X2 Interviews Pt. 3
Next up in our series of interviews, is talkative X2 director Bryan Singer who will explain below in the first sentence why I don't refer to this film as X-MEN UNITED. Everytime I see a commercial that features that tagline I just picture him having a heart-attack. But other than that short outburst he was nothing like the violent tempered hothead he's made out to be. Very generous and friendly, offering up all kinds of answers and not getting to wrapped up in his own genius. Speaking of not getting wrapped up in one's self, here's Bryan: So X2: X-MEN UNITED? BS: No, that's NOT the title of the fucking movie. It's not X-MEN UNITED, it's called X2. Tell Fox. BS: Yeah, somebody better tell Fox because now it's gonna become a -- [Fox rep chimes in] Fox: X-MEN UNITED is the advertising tagline. BS: OK... And it's not X-squared either right? BS: No it's not X-squared either. That was another advertising blunder. I heard that while I was on the phone with Variety [when X2 was announced]. I'm like, no I think that's a cruel joke. Someone involved with the ALIEN franchise thought they would have another go at it. How was this production different? BS: Much more smoother operating. How did that relaxation come out in the second film? BS: I think it was having already gone through the process of defining these characters and getting a lot of the exposition out of the way, feeling more comfortable with the universe, the actors feeling more comfortable with their characters...having a little more time and a little more money. I personally made a conscious decision not to let the whole process stress me out as much as it did the first time. More riding on it and somehow less cause we already had success with the first film and now we could actually have fun with this movie and have something special that would take it to another level. You say you consciously go about it but how exactly do you do that? BS: [thinks] You...just do it. You decide now, having success with the first one, a certain kind of freedom has been earned. You take that freedom and roll and embrace it. You have more resources - not a lot more but a little more resources. Some more time. A great cast that are near and dear to you and know that you are very blessed and now you can think of all the wonderful advanced things you can do now that you have all that behind you. I don't know exactly...I just consciously did it. It's GONNA be enjoyable. And then I stress all the time but I keep my stress more contained in my trailer. How do you handle all the egos on set? BS: There are no egos. Really? BS: Yeah. These actors have none. Truly. Really. There's zero, they don't exist. They have absolute trust in my process and what I ask of them and they come on the set and do their jobs amazingly and there has never been a conflict of ego on any film I've ever made. Any film, from USUAL SUSPECTS to APT PUPIL to X-MEN 1 to X-MEN 2. After the Oscar, before the Oscar, Halle couldn't have been more delightful. Ian and I have made three films. Patrick is fantastic and I've become dear friends with him and Hugh [Jackman] and [wife] Deb. It doesn't even cross their minds.
Do you think Patrick and Ian have anything to do with that coming from such a professional background? BS: No cause they're not always working with everyone else. Very often actors come and go and different increments. So [Patrick] was working with the younger X-MEN, then Halle and Famke are working together for periods. I think it's that they trust, frankly, my process and that I'll protect them and they protect me by micromanaging their characters. They're professionals. Right down to the kids; the little X-Men running around in the snow. They're all professionals. I will also say something though and speak to that. There is something about an ensemble film - and I discovered this on USUAL SUSPECTS - that diminishes ego. If there were any that existed in the first place and I don't believe that there were with the actors I've worked with. Keep in mind also that most of these actors were cast before they became stars. But there's something about the fact that the movie isn't resting on any one person's shoulders. That dilutes ego. And sometimes ego comes from frustration and fear. That someone's career is on the line. And I think 1) there's trust in me and also no one is bearing the full burden of the movie so they can enjoy the process. Just come in and out of it and focus on their characters. So I think that's what an ensemble gives you. It can protect you from that. And also casting actors who don't have big egos. Can you talk about the shoot in Vancouver? BS: I had a terrific experience. The first picture was a little more difficult because it was in Toronto during the winter. This being Vancouver during the summer, some came and went, but some like Ian McKellan, was very involved in the community as well. I stayed because I was working all the time but it provided you with good weather, good environment, the mountains, the seawall, all the places. And Whistler was close by. Part of what can be frustrating to some actors can be the waiting between shooting and when you've got a beautiful town that provides a lot of stimulation it makes the whole experience fun and enjoyable for people. And even for myself. I'm working 12-18 hour days and in the editing room every night for 3 hours but still on a Sunday or Saturday night I would find myself going out a bit more and meeting really cool people. How much have you thought about X3? BS: I think a lot about it. During the first one I thought about this one. In keeping with that there's thinking that's constant. There are things in this film that could suggest an evolution into a third film. Each film we seem to lose a character. In the first film we lost Beast. We lost Angel in this one I think. Again that's a character I've liked a lot. So somewhere in these characters and a few more I wouldn't want to mention, I might want to explore them. But that's where my mind's at possibly. Do you think you'll get Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman back for a third? BS: That's all circumstancial. You don't know. It depends on the circumstances. What's your gut feeling? BS: I don't know about Halle because her character often functions more separate than the X-Men. She's the Earth mother, she's with the kids and stuff. It's also decision about her career path. But on the other hand we had a lot of fun and got along well so it's a chance from doing high drama in MONSTER'S BALL to making 20 tornadoes. So it gives her some latitude in terms of what she can do. With Hugh Jackman he's more central to the story so I would probably be hesitant going into a third picture without Wolverine. Wouldn't you? So you can fill in those blanks of what would and wouldn't be required for yourself. But at the same time, I love this cast and doing stuff with them and working with them.
Do you see a saturation point for comic book films that might limit the longevity of the franchise? BS: I think as long as there are stories to tell and they are taken seriously, I think this universe could be explored for decades, as it has in the comic book. It's just when it starts to become trivialized it runs a risk of dying out or requiring revolution. But X-MEN more so than comic universes based on single individuals, there are so many characters and they are so enriching. It has a lot of potential. Do you think X-MEN has more of a future than SPIDER-MAN? BS: It depends. Depends on how you treat it. If you treat it episodic and you're telling the same story over and over again, it will die out. If you treat it like a saga and really have one film give way to the next film, and open up more myth and character and mystery than it can continue like a good comic book. One of the actors was saying you have a good bullshit meter when it comes to lines that are corny -- BS: My cheese-o-meter (laughs). -- can you talk about what your philosophical approach is to making these movies and keeping them serious without getting ponderous? BS: People always label me as such a brooding filmmaker and they don't realize that the funniest stuff - or most humorous or romantic - is stuff I wrote or desired. I can't it together romantically with my own life so at least I could do it with these characters. But my philosophy was, from the beginning, look at it as serious science-fiction/fantasy. What if this happened in the real world. You have heightened characters, heightened drama, you have heightened spectacle but at the same time you can never lose sight. It's not about realism, it's about believability. That comes from taking the universe seriously. You can have fun with X-MEN but you can never make fun of X-MEN. You cna have fun with science-fiction. Science-fiction/fantasy, when done well, tells us human stories, of the human condition. It's just that they're told from very extraordinary perspectives. That's the joy of science-fiction. Ever since my father took me to the basement of a local library to see THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL I've been empassioned by it. There are a lot of funny moments like the N*Sync in the car or the cat licking the -- BS: That was my idea with the cat licking the claws! Everyone was like, What's with the cat licking the claws? It's cute! This cat licks everything. It licks tea, it licks blades...everything but food. With that scene, Iceman, it feels like he's coming out. BS: He is coming out! It's a coming out scene that goes terribly, terribly wrong. As wrong as it could ever go...
The space war movies like STAR WARS are sort of out of vogue right now -- BS: They're getting technocratic, you mean. -- and the superhero movies are coming in. Now you have these big name directors like Ang Lee doing HULK and yourself doing X-MEN -- BS: Finally someone got wise to the fact that there are stories about characters. Our favorite moments from the early STAR WARS trilogy were Princess Leia saying, "I love you" and Han Solo saying, "I know." They are about characters. "I am your father." That's the moment. You have to evolve visually. You have to dazzle. But at the same heart are characters. In STAR WARS it's about myth, Arturian legend, religion, these things. Here we deal more with socio-political drama and social coming of age. Old inherent human themes that are quite serious even though we have a lot of fun with them. I had lunch with Peter Weir some time ago and I said, Peter you should direct a big science-fiction movie. He's like, I don't want to do that. I said, no you should, there aren't enough big filmmakers like yourself making big science-fiction the way Stanley Kubrick did. Or the way Steven Spielberg did with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. If you can't tell a good story than all the bells, whistles and fireworks are utterly useless and pointless and forgettable. It harks back to the thing that impressed me most about STAR WARS. The first act -- or actually SUPERMAN, a very inspiring film for me...as long as we stay true to the environment we create, then have as much fun as humanly possible. I think N*Sync is one step out of bounds that I allowed myself. Because I knew it would be very funny. But beyond that...and this song will be popular, in the not-so-distant future it will still exist. Cyclops will still be listening to it in his Mazda. But ultimately if you stay within the confines of the world you created, than absolutely. Have as much fun as humanly possible. It's when you start making fun of that or poking at it or taking cheap shots or contemporary humor that won't exist. [The N*Sync joke] will still be funny twenty years from now even if people don't remember the song just because of the nature of it. If you start going for the cheap joke, which people are very often inclined to do, you betray the universe you're creating and they'll kill you for it.