After 95-year old Marvel patriarch Stan Lee died Monday, the outpouring of emotion from all corners of the internet was overwhelming. It was also fitting. As the creator of some of the most enduring superheroes ever, including Spider-Man, the X-Men and The Incredible Hulk, Lee’s huge cultural imprint spans decades. But for everything he did to mold the world of comic books, Lee’s impact on Hollywood is perhaps even greater.
Since launching with 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a pop culture force the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Aside from being a financial juggernaut, the MCU also helped usher in the era of the shared cinematic universe, a groundbreaking concept that Lee helped create in the 1960s, when he, along with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, decided that their characters would all inhabit the same shared world. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige followed their lead, a strategy that has so far spanned 19 movies, and culminated with 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, the colossal superhero space saga that went to on to become the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time.
But audiences aren’t the only ones whose lives were irrevocably altered by Lee’s work. A crop of Hollywood’s most boldface names—many of whom paid tribute to Lee on social media on Monday—probably wouldn’t have the careers they have today without him. One of those stars is Sebastian Stan, who basically said as much when we spoke to him hours after news of Lee’s passing broke. “I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for him. That’s kind of how I’m thinking today,” he said over the phone. “His overall impact on my life, that I’m actually sitting here and talking to you now, is because of him.”
Stan has played Bucky Barnes—a.k.a The Winter Soldier—in six Marvel movies (next summer’s Avengers 4 will be his seventh) and is in talks to reprise the role alongside Anthony Mackie’s Falcon for a limited TV series at Disney’s upcoming streaming service. “I know he was very happy with what we’ve done and that he really enjoyed the films and making all those cameos,” Stan said of the not-so-surprise appearances Lee made in every single one of Marvel’s big screen iterations.
Judging by all the selfie tributes posted by Marvel stalwarts like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt, Lee was still very a much a fixture in the Marvel family, which Stan reminisced about fondly. “I got to meet him a few times one-on-one here and there,” he said. “We’d run into each other and he always remembered that I was playing Bucky and he always threw a glance at me and said, 'Remember, Bucky’s one of the good guys.'”
Stan, who can be seen next month playing a grizzled undercover cop in the noir thriller Destroyer, did his best to try and put Lee’s death into perspective. “It’s just insane. It’s crazy to think of one person’s impact on so many things. I think that’s the fear, at least that I have, when people get up there in age and you worry that you’re going to see that headline and you just don’t know how to process it right away when you do.”
But even as he took time to examine the impact Lee had on his life, Stan showed off some of the elusiveness that’s become a trademark of the Marvel family, especially when they’re asked to spill details on upcoming projects. "The only thing I know is that Anthony Mackie and I are going to try and remake 48 Hours and that’s the only conversation I’ve had with him," he said when asked about that rumored TV show. "But I’m happy to receive phone calls at any point in time. I’m trying for the eighties, man." Stan Lee would be proud.