well, but I think maybe just a few more days. People have expectations now.
The first one no one knew what to expect and is such a unique experience, but now everyone wants this to be more unique.
Yeah. Well, how do you feel?
Well, this one leaves you wanting another one right away. Does that make sense?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I totally get it. It’s a lot of story. There’s a lot of emotion and heart in this film. Yeah, I think the fans will definitely want a third one.
I do think this one has more stuff in it, that repeat viewing will reward.
It depends on perspective. I think it’s definitely a movie you’re going to have to watch more than once, or should watch more than once. Because this story, it’s bigger than Miles Morales. I think we came into Spider-Man, into the Spider-Verse and we were introduced to Miles. And it was cool because it’s not like we didn’t honor Peter. Miles was learning from Peter, so it was like he was accepted by the Spider-Man fans and franchise. And we fell in love with Miles for a whole bunch of reasons. And so now maybe Miles Morales fans are going to come into this film expecting Miles Morales 98 percent of the time and find out that this is across the Spider-Verse. And within that, this movie is made for true Spider-Man fans. For people that really grew up on it and have their own stories, from before Tobey’s live-action version, of their connection and relationship to Spider-Man. This film honors the Spider-Man franchise, and so it could feel like an explosion of Spider love.
“Spider love.” That’s good.
There’s an explosion of Spider love! But the through-line is definitely Miles and Gwen. And that’s what makes it exciting because, with all of these spiders, it’s kind of like, where’s your individuality amongst people that get it? Miles’s whole thing at the beginning of this film is, “I want to be around people that get it. I want to expand my knowledge and my capabilities. I want to be tested on another level.” And when he gets to this other dimension and he wants to be accepted by the Spider Society, it’s kind of like, “Okay, I get where you’re coming from. I understand we’re all tied together by these same kind of tragic moments.”
The cannon events.
The cannon events. “But you can’t tell me how my story is supposed to go. I’m going to go and I’m going to do my own thing and there’s nothing you can do about it because I am Miles Morales.” And I think that that’s how he decides to wear that mask. And I feel like it’s so relatable on a human level because… I’m known mostly as an actor right now, and I was told I’d never be an actor by my drama teacher. I was told I would never be a dancer by my best friends and et cetera. I was told I’d never do a lot of things.
I was at the Sundance premiere of Dope, which you’re really great in. You seemed like such a natural then. I can’t believe anyone ever said that to you.
And that’s just perspective. I mean, at some point in this film, that’s exactly how people are going to feel. I bet you Miguel O’Hara is going to say the same thing to Miles one day. That’s just how it’s going to go. I mean, we have to write our own stories and we have to believe in ourselves. It’s about how you wear that mask. It’s just a leap of faith.
I can’t believe the first one came up five years ago now…
Back then you were closer to Miles’s actual age. So what’s it like going back to that kind of era of your life and being a kid again in this one?
I mean, I feel one with Miles. I seek validation often, and it’s something I work on with my therapist, to be honest with you [laughs]. And as Miles puts on that mask and I have a Spider Punk in my life that’s like, “Yo, you don’t need to be accepted by the society.” It’s cool to be an individual. Stick to that. I have a Gwen in my life, where I’ve just … I’m inspired by other actors or artists that express themselves on different mediums that are doing it the way that I see it in my mind that I’d like to do it – and encourages me to want to take it up to that notch because I can see myself being capable of operating on that level. So yeah, I relate to Miles today, and I don’t think it’s a age thing, man. I think it’s a human thing. I think it’s a human thing.
Part of the theme of this movie is Miles wanting to tell the people he loves he’s Spider-Man. I am curious, have you ever been in a situation where you want to drop that information, but have to figure out a nonchalant way to do it?
I literally never do it, ever.
Oh, I would want to do it all the time. I respect you for that then. There’s no way I couldn’t do that.
I mean, it is just how I’m raised though. I can’t even afford to do it like that. It’s about what you do. My mom always said, “Don’t tell me you love me. Show me.” So that’s just how I’m raised. There’s no way I could tell you, “Hey, I’m Spider-Man. Now be friends with me.”
Oh no, I’m thinking more like, let’s say there’s a kid walking down the street with a Miles Morales shirt on. Don’t you want to kind of be like, “Hey, guess what?”
I’ll tell you a story.
I was eating ramen with my assistant. I found this really great ramen spot. And next to me – I was talking; we were having a conversation – and next to me, the kid heard my voice. He was sitting with his dad enjoying ramen. And then out of nowhere, he is like, “I really can’t wait to see this Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, this new movie.”
Oh, that’s amazing.
They start talking about the movie right next to us. And I guess one would be like, “Hey, I’m Miles Morales.” But, no, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them talk about how they were looking forward to this movie coming out.
You would’ve made everyone’s day if you would’ve chimed in and said that though.
I’m sure. Maybe, possibly. But I was able to enjoy it because I still had 30 more minutes to sit there to eat and enjoy the conversation I was having. And I really thoroughly enjoyed hearing this kid and his dad have a conversation. And I hope they enjoy the movie I was working on while they were sitting next to me.
So I’ve watched quite a few interviews with you. You’re asked a lot about the importance of Miles Morales. And, obviously, that’s true, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this and importance is great, but if the character isn’t good then it doesn’t last. I’ve seen other characters marketed as important but don’t last. At his heart Miles is a kid who wants to be accepted.
Yeah. Totally. I feel like Miles was introduced in a natural way. It wasn’t so much like, “Hey, we now have a black Puerto Rican Spider-Man who is replacing Peter Parker.” We have a black and Puerto Rican Spider-Man who learned how to be Spider-Man from Peter Parker. I think that was a really important key to it all. Because I’m seeing, even my costar Hailey, I think she was showing us a video of her, either little cousin? Or nephew? Or maybe her little brother? I’m not sure. He’s running around in the video. He’s wearing a Spider-Man suit. He said, “Don’t call me Spider-Man. Call me Miles.” This is bigger than color.
This is bigger than race. This is bigger than any of that. The whole point is that all of us can wear the mask. And you can take it literally and make it Spider-Man because it is a Spider-Man movie and et cetera. But I truly believe it’s the metaphor because – maybe that’s because I speak in metaphors – but I believe the mask is just embracing that part of yourself, your superpower. You and I are just meeting and having a conversation. But I feel like you love comics or you love being a journalist or covering films or interesting storylines and bringing light to creativity itself. Even your toys on your wall…
Yeah, you weren’t supposed to see those. I had to switch rooms because my laptop’s power just nosedived and I had to plug in.
Oh, I love it though.
It went from 80 percent to 4 in just a couple minutes. I don’t know what happened there. So now you get to see all this.
And I think it’s sick. That’s what makes you you. That’s your fingerprint. That’s how you wear the mask. And you asking questions that are interesting, that open up the perspective of why people should go watch this film and et cetera is how you wear that mask.
As long as we’re here, I’ve got got a good one for you. There’s Miles, right over here.
Look at that! You see? You see? We’re all connected through that web. So I think people love Miles because he’s the kind of human that you would want in your life.
I’m curious, everyone involved on the creative side of this movie, I know how meticulous they can be. I’ve seen you say you just follow directions. But there have to have been a couple of times you were like, “I don’t think Miles would say this.” And I think they would listen to you.
I mean, if I was like, “Hey guys, I really need you to listen to me,” I’m sure they would. But I don’t question those guys, man. I learned from them. I know my place. I’m a creative being and these guys are uber-successful, very creative. They’re respected as creatives by the people at the top of the totem pole and the decision-making seats and how they move with grace. If I’m Chris, Phil, Kemp, or any of these guys, I would definitely appreciate having actors give their input. But I more so appreciate them doing that when I’m doing something wrong or need something to be changed or whatever. So, if there was something that didn’t feel authentic to me as a young black man playing Miles Morales, then I would speak. But they didn’t have that issue at all.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to this coming out because people keep asking me about it…
Don’t tell them anything!
So they’ll have to see it a couple of times.
‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’ opens in theaters on June 2nd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.