Bryan Singer Interview

The director talks about casting the Man of Steel, "working" with Marlon Brando and making the film with Richard Donner's blessing

Bryan Singer is a director who not only knows what comic book mavens want to see, he also respects what they expect from the iconic characters that populate the films gleaned from those stories. As the man behind such loved movies as The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men films, it should surprise nobody that he took the long stagnating idea of another Superman movie and turned it into Superman Returns. Receiving a standing ovation for the upcoming film's trailer at last years Comic-Con in San Diego and riding a bevy of good press, this franchise seems on the verge of receiving a jolt of Spider-Manesque proportions.

You seem to have a great reverence for what came before with this film?

Bryan Singer: I learned a lot of that doing the X-Men films. That there's a certain kind of history that came before me and that will live long after me. It's kind of my responsibility as a custodian of Superman, that I have to be respectful of that. And yet at the same time, I try to bring some of my own point of view to the character, but I'm not in any way trying to reinvent the wheel. I'm just trying to reinvigorate it.

What are some of the questions you keep hearing?

Bryan Singer: (Laughs) Lets see... "Why an unknown?" Well, I've always viewed

Superman as kind of larger than the actor. I think if a known actor, if a famous actor, were to play the role of Superman it would be such and such as Superman. It was always my intention to cast an unknown in the role. He kind of has to feel like he stepped out of your collective consciousness or memory of who that character is. A large part of that consciousness is the cartoon, the George Reeves television series, the Christopher Reeve portrayal, Smallville and just an overall image of Superman that everyone has in their head. Which is different, yet, I have to somehow find.

How did you find Brandon Routh?

Bryan Singer: I'd looked at some previous tapes that he had done. I looked at a lot of guys on tape. For me, it's very much in the meeting. I can't say casting is my favorite part of my job but I've developed a bit of knack for it over the years. I've had a lot of success with lesser known actors in central roles in my films. So I don't shy away from it. In the case of Brandon, we met in a coffee shop right before I was flying to Australia to a location scout, and I kind of rule out things in the first few minutes of meeting somebody. "Okay, this is not gonna be the guy." And then little by little in the conversation and our interaction, in what I could glean from his personality, his character and his voice and general appearance, he would embody this role. I could mine aspects of his own personality that corresponded with the way I saw Superman for this movie.

Was it easy getting access to the Brando material?

Bryan Singer: Yeah, Mike Medavoy is the representative of the Brando Estate so we negotiated with him and they were very generous to allow us to use it. There was a lot of trust involved in the fact that I would use it respectfully. It was very thrilling once we had that access to go through the ADR sessions, and to look at all that footage that Donner had done and it was pretty extraordinary. I saw some amazing Brando bloopers.

Was anyone worried about how Brando might feel about having his voice resurrected?

Bryan Singer: I did, very much so. In looking at the way Brando presented himself, particularly in the latter years of his life, I had to go with my gut and think that he would find it very amusing. I thought, he would want some money for it, that would be the case but certainly would find the ultimate use of it amusing. I think he cyberscanned his body for a video game. He'd be fascinated about the idea of playing a scene with Kevin Spacey, almost from the grave. It's something that his sense of humor, from what I sensed, would have been amused but I can only go with my gut.

A few years ago, Richard Donner didn't seem to think too highly of making another Superman film. Have you talked with him about your film? Has he seen it?

Bryan Singer: Oh yeah, it is with his blessing that this movie is made. I discussed the notion of making it about three years ago in a hotel room in Austin, TX with he and his wife Lauren who produced the X-Men films. And I said, "What would you think of me doing a Superman movie?" And his initial reaction was, "I'd love that. You would be great for that. What would you do?" I said, "Well, I wouldn't retell your movie. I think it's a classic. I would tell a return story." And then we started to talk about it in this hotel room for about an hour and I kind of pitched him my idea. "Superman would be gone, he could be on a farm, he could be anywhere. And then he comes back into his life and things have moved on. Lois Lane has moved on. That's really all I was thinking at that moment, what would you think about that?"

And he thought that it was the greatest idea and very happy and without him saying that to me in that hotel room, I would not have pursued this. I have a great respect for fellow filmmakers, particularly Richard Donner, and since then he's been awesome. I got my first congratulations when I signed on to do it, was a fax I got from him. We talk from time to time and I just ran into him and he showed me some of his recut of Superman 2 which was really cool.

Did you see X-Men 3? You think you might ever return to it?

Bryan Singer: I don't know about that, returning to it. I went opening night to the Chinese to see it and I actually ran into Brett Ratner who's like an old friend of mine. We've talked from time to time so, originally it was kind of odd, but going into the movie I felt more comfortable about the whole experience. Knowing Brett and still being friends with the cast... but the movie is very challenging to balance all those characters. And then to be introducing new characters, which you are obligated to do when you make an X-Men film, with each of them. So, ultimately I was extremely impressed. Particularly, not having been there from the beginning. Brett came in and actually accomplished it. It was actually a really fun and good experience for me.

How hard was it to get Superman's "package" right?

Bryan Singer: The notion that it was changed digitally after the fact is ultimately one of those silly kind of rumors. We don't really have the budget or the money to be changing every single shot even if there was a problem with it. By the same token, there is a lot of discussion when you're designing the actual suit, about it. In one respect, you don't want to be obvious but in another respect he's Superman. So, there's gotta be something there. We did discuss it, we had some screenings of the costume tests in a theater, back and forth and the chairman of the studio, Alan Horn, would look at me and go, "Is there an issue there?" I'm like, "Alan, I think it's fine." And then I started to worry about it... it had to be right.

Did you try on the Superman suit?

Bryan Singer: Honestly, no. Never during the making of the film. Recently, I was on the cover of Wired Magazine and during the photo shoot we wanted to experiment with one idea, a photograph of me wearing the Clark Kent outfit and then opening into the suit. So I had to put the actual suit on for the first time, this was recently, I looked horrible in it. That struck me instantaneously, the second thing was the stage where we were doing the photo shoot was really cold and it actually kept you kind of warm.

So on the night where we were shooting out in Sydney where he's holding up the car, it was really, really cold I felt really bad for Brandon but now I don't feel as bad because I think he was probably warmer than all of us.

On the DVD are we going to get the full cut?

Bryan Singer: This is the full cut of the movie. In my world there never is a director's cut or a full cut. There is an aspect of the movie, a section that I completed, which I don't think it will be on the DVD necessarily, but in the future I may roll out at some point. In the context of the movie at this stage did it ultimately work? And it kind of takes some bravery to say, "You know what? I gotta take this out." So maybe that'll have a life somewhere else. There will be some deleted scenes and things like that but there's a sequence, a "Return to Krypton" sequence, a very elaborate one which hopefully will find a life somewhere else. I felt ultimately in the scope of this movie, it wasn't right.

Superman Returns opens nationwide on June 28th, 2006.