The actors discuss the differences between working with Brett Ratner and Bryan Singer, their character motivations and their excitement about Superman Returns

At a recent press junket for the long awaited X-Men: The Last Stand, we had the pleasure of speaking with Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey/Phoenix) and James Marsden (Cyclops/Scott Summers) about making this third (and possibly final) installment in the X-Men franchise. The actors discussed the differences between working with Brett Ratner and Bryan Singer, their character's motivations and Superman Returns.


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Did you have to do any extra working out for this film?

Famke Janssen: Not at all. This is the wonderful thing about Jean Grey or Phoenix. I don't have to be in any decent shape. She can cause mass destruction by doing nothing. By giving you a little wink and...

What's it like playing a good and bad character?

Famke Janssen: I've done it before. And I seem to have been cast several several times to do it. I think in this one, Phoenix is not purely evil. She was in the comic books at some point but the way the writers created her or we always talked about her, was that she was torn with her powers taking over and trying to control them at the same time. It was challenging to play which made it interesting for me to play this character.

What's it like working with Brett Ratner?

James Marsden: Well, it's different because Brett's got a different energy. Bryan is very measured, very calculated and Brett is too, but Brett gets in there and he's got this energy that just drives the day. You shoot and you shoot and you shoot, you might do something ten or fifteen takes, you might do something a couple of takes but he just always is going. I don't know what he's eating for breakfast but he's... you can see it in the movie. I think his energy translates to the screen. I think the third film, as much as it's in the X-Men universe that Bryan created, it feels different. It feels like he's opening the floodgates in this third film and letting it all go. And for the fans who have been wanting more visceral, more sex, more special effects, it's like he's giving them that.

How does a new director change the chemistry on the set?

Famke Janssen: The director always determines the tone of the set. So every single time when you act in a film, and there's a different director, which of course as actors we're used to experiencing that's what we do, it's a different experience. So this one was certainly a different experience from Bryan's. I think during the making of X-Men 1 and 2, I feel that we talked a lot more. Before we did the scenes we rehearsed...

James Marsden: There was time to sort of find things, to find moments. Brett, I think had six weeks of prep?

Famke Janssen: He had six weeks of prep and we just had to shoot this movie. We had to shoot it by a certain date to make this release date. So there was no time to chat.

James Marsden: It's really a miracle what he's... I just saw the film last night. I just said, "How did you accomplish what you did in this film with the amount of time?" But it's weird, from the first couple of films going into this there are plenty of elements that haven't changed. Obviously, there's new members of the cast and everything. I feel lucky to have a real bond with the rest of the cast members. There's a lot of elements that felt similar and comfortable and familiar. Then Brett comes in and we welcomed him because obviously he has this fervor for the X-Men universe and he wants to do a great film. Nobody sets out to make a bad film, and so we welcomed the new talent and the new characters coming in. It changes the tone and the dynamic a little bit, but X-Men at that point is already two movies into it. The formula has already been found.

We're you hoping that there would be more of a settlement with who Jean's character ends up falling in love with?

James Marsden: Or at least a three way. (Laughs) His feelings for Jean is really what drives a lot of his character. I would have welcomed any more scenes and things to get into our relationship more. It's a bit of a mystery when you look back at the first two.

Famke Janssen: I think it was clear from all the movies that the love between our characters was very strong.

Whenever you have a franchise, there's always the expectation that the next film be better than the last. Were there more challenges on this film because of that expectation?

Famke Janssen: I think one of the biggest things is the budget. It really became the biggest budget of the three. That alone, for a studio, becomes a very big challenge to make sure that this movie will work even better on every level. As an actor I don't think in those terms when I make a movie.

James Marsden: I don't think about better. You just want it to work. You want it to work and you have your guide with the script. You want it to exist and complete...

Famke Janssen: It's not as if you can act bigger to fit the surroundings or the budget more. Whatever, it just doesn't work that way. You wanna make sure that you stay true to what the comic lovers are expecting of you. As much as you have to interpret that because you don't know. After you do the first one, you get a sense of it. Then in this one, because we take a lot of liberties... my character changes a lot and whatever, so we go out on a limb and we hope that this is something that the fans will still like and look forward to.

At the end of X2 when your character meets her untimely demise, was there ever a question that you weren't going to be resurrected?

Famke Janssen: Yes, because at the end of X2 there is a Phoenix over the lake and my voice over talking about evolution... so that was definitely the foreshadowing of the Phoenix rising. They could have chosen not to take that path and they could have done a whole different... comics have been around for forty years so there were many storylines to choose from. I'm excited they chose this one.

Where there any debates on the set about whether being a mutant was something to be cured or something you live with as part of who you are?

Famke Janssen:That's the great thing... it could bring up a lot of questions for a lot of people. How far are you willing to go? What would you give up? It's different for each individual. It's different when you talk about homosexuality. It's different when you talk about a malady like deafness. Everybody might have a different response to that and that's what makes it an interesting subject to throw in a movie.

James Marsden: It's a slap in the face to some of the mutants but to some of them, depending on their mutancy, they might look at it as...

Famke Janssen: A handicap...

James Marsden: Yeah, to not be able to touch somebody that you love might be looked at as, "If I could fix that and actually embrace somebody that I love. Maybe I'll take the cure?"

Do you think Phoenix had a stance on it?

Famke Janssen: No, I think that Professor X and Magneto were trying to get into her head. To control her. I think the whole struggle in the film for Phoenix and Jean Grey is that she goes between these two elements that she has within her. The powers that are so strong, they overpower her and the old Jean Grey that could control them. I think the majority of her time is spent in conflict in her head. One wins over the other at one moment, she has moments of being more lucid than others. She wouldn't want to be controlled by anybody. I think it's clear she never particularly chose for... because there's a moment for Magneto where she says, "And what do you want?" Basically, are you trying to control me as well?

I think it's in that moment at the very end where Wolverine is getting to her that the soldiers come in and start shooting. That triggers a thing in her again and she goes back to the dark side. It is a constant struggle between her normal Jean Grey and the dark Phoenix.

I talked to the writers a lot about the ending of the film wanting to make clear that she wasn't taking a side... between Magneto or the X-Men and that it was a constant struggle in her head. If this had been a movie just about the Phoenix we would have had a lot more time to explore the different avenues that you can explore for that. Given that there's so many characters in the X-Men, and we have to do justice to every single one of their characters and storylines, we have to use broader strokes in that case.

There's such a buzz going around about Superman Returns. Can you talk about your role and also working with Bryan?

James Marsden: I play Richard White and it's Perry White's nephew. He's also engaged to Lois Lane. In Superman's absence, Lois is sort of moving on with her life with someone who is kind of Supermanesque. He's a pilot. He flies a plane. He's a great guy. He's very different from Scott in that he's very light and outgoing and friendly; not as serious as Cyclops. To be honest, Bryan called me and asked if I wanted to be in the movie and I said, "What role?" He said, "We've already cast Superman." I went over and read the script and I knew that it would hopefully work out schedule-wise with X-Men 3. I'm lucky that it did. To me, it's just about working with really great directors. But it's great, I feel very lucky to have done both. Obviously, I feel as safe in Brett's hands as I did in Bryan's.

X-Men: The Last Stand hits theaters May 26th, 2006.