Singer, director of "X2: X-Men United" recently sat down with the
press for roundtable interviews. Several members of the press took turns asking
questions about the new mutant movie. Comics2Film/CBR News is happy to provide
readers with an edited transcript of that conversation.
Q: Did you go right from filming the first one into development on
No, there was a period of rest but the ideas of the story germinated during
the making of the first film. It carried slowly into the script development
stage and eventually the prep and shoot. Gradual, so there was some time between
Q: In the new movie, you don’t spend a lot of time re-introducing
the characters. How effective do you feel that was?
I call it the “Lost Horizon” concept. You make a film, as they did with
“Lost Horizon.” They made it three hours long, they took an hour to establish all the
characters aboard a plane. The plane crashes and they go on an adventure. Then
when they looked at the picture they said, ‘this is a really long picture.’ So
then they cut the first hour off. But because they had that first hour for the
characters to develop and for their relationship to evolve, when they finally
crashed and discovered the lost city and whatnot, you really felt that you knew
I think that this film, “X2,” is designed to stand on its own
as a film, as a separate entity. It’s kind of like the movie I could’ve,
should’ve made the first time, but could not have made without having made the
I think now that those characters are so defined, even when they movie into
X2, you know where they’re coming from. The universe is somewhat established.
You see them use their powers very early on. There’s a few things I put in
there, like in Lord of the Rings, he opens the picture with the dream, with
McKellan falling and fighting the dragon, and likewise there’s certain things
for the audience so they can catch up to speed, but ultimately it seemed like
there was no point to it. The characters were already moving forward and I
didn’t want to move backward and waste that kind of time.
Q: There’s a scene where Wolverine is covered in blood. Was this movie
ever in danger of getting an R rating?
Yeah, originally we got an R rating and there were just a few minor things of
intensity that were trimmed. Very little. I was really pleased.
little blood in the movie. There’s some intensity in it but its not a gory
picture by any means and its somewhat heroic and no one is…like in the first
picture we had Rogue get stabbed right through the chest by Wolverine, but we
solved those problems in the story and it’s fun and the audience realizes that
there’s not a terrifying threat and it’s not a massacre. It’s heroes having to
Q: Was there more pressure on you doing the sequel then there was on
the first one?
No. Not really. I think some of the pressure was alleviated by the fact that
fans, the core audience who’ve supported the X-Men universe for forty years
really embraced the first picture. There was more time and money this time
around and I had a better sense of what I was doing because I’d already
established these characters and I’d already cut my teeth on the genre. So I
felt a little less pressure and actually a little more freedom.
Q: Is Kurt Wagner from the comic book or was he created for the movie?
No, he’s from the comic book. He’s a very popular character.
Q: Is his look similar to his look in the comic? He looks like a
It is very similar. That’s the wonderful dichotomy of Nightcrawler. He’s a
character who is deeply religious and a sympathetic character, but at the same
time has the physical appearance of a demon. The one thing we added to it were
the scarification on his face, to give him an interesting sense of history.
Q: What are your plans for the franchise? Will we ever see the
It’s possible. I couldn’t say specifically. The war is always getting larger
in their universe and their conflict as more mutants are born every day.
Q: I like the way you opened up the story. I found myself rooting for certain
characters and then becoming uncertain about them. Is that something you were
Absolutely. One of the fun parts of an ensemble picture, especially there are
so many characters where the lines of good and evil are blurring
constantly, there’s a lot more room for unpredictability and surprise.
You’re following one character on a journey and you find it disrupted by another
character and then another character introduces another mystery and then
that’s solved just as more characters are introduced and unholy alliances are
formed, but not quite…it’s kind of like…ever since I made “Unusual
Suspects” I’ve enjoyed the challenge of ensemble pictures and so this time
with “X2” it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve got all these characters, bring on a
I enjoy that challenge: balancing.
Q: The franchise could go on forever. How will you say goodbye to this
I think when the time comes for me to say goodbye it will not be that hard at
all, but until that time I enjoy myself.
Q: Are you going to do another one?
I’m not sure. I don’t know. I have ideas and things have been established in
this film that would lend themselves to future pictures but at the same time,
circumstances have to be appropriate. I’d probably like to do something in
between. I don’t know if it’s back to my roots of smaller films or go and
make another kind of event picture. I’m not sure yet. I’m developing things.
Q: You mentioned that the war is getting bigger, and there’re a lot of
conversations in the movie developing that. Can you talk more about that and
about relations to current events?
I think a lot of those are very coincidental. The storyline was conceived
prior to September 11th and remember the X-Men universe was created in the early
sixties during the height of the American Civil Rights movement. So these ideas
of bigotry, tolerance, fear, war, fear among society, I think, are perpetual
ideas. We’ve had them for thousands of years ever since man recognized his
fellow man and they saw that two people had different color hair.
So I think it
is oddly relevant. I desperately tried to not to let current events as they
unfolded impact the process of making this film. This film is, for me, primarily
a wonderful piece of fantasy entertainment. I think if it didn’t have some
relevance to some social issues or some personal issues then it wouldn’t be
truly entertaining. I think truly entertaining movies affect you. I think Star
Wars talked about growing up and religion and myth and many serious things, but
in a spectacular way. I think good science fiction ultimately tells stories of
the human condition from an extraordinary perspective.
In that way, it’s ironic but there’s nothing wrong with it. But it is eerie
in certain aspects.
Q: In a way the film is very anti-establishment. There are a lot of people
who look like special ops getting killed, police getting killed, the air force
getting dogged. Did you worry about that in these times?
No, not at all. The soldiers depicted in this film are truly
following…they’re not even working for the United States. They’re working up
in Alberta in a secret base. They’re working for someone who’s completely rogue
from the government. The President of the United States is very on the fence and
very concerned, justifiable, about the issue. There are mutants who possess
incredible power and who are terribly violent and dangerous to human society and
mutant society. I view these as henchmen.
In terms of airplanes getting dogged and police getting dogged: no one in
that sphere is seriously harmed. It’s not about bullying the authority. I
personally have tremendous faith and support of our authorities and our
Having shown it to friends of mine that are in the military, they get a kick
out of the fact these soldiers are a bunch of rogue dirt bags who get what’s
coming to them. And then we see that. We definitely see that.
This guy Stryker, he’s operating in his own universe. He’s tricking the
President. He’s conning the President into his operation. So it’s quite the
opposite, if anything. He’s more of a terrorist.
Q: How involved are you in the video game spin-offs from the movie?
The Wolverine’s Revenge game was designed separately from the picture,
but what I did was I had the game creators come on up and take a look at the
sets and tour them and take a look at a lot of our artwork and our conceptual
designs and take them through some of the story and so that they would be able
to infuse the game with a lot of the properties that we created, a lot of the
designs. It’s nice. It’s created kind of a synergy between the game and the
movie, but at the same time, the game stands alone and the movie stands alone.
Q: How intrusive is that? By the time you factor in the DVD and the video
game, how intrusive is all that on the movie-making process?
I don’t find it intrusive at all. It’s a welcome distraction. I will say…I
shoot pretty tight movies. I don’t shoot a lot of fat, a lot of things to cut
off or cut out as it were, but ultimately if there’s a moment that you find
precious that you’ve shot, and you know it just doesn’t work in the context of
the picture, you always have that in the back of your mind, ‘oh, I’m putting
this one on the DVD.’ I think, for that, as a filmmaker it’s real fun. There’s
one little beat in X-Men 2, a subtle little beat that I was very proud of, just
directorially, it’s very subtle and silly, but for me I’ll enjoy putting that on
And then getting some perspective from it. I was able to with X-Men 1.5, get
some perspective on the movie a year later and actually talk about it on a
running commentary, which I didn’t feel I was able to do the first time around.
Q: Has it gotten to the point with these event kind of films, where you actually
start thinking about the DVD prior to the shoot?
What I do, in the case of X-Men 1 and the X2 DVD, there’s a gentlemen named
Rob Burnett, who’s a DVD producer, who I’ve been friends with for years and he
produced the re-release of the Usual Suspects DVD. He does a really good job and
is very creative and very thoughtful. He kind of outlines the kinds of things
he’d like to do and then I tell him some of the things that I think would be
interesting and then I step away from it.
I provide him with materials he needs, throughout the process and give him
what time I can, but I will not allow anything to intrude, whether it’s the
marketing or the publicity or press or any of these aspects to intrude the
process of making the film because it would ultimately sabotage the entire event
Q: The opening weekend is now a big part of the success of the movie. How integral has
scheduling become to the entire process of filmmaking?
Well, the days that “Bonnie and Clyde” could open in two theaters
and then sweep America and become the biggest movie over the course of a year
are over. You really have these opening weekends. You know where you stand by
Friday at nine o’clock.
Yeah, it’s very frustrating and it’s frightening, but at the same time the
dates have tremendous value. I recognize the value of being one of the first
major summer films out this round. I also believe that a film is never finished.
It’s merely abandoned. In the case of my films they’re usually ripped from my
Like financial limitation, scheduling limitations breed creative
solutions. I try to work within them responsibly. But if I were to do a more
independent movies, a more exploration film, I would go the style prior: you put
your money together, you make your film and then you put it out there when
someone buys it.
Q: Is there a time when you might say no to money? As you
said often limits will inspire creativity.
I take a mixed philosophy about
that, somewhere in between the two. It is my responsibility to the project to
fight for as much resources as I can get, within the context that I think is
necessary for that film.
I did a project called “Apt Pupil” some
time ago with very little money, but the plot didn’t require, and it would have
been irresponsible if I had spent a lot more money because it was very daring
and quite dark. The gamble wasn’t worth it.
In the case of X2 you feel more
comfortable spending more money because you know there’s a wider audience and
you know you’re building on a saga, a universe, franchise, whatever you call it.
But I also respect the fact that with all my battles, I always set my mark
higher than the actual budget.
In the case of X-Men 1, I was trying to make a
$100 million picture for $75 million. IN the case of X2 I’m trying to make a
$200 million picture for $120 million. So, I’m always tasking myself and always
setting those limitations.
I believe in what Spielberg says, that truly those
kinds of limitations breed amazing creative solutions, as he discovered with the
classic scenario of the shark in “Jaws” which never worked. As a
result we got the barrels in the water and everyone’s terrified.
Q: I’ve read
that you are committed to making a movie that is both a blockbuster and an
intelligent movie. Were there struggles the first time around in making the
movie that you wanted to make?
There were. I would be lying to you if I told
you there weren’t. But they also new that I was the director of “Unusual
Suspects” and “Apt Pupil” and my first feature “Public
Access” and they had seen those movies and they understood the style with
which I approached filmmaking.
I remember Bill Mechanic and Tom Rothman at the
studio at the time, had just scene “Apt Pupil” which is incredibly
dark, and we walked out the screening and I said, “Do you still want me to
do this ‘X-Men’ picture?”
And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. This
thing’s not supposed to make money. You’ll do great. I love your style.”
was like, “OK.”
So I approached it and I took this universe as
seriously as I would take, as I imagine Robert Wise took “The Day The Earth
Stood Still.” In that way I would please fans, because the X-Men fans take
this universe very seriously and they support it and have supported it for forty
years, and also I would help, because I never came from a comic book reading
background, bridge the gap between the fans and the uninitiated.
Q: Do you now
get mobbed by fans, or have people coming after you saying, “why did you do
that,” or “why didn’t you do this?”
I just keep cutting my hair
so nobody knows what the hell I look like.
I enjoy going to comic book
stores. I look around and see what’s there and occasionally someone will say,
“hi.” I also enjoy going to the comic conventions. I was terrified to
go when the first “X-Men” movie was about to come out because there
was so much skepticism. Then I found myself before several thousand people at
the convention in San Diego and it was a very warm reception.
of interesting to me because I never grew up reading comics and now things that
I directly created in the film have now translated in the evolution of the comic
book and that’s just baffling and astonishing to me.
Q: How have the fans
They’re very sweet. I was a Trekkie and a sci fi fan myself;
hard-core, just comic books were never my fortes. I may have betrayed them if I
was too mired in the comic book early on. I surrounded myself with people who
are very knowledgeable about the comic book, and I’m extremely knowledgeable
about it, but who are entrenched in it and also entrenched in he fan base, who
can advise me one way or another. Like, “I’m gonna make this one character
do this one little, extra thing. Is that gonna be cool? Is anybody gonna
I override the lore a little, but still maintain the essence
of the characters.
Q: Is there an example of something that was easier to do
this time around as opposed to the first time?
Oh, Rebecca’s [Romijn-Stamos]
makeup. Nine hours down to six. That’s easier. Different kinds of appliances.
Larger appliances that still had the detail of all the smaller appliances the
first time around. I thought was not only quicker but also more elegant.
everything in general. The actors found their characters more…In the beginning
Hugh Jackman, since we cast him late in the process of the first
“X-Men,” it was taking him a while to find this character. He arrived
on the set of “X2” Wolverine. Pure, complete, done, nailed. And all
the characters really rose to the occasion. And we all knew each other and had a
The kind of shorthand I had with my cinematographer Tom Sigel, who
I shot four movies with, I had with …
[Singer is interrupted by as the
interview period is winding down]
Q: How was it to be on the bridge of
Star Trek in Nemesis?
Oh it was a thrill. The two thrills of my life, besides
having the opportunity to make movies and all that stuff, is spending twelve
hours on the bridge of the Enterprise in a Starfleet uniform as it was rocking
back and forth with pyrotechnics on a giant gimble with the entire cast.
when Patrick Stewart, two weeks later, invited me to have dinner over at his
house and he said he had a surprise. I was like, “Oh, what’s the surprise?
Maybe it’s pictures of me in my Starfleet uniform,” which he had. But we’re
sitting there having a little hors d’oeuvres and suddenly the doorbell rings and
William Shatner comes in and joins us for dinner. Then I went upstairs after
dinner and played “Next Generation” pinball with William Shatner at
Patrick Stewart’s house.