Part 1: On October 18 in Vancouver, British Columbia, after an extensive tour of some of the sets used in the X-Men 2 sequel, Comics2Film was allowed a glimpse of drawings and photos of the set designs. There were over 64 sets used in filming in 38 different locations, so the Production end of the film was quite an undertaking.
One of the sets used that we weren’t shown a visual of was a reproduction of the actual Oval Office in the White House. According to Production Designer Guy Dyas, the Oval Office was a faithful reproduction of the one currently in use by President Bush, down to the rug First Lady Laura Bush had just put in. What exactly occurred in that particular set wasn’t clear, and Dyas wasn’t talking.
The plastic prison for Magneto shown at the end of the first movie makes a return appearance here. Dyas’ challenge was to expand the set and make a suspension bridge that really worked. He used all different plastic shapes on the set, focusing on a retro theme.
A surprising set we were shown pictures of was that of the Drake house. To inject some reality and interaction with the “real world” into the film, there is a scene taking place at Bobby Drake’s parents home. Dyas was relatively close mouthed about what occurs there, so only time and the movie opening will tell how prevalent a part it plays. It was interesting to see that Bobby’s siblings bedroom appeared to have kind of “heavy metal look”, and that there may be mutant animosity there.
The X-Men jet has been increased in virtual size from 60 feet to 85 feet. We were shown a comparison sketch, and the new “Mach 2” jet is much sleeker and futuristic looking then the first. The main reason for the redesign was that the jet was going to be used for 20 to 50 minutes of the film in the sequel versus the small amount of time it was seen in the first film. We were actually able to see the inside of the X-Jet set, which is a story in itself (Editor’s Note: Coming Soon!).
Striker’s office in a Federal Building was another scene. Spare and impersonal, the office was like any found in a government building. The outside of the building was stark and utilitarian, like one would find in their town. There was no mention of how the office and outside of the building are being used in the film, but I would guess it would have to do with character development rather then action sequences.
The X-Mansion sets were also on display in artistic design and photos. Dyas stayed true to what was done in the first film, and as a result, Xavier’s office and the school hallways remain true to the original vision. Cerebro and the underground part of the mansion also recall the first film. Dyas and Singer tried to keep a sense of continuity on some of the sets used in X-Men, with a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
Stryker’s base and the Alkali Lake/Dam sets had the most amount of design art and photography of any set on display. It is apparent that the lair/base which we were shown will play an integral part in the movie. From what Dyas also said, the Alkali Lake/Dam set will be used in some of the final scenes to be shot. The X-Men production team scouted out locations, and will film sequences in an outside mountainous area somewhere in Alberta. The shots done there should include a climatic battle scene between Stryker and the X-Men.
Dyas’ favorite set is not being used in the X-Men sequel. His design of the danger room was different then seen in the comics, using a circular room rather then a square, conventional one.
“The control room of the danger room is a large propeller that actually rotates around the room so that you can sit up in that control room and be traveling around the subject who is in the middle of the control room. The idea for the traveling is that if it’s a mutant has some kind of mind control powers they can’t connect. Always moving around so there’s no mind connection… they can’t anticipate”, according to Dyas.
“Every single panel that is square in the danger room conceals either a weapon or a projectile.”
If there is an X-Men 3 movie, that would be something to behold.
There was a set of an abandoned church that was implied to be the scene of the X-Men’s first encounter with Nightcrawler. Evidently the religious connotations of the character are being brought forward from the comic to the film. The tone of the church is gothic, with huge stained glass windows and a darker wood coloring then in a conventional church.
Dyas ended up producing about 3000 designs along with his team for the sequel. He and a team from both Los Angeles and Vancouver have been hard at work at the visual. He also brought in people from book illustration and architecture firms that hadn’t worked on a film before, and their vision was “fresh” and “exciting”, according to Dyas.
Part 2: Fox assembled a “Million Dollar” press conference on October 18 in Vancouver, British Columbia for the X-Men 2 movie. Comics2Film was on hand as twelve stars of the film and Director Bryan Singer were on hand to take questions from the online press. Singer tackled most of the general questions about success, a sequel, and the other Marvel hot topic, Spider-Man.
When asked how he could top the first movie and still be creative, Singer replied “It’s actually a lot easier. The pressure is that you want to make it bigger, more spectacular. Fortunately, there’s a little more time, a couple more dollars, and everybody knows what they’re doing a little better, including me.”
Another concern was that of where the X-Men sequel will fit in given the success of the Spider-Man movie. Singer’s take on this is “our tone with these X-Men movies, particularly this one, which is a little darker and edgier the then previous one, is a little different then the tone of Spider-Man. And it’s also a universe, that unlike Spider-Man, has a very specific fan base that is very strong and then it has another side (fan base) that has no idea of what X-Men is beyond the movie, where Spider-Man is part of common lexicon. My mother knows what Spider-Man is. She doesn’t know anything about it. She knows the red, webs….”
Singer also added that “here it’s very alien to people who don’t know it. So it’s kind of a different tone and that reality makes us a different kind of comic book adaptation.” Another school of thought Singer had is “it’s nice because it helps us boost the awareness of the comic-book adaptations and make the comics universe between Marvel universes appealing, which helps us down the road in a good way. Everything helps everything else. Successful science fiction supports more good science fiction.”
Interestingly, when a question asked about the core metaphors for the X-Men being racism and intolerance and how events of the last decade may have impacted the film, Singer turned to Ian McKellan, who plays Magneto. McKellan, who is known for his intelligent and active approach to the political game had a diplomatic response. “I think from what I understand, the X-Men comics are classics in the sense of being around for a long time … because they go on being of interest to their readers. He also went on to comment that “everyone has thought of themselves as a mutant at one point of their lives. And obviously when you are young, that can be particularly strong, I think. Regardless of world events, it can be how you’re treated (by) kids at school, or treated by your parents or how you’re treated by a church”.
McKellan added that “a disadvantaged group can take comfort in the fact that there are some powerful people in this fictional (world) who can stand up for themselves against the odds. That’s the basic argument between Xavier and Magneto as to what to do.”
In ending the conference, Singer was asked about Marvel’s involvement, to which he replied “I’ve always had a great, tremendously supportive relationship with Avi (Arad, of Marvel Films). There’s never any mandates or discussions beyond just more ideas…”
Part 3: On the set of X-Men 2, Comics2Film attended the press conference where the stars almost outnumbered journalists on October 18. In a somewhat chaotic, humorous environment, questions that ranged from the personal to the political were fielded by the likes of Kelly Hu (Yuriko), Bryan Cox (General Stryker), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique), Ian McKellan (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Halle Berry (Storm), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops), Alan Cumming (Nightcrawler), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby/Iceman) and Director Bryan Singer.
Actress Kelly Hu sat on the far left of the panel, and briefly discussed her roll as Yuriko versus the role she had in The Scorpion King. When asked if she got to wear more clothes in X2 then in Scorpion, she replied “I wear a lot of clothes, actually. I’m actually very happy about it, being that we’re shooting here in Vancouver and it’s so cold.”
Next to Hu was Actor Brian Cox, who plays General Stryker. Cox recently completed filming The Ring with Naomi Watts and Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, so it has been a busy year for him. When asked about the Stryker character, Cox remarked “He sort of represents the human face in the group, because as we all know, they’re all mutants. I’m the only human that I know.. As the experience in the film is going on, I’m not so sure of him being human.”
Cox also gave another clue by saying “He’s the guy who is basically odd-man-out. He’s trying to rationalize what these people are about, (and) exercise some control over there by various means which I am not at liberty to talk about.”
Ian McKellan, who also plays Gandalf in Lord of The Rings, reprises his role as Magneto in X-Men 2. When asked about playing action characters with his Shakespearean background, McKellan replied “it’s all just work, isn’t it? (laughs) You take a job for different reasons, and different actors will have different reasons for being on this film. It might just be the money, it might just (be) wanting to live away from home for a bit, or if the shooting’s close by, living at home. There’s all sorts of reasons.”
McKellan continued to say that “Vancouver is a long way from my home and to be working with people I’d likely to be working with in London. That’s just the name of the business and perhaps the nature of Bryan’s taste in actors. He likes a variety of people from different disciplines. A lot of foreigners in this film, actually.” (True as more then half the main cast hail from a different country)
“For me one connects X-Men with Lord of the Rings or with doing The Recruiting Officer, or a play by Shakespeare is that I wouldn’t want to do anything of them if the scripts…well, classic plays are tried and tested, and you know they’re good. There’s not much of a leap of faith.” McKellan added “When you get a film script it’s dangerous ground. Things are not as certain. But I’m attracted to X-Men because of what I was talking about earlier on and the moral basis of it, which I think, quite frankly, is a great bit more interesting then Spider-Man, which is actually the same story as Superman, you know.”
McKellan went into further explanation of the characterization of Superman and Spider-Man and summarized by saying “There isn’t that great a stretch between this and other things. What connects the sort of thing that we all do, I suspect here, is that the writing is good, and we have a story worth telling.”
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos sat between Cox and McKellan sans the standard blue painted uniform of her character Mystique. Fresh-scrubbed and impossibly attractive, Romijn-Stamos had a genuine, deep laugh when listening to her costars replies. She was asked about the horror of the make-up she must undergo to play her character, and when asked if some of the past problems have been fixed, she replied “they have. The process has gotten a lot better. We’re not using the same kind of paint. We’re not using the same kind of glue. They’ve completely changed the process and they’ve gotten down to under four hours now, which is huge for me.”
Romijn-Stamos clarified that “I’ve still had a few 2 a.m. calls. We’re still working on that. And the clean up is a lot better. I don’t get sick like I did last time. I still have the blue in my ears. It doesn’t come out.”
Costar McKellan praised Romijn-Stamos’ professionalism by saying “My image of that last film was in November, I think, at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning, outside, everybody wrapped up…and this heroine … never a complaint out of her in this situation when any complaint she made would have been understandable and acted up. (To Romijn-Stamos) And you were brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and a model. And I’ve tried to be better behaved since working with Rebecca.”
Seated between McKellan and Singer was Patrick Stewart, who portrays Professor Charles Xavier. Stewart was a popular figure amongst the sci-fi press at the conference, and he was singled out for his portrayal of Captain Jean Luc Picard as well.
The first question posed to Stewart was which character in classical or Shakespearean drama he would liken Xavier to, he responded “Achilles, because in every sense he’s perfect, except for one tiny little flaw … which I can’t talk about. He remains, as he was in the first film, brilliant, intelligent, compassionate, adorable, sexy, (laughs) understanding, forceful, womanly, manly…”
McKellan interjects “Full of sh….”
Stewart volleyed “No, not full of s***,” to which much laughter ensues in the press conference. McKellan and Stewart definitely had their Laurel and Hardy moments. Stewart finished answering the question by saying mysteriously “He’s (Xavier) not quite what he seems.”
Stewart was also asked who was the better leader, Xavier or Picard, and he had a diplomatic reply. “Charles Xavier needs more time. Jean Luc has had 16 years, therefore more opportunities. With the same opportunities, if there are any studio people here, perhaps we will see him develop as richly as Jean Luc.”
Summing up perhaps the funniest moment of the press conference, Stewart added “I would like to make it absolutely clear that both Jean Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier could kick Captain Kirk’s butt.”
There will be more about the other side of the panel table in part two of this article.
Part 4: In the previous segment of the press X-Men 2 conference, Comics2Film heard from half of the panel that attended. Today we explore the comments made by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Halle Berry (Storm), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops), Alan Cumming (Nightcrawler), Anna Paquin (Rogue), and Shawn Ashmore (Bobby/Iceman).
Jackman attended the conference in full Wolverine hair and make up, which was extremely cool to behold. He had been filming that morning, and was scheduled to recommence later that day. Jackman started off the press conference with a bang fielding a question about his kissing Jean Grey in the film’s trailer. “It’s mostly Wolverine trying to keep her at bay, but she’s so hot for him all the time. (laughs)”
Janssen cut in with “Cyclops is sitting right next to me!”, but Jackman got the last word by commenting “the love triangle, I suppose, hots up. And I’ve got somebody kicking me in the shins (Director Bryan Singer) right now, so I can’t talk about it.”
Jackman was asked about how, after being the first film’s “breakout star,” he would portray Wolverine in the sequel. His reply was “With the first film a lot of the storyline did in a way focus on Wolverine and Rogue, but it was more a plot choice because they’re ideal mutants to take you into the mutant world and yet to keep as outsider (s). While he was onscreen a lot, you get well introduced to the character, who he was, and then he becomes essentially part of that world-saving plot we had.”
Going further into detail Jackman added “In this film, his personal demons are really investigated. By the end of this movie, he’s going to track down his part, which is very much what this movie is about. If he doesn’t come to a complete resolution, it’s pretty damned close. He’s sort of, in a way, emotionally and with the return of nightmares and things like that, at a crisis point. It’s more internal in a way. You get a more internal look at the character, and that’s been really fun to play with.”
Jackman concluded by saying “As we alluded to before, there’s a few relationships that hot up a little, and I’m just loving playing the character again. I really love this character. And for all the characters in a movie such as this, if you want to call it an action movie and a comic book movie, all the characters seem to have a dimension beyond what you would expect.”
Oscar winning Actress Halle Berry reprises her role as Storm in X-Men 2. When asked about if she had brought the Oscar for show and tell, Jackman coyly pointed under the table, bringing much mirthful laughter to the audience and panel. Asked about if the Oscar had changed her perception and approach, Berry said “They’re (the cast) just getting sick of the Oscar. Can’t you tell how sick of it they are? No, I didn’t bring it, and no, nothing has changed. Honestly no, nothing at least as far as this production goes.”
Berry did mention that “one of the good things about coming back to this (the sequel), with Oscar in hand, is that we were sort of like…when you start a movie you spend the first month getting to know everybody and just when you get to know everybody the experience is over, although this wasn’t the case with the first X-Men, that was six months. But normally when you are just finding that groove and you’re all starting to gel, then it’s time to stop. We got a chance to reconvene and pick up where we left off. So that’s been a really important part of the experience for me.”
At the press conference, Berry was sporting her white/platinum Storm wig, but it was a shorter, more layered style then the first movie. I was compelled to ask if along with the hair change there what kind of character progression she had experienced. Berry replied “I think everybody’s happy with the hair change. There was a really big, big discussion about the hair because I know Bryan (Singer) and Lauren Schuler-Donner, our producer, really wanted to get it right because they felt it was something that desperately needed to be changed from the first movie. So hopefully everybody will like it better.”
Berry added “I think my character this time around you get to know a little better about who Storm is. She definitely is allowed to present a point of view this time that I didn’t get to present last time. Sort of what her emotional life is like, you really get a taste of that this time. I think there is more evolution.” As a side note, from comments made on the set by various people, it sounds like Storm’s role will expand and like in the comic, she will be a focus as leader of the X-Men.
Berry was asked about filming this time in Vancouver versus Toronto, where the first film was done, and if it was easier because of the proximity to Los Angeles. Berry replied “It has for me, because out of the cast members, I think I’m always the one who is jetting out of here to catch that last flight … that makes it easy because it’s only a two hour flight. I feel a lot closer to home. I did feel really far away last time.”
She also rejoined that “I also grew up going to Toronto a lot, living in Cleveland, so that was like no big whoop. This is a big whoop here, I just like it.”
Famke Janssen, who portrays Jean Grey in the film, was also sporting a shorter, more layered hair cut, and try as I might, I couldn’t find any red tint in it. When asked what was going on with Jean in the sequel, her reply was “She got a haircut (laughs). Very important. I’m sure you saw that in the trailer. It’s basically kind of the things we touched upon in the first movie with the love triangle, and she has some issues with her powers that we kind of explore in the second one.” I am wondering if this hints at a cameo from the Phoenix?
James Marsden returns as Cyclops in the sequel. He was asked about how it was to re-explore the character, and his response was “I think a lot of the first one was devoted to explaining to the audience, the cinema-goers, who the X-Men were, what they were capable of, and what their story was. A good percentage of the movie was exposition, explaining the characters.”
“I think we’ve gotten that out of the way now. So we can see these characters kind of spring into action and not have to worry about if we’re going to know who they are and what the situation is. Now that we’ve established that in the first film, I think we can have some fun” Marsden added.
Alan Cumming is one of the newcomers to the X-Men franchise, making his debut in the sequel as Nightcrawler. When asked if he had done any research, Cumming answered “I’ve read some comics. It’s quite impressive, actually because not only am I playing sort of a blue mutant with all these odd physical things, but also everyone in the world apart from me seems to have some idea about how the character should look or read, so there’s been a little pressure. So yeah, I read some comics and listened to some people. It’s kind of hard because halfway through the film, I realized that Mystique is my mother. It’s an ongoing learning curve.”
Cumming was also asked how he gets prepared to be Nightcrawler. His reply was “Mentally it’s very difficult. I have to get up very early and I have some lovely, lovely makeup people that do it. You just have to get into a zone where you don’t mind grown (people) poking at your face for four hours and spraying you with stuff. Sometimes I watch films in the mirror, which is quite hard if they’re subtitled (laughs).”
He also felt he had made the job harder in a way. “I have these tattoos and I rue the day that I was the one who actually said ‘Yeah, let’s go with the tattoos. They’re really great.’ They take a lot more time to get stuck on. I’m hoping that maybe if there’s a sequel there will be some sort of mutant accident that’s taken place and Nightcrawler will have no tattoos and be white. The technology in this film is quite incredible with the effects and I thought maybe the next time I could do the film as me and they could put the makeup on afterwards.”
Cumming had some thoughts about contact lens after filming as well. His comment was “There’s this thing with people who (wore) contact lenses in the first film. There’s sort of a thing where you pay your dues. Halle and Rebecca don’t wear contacts any more. I noticed afterwards that I am wearing contact lenses. It must be kind of rites of passage that you go through. Maybe next time I’ll have no contact lenses.”
When asked about filming the tail, Cumming had this revealing tidbit to share. “Sometimes I’m wearing it and sometimes I’m not, because sometimes it’s done afterwards. There’s tails of various consistencies of boinginess. If I don’t have the full tail, I have this stub thing with dots on it for special effects people to do things with afterwards. And that’s quite popular with the ladies (laughs) and gentleman as well. And myself.”
Returning after a small role as Bobby Drake/Iceman in the first into an increased presence in X-Men 2 is Shawn Ashmore. Last season on Smallville, Ashmore had a breakthrough guest appearance as a fellow student and nemesis of Clark’s. When asked about what is in store for Bobby in the sequel, Ashmore said “Obviously, I can’t get into too much detail, but basically, Bobby gets brought into the fold a little bit. Obviously, he’s still a student at the school, but I think mainly his role in the film is to kind of be brought in and join the group and kind of become a more important part of the whole adventure that happens.”
Rounding out the panel was returning cast member Anna Paquin, who plays the character Rogue. Paquin was asked if she was able to “kick some ass” in this film and her reply was a bit tentative, as Director Bryan Singer was only a few seats away. She did reveal that “clearly my character has to go from being sort of frightened of everyone she encounters and has to evolve in some way. So, yeah, in a lot of ways I do get to do a lot more stuff then I did in the last movie, but I’m not really sure how much I can say about that without getting into trouble.”
Paquin, who was sporting the trademark Rogue white stripe in her hair, really looked the part at the press conference. She was asked to explain the evolution of the character for this film, and she was less tentative the second time around. “I think what’s nice and interesting about the second movie that Rogue is in is that she’s left behind a lot of the shy, timid sort of shutting everyone else out because she’s been accepted into a group where she is not an outsider or going to be treated differently or poorly because of her mutant abilities, and so she is allowed to grow more and just get to do more stuff and be more part of the action.”
Paquin added an interesting point saying Rogue “doesn’t need to be rescued. She’s not the damsel in distress anymore, so it’s kind of fun and there’s a lot more actiony kind of stuff that I get to do-or stunts-which is fun. It’s really great, actually, not having to be rescued for the whole movie.”
After answering questions for an hour, the cast made their way out of the press area to resume filming. Some answers given were revealing, some less so, but we left feeling we had gleaned a few kernels of information, probably just enough to make the film even more mysterious.
Part 5: While in Vancouver, British Columbia for the X-Men 2 Press Conference, Comics2Film was also allowed access to the X-Jet set. Production Guy Dyas walked us through the ins and outs of designing the jet, and how it was used in the movie. By the time we saw the X-Jet, filming on it had been pretty well completed, and it was pretty beat up. What we viewed was the interior of the jet, which had been split into two for filming and greater ease of movement. Though Dyas was a bit pained by the bumps and bruises he saw on the X-Jet, he was still able to fill us in on the details.
It has been previously noted that much more of the movie this time around takes place in the interiors of the X-Jet, from 20 to 50 minutes approximately compared to the few moments in the first film. Also, there were more team members to fit this time around, so Dyas needed to show more of the jet for action and conversational purposes. Dyas own take on the new X-Jet was as follows “We didn’t want to totally redesign it. We just wanted to update it and make it more elaborate.”
When asked about the front and the back of the jet being separated, Dyas’ take was this. “When we wanted to put the X-Jet onto what we call a ‘gimbal,’ to get some motion, the combined length of the X-Jet was far too long and heavy to do that, so we actually designed the set to separate in the middle. So we can basically put each half onto a riser and move it around.”
Dyas revealed that Storm and Jean Grey sit up front in the X-Jet. He also talked about the basic design of the front compartment. “There is a navigation seat off to the left. The seats were hand made from original designs. The whole front of the X-Jet lit up with orange lights. It was really quite nice.” He also mentioned that he incorporated the “X” logo into the seat belts and any other part he could, keeping with the theme started in the first movie.
Dyas also talked about the console. “All the consoles are live. We obviously had a graphic designer in my department putting together computer graphics, original computer graphics, to show here. A lot of it related to scenes in the film, various beats that happened. As I’ve said, largely what turned on is orange. It just sort of complimented the blue (interior) really well. There is a lot of computer screens and switches throughout the film, so I tried to give them a family of colors. So when you’re in the X-Jet it’s orange and where we are about to go it was more on the green side (Stryker’s Lair) and then there is another area where it was more yellow and white.”
The interior of the X-Jet was a light blue, to get away from the “junky interior” feel Dyas felt had been overused in seeing the typical black and steel. Dyas added “I wanted to go for a very clean look, but at the same time the set is very plain and simple, but the seats themselves are very complicated. They sort of stand our almost like pieces of sculpture in the middle, which is quite nice.”
The back part of the X-Jet was very spare, with lockers for costumes in the front and otherwise bare space. The lockers actually had clear panels, so you could see the costumes inside. Dyas said the lockers were put in so that the X-Men could quickly board the jet and change later. The back end was pretty well banged up, so I speculate that some of the action sequence happens there for sure.
On the back of the front piece there was a label that read “holographic emitter” on it. Dyas explained “that’s the device that runs in the center of the opening/doorway, which is basically a three-dimensional television screen. It’s an old idea really. What’s nice about this is that we decided to design it into a doorway and it’s really just for a story beat where they’re showing something in the middle of the doorway. A character walks through and breaks the beam, so it kinda stops for a second. It’s a nice interactive animation moment, but obviously that’s going to be created in CG.”
After seeing the interiors of the X-Jet, it appears to be quite an important set for the movie. The exterior was shown to us at the production offices, and it has been radically redesigned from the first film, with more aerodynamic curves and shapes. Dyas seemed quite excited with the end result as he showed us around.
Heidi Meeley contributed to this story.