Bryan Singer Speaks About X2

An Interview from Comic-Con 2002

On Saturday at the San Diego Comic Convention, Hollywood hit, and hit hard. All day the Grand Ballroom (Room 20 for you sticklers) was packed with film fans looking for glimpses of upcoming big-ticket genre films. Of course Marvel had more than its fair share of representation, with Universal and Fox both presenting their upcoming superhero movies, Hulk, Daredevil and the hotly anticipated X-Men 2. Not only did fans get to catch frustratingly brief clips of these films, but various staff members showed up, including Daredevil himself, Ben Affleck.

Because all of these films are still actually in production at one stage or another, most of the cast and crew dropped by and then zipped out as fast as they could, rushing back to the set or studio. However, Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and its upcoming sequel, took some time to sit down at a press roundtable and allow us to pry as much information out of him as we could.

Not all the questions came from Fanboy Planet, as representatives of many sites and newspapers were there, including Comics2Film. During his presentation to the fans, Singer showed a fake trailer cut together from what he called rough footage. Even without effects, it provided two of the most compelling minutes of the entire convention. Beginning with a reprise of Xavier and Magneto playing chess, the trailer quick-cut to glimpses of Brian Cox and Kelly Hu menacing the students at the Academy, and a couple of good shots of Hugh Jackman running down the hall with claws extended. Tense and teasing without really giving away the plot, most of the writers afterward agreed that you could slap that trailer on a movie screen now and fans would be ecstatic.

bryansinger1 But enough of that, let’s actually talk with Bryan…

Can you elaborate a little on who’s in the film?

Nightcrawler, Bobby Drake, Iceboy’s in it. More John Allerdyce, Pyro. A bit more.

Jubilee?

No. They’re young characters, the same young characters you’ll seem to, you’ll recognize. No one asked me about them (in the panel discussion) so I…that are in it a bit more. Big beats. There’s a big scene, as you saw, in the mansion. Something happens there.

No Toad? No Sabertooth?

No. There was something I was going to do with Toad, but I went a different way.

Can you tell us a little bit about Brian Cox’s character, Stryker?

He’s kind of an amalgam. He plays a character named William Stryker, but he’s an amalgam of (characters). He’s not a religious figure; he’s a military guy. He’s a couple of characters combined. But he has a history with a lot of the characters. He’s a human nemesis from their pasts. They all know him; they remember he was there. When they were emerging, he was emerging — in his own way.

We’ll learn more about Wolverine’s past?

Yes.

How much longer is production going to last?

We’ve shot for about a month, so we’ve got another four months to go.

You talked about long story arcs when you were in (the panel). How many are you thinking of doing?

There are two…there are three ones that I’d like to address, if I were to go into a third film, that I’d like to bring into fruition together. But you have to see how these things go, to see what will work.

That’s why I think The Empire Strikes Back is so good, works so well. He (George Lucas) says he had a plan, and he did have an idea of a plan, I believe, but it wasn’t until Star Wars (A New Hope) came together in the way that it did that he could step back and say “this is the truly right way to go.” That’s what interests me less about doing two movies back to back. If it’s a cycle like Lord of the Rings, it makes sense because the material’s there. You’re doing the books.

bryansinger2The first film, thematically, dealt with a lot of issues of discrimination, of being different. Do you have a theme or a subtext for this film?

That’s in it. That factors into it a bit with the younger characters. Definitely it happens in the film where they end up hiding out in the home of one of the students. And something happens there, so we explore that a bit. The theme of this is more the human perspective, the kind of blind rage that feeds into warmongering, terrorists, and things like that.

On that same theme, it seems like in the first film, all the actual X-Men were mutants that could pass as humans, and all The Brotherhood were mutants that could not.

Kind of odd looking.

Was that on purpose?

Well, yeah, that’s kind of what happens in the comic book if you really look at it. There’s The Beast, of course, but he stays home a lot and reads.

We’ll have a character, Nightcrawler, and you won’t know which side he’s on. He sort of gets sucked in the middle of good and evil.

It’s very often people who tend to be disenfranchised in some way that are so quick to join the more radical group. Very rarely somebody who fits in. That happens. Plus The Brotherhood have always been…you see, I think they’re cooler looking. Some people say they’re odd, or they’re reptilian, but I think they’re the way sexier bunch in a way. But it’s true. They’re driven.

Mystique had one line in the last film, “you’re the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.” To me, that line was very potent. However old Mystique is, that was a couple of decades of anger, in one line, that had led her to, “why am I going to join in peaceful co-existence when we are homo superior? Look what I can do. I should inherit this earth. I shouldn’t have to deal with all this prejudice I dealt with growing up, becoming this,” at puberty, or whenever it happened to her.

There’s a feeling out there that X-Men rejuvenated the comic book film, took it to a new level, brought in A-list talent, really made the mainstream take notice and take the genre seriously. Do you take any partial credit for that, or feel you belong to some sort of movement? I came into it with the film that I had popularity with, which was The Usual Suspects. It was a critically acclaimed film and won awards and things. So I was perceived, and sometimes am perceived, as a director of those kinds of character-driven dramas, or thriller-slash-character-driven. But more of a dramatic filmmaker. That’s how I’m perceived.

But I always loved when guys like Robert Wise, guys like Stanley Kubrick, like Steven Spielberg, although he began mixing the genre, but story-telling…Peter Weir, for instance, take their interest in character and story and bring it to my favorite genre, which is science-fiction/fantasy. My favorite films are science-fiction fantasy films. Oh, and horror. That doesn’t happen often enough.

So when I was going from The Usual Suspects to Apt Pupil then all of a sudden I wanted to do a comic book adaptation, my friends, the people who knew me as that were skeptical. And I said, “No. We are the people,” not that I put myself in the category with people like that, “the dramatic filmmakers, we’re the ones who tell stories, we’re the people who should be doing…”

You know, Ang Lee should be doing Hulk. And that’s the way it should be. They shouldn’t rely on people who can make pretty pictures and do visual effects, because you can learn those very quickly.

The Wachowski Brothers, for instance. They come out of a dramatic film, a character-driven film (Bound). James Cameron comes out of character stuff. Okay, he comes out of model building, designing and engineering, but also his emphasis is always on character.

I feel like a part of that, particularly because comic books were getting a bad rap before that. So, it’s nice.

Even if you don’t follow through with a third one yourself, will you feel like Tim Burton (on Batman), like the Godfather of X-Men?

bryansinger3I’ll feel great proprietorship. I always will to that universe and to these actors. I take enormous pride bringing these characters, giving them some life, to the screen through these particular actors who I adore and really love working with. As well as the stories, the idea of the X-Men movie.

So, yeah, whether I’m involved in it or not, or it goes off and does whatever it’s going to do, I’ll always feel good, at home. Even if I didn’t, people would always be like (points in recognition), “Ay, X-Men…eh…”

You’ve got a great connection with Ian McKellen. You put him in Apt Pupil and the first X-Men…

This is our third movie, I think.

What is it that you guys share that lets you guys connect so well?

There’s a few people I have that kind of relationship with, my cinematographer, Tom (De Santo), and Ian as an actor. I started working with him after he had just done Richard III. He hadn’t done Gods and Monsters yet. I was his sort of first lead in a mainstream movie that wasn’t Richard III, that he had co-adapted or co-wrote or things like that.

I feel the same thing with Kevin Spacey, and I haven’t worked with him in years. A tremendous thing with Kevin Spacey.

It’s just having worked with somebody at that moment in their career when they’re about to take off. Hugh Jackman, Benicio Del Toro, even Halle Berry to some degree. It’s at a time when it’s kind of new to them.

I’ve done some things with Ian that he’s never done before in other films, or hadn’t done at that time, so it’s a learning experience for both of us. We’re learning together. And, you know, we’re great friends. We hang out. We like the same things.

And he owes you a debt for making him into an action figure.

I’ll never forget the day he came up to me and said (breaking into a pretty good imitation of Ian McKellen), “I’ve seen my doll. It looks nothing like me. Quite handsome, though. I approved it.”

That’s all he said about the whole action figure thing. But yeah, that was his first action figure. Not his last…

You’ve become quite a hit with the fans and the love for the characters is on the screen. But what happens expectations get to a point and there’s X-Men 6, 7 and 8 comes around and people might go, he used to do dramas at one time?

You be careful when you go with a (franchise). I would have loved to have done a film in between X-Men 1 and X-Men 2, just something different. I really wanted to, and I wasn’t able to. So you try to be diverse in your work. You try to do another film like The Usual Suspects, a more character-driven film.

I really admire what Steven Soderbergh does. He does these small, almost like home movie sized films. You try to do something like that to break up things.

But by the time you’re doing 6, 7, 8, I don’t know what you would be left with. I felt a lot more comfortable with low expectations than I always do with high expectations. And yet, going into this movie I felt a lot more confident that it’s going to be a much superior movie, and we all kind of know what we’re doing. It’s a lot more enjoyable.

And the footage is cooler. I’m seeing it come together. I’m in the editing room now all the time. All our stages, right now, are right by the editing room, so I’m able to spend a lot more time there while I’m shooting, running up and down and working on those things.

We got to see footage that was cut together into almost a complete movie trailer, that was just a couple of weeks’ worth of shooting.

Three weeks.

It was absolutely incredible.

And there’s not one visual effects shot in there. We’re going to have 750, 800 visual effects shots in the movie. What killed me is that just last week there were a couple of cool things I would have plucked out, I would have put in there. There was a thing with Iceman. It was like, “do we have to? Can’t we stick it in?” They’re like, “no, we’ll put it in another trailer.”

But yeah, I’m proud of it. And maybe we’ll release something like that as a teaser. Maybe it will be a little different from that.

But I wanted to do that theme with the chess and how it sets you up. Because in shooting the first picture, it was very much a thought of the idea, “The war is coming, Charles, and I intend to fight it – by any means necessary.” It’s a different mentality that he had, that Magneto had in the first one, where the adversaries now are very total. Very severe.

It’s a darker movie, too. It’s going to be a little more violent.

What’s it like directing someone like Halle Berry now that she’s won an Oscar?

Wonderful. She’s great. She’s great. Again, we have a great time with every single actor. They’re all wonderful and friends. It’s just fun.

She’s such a good-hearted person. When she won the Golden Globe, we had this cake for her, and she’s in tears. I saw her the night before she won the Oscar, and I knew that speech was coming, because she’s just overwhelmed by it all and completely unpretentious.

I’ve been very fortunate. Every actor I’ve worked with in the few films I’ve made, they’ve all cared for the work more than they do for themselves, and that’s such a pleasure. That’s part of the pleasure of working with people at these beginning times of their careers. It’s kind of a unique thing.

I’ve never really worked with a big movie star before in my life. I know some of them, and I’m friendly with some and they’re really great and I look forward to working with them. I’d love to work with Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks and people like that. I’m sure they’re great and nice and cool.

But everyone has been two things: very cool and also I’ve worked with them at that special time where they’re like, “Wow, I’ve never … Green screen?” And I’m like, “Well, let me explain.” Like I know.

On the first film, at least the rumor was that you had your schedule chopped. And things felt rushed.

It was in pre-production, I remember the day, when the President of 20th Century Fox, Tom Rothman, who is now the co-chairman, called me and said, “We’re moving you to the summer.”

And I was like, “X-Men, X-Mas, well that’s a shame. But, thank God, because we have six more months.”

And he said, “No, no. This summer.”

So they’re giving you enough time now?

Now we have more time. You never have enough time. A film is never finished, it is merely abandoned. At some point we’ll abandon this film for a May 2nd, 2003 release. We’re on time. Wonderfully on time and sailing. I let the crew go at 5. I work crazy overtime, but I let them go at 5 o’clock sort of as a thank you for a month’s incredible work on Friday. Everything is going in that area smoothly.

We’ll be on a schedule, but it will be looser than X-Men was.

mckellen-magnetoYou know that quote about movies being abandoned is so apt at this time. We’re starting to see a lot of directors going back to their older films, making modifications and calling them director’s cut, when we may have already seen previous director’s cut. How do you feel about that?

I have a problem. I was kind of approached to do something like that with the first X-Men movie, and we talked about different ideas and there’s something that could be done in that area because that movie was rushed pretty heavily and there’s some things I could do.

But there’s also this taste it leaves in your mouth, especially this term “director’s cut.” It implies the director didn’t cut the movie.

Very often you hear stories. Filmmaking is this weird thing. It’s so unquantifiable, the collaboration it takes to make a movie is the antithesis of writing or painting. It really takes immense amounts of people who have tremendous influence and things happen. The times have an influence and the schedule has an influence and when the sun is going down and all these things.

Very often you hear a director say, “I was forced to put a voice-over on this film,” or “I was forced to…” this or that. Sometimes that was their choice that they made at that time because they feared that people wouldn’t understand certain things. And now that people understand the film, twenty years later, they can take the voice-over off of the film and everybody loves it. But at that time maybe they needed the voice-over. Maybe the filmmaker believed they needed the voice-over himself and only regrets it in retrospect. Because he or she has looked at the post-script, or post-life, of the film, which is this nebulous weird thing you can never predict.

So I haven’t been into that. I don’t know why they cut The Usual Suspects (in a recent DVD release).

It has already supposedly been confirmed on the internet that you have shot origin sequences for Cyclops and Storm that are supposed to be on the DVD (an upcoming re-release of the first film).

No. That will not be on there. I can confirm that.

This idea that there was like fifteen minutes cut out of the first film?

Fifteen minutes? There was a million feet of footage cut out. Just heads and tails of shots. We screened an assembly at one point for friends, we never tested the movie, then we just got it tighter, tighter, tighter. I don’t know. There was never fifteen minutes.

Not like whole sequences?

No, no. There was no sequence. Was there, Tom? (to producer Tom DeSanto, trying to keep a low profile on the far side of the room.) Just making things tighter, you know, you do what you do when you’re editing a movie.

It just came up as a relatively short film. There are some things in the editing area. It was difficult because of the schedule pressures. It was the only time I would have done something differently. But now I don’t have those issues.

Once again, gang, X-Men 2 opens May 3, 2003. But you knew that. Save those shekels now.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.