PLAYBOY: You play the Lizard in The -Amazing Spider-Man, but if it were up to you, what kind of supervillain would best suit your personality?
IFANS: I would be Luddite-Man. I am not gadgety at all. It’s not that I’m appalled by technology, but I’ve taken my time acquiring any of it. I just learned to drive last year. I’ve had an iPhone for only maybe two years, and I just recently acquired an iPad. As Luddite-Man, my superpowers lie in delaying the adoption of new technology.
PLAYBOY: You once admitted you’d never read a single Harry Potter book, yet you were in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Would you admit the same of the Spider-Man comics?
IFANS: No, but what I like about my character, Curt Connors, is that he isn’t a purely evil, megalomaniacal villain. He’s a broken, troubled man who starts off wanting to do good, a geneticist who wants to save the world. He’s also a man who has lost an arm, wants it back and wants to help others who are limbless. He loses his way and becomes greedy by stopping at nothing to regain his arm. In that pursuit, I become a large, scaly, strong, sexy creature.
PLAYBOY: Even good actors can be overshadowed by special effects, CGI and motion-capture technology. How do you avoid that fate?
IFANS: What can be done now with motion capture is fucking incredible, right down to facial movements and tics, so there are a lot of effects and CGI for my character. While many superhero movies are kind of operatic in their performances, this one is very human and surprisingly intimate and small. Somehow, the 3-D makes it even more effective by putting those understandable human characters into this big, fantastic world.
PLAYBOY: We’ve been saturated with superheroes in movies and have already had a trilogy of Tobey Maguire Spider-Man flicks. How does The Amazing Spider-Man stand out?
IFANS: Whereas Superman is a godlike guy from another planet and Batman is this mysterious, unknowable billionaire, everyone in Spider-Man is human and flawed. Peter Parker is an awkward, bullied high school kid going through the changes of puberty. There’s a universal and appealing aspect to that story.
PLAYBOY: You’re a long way from your hometown in Wales. Were you an awkward kid?
IFANS: No, any teenager in a small town in Wales is going to get into a modicum of trouble. As a youth, there were drugs and drinking; it’s a prerequisite. I was a regular, badly behaved teenager—chastised and punished but always supported, unlike most kids. I was also very political, as were my parents and younger brother. It was a fiery, embattled time in Wales in the mid-1980s. We were suffering under the Thatcher government, and she was decimating the mining industry and the unions. She turned a generation selfish and greedy. As a young man who spoke Welsh, a language that wasn’t even spoken on television then, you could not help but be politicized.
PLAYBOY: As a Welshman, which of your countrymen meant more to you, Tom Jones or Dylan Thomas?
IFANS: Hearing Tom Jones sing shakes me to the bones, but Dylan Thomas was more present in my upbringing. Growing up, I was entrenched in his relationship with language. Before I performed Under Milk Wood at the National Theatre in 1995, I went back to Wales, to this small village where Dylan wrote the vast majority of his work, and to Browns Hotel, where he drank the vast majority of his drink. I finished my jug and got the idea to spend the night on his grave, a very Thomas-esque thing to do. I was hoping for some osmosis, and it kind of worked.
PLAYBOY: The tabloids widely reported your former relationship with actress Sienna Miller and your friendship with model Kate Moss, and you’re currently in a relationship with Anna Friel. Have you always been surrounded by beautiful women?
IFANS: Well, it’s never been housewives for me. I like strong, independent women—as any strong, independent man should. As a prepubescent I watched a lot of Tarzan movies, and then suddenly along came this Jane in the form of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., with those beautiful tits and that voluptuousness. My God, you don’t get bodies like that anymore. She was a real woman.
PLAYBOY: Did Raquel Welch’s status as an erotic fantasy figure last into your puberty?
IFANS: Yes, but my first masturbatory icon was Debbie Harry from Blondie. I was besotted. I can’t remember which video it was in, but she had on this asymmetric dress and had bleached hair in front. What really turned me on was this black bit she had in her hair. Oh man.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever write Raquel Welch, Debbie Harry or anyone else a fan letter?
IFANS: When I was 18 or 19 I wrote letters to Howard Marks when he was in prison. It was just astounding to me that this guy, who was also a Welshman, had traveled the world and at any given time was possibly responsible for the trafficking of one third of the world’s marijuana. So what’s a young, pot-smoking punk-rocker kid from north Wales going to do? You write to him and say, “Don’t worry. There’s somebody thinking about you. And by the way, thank you for all the pot.” We met up when he came out of prison and became great friends, and of course I played him in the 2010 movie Mr. Nice. That’s the best bit of networking I’ve ever done.
PLAYBOY: How do you recall your first real-world sexual experience?
IFANS: It happened in Wales, and as far as I can remember, I didn’t do too badly. Before that I had pretty much seen naked women only in magazines an older boy brought to camp from his dad’s garage. The magazines were full of women with vaginas with big Fidel Castro beards, which was kind of overwhelming.