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Harry talks SUPERMAN RETURNS with Bryan Singer!

Hey folks, Harry here... I did this interview for PENTHOUSE back in March, in fact - it's still on some stands right now, but it's over 30 days since publication, so I now have the right to print the whole interview. The one you'll find in the magazine is actually about 3000 or so words shorter than this. So remember... at this point in the process, Bryan still had quite a bit more to go in post production. And I had not seen the film (technically, I still haven't.) Meanwhile, Check out Jeffrey Wells' Review, as my excitement grows! Here ya go...

Bryan Singer - Hello

Harry Knowles - This is Harry Knowles

Bryan Singer - This is Bryan

Harry Knowles - Hey Bryan, how’re you?

Bryan Singer - Oh, you know – a little under the weather, but I’m doing alright

Harry Knowles - How’d ShoWest go for ya?

Bryan Singer - I guess it went well, I wasn’t there but they tell me it went quite well

Harry Knowles - (giggle) yeah, Eric was up there and says it just looks amazing

Bryan Singer - oh good, oh good, that’s good. We’re just trying to cram, cramming to get these effects ready to get something in there to get a fun extended trailer ready to show there. Yeah, I heard it went really well there, I’m bummed I couldn’t be there, I really love Vegas.

Harry Knowles - Yeah Vegas is a fun place. Ok anyway this interview is for an article I do now for Penthouse, um and I am just going to ask you a few questions to get people jazzed about going to see the movie.

Bryan Singer - Cool

Harry Knowles - So I guess let’s start with, What was it about Richard Donner’s film that made you want to expand upon what he did?

Bryan Singer - I’ve always viewed it as a classic, there’s always movies that are worth remaking because they didn’t quite achieve even in their day a level of sophistication and quality that matched the story they were telling, but in the case of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, not only did I feel that it had that quality in the time that it came out, but in terms of storytelling and character, uh, it maintained it over the decade. So I felt that it was inspiring enough to make a quasi-sequel to, but not remake.

Harry Knowles - Right – What from his (Richard Donner) world are you carrying over into this film?

Bryan Singer - The existence of Superman, the Daily Planet, the pre-existing relationship between Lois Lane and Superman, the existence of Lex Luthor as well as pre-existing conflict between Luthor and Superman. I’m not very specific about what they did and how Superman foiled him, but that certainly happened in the past.

Harry Knowles - I know that you have created a Metropolis, as opposed to just using New York as a substitute, where do you place Metropolis in your imagination in our world?

Bryan Singer - I place Metropolis in the New York area… in a place not unlike Manhattan Island, bordered by – you know those Eastern States and the Coast.

Harry Knowles - Tell me a little bit about Brandon, how you found him and how he’s matured as an actor under your direction?

Bryan Singer - Well, I saw him on previous tapes that he had done, to play other incarnations of the character, but it was in the meeting, while casting, where I connected him to this character in my mind, and I felt literally from that meeting that I had my Superman, even though it was several months later that I officially made the decision and told him.

What he’s brought to the role that is unique is a sense of vulnerability, that very much serves this Superman and story. The world has moved on, Lois Lane has a fiancé and a child and Brandon approached it with more vulnerable place than perhaps George Reeves or Christopher Reeve had embodied the character before. And he grew as any young actor would that was carrying the weight of a huge movie on his shoulders. I tried to give him the trust and freedom and guidance that I offer to every actor, but at the same time I tried to adapt to Brandon’s strengths and allow that to flourish in the character. That’s why the muting is so important.

Harry Knowles - How similar was the discovery of Brandon to the same situation with Hugh Jackman with Wolverine?

Bryan Singer - A little different in a sense that I was already shooting on X-MEN for a month with the understanding that another actor was going to be playing Wolverine and when that actor fell out, It fortunately coincided with Hugh (Jackman) finishing his run of Oklahoma in London and he was able to come out and screen-test for me and I cast him on the spot.

In this instance, it is true there was an absolute forward momentum and commitment to making the picture on the part of both myself and the studio, so the pressure was definitely there to find the guy, but at least I had some lead time to get him in the mind space of the character and also get him in the proper physical shape.

For X-MEN 1, Hugh wasn’t completely prepared and it took a little while to get up to speed. In fact there were some parts where I had to shoot around his body, before he got all ripped up and amazing.

Harry Knowles - I had heard from one person that had seen the film in it’s roughest state that it reminded them of CASABLANCA in a cape and that it’s not so much an action epic, but is more about the relationships between Clark Kent and Lois Lane and Superman – that kind of romantic triangle that involves her being with a guy that’s pretty great already. What made y’all want to go in that type of direction with the story?

Bryan Singer - Well, I think if you look at the entire canon of SUPERMAN, I think you’ll find that ever since the very very beginning, you’ll find that it’s his relationship with Lois Lane has always been at the focus of every single story about SUPERMAN, except for his younger years and even then there was something wonderful about watching their relationship and having the protagonist observe the relationship from a third position, which is basically the position of Clark Kent, who stands almost invisibly next to Lois Lane and watches from his vantage point. There’s something very interesting about that, from a storytelling perspective, it’s more of a detail point, but the essence of SUPERMAN, they’ve always said that behind every great man is a great woman and in the case of SUPERMAN, Lois Lane as an emotional and human anchor for his character is every bit as important as he is. And I felt that to tell a SUPERMAN story, the focus had to be around that relationship. And I guarantee there will be no shortage of action for this sort of large picture, but beneath all that… for lack of a better expression, you know, this will be the closest thing to a chick flick that I’ve ever directed.

Harry Knowles - (laughs) Another phrase people say is that the measure of a hero is often determined by the size or complexity of the villain he faces. I love the genius of casting Keyser Soze as Lex Luthor.

Bryan Singer - (laughs)

Harry Knowles - How has Lex changed from the Gene Hackman incarnation?

Bryan Singer - Well, he’s been in Prison for about 5 years, so he’s a little more pissed off, and I think while there is a measure of humor and whimsical nature that Kevin plays quite wonderfully, but my Lex is a bit more sadistic. I think you’ll find my Lex more sadistic in this picture, particularly when he goes up against SUPERMAN.

Harry Knowles - When you saw the film (Donner’s SUPERMAN) as a kid, you and I are roughly the same ages.

Bryan Singer - Let’s see that would’ve been ’78, and at 75, yeah, I would have been 13.

Harry Knowles - …and I know when we all saw this thing, the whole, “You will believe a man can fly”, just seeing graceful flight sort of touched us, since then effects have sort of become so commonplace, it’s hard to awe an audience these days, and QUINT when he was in Vegas – it was actually a simple thing that touched him, it was SUPERMAN flying through the grand canyons of Metropolis with the people looking up from the street as his cape was flapping… sometimes it’s just simple elements like that that touch someone. Have you the ability to sit back and just sort of go, “WOW, it’s SUPERMAN!”?

Bryan Singer - It’s weird. Well, honestly, I must tell you it came just during shooting, when Brandon, during the first costume test just walked on set and just be standing there. It was just that, in and of itself, because it was SUPERMAN, because he is so indelibly imprinted upon our minds is enough to be very evocative.

Although, there was this one time when Jack Larson (the original George Reeves era Jimmy Olsen) was standing next to me upon the roof of the Daily Planet in Australia and he didn’t participate in the Richard Donner era, so it has been a long time since he’s come face to face with Superman. He came up to my shoulder and said, “There HE is!” And I didn’t I know what he was talking about, and then I saw Brandon and I was like, “Yeah there HE is” He was just taken in. Really I think it was seeing him, ya know, seeing HIM was what was the most evocative aspect of it.

Then with today’s visual effects there are things we can do that are pretty amazing. Sony has had some shots come back that, are all in development ya know, but that show where you would be shocked that you’re seeing a CG person. I was like “Whoa!”, you know where they can reproduce the pores on his tongue, the fibrous hairs on his ears, you know where it’s necessary. And then there was some stuff where it was just wirework, where it just blended in, in such a way that it was just the actor selling it. I think it’s just the fact that you’re just seeing him fly again…

Harry Knowles - a long time…

Bryan Singer - in a good movie? It’s been a very long time.

Harry Knowles - Well in a REALLY good movie, not since the first one. I mean, the second one I’ve always had a fond spot for, I have a print of it in 16mm… and I also have a really long version of the first one that was like the ABC print, that’s got like an extra 40 minutes in it.

I know when I was looking at the production diaries you were doing. The scenes of like, Stephen Bender was in the running rig, there was just something intangible that made me think that that was indeed what it was like to see someone run at super speed would be like. Doing practical effects, what is it about doing it “in-camera” – what is it about that, that just surpasses what is so often done in computers?

Bryan Singer - There’s just a kind of personality and physical realness that you get from scenes you do in camera. And whether it ends up in the movie or just serves as a visual guide for the CG animators is intangible…. It’s just what real people do. And to grow several acres of corn and have stuff and physical leaps and to run using some of the largest and most sophisticated wire rigs built, enables us, and of course there will be enhancements and alterations, but it enables us to… it gives us a framework to build and a realness to what you see on screen, and as a filmmaker. Ya know, I think I have a pretty decent imagination, but it’s really nice when you’ve got physical sets and real actors to play off of, because there’s little things you don’t expect. And invariably, someone will have built something into the set that will inspire a shot or an angle. Invariably an actor will do something interesting that will inspire a scene. Or have an innate talent that will make it.

Harry Knowles - I saw that Warner Brothers has announced that they were heading into development on a SUPERMAN RETURNS sequel, and mentioned that you were attached. Have you really fallen that in love with the Superman world?

Bryan Singer - I love it very much, I can’t say that I’m officially attached yet, we’ve just begun those discussions, but there is certainly an interest in moving forward and the relationship to the experience, though very difficult, of making the film, logistically, at Warners was a really really really good one at Warner Brothers. So the side point is, if they decide they want me, after they’ve seen the film, to do a sequel. We all got along so wonderfully, that the logic says that it makes sense to move forward together on a sequel. Plus there are things that have been layered into the film that would lend themselves to a sequel, much as I did on the X-MEN series. Not saying it won’t be satisfying in the end, it’s not a two parter. But the business part about inking a deal or figuring out a schedule, we haven’t done that specifically yet, nor is there a script.

Harry Knowles - In making these enormous Geek films that are based on the sort of things that the folks at Comic Con and people that read my website get so fluttered over. How do you balance little nods to the histories of the character, to where you don’t end up making a film that becomes a “Where’s Waldo” experience, where the Audience is distracted by just trying to spot stuff instead of following the story…

Bryan Singer - There’s a constant, not being too nostalgic for my own good, is what I call it. If it serves the story and it works, it’s nice to go for it so that a fan can enjoy it. Like, I love seeing Noelle Neil sitting on the train in the original SUPERMAN THE MOVIE. But if it sticks out like a sore thumb and you can’t cut it out? CUT IT OUT, put it on the DVD! But I’m trying, as I did with the X-MEN, I’m trying to make a film that will be, that Superman fans will do that balancing act where too many inside jokes don’t really help me for that group that isn’t really familiar with them. Unlike X-MEN – most everybody knows SUPERMAN, they know he has an “S” and a cape and they know he flies, they may not know anything else, but they know at least that. The X-MEN while it has a huge following, it’s still is a specific audience. With SUPERMAN it’s a balancing act and I have to deal with the same kind of worries about fans and etc. What bothers me is that Alex Ross’ interpretation of SUPERMAN is so exquisite and so amazing and people look at how I’ve suited Brandon and see it as such a departure and what kills me is that in my mind in spite of the “S” being smaller and raised and the character being younger or whatever… In the terms of the essence of what I see in the comic series, I see myself respecting it. But I’m respecting it in a cinematic context in a way that works for Brandon on film together.

Harry Knowles - To me the whole Hullabaloo over the “S” being on the belt buckle or the size of the Superman Shield “S” on the chest, if you remember I never had a problem with that.

Bryan Singer - Yes

Harry Knowles - Ya know that there was always a part of me that missed the X-MEN’s real costumes. It’s always going to be there for me, and I know they might be incredibly silly if adapted, but when I saw the SUPERMAN… given the history of this film… and from when you came aboard it became an entirely new film from what had been in development at Warner Brothers for 15 years. From there, Jon Peters was talking about getting rid of the cape, make it a black costume, make it where Superman can’t fly. Ya know, all that kind of stuff. Personally, I can’t really imagine people griping.

Bryan Singer - By the way, I’m not totally sure that was up to Jon Peters. I know Jon and I talked to him about that personally, because I deal with him quite a lot and he’s really quite sweet and I asked him about all that stuff and the problem is he does no press, he just sort of stays out of the limelight and he’s never really had a chance to defend himself, but he’s like, “I don’t know what these people are talking about. There were aspects in the early development,” but he never defends himself…

Harry Knowles - Well, I believe almost all of that came strictly out of Kevin Smith when he departed from the project.

Bryan Singer - You never quite know, I’ve never talked to Kevin about this, but it is… but I do have access to everything that has come before and there are certainly some… -interesting- costume tests that were done. That I have been privy to and I (laughs)

Harry Knowles - Yeah, I’ve seen some of those too. (laughs)

Bryan Singer - (laughing) But if you were standing there on set and Brandon were to walk in, in that suit you’re like, “Whoa, that’s SUPERMAN.” You feel it, it took a lot… looking at models, body casts – and I went through various sizes of this and styles of that and this one was the one that the gut tells you “This is SUPERMAN” – On set I had a friend there during one of the costume tests and he just turned around and he felt like he had just met SUPERMAN.

Harry Knowles - Well even when he was up at ShoWest and Quint sat down to interview him, that when he shook Brandon’s hand that his enormous mitt swallowed Quint’s hand, to Quint, who is 6 foot tall, but he could have swore that Brandon was at least a foot taller than him, just with how he holds himself. That he just has a stature about him. Quint really felt he had met Clark Kent.

Bryan Singer - He is Clark Kent. That’s just his nature. My first meeting with Brandon at the Coffee Bean on Sunset, he was like… “Hey you wanna go eat outside there’s a table out there,” and he stood up and up and up and up, and I was like, you know when you meet with an actor – you’re looking for things to rule them out, like ok, this doesn’t work or that’s weird or that doesn’t photograph or that’s not going to be right or personality. But with every minute we talked it was apparent that this was a unique individual.

Harry Knowles - I’d also like to thank you for casting the sexiest Lois Lane since the Fleischer Animated Superman era.

Bryan Singer - Oh thanks, yeah she comes off like a real 40’s movie star, like she’s Katherine Hepburn, it’s really amazing… and she’s YOUNG! She’s young, and the moment she walked on that set and picked up that kid, you know you’re like, this is a Mother and she isn’t as happy as the rest of the world is about this guy’s return. Yet when you take her out to dinner, she’s like a kid again! She’s really unique, like she’s a machine.

Harry Knowles - Kate’s really picked some interesting roles, when she started off in her swimsuit movie, but then seeing her in that John Holmes picture with Val Kilmer was just so startling. You could see she wanted to be an actress and not one of those teen twitters that you see thrown in so many other films.

Bryan Singer - Well, she was very much to be nervous about this, because she didn’t really expect to throw herself into a role that would afford her such instantaneous visibility on such a wide level so quickly and so early in her life, and it took a lot of trust for her and a lot of trust in me, for her to take this leap. And she’s incredibly trusting, but it was kinda fun, cuz sometimes I’d throw things at her, pieces of direction during the process at her and she was like, “Keep them coming.” It was really nice. Kevin Spacey had told me it’d be that way, because he had directed her in BEYOND THE SEA.

Harry Knowles - …And she was wonderful in that. What’s Frank Langella like as Perry White.

Bryan Singer - In an effort to not duplicate what was done in SPIDER-MAN ( with J. Jonah Jameson), he plays more of a controlled and centered editor. He cares about Lois Lane, but he cares about his newspaper and he’s very much a cross between a boss and a father figure. Since his nephew is engaged to Lois, he has a kinda special connection to Lois, but he’ll never show it because of the work place.

Harry Knowles - That’s a nice take on the character. Tell me a little bit about Kitty Kowalski and Parker Posey in the pic.

Bryan Singer - To say it was not born of the Miss Tessmacher era would obviously be deception. But behind every great villain there needs to be a great villainess, and my impression of her is that I don’t know how much she really likes Lex, but I think she’s in it for the long con. She’s just gonna wait and see how much she can get with this guy and then she’s on to the next. But she certainly is another level of humor in there. They really pull off of one another really well. You know, they’re certainly the odd couple so to speak. And they create a nice humorous synergy when you’re with the two of them.

Harry Knowles - What do you hope kids take away from this SUPERMAN?

Bryan Singer - Um. Kids. Um. Principally, I hope they… (giggle) I hope they… (giggle) I hope they take themselves to the ticket (giggle) counter and buy a ticket. (giggle) I hope they take their friends! That’s my answer. (giggle) I guess. I hope they think Superman is still cool.

Harry Knowles - Who are you making this one for?

Bryan Singer - This one is for Everybody. And I really mean it. This comic has been around since 1938, this one is for everybody and I don’t say that in a pandering way, there’s some moments where you know you can’t please everyone, but really this film is for everybody. I want grandparents to be able to take their grandkids to go see this movie. I think with what people see on TV, that if it gets a little intense, they can be ok. I like that it can be a real date movie.

Harry Knowles - I assume since you’re doing a SUPERMAN movie as opposed to a BATMAN movie, that you prefer SUPERMAN as a character, what is it about SUPERMAN that makes you involved as somebody, who frankly is a more complex filmmaker than is ordinarily assumed to be interested in this genre.

Bryan Singer - I identify with Superman more than I have with other superheroes, I think. Like in the sense that he was adopted and I was adopted. He was an only child and so was I. He was not raised by a particularly wealthy family and I was not. Batman was. Superman has the kind of idealism and he comes to the big city with a certain measure of idealism and he gets ignored and abused sometimes, but he carries with him a certain potential and an understanding of that potential and he keeps it close to his belt. I like that character. I identify with that character more than let’s say Bruce Wayne, who is a wealthy heir, who is suffering a tragedy. I was actually raised by wonderful parents and I’m very lucky. And yet I wonder, I am adopted, ya know, you wonder where you came from. Plus he’s SUPERMAN, he doesn’t need a bunch of equipment. Bullets bounce off him, not a suit. Not that I’m dissing Batman, I love Batman, I grew up with Batman, but Superman is Superman.

Harry Knowles - Exactly, Talk a bit about John Ottman’s score

Bryan Singer - When he brought me the first 30 minutes of the score, 80% of what I heard was flawless, just go right to orchestration and 20% of what I heard I gave notes on. It’s really wonderful. What’s great is that he’s not afraid to incorporate John Williams’ music in appropriate areas, including areas where I didn’t expect it. Which was kinda nice actually.

Harry Knowles - What kind of score do you feel it is shaping up to be?

Bryan Singer - A Classic Score but with a modern edge. That’s why we temped with a number of movies including the original Superman, but we also temped with score from more modern pictures. Typical Bryan Singer movie in terms of orchestral score.

Harry Knowles - How’d that GENESIS camera work out for you?

Bryan Singer - I love it, it’s tricky in the grading. I’ve seen the film out on 5 of the reels and I’ve seen the Direct Image (D.I.) of two of the reels, which is the direct digital incarnation of the film, which is what you’d see in a digital theater if you went to one to see the film. I’m over the moon. If I were going for a specific look on something smaller, I’d go with film, but I’ll use GENESIS on my next film. The thing about the camera is it’s all based is its all about the lenses, the actual optical quality. It’s literally all about the equipment and the lenses. The chip itself is revolutionary and the amount of information and resolution it can hold. But the lenses… the same lenses that I shot APT PUPIL and X-MEN 2, not X-MEN 1, cuz that was anamorphic, but X-MEN 2 – a little bit of trivia for whatever it’s worth. The same exact lenses that I used those two are the same lenses I used on SUPERMAN RETURNS. Not the same “type” of lenses, but the actual lenses themselves. They’re held on retainer by Jimmy Jensen, my focus puller, he keeps them on retainer for me and Panavision and nobody uses them but Jimmy. So, it’s kinda interesting because there’s a kind of familiarity in terms of the image that translates and the CCD chip is the size and shape of a 35mm film strip, the images being laid down look the same equivalent as opposed to the previous digital camera strips which offered the primary color strips without getting very technical. It’s a pretty exquisite film and if you’re watching it digitally it looks like you’re watching a 70mm film.

Harry Knowles - How quickly are you going to go into LOGAN’S RUN?

Bryan Singer - Uh, I’m debating that now. I don’t know, I couldn’t tell ya.

Harry Knowles - I know that every film that I’ve known you to go through, these movies take a lot out of you.

Bryan Singer - They do.

Harry Knowles - I often hear about your back problems and just exhaustion issues… would you rather shoot something small or just take time off?

Bryan Singer - I don’t know, I’m just so under the weather now and I still have to go to work this afternoon and if I don’t the work just won’t get done, so I’ve got to do it. I just don’t know, I’m doing what I’ve always done and am just playing it by ear and seeing how I feel. There’s a part of me that would love when I feel full of energy to jump into a movie and then when I’m swamped I say I’m going to take a year off, direct an episode of TV show HOUSE, ya know, I love that, I’ll spend more time on that. I’ll produce another mini-series, I’ll direct a show pilot, I’ll do commercials. I love shooting commercials, I’ve shot 40 of them. Or I’ll do a smaller movie. But a smaller movie has to be for heart, it has to be really special to me. I’m reading scripts, usually I develop my own, I haven’t found that. And the LOGAN’S RUN script is actually shaping up really well and there’s a lot of great advance work done on it. The issue becomes scheduling and feasibility, so as of right now I’m in no physical or mental position to comment on it. I think about it, but I just don’t know what to do about it yet.

Harry Knowles - Well I’m very much looking forward to SUPERMAN, you may have noticed that I haven’t been as critical on this one as I was when you were doing X-MEN. The reason being was the entire future of the Superhero Genre was kind of resting on the shoulders of that film and you weren’t getting the best cooperation and support from the studio. On this one Warner Brothers has seemed to turn a corner in their commitment to filmmakers and their stories and I just think you’re in an ideal position to make a great movie.

Bryan Singer - Yeah, but all the more reason why I feel… actually, I’m very proud of the picture so I feel a sense of confidence in the movie. But going into it there was ten times the pressure, with X-MEN it could have been anything. Ya know. Nothing had been done, at least somebody got it off the ground at least. But here with SUPERMAN, one I’m a SUPERMAN fan myself and two, it’s hard to do one type of comic book movie, now you think you can do two types. There’s a lot of ways that people can lock & load and point at this movie. I wouldn’t have been prepared to make it had I not done the first two X-MEN movies. On the same token, it’s still the same level of pressure because it is Superman. Yeah, I feel it’s been an ideal situation, but nonetheless but it still is SUPERMAN! I’m proud and it’s cool, but now I’m just jamming to get digital effects where they need to be. Though there’s some stuff I’ve seen that’s just very cool.

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