Some background information necessary for this interview: Bryan Singer (director of the first two “X-Men” films) started out as the film’s initial director, but then left to direct this summer’s “Superman Returns.” Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake”) then signed on and continued development, but left the project as the shooting date drew near. Finally, Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “Red Dragon”) jumped on with six weeks left before shooting began.
In films, the role of the producer is one that is usually misunderstood – mainly because there can be so many of them. There’s the executive producer, the co-producer, the associate producer, and your “plain-old vanilla” producer. For our second stop on our “X-Men: The Last Stand” set visit, CBR News (along with several other journalists) had the opportunity to speak with the associate producer of the film, Dave Gorder. As the associate producer on “X-Men 2” and “Fantastic Four,” Gorder is quickly becoming the go-to guy for all Marvel films.
We met Gorder at Mammoth Studios, the largest soundstage in North America. The space used to be a huge warehouse, until Fox took it over for X2 and converted it into a soundstage. It has been used by several other productions since that time.
“This is the biggest production ever filmed in Canada. It used to be X2, now it’s X3. Maybe X4 will be even bigger,” Gorder said with a grin.
For the most part, the entire production has been shot in and around Vancouver. “We’ve done some second unit work outside of British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver – Alouette Lake is one of the locations we’ve shot at. And we’ve done some second unit work in San Francisco – some visual effects work. But basically, most of it’s been done right here in the city and its outskirts.”
We received a brief tour of the several sets located at this soundstage. Our group walked through Worthington Labs (owned by the father of X-Man Angel), part of the Alcatraz set (where Worthington Labs is located), the Worthington Labs containment center/bedroom for Leech (a crucial character in X3), and we received a glimpse of Magneto’s underground lair. However, since the supervillain’s hideout was in the process of being dismantled, there’s not much I can say about it other than it had a cavernous “feel.”
The Phase n’ Smash Scene
Our group was also fortunate enough to see a short scene being filmed by the 2nd Unit Crew. It takes place inside Worthington Labs, and it’s a chase scene involving Kitty and Juggernaut that transpires across several rooms. However, if you know who these two characters are, you can expect that they won’t be using the rooms’ doors in this chase. Basically, Kitty is phasing (her mutant power) through each wall while Juggernaut follows, smashing the walls in the process.
Gorder explained further, “The reason Juggernaut is going through the wall is because he’s chasing Kitty. And they’re both after a certain mutant [Leech]. Obviously there’s two different motivations [for the characters] – Juggernaut has a different motivation than Kitty does as far as rescuing this mutant from Worthington Labs.”
The shot is filmed from above, with a camera on a special crane that allows the filmmakers to track the actors as they run below. From ground-level, we see several set walls with “crash” holes built into them. In other words, we’re looking at Juggernaut’s handiwork after he’s run through the wall. There are also small canisters built into the wall that hold tiny chunks of wall debris.
Watching on the camera’s monitor, the effect is this: Kitty runs through the walls of several rooms from above without any effect (from above, we cannot see the holes in the walls). Hot on her heels, Juggernaut chases her. As he runs through each hole in the wall, the canisters are fired, making it appear that he’s causing the wall to explode as he passes through it. We’re informed that larger chunks of debris will be added later digitally, and the debris from the exploding canisters will mainly be used for tracking where the larger debris should fly.
Performing this scene are Juggernaut and Kitty’s stand-ins. As the camera is shooting them from above for these takes, we won’t be able to see their faces, so the actual actors aren’t needed. We also had an opportunity to get a close up look at Juggernaut’s costume and prosthetic body suit. From a distance, this “flesh suit” definitely looks real. Even a few yards away, it’s authenticity and detail are amazing. And in the “too much information” category – there are even tiny hairs surrounding his navel!
They’ve been shooting this scene three days now with the second unit, and Gorder expected that the main unit would take two more days to finish the scene with the actual actors. He added that the scene’s central action has already been filmed on the main version of this set (without the rigged canisters).
Bryan Singer vs. Brett Ratner
Gorder said, “I’ve worked on all three ‘X-Men’ films and this is unprecedented as far as the action. Brett Ratner is doing an incredible job of making it visually exciting with huge stunts, explosions, and action. You’re just going to be thrilled when you see it. It’s absolutely incredible. Bryan Singer did a fantastic job and Brett’s carried it to another level.”
Speaking of Singer, Gorder mentioned that he has spoken to the director a few times during the production as friends. Gorder was asked if Singer was curious what was being done with the franchise he originated.
“He’s so immersed in ‘Superman Returns’ that he’s not really following what’s going on here,” Gorder replied. “He and Brett are friends, so they chat now and then, but they don’t really talk about specifics of the movie. I think Bryan is happy that Brett’s doing the film and is confident that he’ll carry it further in the direction that Bryan already started.
“Bryan wants to be like a fan [when it comes to X3]. He wants to be excited. He doesn’t want anything [story-wise, regarding X3] given away to him, and I don’t think Brett would want to tell him anything specific about the film. Mainly, Bryan’s happy that his X-Men family is continuing on with Brett, and everybody’s excited about what they’re doing.”
When it comes to “what they’re doing,” much of that is obviously determined by the script. And with regards to where this script came from, Gorder stated, “Brett started fresh. We have different writers on this one – we wanted a fresh take. And, actually Bryan’s (‘X-Men’) writers are doing Superman with him so…there you go. But we’re very happy with how it’s continuing on and it’s going to be very exciting.”
In addition to his writers, some reports have said that Singer took several of his crew members with him to Sydney, Australia for “Superman Returns.” Gorder clarified this perception though, indicating that they had a lot of people returning from the last film.
“We have a lot of the same crew as we had on ‘X-Men 2.’ And we’re shooting at the same stages, so we’re happy to have a lot of that crew. Bryan really likes the Vancouver film crews, and we got most of them. Bryan took a lot of technical people from L.A., because those types of people on that ‘level’ weren’t available in Sydney. And that’s the same case here.
“When you’re doing certain stunts and visual effects, the infrastructure [in Vancouver] isn’t big enough to have these groundbreaking effects, so you do have to bring up crew from L.A. and experts in certain areas – particularly prosthetic makeup and visual effects. So Bryan took what he could over there, and obviously, we brought a lot of prosthetic makeup artists (as needed) up here to do the characters…for this movie.”
With regards to all the people creating the film’s “look,” he also added, “We look at X-Men 1 & 2 constantly as reference, and we want to make sure to match what was done before. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, you know? We want to match it and keep continuity so fans will be pleased and not confused when they’re reminded of little bits from the past.”
The Astonishing Story of “X-Men 3”
Going back to the writers and the story, Gorder was asked which X-Men comics were used as source material for this new film. He replied, “There’s a lot of reference from Joss Whedon’s ‘Astonishing X-Men.’ There’s some characters – Dr. Rao is a character in this movie – that’s from the ‘Astonishing X-Men.’ And also ‘Phoenix Rising’ and the Phoenix comics – there will be some references to that, but mostly it’s an original story. We’ve just taken bits and pieces of what we liked from Joss’s storylines and from the Phoenix storyline.”
As seeds for the Phoenix story were planted in “X-Men 2,” fans might wonder if any new seeds will be planted to be paid off in a fourth film. “As much as we did in X2 – as much as many people missed the fact that ‘Oh, there was sort of an outline of a phoenix in the water,'” Gorder chuckled.
“We do sort of the same thing with this one. It’s sort of like, you could go there if you wanted to. But it doesn’t rule out anything, it doesn’t set up anything specifically like saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to tell this story in X-Men 4.’ It just sets it up like, ‘Oh, certain characters could come back and continue their story arcs.'”
And while some characters’ story arcs may be told in future sequels, plans have already been made for two X-Men characters to spin-off into their own films. Gorder said that scripts for “Wolverine” and “Young Magneto” movies are both in development, although neither of these will happen until next year at the earliest. Hugh Jackman will definitely be reprising his role if a “Wolverine” film takes place. However, Ian McKellen’s involvement in the Magneto film is uncertain, because that story is about a young (WWII era) Magneto; therefore, it would depend if the story’s structure required his presence.
As associate producer of two Marvel franchises, Gorder mentioned the joy of having a small “nod” given to “X-Men 2” in “Fantastic Four.” In case fans missed it, keep an eye on the photos that appear in the “Fantastic Four” film. The associate producer said that fans don’t need to try to find a nod in X3 though, because there isn’t any.
“We don’t really [do a nod] in this one because we don’t really have that opportunity. The X-Men universe is a little more serious than Fantastic Four. Like, there’s a scene where some kids are playing a video game, and I didn’t want to use a Marvel game because it takes you out of the serious world of the X-Men.
“‘Fantastic Four’ is a complete 180° opposite of ‘X-Men’ in that they’re celebrity superheroes, and it’s very light and family-oriented. The essence of X-Men is about disenfranchised [people]: racism, classism, mutants hiding underground – things like that. So if you put another comic book movie in – or make a reference to it – and it’s not serious, it takes away from the seriousness of the story and the underlying issues of racism and not being comfortable in your own skin.”
Old, New, and Blue Faces in “X-Men 3”
Among the characters getting comfortable with their own skin, Gorder mentioned that the cast seems to have grown exponentially. Nearly every cast member is back, and they’ve added several other characters fans have been anxious to see. The associate producer began by naming off a few characters, as well as the actors who are playing them.
“Kitty Pryde is played by Ellen Page, and she’s amazing. Brett calls her the female Edward Norton. She was in a small indy movie called ‘Hard Candy,’ and she’s just an incredible actress. She has a lot of screentime with Bobby [Iceman] – there’s a B-storyline there that involves Bobby.
“Vinnie Jones, of course, is a renowned soccer player from England, and he’s perfect for Juggernaut. He has a suit on that we made for him. The costume and the helmet are incredible and very faithful to the comic. Vinnie has the right personality for the character. He’s an amazing actor to work with. People are really going to fall in love with Juggernaut as a bad guy.
“We also have Ben Foster, who plays Angel. He’s doing an incredible job. When Angel is revealed in the story, I think everybody will be really surprised and happy that he was chosen because he’s spot-on as anything you could imagine Angel to be like.”
One of the bigger additions to the film was a certain furry blue character that fans have been anxious to see. No, not Cookie Monster – Beast – played by none other than Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”), and was originally cast by Matthew Vaughn (the director who left the movie before Ratner came aboard). Gorder expects fans will be pleased by every aspect of his performance.
“Kelsey blows my mind. He is so Beast that I almost don’t even want to see him out of his makeup. I like him so much, and his character so much, that when I see him as Kelsey, I keep thinking it’s Frasier. When you first see him in the Beast makeup, you’re thinking, ‘Well, as soon as he talks, he’ll sound like Frasier with Beast makeup on.’ That is not at all the case.
“He has totally encapsulated the character of Beast better than anyone I could ever imagine. I remember when he was cast, I was like, ‘Hrrmmm, I wonder how the fans are going to react to this. It’s very interesting casting.’ And I saw his casting tape, and it just blew me, and everybody else, away. It was the best choice they could have made. You are going to be so surprised with his look – they just did an incredible job with his makeup. It’s absolutely fantastic-looking.”
In the comics, Beast has gone through several iterations in terms of his appearance. In deciding the version of the character they wanted to use, Gorder said, “We wanted to stay away from the cat-like Beast [in the current comics], because it makes the character a little bit too unbelievable. It doesn’t quite fit in to that world. It’s more about the hair. It took us a long time to get the hair color right and the texture of the hair right. But they’ve done such an amazing job – I think every kid is going to want to be Beast. He’s going to be the favorite character.
“And it’s very gratifying because we’ve tried to get him into every movie we’ve done and – due to various story reasons or cost-cutting or budget-cutting – we couldn’t fit him into the first two. But in this one, we finally got him and we made the absolute right choice. He is perfect in the part. He loves playing the part and he’s so enthusiastic – to be taking a character and developing it as his own.
“And I think he’s someone we’re going to want to see back in future sequels. I mean, you could almost make a Beast sequel on its own, because he has such an interesting story. He’s got a lot of emotional pathos to his character – he was a football star before he was turned into Beast. He was a handsome guy, and he’s not-so-handsome now that he has blue fur and blue skin.
“I think a lot of people are going to relate to that on some level – in your youth, you were handsome and a star, and then all of a sudden, you were older. They’ll draw parallels between that and their own life, and Kelsey is the perfect person to pull that off. Because you will care about Beast and you will care about his dilemma, but you will also think it’s very cool that he’s Beast and you will probably not want to see him as Kelsey Grammer again. You know, like, ‘Bring Beast back!’
“It’s the same thing with Michael Chiklis and the Thing. People really don’t want to see Ben Grimm anymore, they just want to see the Thing because it’s such an emotional character – an endearing character to most fans. And that’s the same way Beast is. Kelsey is amazing and I hope they do do a separate movie on Beast – it would be a really good movie.”
Although Beast is in the movie, another blue-skinned character from X2 will not be returning – namely, Nightcrawler. Gorder explained, “We would have liked to have Nightcrawler back, but there are certain trade-offs you take with the story. Nightcrawler is an expensive character prosthetic makeup-wise and also visual effects-wise, and so you want to have a story-arc that justifies that expense. And you also want to make the actor happy that he has a significant role to don the makeup and the effects and do the stunt work.”
Among the other new characters, comic book fans will see two other familiar faces: Callisto and Multiple Man, who are both part of the Brotherhood. Gorder said that while their roles are larger than what Colossus did in “X-Men 2,” they aren’t main characters in this story.
Two other additions the associate producer wanted to mention included Bill Duke as a government official, and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog,” “24”) who plays Dr. Rao. Gorder said, “She’s amazing. Dr. Rao is a character from Joss Whedon’s ‘Astonishing X-Men,’ and she works in [Worthington Labs].”
Of the new characters added to the film, the one name you won’t see among the list is Gambit, although the production did try to appease fans in an earlier draft. “There was a draft of the script long ago that had Gambit in it…but it was just too minor of a part. I think he’s just going to be saved [for future films]. It’s just too big of a character to just have a bit part in the movie. He’s got too good of a storyline to shortchange the audience with.”
Gorder did have good news, though, about a popular character from X2 who didn’t get much screentime in the last film: “Colossus is back and it’s Daniel Cudmore (from X2), and he has a bigger part. We’ll see action from Colossus that will expand on his heroic scene from X2, where he busts through the wall and takes care of Stryker’s guards. He’s back and he’s going to look really cool.”
When Ratner hopped aboard, there were a few reports that seemed to question if James Marsden (Cyclops) would return, because he was playing a character for Bryan Singer in “Superman Returns.” However, the associate producer informed us all that “Cyclops is back, and we’re very happy to have him back. Brett was very adamant about bringing back the original cast to the extent that we could (if they were available). The president – President McKenna – who was played by Cutter Smith in ‘X-Men 2,’ was not available to us so we recast the president. [there’s an obvious joke here, but I’ll refrain]
“As far as the X-Men and the minor X-Men – even the kids that had no lines that were basically cameos in the back – we brought them back, like Jubilee and Artie and the kids from X2. And it was really a great idea because you get to see these kids have gotten older. Artie was like this big [indicates his chest] and now he’s taller than me. And they’re going through puberty and stuff, which is interesting because X-Men is about the angst of puberty, which is going on with a lot of the kids in the school. It was really fun to see. Even Siryn is back, and she’s really tall now.
“It was nice that Brett brought the kids back and tried to give them little moments like they had before. There is a little moment with Jones changing the channel on the TV [which also occurred in X2]…things in that sort of vein. It does feel like family, and like real school.”
Everyone’s favorite Professor (played by Patrick Stewart) is back for this film as well. Gorder indicated his presence is definitely felt in the story. “Oh yeah, he’s back and bigger than ever in this. We’ve wrapped him filming. He’s back in London, where he lives now. We front-loaded the shooting schedule to shoot him out so he could go do his play – he’s producing and starring in a play in London.”
In addition, the associate producer said to expect great things from Halle Berry’s character. “You will see Storm in a bigger role – flying and fighting. We’re very happy about that, and Halle looks really cool doing it. Every character has a bigger and more exciting action-oriented part in this film. So you’re going to see some moves from the characters that you haven’t seen in the previous two movies that are really going to please fans. Those fans that wanted to see Storm fly finally get to see that. And we get to see Magneto float a little more too.”
As for Wolverine’s storyline in this film, we were told that he won’t be pursuing Weapon X info in this film, and he won’t be having any flashbacks either (like the ones that occurred in X2). “He has a whole different storyline that he’s pursuing in this movie that’s different [from the previous films] – it’s more of an action-oriented storyline.”
While all this talk about action and fighting sounds great, Gorder said they have something in the film to satisfy the romantics in the audience. “In the past movies, there’s been a love triangle between Wolverine, Jean and Cyclops. There is some of that alluded to in this one, but then there’s a romantic B-storyline that is revealed in this one.” When pressed for details about who this other romance involved, he declined to answer.
Online Rumors, Impressive Sets, and Fun Toys
One of the many rumors floating around online is that a major character gets killed off in this film. Considering the trailer to the movie shows a funeral, this rumor is now grounded a bit in fact. We asked Gorder if he could share any details about this, but naturally, he had to refuse.
“Right now we don’t want to comment on characters being killed off. Let’s just say that in the comic book world anything is possible as far as being killed off or resurrected [he chuckled, as the Phoenix storyline definitely involves a resurrection]. I think the fans will be pleased with the way the characters are handled and the way their story arcs are told.”
Speaking of online rumors, one might wonder how the production staff deals with them – especially considering the number of them floating out in cyberspace. “We try not to get too involved with what’s rumored on the internet, basically because we’re too busy,” he replied. “Anybody that has time to read the internet exhaustively – other than the studio, who looks at it – we just don’t do it. If they ask us to plug the rumor or to discredit it, then we would.”
In trying to name which part of the production impressed him most, Gorder couldn’t narrow it down to one item. He said, “The whole production – this whole undertaking – has impressed me. Every day I’m impressed. We have two huge units going. The second unit is almost like a whole separate movie in itself. You can see out there with the trailers and stuff – it looks like the main unit on an ordinary movie. I’m impressed by the level of expertise, the crew we’ve hired, Brett’s knowledge of big moviemaking and green-screen work.
“We’ve built a section of the Golden Gate Bridge and we have four-story green-screens all around it. When you see production on that scale, and scaffolding, and green-screens four stories high, it’s pretty mind-blowing. This movie is probably the biggest action-oriented movie out of the series. The action scenes are just incredible – like something you’ve never seen before.”
In closing out the interview, we discussed a bit about the inevitable movie tie-ins and toys that will come from “X-Men 3.” There is a particular product that Gorder would admit to looking forward to. In the vein of the oversized Hulk and Thing hands (from their respective movies), fans can all look forward to oversized Beast slippers.
I can already picture my wife rolling her eyes at me as I run around the house in them.
CBR’s coverage of the “X-Men: The Last Stand” set visit is co-produced with help from our friends at Comics2Film.com.
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