Overcoming his apparent anxiety over appearing in front of such a huge crowd, Singer immediately began to take questions from the enthusiastic audience.
Many of the questions concerned possible sequels. Singer seemed simultaneously taken aback and excited by the prospects for continuing the cinematic adventures of the Man of Steel. “Let’s take them one by one. They’re definitely in the back of my mind. I have ideas, but they’re like my ideas for ‘X-Men 3.'” Asked about who might be villains in future films, all he could say was “Let’s see how the game plays,” preferring not to count his chickens, though one enthusiastic fan couldn’t help but shout out his hopes for “Brainiac!”
Comparisons and references to the original films directed by Richard Donner were inevitable. Singer considers Donner’s “Superman” to be “the best of what a super hero film could be.” Asked about the improvement in technology since 1977, Singer was asked how he was handling the special effects showing Superman in flight. “Donner had it more difficult in the original. He couldn’t do rig removal, which we can do, so much had to be done with lighting effects and rear projection.” Singer, of course, has the advantages of CGI and green screen technology which weren’t available to the original filmmaker.
Singer then interrupted the Q&A session, not wanting to wait any longer than necessary to introduce the special reel of Superman highlights he had prepared for the San Diego Con last July. The audience cheered the onscreen appearances of Routh, Kate Bosworth, Frank Langella, and Jack Larson.
Singer then followed the clip by introducing Routh as “someone who worked on the film.” Even though the top-secret news of Routh’s appearance had leaked prior to Saturday, the crowd gave him a warm welcome.
Comparisons to other superhero film franchises were inevitable. Asked why he had chosen to direct “Superman Returns” rather than “X-Men 3,” he cited his respect for what Donner had done in the original “Superman,” though “if I could split myself in half,” he would have done both films. He calls “X-3” director Brett Ratner “a good friend, who will probably surprise you.” He saw the trailer for the film and described it as something “I’d go with a bunch of my friends to see. I won’t go to the premiere, but I’d go with a bunch of friends.”
Singer also found filming “Superman Returns” “more daunting than the X-films; not for the least reason that it was shot in Australia.” He doesn’t see the difference in the films as a difference in the sensibilities between the Marvel vs. DC universes; they’re stories about “individual characters; the virtue, idealism, and nobility that exist in Superman doesn’t exist in the X-Men, or even in Batman – and he’s another DC character. Most importantly, “Superman Returns” is really “based around one character. The X-films have many characters, many parts,” so there’s the opportunity to share the burden. “Superman has Brendan playing three characters: the real Clark Kent, the Clark who works at the Daily Planet, and Superman.” He also sees no competition between the “Superman” and “Spider-Man” franchises. He’s known “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi “for years. If we were opening on the same day, there might be competition, but we don’t and there isn’t.”
The central relationship in “Superman Returns” is, of course, between Superman and Lois Lane. A female fan complained about Lois sometimes looking and seeming “too fragile” and hoped that Singer’s version would be stronger. Singer assured the fan that “Kate [Bosworth] plays her more mature. She has a boyfriend and child; she’s at the peak of her career [having just been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize], and she’s achieved a lot.” Routh added that Lois has “always been strong and tenacious. She still gets into trouble, because Lois gets into trouble, it’s just not as easy to get out of it.” Asked why Lois has a child in the film, Singer explained that “very few things other than Kryptonite can pose a threat to Superman; he’s that powerful. Giving Lois a fiancé and a baby poses a genuine threat, an obstacle, a conundrum to Superman.” Routh expanded on this point: “Superman has a huge emotional quandary at the beginning of the film: ‘How do I get around this?’ and he realizes, ‘You can’t;’ he has to live his life and be patient.”
In a non-Superman question, Singer was asked if he and “The Usual Suspects” scripter Christopher McQuarrie might work together again. Singer not only assured that crowd that McQuarrie had more input on the first “X-Men” film than is generally realized (“he did a couple of drafts”), but that Singer and McQuarrie just spent a week in a hotel room in Seattle (“not that way; he has a wife and two kids”) working on a remake of “Logan’s Run,” the 1976 science-fiction thriller that starred Michael York and Jenny Agutter.
Aspects of Superman’s costume came under question, too. Possibly the two most notorious aspects of the costume are Superman’s “bulge” and his “S”-shield. As far as the former goes, one fan asked if it had been “hard to find the right-sized codpiece for Superman.” Routh, after a moment, replied that “I wasn’t in the room when those decisions were being made. Technically, you should file it under good news and bad news. It’s better to be larger in that area than smaller.” The final costume piece, he said, “was like a ballplayer’s ‘protection,’ except it could be softer, since I wasn’t going to get hit.”
As to “Why is the ‘S’ so small?” Singer himself asked, “Why?,” with the air of a man who had had this discussion many, many times. Routh began by explaining, “If you made the ‘S’ too large, it would take over the chest and the front of the shirt. The shape was to emphasize my chest. Since we couldn’t get the muscle definition (with which the comic book Superman is endowed), this was another way to add strength to the suit.” Singer continued, “Making the ‘S’ larger would make Brandon’s chest smaller. Alex Ross’s Superman’s chest is broad and can support a large ‘S.’ Besides, it’s a Kryptonian symbol. And, by raising it in relief it’s a beautiful icon and it takes on a different appearance, based on how it’s lit.”
Questions then turned to the casting of Routh as Superman in his first major film role. Does he think there’s a curse attached to the role of the Man of Steel? “I never thought of it; lots of things have happened to actors, but I have lots of things to do in my life, and I’m not going to let a ‘curse’ stand in my way and stop me.”
How does it feel to hold a big budget movie together? “It made sense the way it worked out. I always felt like I was doing the right thing. Bryan made it safe enough for me not to be scared out of my mind. I’m gonna be Superman. I haven’t done much else.”
Asked “how do you deal with the original films starring Christopher Reeve? How do you put forth Reeve’s spirit?” Routh replied: “Say this about Chris and what he means to this film and any actor portraying the role: Superman is a really great character – there have been many incarnations of Superman as actors, artists, and writers have each done their versions of the character – but Superman has grown throughout that past and all creators draw on the past as they create new stories. Chris was the guy for me. He is part of this; my portrayal is based on his as much as his was based on everybody else’s.”
Singer was asked why he didn’t cast a better-known actor in the role. “The role of Superman is much larger than any actor; he has to feel like he stepped out of the collective idea of the character. Better known actors bring too much baggage and interfere with that idea.”
Turing to the title of the film, Routh was asked “What does it mean for Superman to go away and return?” “That’s what Bryan and I talked about. There are certain things he (Superman) doesn’t know about himself. When we need to figure things out, we can talk to ourselves or friends; go for a walk in the woods and be by ourselves. I had a family and friends to talk about it (Superman and his journey); but Superman has no one.”
One fan asked Singer what may have been the simplest question of all: “Why’d you want to make this? Was there anything in first film – a scene, a character, a bit of action – that made you want to make this? Singer didn’t hesitate: “It was the first date between Lois and Superman. She falls for him at first and asks why he does what he does. He answers that he’s here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. She replies, ‘You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!’ He looks at her with total seriousness and tells her, ‘I never lie.’ That one idea and one conviction; they’re one of his greatest virtues and one of his greatest liabilities.”
Referring to the somewhat less-than-successful sequels to the 1977 film, Singer was asked, “Is this the new ‘Superman 3?'” He replied, “it’s a merger between ‘Superman 3’ and ‘Superman 2.’
Asked for their favorite moments from the Reeve Superman films, Routh cited “all of the original, though I think fondly of the Niagara Falls scene in ‘Superman II,’ when Lois wants a hot dog.” Singer’s moment? “No one can beat Ursa, Non and Zod.”
Finally, the questioning turned to Superman’s arch-enemy, Lex Luthor. Referring to the slightly campy Lex of the Reeve films, a fan asked how Lex was made a genuine threat. Routh answered, “Lex in this film is definitely more villainous. He’s darker and has more of a sense of danger. He still has a sly sense of humor, but it’s darker.” Singer noted that, in the film, Luthor has “been in prison for a few years, so he’s definitely more sadistic.”
The final question went to Routh: What is the hardest part and the best part about being Superman? “The best thing is opportunities I’ve had after having been the character; I get to meet little kids (and sometimes big kids) who are excited. In my first film, I get to be such an inspirational character that everyone in the world can admire and aspire to be. The worst part is how long it took to get cast – seven or eight months. I kept saying, ‘When will they call? What are they waiting for?’ But even in that I learned a lot of things.”