In December of 2005, CBR News (along with other journalists) had the opportunity to visit the set of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and sit down for a Q & A session with Director Brett Ratner and actors Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Halle Berry (please be sure to read Part One of this interview for more context!).
During the second part of this Q & A, we discussed many aspects about the film, including an item which is central to the film’s plot – a “cure” for mutants. Comic book fans who have read Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” should be familiar with this concept, as part of the series was used as source material for the script.
This idea led to an interesting – and at times, almost heated – discussion in parts of the Q & A. Why? Read on to find out…
MODERATOR: Brett, you referenced political issues, and I’m intrigued that chief among them in this story is something that really triggers something that’s massive in the X-Men universe – and that’s the notion of a “cure.” If you don’t want to be a mutant, you don’t have to be. And this triggers all sorts of upheavals in the X-Men and the Brotherhood, and it seemed to me that when I read the script, each character has a different reaction. Maybe we can talk about that. Ian, starting with you…
Ian McKellen: Marvel will tell you that they like X-Men more than any of their other titles because it appeals specifically to three groups – the demographic is young blacks, young Jews and young gays. They identify themselves [with these characters] more than most – although perhaps all teenagers consider themselves “mutants” in that they are perhaps ill-treated by the rest of society for a time, for no good reason. And as a gay man, the idea that someone might come along with a cure…
Brett Ratner: You’re gay? I had no idea! [General laughter]
IM: Well, there aren’t many of us in Hollywood… [More laughter] But there are people who think gay people can be cured. So my reaction to the idea that I can be cured as a mutant is as contemptuous as my view of people who think I need curing because of my sexuality. The idea that black people could take a pill that would cure them of being black is absolutely abhorrent to me. I’d like to hear of any character in this film who thinks that this cure is a good idea, but there are some. And they argue the case. It’ll get you worked up, this movie, and so it should, because I don’t think people should be cured of their God-given nature.
BR: And it was that idea alone, when I first met with Hugh, that I said, “The core of this idea is what I’m excited about – it’s why I think this script takes it to a whole new level.” I don’t know who came up with it – I guess it goes back to the comics, obviously – but the idea of the cure in this film really helps make this third film just miles ahead of the last two, because every single character in this movie will have an opinion – and will have a reason for it or against it – and it motivates a lot of the plot. It’s a fantastic device and concept…
IM: And some people get cured and get changed, but of course, we don’t know with this cure being a new thing, how long it’s going to last. Probably not as far as “X-Men 4,” I hope. [Laughter]
Halle, what about Storm’s view on this?
Halle Berry: Well, I echo everything Ian said. Being a black woman – a woman of color – I think that’s been an issue I’ve struggled with my whole life: feeling like, when I was a child, if I could change myself, somehow my life would be invariably better. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with what nonsense that is and this movie certainly adds light to that dark subject. So I echo everything Ian said…
BR: Storm in my opinion, and I think Halle agrees, is one of the X-Men who is most opposed to the use of the cure. And when you see the passion that these characters have for the subject matter, it totally motivates each individual’s plight and their angst. Every scene that happens in this movie is motivated by their opinion on this subject, so the plot is fantastic in my opinion.
Hugh Jackman: I’m going to be devil’s advocate because we – the studio, everyone involved – have had fights over certain characters who are offered the cure and voluntarily take it, while some don’t. I won’t say which character because I don’t want to give away the plot. But we just – for example, we’re talking about someone like Rogue, right? Now Rogue, as amazingly powerful as she is, lives a potentially very lonely life – never being able to touch anyone, never being able to have a physical relationship, never being able to have children, to be married. Now, as politically abhorrent as something like the cure is, it’s also humanely, socially, and incredibly understandable that a character like that would take it.
Now for Wolverine – he’s not a political beast in any way shape or form. And in the process of this movie, I think he starts as someone with very little opinion about the cure, except for what it means for him: “If you wanna take the cure, you take the cure. If you don’t, whatever. I don’t give a shit. You do what you want to do. I’m gonna do what I wanna do.” And he’s forced, in the course of this movie, to actually work out what the cure is – politically, socially. And what his view on it is, because the cure ends up being the source of the battle that is going on and which side you’re on – you have to eventually take a side. And that’s what I think is great about this story, you know – for Wolverine, he works it out.
IM: But you’d have to say on the matter of Rogue that it isn’t necessarily her particular mutancy that’s her problem, it’s other people’s reaction to it. And maybe it’s society that’s wrong, not her. And the last thing you should do is to try and cure her. The first thing you should do is try and help her, if she wants it. And there are ways of helping people who are handicapped, rather than giving them extra limbs or forcing them to be what we think of as normal.
But that’s the argument – one of the many arguments that’s in this movie, along with all these amazing effects and great humor that the characters somehow manage to have through thick and thin, as well as all the glamour of the story and all the bigness of it. I’m just very, very pleased that we can be certain that some young people – and maybe older ones too – take comfort from this story because they think it’s actually addressing something that’s important to them, even though it’s in this fantastic world of ridiculous costumes and everything else. That, I guess, is X-Men and that’s why we like it.
How are the costumes this time around?
BR: They’re the same, with some enhancements…they’re “in the world.” There are some new characters, and they obviously have some new costumes, but otherwise…and that’s when I have to pinch myself – when I have all the X-Men in one room and they’re in their X-suits. And the villains – I mean, the X-suits don’t go too far out, but the villains…when Magneto’s in his cape and helmet and [Juggernaut’s] in his helmet, I’m like, “This is so bizarre!”
I stop for a second [when I see these costumes], but then I realize…what’s brilliant about this movie and this franchise is that it’s all based in reality. My approach to every scene is that this is really happening – this is really going down. It’s important to me to capture the essence of that. In the performance and in the decision of the sets, the props – every single choice informs that: real, real, real…
These are real characters – this is really happening because the audiences believe that, and they want to believe it. We’re creating the reality within that frame, and that’s the way I approach every scene. For example, we were here last night figuring out that the nuance of how to throw a punch or take a step forward because it’s based in reality. It’s debated and believe me, I have a lot of work on my plate because these actors definitely have an opinion.
They’re not just letting me create my own reality. They’re saying, “You know what? Magneto wouldn’t do that!” Or I’ll say, “But wait, Magneto would do that, or wouldn’t do that…” – but I have to give a reason why he would or wouldn’t, so there’s a lot of challenging (each other), but it’s to better the performance and to better the movie. There’s no egos involved. Everyone wants to make a great film.
It’s the best bunch of actors I’ve ever worked with, and they really care. It’s important to them – their characters are important, from Pyro to Rogue – every person. I call them by their names, not really by accident, because when I’m looking at them, I’m looking at Magneto…and I really believe he’s Magneto. And the same with Storm and Logan.
Is it easy to slip back into these roles this time round? Or is it always a challenge?
HJ: Easier than the second. But there’s always a moment. I said to Brett in the first week, “Let’s just go through it. Can I watch the monitor with you?” And Brett was great at the beginning, and it wasn’t until our third day until I went, “There it is.” [Smacks fist on table] I don’t think all the stuff we did on the first three days was useless, but it took a few days – just putting [Wolverine] back on for me.
Halle, you did all your own flying?
HB: Yes. All the wirework, spinning. I know it seems like a little thing, but I’ve been saying this since I started this movie, “I just wanna fly!” Storm flies in the comic book and I’ve worn the cape for two movies now and never used it. [Laughter all around]
It seems like a trivial thing, but it really is part of her power and part of what her mutation is. It’s nice to be able to get to use that talent and that gift in a real profound way that helps my fellow characters. I never got to really use the beauty of what Storm does. She used to fly a plane, but she never got to show what she could really do, so that’s been fun for me as an actor. I love all the physical work that I get to do in these kinds of movies.
BR: And the way we incorporate [the flying] into the storyline, it’s not just, “Watch Storm fly now.” It’s part of the plot. And we have Simon Crane, who’s one of the best second unit directors in the world, who’s been shooting some of the most fantastic action sequences with these guys. I’ll look at the dailies at the end of every day and I’ll be shocked. I don’t know why Halle actually does [the flying herself], because no one’s going to believe it’s her anyway. They’re going to be, “Oh, it’s not her!” So why do you even waste your time? [Looks at her, smiles, and shakes his head]
But there was this thing where Storm has to…it’s an action piece, but she’s up in the air. She’s hovering, and she literally – to create a tornado effect – she actually spins. She’s on a wire, or a rope or something, and she must have done, like, eighty-seven turns from here to that wall. [Gestures to a wall 50 feet away] And then the camera stops, and she’s like, “Wooah.” [Dizzily]
HB: And here’s the thing, they say, “Okay, we’re done, walk back to your trailer!” And I’m walking back, walking back…Blargh! [Mimes vomiting, laughs] It’s really embarrassing!
BR: It’s like Jackie Chan doing his own stunts – Halle Berry’s doing her own stunts in this movie. And when I saw the scenes – the actual execution of it – Simon Crane’s brilliance [was clear], because all the action is not just action for action’s sake, it’s motivated by the plot. It’s driving the story forward and it’s showing off the powers of these characters.
It’s using Wolverine’s claws in a clever way to jump down a building. The same way Jackie Chan would use this [grabs a bottle of water in front of him] in a fight, they’re using his claws [on a metal wall] to break a fall, and there’s sparks. It’s really thought-out. It’s not just, “Okay, let’s just have him swinging his claws around.” It makes sense, and it’s all motivated. And all the pieces are working. I’m really happy with all the action stuff. But the truth is, the heart of this movie is the fact that there’s a small story within the big film, which is really the relationships between these characters. And that’s why I love this film.
It sounds like you’re taking a lot of story from Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run. Are there any other comic sources or parts from other books that you’re using in this movie and if so, which ones? And also, a question for the actors – do you ever actually pick up the comic books to use as reference for your character?
BR: That’s a tricky question for me…if you ask me what comic book issue [story points] refer to, I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that every single scene in this movie [has some roots in the comic]. [Screenwriters] Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg are fanatical “X-Men” fans, and if I ask them, “Well, where the hell did you get this idea from?” They’ll pull out “X-Men” #127 and have a photocopy of it for me. In my office here, before I actually shot, there’s a reference of every single scene in this movie from a comic. And I thought some of it was made up! And the execution of the script is so brilliant.
You know how they have a category in the Academy Awards for Screenplay and then… what is it? Adapted Script from another piece of source material? That is the hardest thing to do – an adaptation. Because the complexity of taking something from a comic that exists…and to put it into script form where it works in the movie universe is not an easy thing to do. That was an incredible education for me: to look at the scene the way it existed – for instance, the cure in the comic – and then how it manifests itself in script form…it really informed my approach to it.
Whether it be a detail of one frame of that comic that had something visual in it, it really helped me tell that story. And I think they did a brilliant job of taking those references – and if you ask me specifically which comic books, I can’t tell you that – but to take it from the comic and put it into script form…it’s all credible. It’s all from a comic book source.
HJ: As for using them as reference, I was looking at the comic books again and I said, “I think I’ve gotta develop Wolverine’s fighting style.” Because I took a bar-brawling, not fancy, just messy dirty kinda Mike Tyson style approach [in the last film]. I was looking at the comics, and he stays lower, more in his legs, so we’ve incorporated that. I’ve worked with Simon Crane and the stunt guys to develop that. So, when you ask “do I look at the comics?” I do.
Is there any Wolverine comic or tale that you (Hugh Jackman) are particularly fond of?
HJ: “Origins” is my favorite. I love it. No wait – “Weapon X” is my favorite, actually. [Smiles]
Could you introduce us to the new actors – the new characters?
BR: Can I introduce them to you? They’re not here right now. [General laughter] Well, am I allowed to? [Looks to a Fox representative nearby] Yes? Juggernaut? I don’t know…I had to sign, like a 100 page document before I walked in this room [saying I wouldn’t spoil facts from the film].
Juggernaut, played by Vinnie Jones, is a fantastic character. Just a great actor and a great guy to be on the set with. And he joins Magneto’s crew. I won’t tell you how, but Magneto picks him up along the way and he becomes part of the Magneto crew.
And there’s Kitty Pryde, who is an X-Man and had very small parts in the first two movies. We decided in this version to expand that character, and that’s Ellen Page – a brilliant young actress who’s done mostly done independent films. She was in this brilliant film coming out soon called “Hard Candy.” She has a bunch of scenes with everybody.
Well, Beast…you know, I can’t take credit for casting Kelsey Grammer, but I’ve gotta tell you, now that he’s put that costume on, I don’t see another actor who could play that part better than him. Kelsey Grammer was probably born to play Beast and not Frasier. [Laughs] His intelligence – as a person, as an actor – his voice [speaks in a booming voice] and the way he’s personified…when I see Kelsey Grammer, I get freaked out on the set because it’s not him [in my eyes] – he’s Beast. [It’s like] he’s been cured temporarily during the day. So he’s fantastic.
All the new characters – what I’ve done really is kept within…I somewhat kind of…put my essence into…took Bryan Singer and put him into me…I don’t know if I said that properly. [Shakes head, general laughter]
I said, “Okay, if Bryan was directing this movie, who would he hire?” And I was very careful, and it wasn’t because I wanted to make sure he was happy with the movie when he sees it – even though I care what he thinks, because I do respect his work – but that I didn’t want to, all of a sudden, have something like, “Where did that come from?”
Because you can’t complain about Ian McKellen – because he was in the first two – as well as Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry. [So the question becomes], “What did Brett bring to this movie as far as new actors and characters?” So I was very careful in choosing the new characters – the new actors – for the new roles and making sure it was within the [story’s] universe, and it wasn’t like, “Brett was catching butterflies over there while he was also casting this film.”
There are some other evil mutants…well, we refer to them as “muties.” I don’t want to give you their names, because it’s not official right now, but there’s muties that join Magneto. A very talented young actress by the name of Dania Ramirez – who is one of Spike Lee’s muses, or favorite actresses – and I’ve put her in this film and she’s fantastic. And… who else?
BR: Angel! Oh my god! That was such a hard thing. Every handsome, gorgeous young actor came in and wanted the part. Even Ed Norton, who I worked with on “Red Dragon,” called me and goes, “I wish I wasn’t in China right now making a movie. I want to play Angel!” It’s like everyone’s favorite character. And for me, the important thing was to get a great actor.
In the comic, he’s kind of drawn as a beautiful, angelic – which makes sense – guy, but I wanted to go for the guy who personified…Angel is a pretty tormented character, and one of the most powerful scenes – emotionally – in this movie is with Angel. I saw hundreds of actors and Ben Foster came in and stole the part. He was just, like, “I am this guy.” And I believed him, and he’s done a fantastic job acting out the complexity of Angel. Because you could have been safe and just had a beautiful young man who can spread his wings and fly, but there’s more to it than that.
These characters and these actors have a lot of dimension and you need an actor that can bring that dimension to the role, and Ben Foster definitely did it. He’s worked out harder than…this guy’s like Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull.” This guy works out, like, twelve hours a day and his body – he’s just completely transformed himself for this part. They’re heavy wings, you can’t just be a skinny little Jewish kid and carry them on your back. You’ve got to have some muscle – you have to put some mass on, so he’s devoted to the part.
A question for the actors: you’ve been in this series all along. You’ve established a chemistry with each other, and know how the ensemble works. What’s it like when new people like Kelsey come along?
HJ: Ah, it’s fantastic. I did a little phone interview today and someone said, “All the cast are back. That’s really unusual…” And I said, “Yeah, I suppose it is, especially considering no one had to come back. It’s not contractual that anyone had to come back. Everyone wanted to be here.”
Because as Ian and Brett were saying, we’re all proud of it. I’m incredibly proud of what had been created in X1 and 2. And I think X1 forged the way for comic book movies – you guys probably know better than me – but it seems like it broke new ground and has really laid the groundwork for “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” etc. which has come along. And it was done by making a character-based movie. It’s an ensemble piece, and every character matters, and the relationships matter.
And we’re all actors who love working with actors. When I first auditioned, and there was Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart [involved with the film] – I mean, I was a student of theatre, so for me it was like De Niro and Pacino. [I thought to myself], “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” And to have Halle Berry and Anna Paquin – all these people – it was amazing. And so, there’s certainly no sense of, “We’re the club and new people want to come in…”
We’re incredibly lucky to have a series that’s successful and great actors want to come on board; and [to even have] great actors auditioning and great actors not even getting parts! Really, we’re very lucky and every actor that comes on board – I don’t think they feel ostracized. I hope not. Although Wolverine gives them shit! [Laughs]
BR: It’s exciting for me, because yesterday, for instance, Magneto and Beast had their first scene together, and I didn’t realize that. Because I’ve seen a lot of Beast, and a lot of Ian, and then, all of a sudden, they see each other and it’s like, “Hello!” And it’s so exciting, because they’ve never been together before. So every day is a new day on this movie. It’s fun for me watching it. It’s like when you’re in love with a girl and you can’t wait to tell her about your day – it’s like I can’t wait to get to the set to direct these actors. So for me, it’s like a dream come true…
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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