Bryan Singer and Quint talk Nazis, Tom Cruise, Terence Stamp, VALKYRIE plus an update on SUPERMAN!!!
Published at: Dec. 11, 2008, 6:45 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a good chat between myself and Mr. Bryan Singer about his upcoming flick VALKYRIE. I haven’t gotten to see his flick, yet, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk with the man about it. I love WW2 stories and I’m a big fan of Christopher McQuarrie’s work, especially his work with Bryan Singer. I’m very excited to see them reteam. They briefly worked on X-MEN, but this is their first full-on collaboration since THE USUAL SUSPECTS.
Add on to that the fantastic cast he’s gathered, and I’m itching to see this one.
We talk a lot about the flick and also look for something very, very interesting comes up around the middle of the interview… We here at AICN have been hearing some rumblings that he’s back on-board with Superman, so I asked him about that. Check out his answer.
Anyway, enjoy the interview! See you on the other side!
Bryan Singer: Hello.
Quint: Hey Bryan, how’s it going?
Bryan Singer: Good, how are you?
Quint: I’m doing very well. So yeah, are you about to hit it pretty big with all this publicity blitz for the movie?
Bryan Singer: Yeah we got New York and then a pretty big, extensive international, so that’s all coming up… like a tidal wave.
Quint: That’s alright, it’s got to be all good if the movie’s there right?
Bryan Singer: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s exciting; I’m excited to show people the movie, so that part… and to talk about it so in that context it’s good. It’s just the international it’s insane because you know it’s like a few places I’ve never been to and I think I’ll be at them for like fifteen hours.
Quint: Yeah, and you have to spend nine of those hours in a room with people and probably the rest sleeping.
Bryan Singer: Yeah or the plane, sleeping on the plane. So it’ll be a more time in the air than on the ground kind of tour, but it’s good there’s a lot of interest in these territories so it’s exciting.
Quint: Well that just means people just want to see the movie so that’s cool. I haven’t seen it yet, they haven’t screened it in Austin but I can tell you that from the moment that it was announced the thing that was the most exciting for me was seeing you re-team with Chris McQuarrie.
Bryan Singer: Oh yeah, yeah…
Quint: I’ve gotten to know Chris a little bit since meeting him when he was promoting WAY OF THE GUN…and we’ve talked occasionally but I just think he’s still one of the most exciting writers out there right now and I can’t wait to see what you guys have kind of cooked up around this story.
Bryan Singer: Well, for us it was incredible because the two of us grew up together in New Jersey. Our parents ran for local office; his father and my mother, in our hometown and Chris and I used to make World War 2 movies in my backyard with stuffed helmets and things both German and American helmets we’d get from the Army Navy store and here we were years later still great friends and on the set with real, extraordinary costumes and amazing casts, real tanks and real planes. Tom Cruise! (laughs)
Quint: Yeah, and you’re not just throwing dirt clods for grenades!
Bryan Singer: No, no dirt clods! We had… in this movie, there’s not a lot of CGI. The CGI is with Tom’s injuries because he’s missing a hand and fingers and things like that, but when it came to the explosive elements to the picture they’re all real. We had live P-40s, we shot with Messerschmitts , Junkers, and hundreds of extras and explosions and all these things and in Berlin mostly, except for a desert sequence we shot here, but most of it or all of it was in Berlin so… we had the authenticity of that so it was all pretty surreal actually.
Quint: So, if you honestly look at it was all that for authenticity purposes or was it because you wanted to play with those toys?
Bryan Singer: I think it was for… (laughs) You know what? Ultimately it looks more real. Still there’s something about certain CG explosions and planes and movement and there’s something about them when they’re CGI that just still looks a little, a little iffy. I mean some things like in SUPERMAN when a jet that size is falling out of the sky you really have no choice, but when it came to these planes, and there’s going to come a time when these World War 2 planes won’t be flying anymore, they’ll just be museum pieces. So, to have that opportunity to maintain that realism was designed to make the film look more realistic.
Quint: I’m completely with you on that. I think it takes extraordinary CGI to be able to not kind of tip the hand, keep the audience from knowing they’re watching an illusion.
Bryan Singer: Yeah. Especially in daylight with and especially with period the things we’ve already seen growing up, a lot of people have grown up with World War 2 movies where a lot of this equipment… everything from THE LONGEST DAY to A BRIDGE TOO FAR, and they’ve seen a lot of this real equipment and to then suddenly to depart from that would be a mistake.
And I will say there was some fun, there’s a sequence which happens inside one of the planes… Instead of putting Tom on a set and shaking it around with a green screen out the window which is how we did most of…
Bryan Singer: …with SUPERMAN, the seaplane, we actually flew up over the German forests in this seventy-year old Junker… Tom, and there was only room for my cinematographer and my A.C., two pilots, Jamie Parker who… this was his first day of shooting as an actor, he plays Tom’s young assistant in the movie, and I had to get a quick lesson on how to do Tom’s makeup.
So we’re in the plane flying a couple hundred feet over the forest and I’m… it’s so hot in the plane and I’m smacking Tom with a sponge trying to dab sweat off his face and it was… we have bloopers somewhere of this… and I got to hand it to… you know he’s such a… was such a sport about my… I will never try to do makeup again. But it was cool to be able to do that, to be in those real aircrafts and yeah…
Quint: How extraordinary is iT to kind of circle back to… here you are dabbing makeup on one of the biggest actors in the world, but doing essentially what you’d probably be doing on these little short movies you were doing with Chris as a kid.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, yeah and in the same spirit, the same working relationship, incredibly collaborative and fun. This is for me, you know I did the film APT PUPIL which touched upon this and the opening of X-MEN which had a concentration camp sequence, so for me this was also like a very cathartic because… I had the German high command, we were in the place… there was… even Hitler, there was everybody so it was everything you could ever want for this kind of movie.
Quint: What was the overall feeling then, because I’m sure you must be balancing having the time of your life with the kind of emotional resonance of being in these places where these men actually lived and worked and…
Bryan Singer: …and died. The thing with Berlin is interesting because it was only re-unified less than twenty years ago so it’s kind of a city that’s been frozen that’s only now growing and there’s a lot of remnants of the past, a lot of buildings pock-marked with bullets from the second world war… and my apartment was next to the plaza where they burned the books…
Quint: Oh really?
Bryan Singer: Yeah, where Humboldt University is. So, as a Jew, and one whom has relatively decent knowledge of the Holocaust, from my growing up as a Jewish kid and also the two films, APT PUPIL and the opening of X-MEN, and knowing a bit about that and then being in the city… were moments that yeah could become a little intense, my feelings about it. Oh I even had lunch with Hitler’s bodyguard!
Quint: Oh really?
Bryan Singer: Yeah, think of that. Also with members of Stauffenberg’s family, with other historians which were incredibly wonderful, but you know here I am with a ninety-one year old man who spent four years next to Adolf Hitler. I didn’t discuss moral issues but…
Quint: Just on a basic level that must have been fascinating because you just really. It’s hard to even think about, but the image of Hitler and the image of what he did and it’s so burnt into our culture, full of iconography, it almost takes it out being real because we see footage, we see movies, we can see his speeches and we can read his books and all that stuff but it’s like there’s just… I don’t know that just kind of blows my mind that you can just sit down and talk with somebody who not only was around when he was doing these things but knew him personally.
Bryan Singer: The second man to walk in the room and see Hitler’s body after he committed suicide… and probably one of five people in the world who actually saw his body before it was rolled up and burned.
Yeah, no it’s… one interesting challenge of the movie, which was important… You know a lot of World War 2 movies are either in black and white or they’re de-saturated to try to approximate the black and white vibe… it’s almost like getting away with making a black and white movie, but not having it be black and white, and it was important in this case to make… because there is a kind of dimension and color that existed then within the architecture of the Reich, as minimalist or as fascist and formal as it was, there’s also a… there are a lot of colors and in looking at a lot of the color films that existed, both motion picture color film and still photography, and examples and swatches of fabric… The look of the film is one… I’m excited about it because it’s a kind of…people will be able to see what Third Reich looked like to the people who lived there when it happened… and that was important visually.
Quint: Now, do you think that people usually go for that aesthetic, the more drowned out colors, because World War 2 was the first war that people, that weren’t there, actually got to see through footage and that’s kind of how…
Bryan Singer: Yeah, and most of that footage is in black and white. The color films from the second World War, particularly the Nazi color films that were shot that are vibrant and Eva Braun’s home movies and a lot of that stuff materialized in the public lexicon much later so people don’t think of the second World War in color.
We had a lot of German books particularly one I found that shows Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair, which was his base of military operations, where the assassination attempt took place, and some of these are photographs that look like they were shot yesterday with a digital camera. Of Hitler with his dog, with Blondie, doing tricks in the snow and… also pictures of North Africa, vivid depictions of this, so this was very important to try and recreate that.
Quint: Hitler And His Dog could be a great punk band name.
Bryan Singer: It is, it is, called BLONDIE.
Quint: Oh, there you go.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, Blondie’s name came from Hitler’s dog which I just only found out like four days ago.
Quint: That’s crazy. Can we talk a little bit about the cast? Because I think you’ve assembled quite an amazing group. Looking at it, the best character actors and actors working today are in the movie. I’m assuming that you had Tom first and that you had to build a cast around him…
Bryan Singer: Yes.
Quint: Since he’s not only the lead actor, a huge star, but also the producer and he’s kind of running the studio…
Bryan Singer: He’s not a producer, no. That’s an important distinction. When he does a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film he’s the producer of the film. In this case he is a studio head, or a participating studio head, and the actor. So, when he worked as an actor he was an actor first, there was no blurring of those two. Chris and I produced the film together, so for us we were kind of the producing element. It’s important to make that distinction because it’s… people are oh like “he’s producer/director”…and the role of a producer is always very different than being a studio head.
Quint: How much creative input did he have in filling the roles around him.
Bryan Singer: That’s mostly, I got to say, Roger Mussenden and myself… and Chris as well but casting is something that I’ve had a pretty good track record with over the years and it’s something I take… probably fifty percent of my job is in casting…
Quint: And in ensemble pieces as well.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, yeah. So, that’s sort of like looking with an X-MEN movie there’s an ensemble of characters that are depicted in fiction, but they already are pre-existing, so there are certain challenges with that. With this film they’re actual characters in history that we have real photographs of and really existed and said things and wrote things and had a significant place in history so that posed an actual…that was very challenging…in thinking about them it’s just a different kind of casting that I had never done before because I had never done a historical film.
Quint: Well let’s go over some of these people… I think far and away, even though I think Branagh is amazing, I love Nighy and Wilkinson’s one of my absolute favorite working actors, but Terence Stamp is one of the main things I’m looking forward to seeing in this movie.Wilkinson and Nighy and Branagh they’re always in movies and Terence Stamp he seems too…not be as prevalent in the films…
Bryan Singer: He chooses the films he does very carefully.
Quint: So how did you get him, what was it like?
Bryan Singer: Well, he and I had met, before I had cast Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in X-MEN, before that was done, I was meeting actors and he had come in and we had a lovely meeting on X-MEN 1 and we really hit it off and spent a couple of hours talking about my favorite films… SUPERMAN, WALL STREET, which I just re-watched last night actually… It’s so cool.
Bryan Singer: So that was where for me it began, loving him as an actor, but also knowing that he had a delightful personality and that we hit it off so when I went to him, made the offer to him to do it, I already had the meeting on X-MEN 1… so he accepted it so based on the material and me, I guess, and so that’s how that came to be.
For me it’s a two fold thing… it’s the person, if they’re really an interesting actor but they’re also, you know, a dick it’s harder to imagine making a movie, particularly this movie I knew was going to be very, very, very challenging and I needed to know that all the cast members would be onboard for the full brunt of it and have a very positive attitude and I knew he was that kind of guy and he was really great to work and told the most amazing stories about William Wyler and about Fellini and would act them out and he’s just fantastic.
We’d just sit there sometimes on set for… and my A.D. kind of looking hovering around me and we’re listening and we’re talking about… and he was in the bombing of London when he was a boy! In fact there’s a scene you’ll see in VALKYRIE where the Staffenberg family goes into their basement because Berlin is being bombed and that sequence was informed by a conversation that I… at least the way that sequence plays out, was informed by a conversation that I had with him about his experiences in the bombing of London, his neighborhood was hit, was one of the first neighborhoods in London that was bombed. Which is incredible, again here’s a person acting in this movie playing General Beck who lived through the second World War but from the other side, and here he is playing a sympathetic German so… it’s kind of cool.
Quint: That’s great. I can’t wait to see him in the movie. Him alone, with Tom Wilkinson who it seems like every movie I see with him he continues to knock me down on just how good he is…
Bryan Singer: He is, he’s great. And he plays a very interesting character and again… a dead on historical sort of interpretation of this character he plays. He plays a character who’s kind of on the fence… like if the assassination attempt goes, he’ll be on their side, if it doesn’t go… well, then he’ll fuck them.
Quint: That sounds kind of like perfect material for him because he can play both. He can play really crazy strong and also very sympathetic. To see him play them both in one story I think going to be really interesting.
So, I’ve heard that there might be some re-interest in SUPERMAN with Warner Bros. Is that true?
Bryan Singer: I couldn’t… you know.. I couldn’t tell you or talk about that at this point. I honestly… I’m just so… at least as far as my role in it is concerned I just need… I just have… this one because we had to drop and pick up on this has been a longer process so… yeah I wouldn’t be able to give you a clear… any clarity on that. (laughs)
Quint: Alright, alright, that’s fine. I think when we talked at COMIC-CON after SUPERMAN RETURNS had come out…you mentioned that you had talked to Stamp about Zod quite a bit… and I remember back when you were talking about that was kind of a fascinating, especially to hear your obvious enthusiasm for it because I’m a big SUPERMAN 2 geek, too. I love Zod and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m really looking forward to seeing how you work with him in VALKYRIE.
Bryan Singer: Well yeah it’s a very different character…
Quint: I imagine! (laughs)
Bryan Singer: A more subdued ailing general, but if anything it was a lovely relationship and when we were doing ADR I almost asked him to give me a “Kneel before Zod!” on the recording and I said “Ok I’m not going to do it! I’m not going to be that guy!” but maybe there’ll be. We not only got along way back when but we actually had a great time working together so… that’s that. And I ended up doing three movies with Ian McKellan, so… and by the end of this movie I think I’ve worked with half of the National Theater.
Quint: Yeah I was going to say the only one missing from the lineup was Sir Ian, but I guess you wouldn’t want to “re-nazi” him after APT PUPIL.
Bryan Singer: Yeah! (laughs) I guess I have this thing for English actors but we have some good…we have Carice van Houten, who is Dutch.
Quint: Yeah, BLACK BOOK was an awesome movie and she was so great in it.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, now that was one night we watched that over at Tom’s house and had… we’re just like… she’s incredible and that was one where both of us, Tom and I together, decided like right there in the room after we ran the movie she’s got to be the girl and Tom’s like “Yup” and we both decided that simultaneously.
Quint: Yeah, it’s going to be another interesting thing. I don’t think I’ve seen her in an English language performance so…
Bryan Singer: I think she did a little of English in BLACK BOOK, she did some Hebrew I think and English, but she can do anything. And also Kretschmann, a few German actors… Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann.
Quint: And you have Eddie Izzard as well, right? I mean, he’s not German but…
Bryan Singer: No, but an authority on history and the Third Reich. He and I could talk history forever. I mean he’s somebody at some point if the subject matter… he can just… he’d probably be much better spokesperson than I would…he’s amazing, and for me being so steeped in the history to have an actor who is also so knowledgeable about the history was exciting for me and he’s a great guy and Bill Nighy is heartbreaking. I felt his performance and his arc of his character is very heartbreaking.
Quint: Great well I mean I’m very much looking forward to the movie. I’m a big fan of the iconography of this war in particular and I think it sounds like you have an incredible team pulled together.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, it was definitely a great team and Tom… and it was very… just to talk about Chris and I again because Chris and I growing up together making movies but Tom’s energy and collaboration… Tom loves movies so much and making them and being part of it and being there. It’s just his energy, like the three of us, it was very much like the “make-up moment” was happening all the time and that was kind of something I hadn’t… it brought me back to the early days.
Quint: Well and it sounds like it’s kind of crucial, too, on a movie as big and complicated as this one was going to be… if you had your lead working against you especially if your lead was also a part of the studio system…
Bryan Singer: I will say… there is some benefits because you can… it’s always unspoken but, definitely when you’re pushing for an extra plane or you’re pushing for an extra hour of shooting… You know, he’ll go the distance, he’ll do anything! He’s used to working for Stanley Kubrick. You know what I mean? I could never ask for as much as Kubrick I’m sure did. So, in that way it was actually very fortunate.
Quint: Yeah I only met him once. I was on WAR OF THE WORLDS for the last day of photography, actually, and Spielberg took me over to meet him. My mind was already blown, just the fact that I was standing there talking to Spielberg, and then he’s like “You should meet Tom.” It was a very surreal day.
Bryan Singer: He is so wonderful. When you’re there in Germany you’re kind of alone… or if you’re me… so I had a lot friends come out and visit and he, I cannot tell you, I cannot speak enough about how cool he is and continues to be to all my friends, no matter who they are.
When we shot out in the desert when we were shooting the desert sequences we camped out every night. We had cookouts and we watched movies and we went walking out into the desert with his kid, his wife and his family was there and a ton of my friends… every single friend who’s met him and hung out with him is so disoriented because they have this pre-existing image and then here he’s this family guy who’s cool and nice and laid back. It’s a pleasure.
Quint: Yeah, my one impression with him was that he was eerily nice. Like almost like he was making fun of me, you know that he was so overly nice.
Bryan Singer: Yeah, no. He is that guy. You keep waiting for another guy to emerge or there’s going to be a (bad) moment and it just doesn’t (happen). It’s like… he’ll have stress, but he genuinely likes people and he likes meeting people and learning about people and it’s genuine. No matter who it is. Unnless he’s in the middle of a scene he’ll talk. And he prefers being on sets so very often when the star would generally go to their trailer, he’ll sit on set and hang and chat.
Quint: I’m sure that means all the difference in the world to the crew as well. I think that’s about all I got, man. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and I look forward to the movie.
Bryan Singer: Alright, and yeah I look forward to seeing you again, and getting into Austin.
Quint: Alright, cool man.
Bryan Singer: Have a good one.
I hope you guys enjoyed the chat. I’ve talked to people who have seen VALKYRIE and they tell me that it’s the goods. I can’t wait!
And interesting non-denial on the Superman rumor. Might be some interesting developments there. I wonder if Chris McQuarrie is still attached as he once was before Singer dropped out initially. I think it’d be great to see those two team up, especially if Singer still intends to do a Wrath of Khan-inspired follow-up. And his track record is good with superhero sequels.
Guess the big weekend is upon us. See you guys on the other side of BNAT!