"Superman Returns" Set Visit (Part 3): Bryan Singer Interview Part 2

Thu, May 4th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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If you haven't read Part 1 of this interview, you can find it here and this portion of the interview picks up when "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer came back for a longer interview with journalists in Sydney.

Press: So we we're hoping you could finish the Fox story for us…

Singer:: Wasn't that so convenient that I got pulled away? [laughs] So you guys saw Brandon and talked to him? Isn't he great?

Press: Yeah, he's got a great understanding of the Superman character. He's very nice and very honest.

Singer:: Yeah, his energy and in general, his personality is so wonderfully in depth and, I'm not sure of the right words, very in synch with the character. That's just awesome.

Press: You seem to be good about finding new talent. Can you comment about that?

Singer:: Yeah, I've had great luck since "The Usual Suspects" with Benicio [Del Toro] and Kevin [Spacey], with Hugh Jackman, with Ian McKellan, Halle Berry at the time- I saw her in "Bullworth" and just fell for her in that. With Hugh Laurie in my tv show… I wasn't even familiar with the work he's done in England, so for me at least, in terms of, yeah, I've never been a fan of, I 've never been afraid to have an unknown or lesser known at the center of movies or in the case of "House," in my tv.

Press: Why did you want to cast an unknown actor as Superman?

Singer:: Because Superman is such an iconic character- he should feel as though he stepped out of the pages of a comic book or your collective memory of the television series or the films. And an actor wouldn't do that- it'd be "such & such as Superman" as opposed to the character larger than any character.

Press: And he's such an iconic character, such a symbol and with such an iconic life, how do you not feel pressure from that?

Singer:: It's just part of your collective memory of who Superman is- it's a big part- and in the case of Christopher Reeve, it's an enormous part.

Press: Did that affect your casting choice of Brandon Routh?

Singer:: Oh, absolutely as did George Reeve, as did the comic book but, yeah, of course.

Press: Brandon does have that Christopher Reeve thing-

Singer:: Oh yeah, in certain ways it is quite remarkable and in others it's different. And because this film puts the Donner films in its history, it was even more important that he have those qualities be in Brandon than even more important than others. He should be his own guy.

Press: Did you ever meet Christopher Reeve?

Singer:: No, the only time I was near him was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. I was eating lunch at the hotel and he was sitting at a table, a couple of tables away and I got up to walk around the grounds, there are these beautiful tennis courts at the hotel and I wandered by one of the tennis courts and saw him playing tennis, so I sat and watched him play tennis for 20 minutes and a week later he had his accident. I found it very disturbing. I'll never forget that. I just thought how quickly life can change for some.

Press: I said to Brandon, whether you meant it or not, the political aspect of this movie, Superman is the most powerful man living in America, he helps people when maybe they didn't ask for help and we may not want him to help anyone. And we have reporters saying we don't need him. So whether you meant it or not, there are political aspects to this movie.

Singer:: Well, sure, it's not really intentional per se, Superman has constantly reflected the times I think since the second World War and you look at the comic as it was done in terms of propaganda. I like to see Superman as a more global superhero- he happened to be raised in a farm in America and he has a kind of, the whole notion of fighting for Truth, Justice & The American Way is an idealism that Americans very much have about themselves and their place in the world. But that idealism is ultimately fraught with obstacles and sometimes misunderstandings and some time missteps, but it's an idealism and that's why it's so charming in the first movie when he says, "Truth, Justice & The American Way" and she says, "You'll end up fighting every politician in the U.S" and he says, "You don't really mean that Lois" and she says, "You must be kidding" and he says, "I never lie." In that way he's a very American superhero but in our movie, I'm trying to make a point that in the same way he's the great American superhero, he's also the ultimate immigrant. He comes for a foreign land, he essentially he dons the clothing and embraces his special heritage but at other times tries to adapt to the culture by being Clark Kent. His multiple personalities are very much of the immigrant and is very much the heart of what I see the American immigrant as.

Press: There've been so many Superman stories over the years, so how do you find a different way to tell the story or unique throughline to the character to keep him fresh to the audience?

Singer:: I conceive a new story, have it take turns that you don't expect and this Superman has moved on, come back to a world that have moved on without him and that's what different about this movie compared to the stories you've seen in the other Superman shows and the movies. He's been gone for years, Lois has moved on- she's had a child, everyone's moved on- I guess that's the take, that's the new part of the take and there are things that will be familiar, as they should, because its Superman.

Press: You're doing a very retro take on the character, with the look of the costume and the city, why'd you decide on that take?

Singer:: The comic was originated in the late 30's early 40's and it felt like a time- there are two great times in cinema I think, the 40's and the 70s, the 70's were so informative to me because those were the films of my childhood and the 40's are appropriate to Superman.

Press: Do you think that's the best era in Superman history, in terms of stories and the arcs?

Singer:: Um, no, I think it's just one era and my personal favorite, well I like a lot of artists interpretations of Superman, but my personal favorite is Alex Ross. It's very mythic- he humanizes but also makes them into these paintings. But no, I think it's just one y'know and if you look at it [the early 40's stories] some of it is just quick & cheap.

Press: Did you have access to the Superman vaults and did you get to see everything?

Singer:: Everything. Anything and everything. One of the unique things to see, because I need to use elements of Marlon Brando for this movie, view all the material shot and listen to all the original ADR sessions. They're very funny. [in Brando voice] "This is no fantasy. This is no careless product of… fuck… fuck… what is it?" [laughs] A lot of that [laughs]. To have access to that was great.

Press: Will all of it be available for you to use in the film?

Singer:: Yeah, we had to make a deal with the estate of Marlon Brando. There's a sequence- it's not a big deal really- that requires the voice and image of Marlon Brando not necessarily he would have ever photographed, but I require certain audio elements and certain visual elements, so to go back into the original stems and to have access to that, you'll be hearing original vocal elements that were not used in the film.

Press: You said that you were going to be using John Williams score in certain ways but also that the Fleischer cartoon and George Reeves series inspired the look of the film and the feel, so have you ever thought of using any of their thematic cues?

Singer:: I thought of that, the one from the Fleischer cartoons, which is really weird, because if the Fleischer cartoons didn't have that theme going in them, they'd be really dark. Because you just watch them and they're like really intense and graphic too. In anything he's doing, the interactions or the way he transforms, he doesn't quickly "woosh," it's all very, because he was rotoscoping and some of the first rotoscoping ever done, the music was very uplifting. I'll talk about John [Ottman] and that's his universe & his palette, but I'm sure I'll expose him if he's not already to some of that material, but we have cameos from Noel Neill and Jack Larson, in our backdrop you've Siegel here, Shuster there, so I'm sure that'll find its way in, we just have to see about certain rights issues and who has what, what's available and stuff. But the John Williams score is important even without being able to use- even though John Ottman has created an original score and new thematics, without being able to use some of the John Williams themes, I'd be reluctant to do the movie because, to me, they're like Star Wars.

Press: You're not using any pop music, are you?

Singer:: Yeah, it's classical.

Press: Do you have anything against pop music?

Singer:: No, nothing against pop, but you've seen my movies- it's a "bigger thing" approach.

Press: I've seen a lot of bands that have said "I've written a song and I'd love for it to be in the film" and-

Singer:: Yeah, that's not going to happen. I'd be perfectly excited if the albums are inspired by material, things like that, if you google how many songs reference Superman, it's enormous.

Press: Will the Williams theme play over the credits?

Singer:: The opening credits will have a theme that if not identical will be similar to the opening credits of the first film.

Press: Will it be limited to the opening credits or spread throughout the film?

Singer:: Oh, spread throughout the film.

Press: The opening credits of the first film featured original artwork that introduced some concepts, so what kind of idea are you going for with the credits in this film?

Singer:: An idea similar to the Donner film but with more information, so not just the credits, there'll be more information in that'll help us catch up with what's been going in the world with Superman and his history. I'm designing it right now with Digital Kitchen, who did my opening for "House" and they're terrific people and we're finally together every so often. It's not immediate but we're getting there and dealing with them and I wish I was there not just talking by phone.

Press: A film creator has three sides- one has to be idealistic when you're keeping your vision pure, the real may be like Clark Kent and you also have to be ruthless and even mean sometimes like Lex Luthor [laughs]. Do you see these guys as being you? Superman, Clark-

Singer:: -and Lex? Mmm, no. If I were going to identify with one guy, I wouldn't identify with Luthor- he's kinda crazy- and it would be more the three sides of Clark Kent. There's the side that's very idealistic, there's the side that- the real side that was raised on the farm and understands the balance of life- oh wait, I'm confusing myself. The idealistic side that was raised on the farm in Kansas, who had hopes and dreams of everything working out for his family and whatever his adventures were. There's Superman who feels the need to do everything right and please everyone and solve problems and feels a compulsion to do that as a filmmaker. And there's Clark Kent, which is where I hide and have to- Clark Kent & Superman are more jobs and the original Kent on the farm guy- Randy and I were having a talk about this very notion the other and that's why I can articulate it, it's sorta weird- I don't normally compare myself to Superman- but the honest person, the close friend, that's still the guy on the farm, that's why I've got a small group of friends and I'm not needy. Yeah, Lex Luthor, I'm not a very ruthless person just very focused and I can be intense.

Press: We've got Superman fans who are 8 years old up all the way up to 80 years old. Are you trying to make this movie something with broad appeal, something family friendly?

Singer:: Yes. Absolutely. It will not lack in intensity, it'll probably be PG 13 but at the same time, unlike "X-Men 2," which had issues like Lady Deathstrike carving into Wolverine, things like – in this movie there will be no lack of intensity but at the same time the violence, the tone of it will be much broader. This will be something older people will be able to visit and people will be able to take their kids too but at the same time I don't think you'll be disappointed at all in the level of intensity. It won't be a soft Superman but it will be a much broader- it'll be the broadest, most romantic and funny movie I've ever been involved with.

Press: You've been credited with raising the level of comic book movies to a level that the comic books themselves have been trying to achieve, being an allegory or metaphor for important things and meaning something to people. What is it that these kind of films allow you to do that straight, dramatic films wouldn't allow you to do?

Singer:: Science Fiction/ Fantasy has always enabled people to tell stories about bigotry, about totalitarian governments and subversive issues of sexuality and gender and so many things. I think 'Star Trek'- correct me if I'm wrong- featured the first interracial kiss on television and it's very important because under the guise- because science fiction and fantasy let you talk about the human condition from such a unique perspective that the spectacle and, for lack of better words, the adventure of it all, kind of overwhelms the message, but the message is still there, there's no specific agenda on my part, but you should be making a movie about something. There's a practical reason I'm making a Superman movie- I promise you it's not the money- and it's not simply that "Wow, this is Superman." With this amount of time and this amount of life force, there has be a personal reason- there's a personal reason I made "X-Men," there's a personal reason I made "Apt Pupil" and there's a personal reason I made "The Usual Suspects," although that errs more on the side of "this is going to be cool."

Press: Working on this film for so long, do you still get excited?

Singer:: Oh yeah! I can see it in the dailies, I can see it in cut scenes and I can see it in how the film is evolving. Sometimes I even see it in the advertising.

Press: What is driving you to do this project and why does the character appeal to you?

Singer:: It's personal, just like the reason I did the other films. I can tell you that an aspect of it is that I'm adopted, that I'm an only child and to go back to what you said, in my life, the growth of my life and career has been strange, to me, to deal with, it's very weird, so in this way the character appeals to me very much. He says a line in the movie, "I can be that guy anymore in living there," in referring to Metropolis and she says well, "You're here for a reason and it wasn't to work on this form."

Press: When are we going to see a two disc dvd of "Apt Pupil?"

Singer:: When the one disc "Apt Pupil?" [laughs] Is there a menu on that dvd? [laughs] I'll do running commentary. We have to a whole "Apt Pupil" thing. The "The Devils" and "The Music Lovers" will get re-released- we'll do a whole thing.

Press: Do you think having all this success before helps?

Singer:: Yes. If you've worked with me over the last decade, the collaborators who have worked with me over a decade Tom Seagle, John Ottman, people like that- I think I have because like I'm less afraid. Each film you get involved in- I don't know how it is for other film makers- every film I get involved in, I feel like it's my first and my last and I treat it like that and so it gets you very stressed when things aren't working and you feel lots of pressure and then I get, sometimes positive intensity like, "Come on get this, get this" and sometimes negative intensity like, "Why did this happen?" And I'll never suffer the big things- the big things I'll be very Zen about, like such and such is sick and we can't shoot and we have to redo the entire schedule until they're better. That's I won't suffer, it's a huge problem that we'll solve, but it's the little things that drive me crazy.

Press: Do you feel like you're putting out a lot of fires or that you're planning enough for the job to do that?

Singer:: It depends on the day. Sometimes yeah, especially the bigger days- the bigger the show gets the more you're involved as producer and director, ultimately when you're the director and you fail, there are people who walk away from the picture but the director has to deal with it, but in the public eye and privately, inside, because it's your film and so you get very stressed when things are working out as well as they should. But on this show things are working out quite well, we've got a great team.

Press: Is there much of a difference in directing Marvel and DC characters? And how do you think their universe compliment them?

Singer:: I really wouldn't know enough about the differences about Marvel and DC. I don't view them as Marvel and DC because I'm not that familiar with all the characters to really comment on them because I'm sure if you went to the DC universe, you find someone, what's the word… what are Marvel characters supposed to be… angst filled characters and if you went to the Marvel Universe, you'd find some black & white heroic characters. But there's definitely a difference in making an ensemble film like "X-Men" and making a film that is about one man and although there was romance in "X-Men," "Superman" is a love story.

Press: Do you think you get to flesh out that one character more, make him an ensemble in a way?

Singer:: Well yeah, fortunately he is three characters and that's interesting to me- farm Kent, Planet Kent and Superman. But it's a different kind of filmmaking- I remember going from "Usual Suspects" to "Apt Pupil" was very interesting to me because I went from this whole group that I could, even if was set around two characters, to "Apt Pupil" which was basically a 60 year old man and a 14 year old kid and I had nothing else to cut to, except the cat, but here, here there's more of a cast of characters, the villain does all these things, but I don't really look at them as separate universes.

Press: Is there anyone from old Superman series, other than Jack Larson and Noel Neill, that we'll see you using in "Superman?"

Singer:: Yeah, I would love to have everyone, but there's just not enough roles and if I could find something, I'd work it out, but there are only so many roles that are appropriate. What you'll notice and what I believe in the Larson and Neill cameos, is that they're fun characters, they're not simply like "hi, look, a cameo," they actually serve a function in the story and they're really sweet. I think you see it with Jack Larson in the Comic-Con reel, which is wonderful, because he's got a scene with Sam Huntington [Jimmy Olsen in the film].

Press: Kevin Spacey is an and director, so now you're directing a director, is that a different experience for you?

Singer:: No not at all. He's coming to this movie after we've been involved for a year so for him it's a chance for him to come, kick back and enjoy being this character and it's very interesting- it's like no time has passed and we've had almost 11 years since we've worked together and we're having more fun than ever.

Press: We can tell.

Singer:: Yeah! The one thing- because it's this kind of character and this kind of movie for him it's more fun for him to do a take and come look at the monitor because each thing he's doing is so funny or so strange or sinister that it's just fun and for him it's a joy. He's very thoughtful about it and cares a lot about and he shaved it off, which was, I'll tell you, very strange.- I went to look for him and I'm walking towards my trailer in the park in that big quad area and I'm looking this guy staring at me standing by a tree and I'm like, "Oh, he's just a crew member I've never seen before" and I keep walking and he's staring me at me all the way and I'm like, "AHHH!" and it was him which was the first time I saw him like that I completely didn't recognize him, neither did Dan or Mike who were walking with me.

Press: We've heard about having a Lex Luthor golf cart.

Singer:: Oh he does and he tied a Superman to the golf and drove around with Superman dragging off the end of the golf cart and a megaphone screaming, "Kill Superman!" or "I'm coming to get you" or something and then he drove right onto the set and crashed it onto some chair [laughs]. I got to ride on it- suddenly I jumped on and then he crashed it.

Press: Despite having gotten better as an actor, how has he changed acting wise or directing wise or anything?

Singer:: Directing wise? Directing him wise?

Press: Yeah.

Singer:: It's very similar to when we were shooting in '94. It's completely similar. I'm trying to remember but you know what, I got a sense it would be similar because when I was directing "House" in Vancouver, he was making a movie called "Edison" with Justin Timberlake and Morgan Freeman and he spent a day on the set of "House. And the two of us were sitting behind the monitor while I was directing "House" and his energy, I just knew this would be really comfortable. He's very comfortable and a great ally for me, as he was on "Usual Suspects," which was a scary time for me because it was my first film and he was like my friend. I put him in the movie before anybody and we were friends for years before we started making "Usual Suspects" so it's kind of the same energy but I don't feel any difference except maybe his confidence but I don't notice it any different because I was a kid and he was on a tv show so it's like we're on the same level but in a different place because I don't have two Academy Awards.

Press: You met with Al Gough and Miles Millar, the creators of "Smallville"-

Singer:: I did.

Press: Like, what was involved and why did they come out to the set?

Singer:: Originally we first met in Los Angeles, out of respect that Smallville had held the torch for the past five years of the Superman universe. Instead of alienating that show and that effort, which is incredible, it's an amazing show, and instead of just making our movie, I thought it'd be nice to sit down and talk to them, because they're great guys and just talk about what we're doing and then in turn they would talk about what they're doing and so far we've kept in touch so that we don't cut over each other's universe and I've kind of respected that universe. You'll see Clark when he's young, before the Tom Welling years when he's Superman, in our timeline I try not to tread over the universe they created, so part of that relationship was, "Hey, do you want to come out?" because they send us scripts, they send us outlines of what they're doing and when I tell them about designs, I'll send them a few of our designs and they're getting the Fortress of Solitude. They're two separate entities- don't misunderstand me, that's the way it should be- but there's no reason we shouldn't co-exist in the world so part of them coming out was like, "Hey come on out, let's talk" and they're friends, so it's like come on out, see all the stuff, they got punked, we bought them dinner, took them around, showed them stuff and it's very exciting.

Press: Did you ever consider Tom Welling for the part?

Singer:: No, not for a bad reason, I just never considered anyone known so when I'm asked that question, it's not meant to be dismissive in any way of any actor, it's simply that it had to be an unknown, so Vin Diesel or those other written about actors like Tom Welling, they were never in consideration for that simple reason and no other reasons, it's not that weren't right for it or any reason.

Press: Did you have fun writing the X-Men comic?

Singer:: Yeah, so far, the outlines are really cool and we're stilling doing it, the first two issues are in process and it's stuff you can't do in the X-Men movies, it's that kinda stuff.

Press: You ever consider doing a Superman comic?

Singer:: Yeah, sure.

Press: Can you tell us about "Logan's Run?"

Singer:: Yeah, sure, what do you wanna know?

Press: Where are you with it?

Singer:: I do my little writing sessions at the Starbucks on Oxford. It's a re-envisioning that basically takes the movie, elements of the book and kind of an original of my own and merges the three. Chris McQuarrie , who wrote "Usual Suspects," is doing the current draft for me. We've pre-vis'd about 40 minutes of it and rendered segments of it into their full and more- if I could, I'd show you something from Superman in the theater, but it wouldn't be appropriate.

Press: Henry Cavill is someone mentioned a lot in testing for "Superman Returns"- is he under consideration for "Logan's Run?"

Singer:: I know Henry, he's a very good guy and a terrific actor, I haven't determined the age of the characters, but he may be over. The script I'm actively involved in has someone 21-30 years. But I should steer this more towards a Superman.

Press: Would you consider doing a Superman sequel?

Singer:: I take each of these as an experience and fortunately I'm not an actor, so I don't have to sign multi-picture deals, which is the one blessing of being a director, because you can decide at the end of an experience if it's the kind of a thing, but of course I would consider it, I was perfectly thrilled to make a sequel of X-Men.

Press: From what we've heard of the script and production, the film is about 2 hours long. Would you consider an extended version ever?

Singer:: I don't know, I don't know. I'm not such a fan of longer, extended versions but I'm sure there'll be a few outtakes.

Press: The Donner films are obviously very important to you and these films, but what perspective do the comics play? How do they give to the movie, besides the three main characters?

Singer:: Looking at things that he can, things that, moments that you've seen. He has such a history so he's pretty much done everything, so what I do is tell my story and sometimes in the action, the moment and sometimes the frame- if you're on the street in the middle of Syndey, you'll see this on the Internet right after [laughs] of Superman doing something very familiar to all comic books fans of all comic books. By the way if it looks crappy in the pictures, it's the pictures! Nah, nah it'll look pretty good and pretty intense.

Press: Which Superman villains to find creatively interesting for future films?

Singer:: Well the video game is very interesting, because I'm involved in the video game that EA is doing and it's a next generation console epic game. That is where you can utilize the more fantastical villains and fantastical situations that we weren't able to do in the movies, so that kind of fun with EA and the video game is that we can explore all that, but I can't tell you about future films, I don't know that.

Press: How much recording have you done for the DVD?

Singer:: 300 hours? 400 hours?

Press: Are plans for the DVD already in motion?

Singer:: Yeah, yeah, Robert and I talk about this all time. Rob's been producing my DVDs since "The Usual Suspects" re-release and done a great job in bringing something new, so we talk about that frequently, made proposals, talk to Warner Bros, see what they'd like to do.

Press: What about your Superman documentary?

Singer:: We're negotiating that, so I hope to do a documentary about Superman but I want to make it clear that we're negotiating that right now, it's not particularly official, but Kevin Burns- not Ken Burns- who did the Star Wars stuff, is working with me.

Press: When do you think we'll see a trailer?

Singer:: November.

Press: You've mentioned that "Superman Returns" deals with the notion of Superman as a messiah, so are the elements of "Kingdom Come" [popular DC Comics mini-series] in that?

Singer:: No, I think a little bit of that, "Quest For Peace," the awkwardness of trying to be everything to everyone, that combined with the- yeah, that's interesting to me and how people rely on heroes for things, but that's all reflected through the intimate story of Lois & Superman. What's great about Clark is that Clark has to watch it all happen, like the invisible guy at the office and it's maddening.

Press: I love the little moments on his face, the expressions, like little moments inside of moments.

Singer:: She's like, "Did you see the munchkin?" and he's like, "Great."

Press: Then you see the picture cracking…

Singer:: Yeah, that's great and then you see Jimmy's expression and, "I'll take that. She's got plenty." But at the end, he's [Superman] trying to find his place in the world and that's going to be unique- you asked what's unique about the film- it's a different kind of journey about him finding his place in the world and that's ultimately what he's gotta do by the end of the picture

 
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