Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 2016 by Russ Fischer
Bryan Singer has shepherded the X-Men franchise from its origin through to this year’s latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse. Well, there was that little break in there for X-Men: The Last Stand, but with that exception Singer has been intimately involved with the core series films in a major capacity, typically as director.
This latest film gives Singer the chance to do a few things he never go to do the first time around, such as detail the early years of Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). It also features what could be the series’ biggest and weirdest villain to date: the body-hopping, power-amplifying, centuries-old Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).
Oh, you didn’t know about the body-hopping part? That’s one of the details Singer explained in a very long interview when we and a few other sites visited the set of the film in Montreal last year. Below, read the first half of this giant talk, in which Singer goes deep and gets candid about the history and future of the X-Men.
What makes now, seven, eight movies into the franchise, the time to tell the Apocalypse story?
Bryan Singer: Because it’s just so different. We’ve always treated this theme of mutants vs. humans, and Apocalypse has two aspects that make him such a different character than I’ve traditionally explored in the universe. One is that he makes no distinctions between humans and mutants. He’s interested in the Earth as a whole and the purity of civilization and the strongest [beings]. And secondly it deals with ancient mutantism, or the origins of the mutant state, or the origin of gods and religion. The X-Men universe has never touched upon any of those things and that stuff I loved when I was a kid. I read Chariots of the Gods when I was a kid, and I was fascinated with religion as a kid and cults and things like that.
Can you describe your version of Apocalypse?
To me he is the God of the Old Testament and all that comes with that. If there isn’t order and worship then I’ll open up the Earth and swallow you whole. That was the God of the Old Testament.
I started from there. When Oscar and I met we began discussing, since he isn’t really God, he’s the first mutant perhaps, he’s imbued with certain unique powers. Some of them may or may not be from this Earth. Then we started looking at cults and the nature of cults. True cult leaders develop god complexes, and the old God always traditionally had four horsemen. So I thought a cult has traditionally four factions to it that interest me. It has a political faction, and I’d always felt Magneto could fill those shoes. It always has a military faction, so Archangel could fill those shoes as the guardian. There’s also a youth faction, those that you’re trying to seduce and grow into your cult, the young whose minds are malleable, and lastly the sexual component because cult leaders tend to sexualize their position and have sex with half the people in their cult. And the Psylocke character was a very bright character in the comic but is always looking for guidance and leadership. Always trying to find the right guy, so she starts with one and ends up with Apocalypse in this one. I always thought there was a mixture of ancient religion and cultism combined in the character of Apocalypse.
How did you settle on the look of Apocalypse?
Whenever I can go physical I try to. It gives the actors something to play with. What did Jack Nicholson say when he played the Joker? Let the costume do the acting? There’s a lot more that goes into it than that but nonetheless it makes it real.
Once the people at Legacy could prove it to me that they could pull off [the costume] — it was very complicated how to do that. Once I saw a few key designs, I was like “Okay that’s the guy, lets build it.” Let’s make it real. If the character is a strange size or something then maybe you have to do CG, although we do get into a little of that.
For Angel, we didn’t build the wings because they’re twenty feet long. He’s two characters, he’s Angel then he’s Archangel. [Both] are very complex and [the wings] we clearly make room for but we always have to be careful. I’m telling my cinematographer “Leave negative space for the wings!” It’s like, “Let’s do an over the shoulder shot,” but “No, you’re blocking them with wings!” So you have to use your imagination and have a great guy like John [Dykstra, visual effects designer] who can run in there and remind you.
With Apocalypse having so many powers over the years in the comics, how did you decide just what he’ll be able to do in the movie? We’ve been told he can somehow amplify other people’s powers?
He does, he has a number of different powers that he’s acquired over the years as he’s moved from body to body, accumulating these various abilities. One of them is to imbue other mutants and to highten their powers and abilities. Secondly, he can shield from psychic powers; he can form shields so that it makes it harder for a psychic like Xavier to tap in and get to them. He’s not a psychic himself though. He can amplify your power, transform you as a mutant but his ability to physically damage, destroy, or build is in the non-biological world. That’s in the physical world, he can change the inorganic molecules of things. These are some of the powers that we’re exploring and there are some epic things that he does towards the end of the picture.
I have to say in the end, his greatest power is the power of persuasion. The ability to know what he needs and who he needs it from and to get it from them as he does with the horsemen, and as he has through civilization after civilization for tens of thousands of years.
When you say persuasion, do you mean charisma?
Charisma, pure persuasion. Finding people at a time in a moment when there’s an emptiness, when there’s a need. The hardest one is Erik. That’s a big one. The journey that Erik takes in this movie; the last movie was very much the journey of Charles. He was an older man who made a mistake, now he’s in this post-apocalyptic universe and he wishes he could go back in time. He can’t, his body can’t make it, so he sends back Wolverine, who’s not the best psychiatrist, to right his wrongs he had with Raven, and that’s that story. It’s really the story of Charles.
In this one the journey of Erik Lensherr is a very big part of this movie. I think the two biggest journeys are the journey of Erik, perhaps the journey of Raven, and on the younger side the journey of Scott and Jean and their story as young characters. One of the biggest challenges, and it’s very emotional and it’s somewhat dark, is getting Erik to that place where he would follow Apocalypse. Because Erik is a supervillain. He’s dropped stadiums on the White House, and to get him to a place where he’s ready to go there with this character, with Apocalypse, was one of the biggest challenges. There’s a scene [Michael] Fassbender does with this movie… you always wonder what’s going to make the cut, but he did something that [had us] pulling the Kleenex out in the tent. I’ve never had that happen on the set.
There’s some really funny parts too, I’m not making it sound like it. We rekindle romances, there’s three romances we start together. One that I didn’t really explore in Days of Future Past but I did when I wrote the story for First Class between Hank and Raven. We’ve got Jean and Scott. Suddenly Xavier and Moira start getting reconnected, so that’s all starting to happen.
So there are a lot of rebirths. Ultimately this movie – this doesn’t answer your question but I don’t want to forget to mention because I did forget to mention at the Comic-Con panel and I felt bad about it because you only get one shot to say one thing and then you’re done — but this movie is about the story of the formation of the team. That’s really what this is.
Speaking of the Comic-Con panel, you had some interaction with Hugh Jackman at that panel that was very entertaining and in the end was a little difficult to decipher.
I know, we also ran into each other in the elevator, which was even more bizarre. In my hotel I went down to the basement. Suddenly the door opens up and Hugh walks in. It’s like “Oh, I’ll see you later? Maybe? I don’t know?” So we played it all out on the elevator before we even went on stage.
I pointed out that there’s not been an X-Men film that has not featured Hugh Jackman, and he pointed out that he appreciated the opportunity I had given him years ago and it was very emotional. We actually were side by side watching that video. We were next to each other next to the stage, sort of arm in arm looking at each other and listening to it and remembering those days. It was very emotional and we pointed this out to each other. There are a lot of characters, it’s a complicated movie, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Your story has big ideas and god-like people, so how do you focus on specific characters and their personal journeys?
You just make sure that you understand each character arc and where they’re coming from. I make sure I always have an answer for every actor. Lucas Till says, “Okay, I left Vietnam, it’s the last time you saw me. I’m the brother of Scott Summers. What do I do for a living?” I’m like “Well, you live in Omaha, you’re an executive at Berkshire Hathaway. You’ve cleaned your life up. Your brother doesn’t like school, he’s the opposite of the Cyclops we’re going to get to know. Now he’s discovered he’s got this problem.”
So you start with, whether you put it on screen or not, I have to understand where each character is in their life. Who just broke up with them, why they’re angry, how many parents they have, where they come from. Then who you focus on, that’s just where the story takes you and when you realize you want to recruit. This is a hard question to answer because each one has its own journey.
I knew I wanted to explore two things. I wanted to tell us the story of whatever happened to Raven and Erik when they left that stadium. When they both just left. I knew I wanted to tell that story, like when I first came up with First Class and I wanted to tell the story of Xavier and Magneto, I knew I wanted to tell the origin of Jean and Scott and Storm.
As you asked that question I’ve now realized the two principal stories that I entered the movie saying “I have to tell, the audience wants to know.” They know Hank, they know they’re going to rebuild the school. Hank and Charles know where they’re headed but we don’t know where those two [Erik and Raven] went, and I desperately wanted to have the opportunity to do what I did with Charles and Erik on First Class as a writer/producer with Jean and Scott.