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Superman Returns - Bryan Singer interview

Superman Returns

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DIRECTOR Bryan Singer talks about some of the challenges of bringing Superman Returns to the screen and his reasons for casting Brandon Routh…

Q. The idea of resurrecting Superman has been around for 10 years. How did you succeed where others failed?
A. It’s hard for me to speak for other people and the other incarnations. But I think for about nine years they were developing an origins story and I think that was a flawed pursuit. If you’re over the age of 25 you probably know something of the original Superman movie and how that origin was portrayed in colour and with some decent special effects. If you’re under the age of 25 you either have a sense of the myth of Superman or you know Smallville, the TV show. By the time the last director had fallen out they’d already reserved a stage space in Sydney and I was available. Because I was a huge fan and had the cache coming from the two previous X-Men films to address these kinds of pictures and characters, the studio took a leap with this return story, which was different and yet captures the essence of what had come before. Hopefully, it delivers the best of both worlds.

Q. What was it about Brandon Routh that clinched the deal?
A. Brandon, perhaps by virtue of his Mid-Western upbringing or his genuine nature, has a kind of calm centre and a genuinely decent moral compass. Besides his talents as an actor and the physical qualities, they play into the role of Superman. But then Brandon also has a kind of awkward vulnerability that I discovered in our first conversation in his mannerisms. When he wants to he can channel and when he wants to suppress them they’re gone. That very much played into how I saw Clark. I also watched a tape he had done previously and then another tape and another one and eventually we had a meeting. Somewhere in that conversation I felt like wow, I don’t actually have to pull the plug on this movie, I might actually have a Superman.

Q. How much trepidation was there in introducing a storyline involving a possible son for Superman and the love triangle?
A. To me I had no trepidation. I’ve learned from directing the X-Men movies that there’s always going to be fear and scepticism among fans who’ve grown up with these characters. But these characters have gone through so many incarnations over so many decades, particularly Superman, that anything you introduce is always going to create some kind of reaction. It has to serve the story, of course, but I felt very excited about introducing this element because aside from Kryptonite it was hard to imagine anything that someone as powerful as Superman would find insurmountable. To have Lois Lane have a fiance, who’s not a bad guy, and a child who can’t simply be wiped away, these were real dilemmas besides Lex Luthor’s master plan, the Kryptonite and all the adversity that Superman is going to face on an action level.

Q. Was the religious idea of a Messiah coming to save the world important for you?
A. I’ve never shyed away from the Judaeo-Christian allegory that Superman has always had from his origin as the little baby sent to Earth like Moses was sent down the river to fulfil a destiny. I think this film has a little bit about saviours and sacrifice, as well as people’s need for someone to come rescue them. That notion and allegory is interesting to me. It’s kind of at the core of a lot of really terrific myth – from King Arthur’s myth right up to Star Wars myth. It definitely played a role here.

Q. Were you making any sort of political statement in having Superman return and stand up like a political leader, as a new hope?
A. Not at all. It’s just simply because Warner Bros was willing to put aside nine years of development and let me tell my own Superman movie. It happened to happen when I was available. It may play a little like that because we’re going through tough times, politically and it’s nice to have a hero who’s kind of a light at the end of the tunnel and a breath of fresh air. This is my love story. I’ve wanted to make a Superman movie for many years but at the heart of it, to me, was this love affair with Lois Lane. That, to me, was the challenge.

Q. Was there ever a scene at Ground Zero?
A. In one of the early drafts, when I was developing it, I had a scene that I really was never going to shoot because it would have dated the film. It was a scene where after a night of saving people, Superman would be standing in front of this giant hole that would be Ground Zero. But I could never shoot the scene because 10 years from now there would be buildings and monuments in that place, so it would date the film. And besides, that was a terrible event. Nothing good came from it.

Q. One of the most daring aspects of Superman Returns is that it’s a summer film that’s very much focused on the emotional side of things. Was that deliberate?
A. I make jokes about it by saying that this is my first chick flick. But it can be frustrating thinking that someone looking for a romance or an emotional journey might not go and see it because they might think it’s a comic book hero movie. In the end, the goal for me personally was to make an emotional film. James Cameron, for instance, wasn’t just remaking A Night To Remember. He wasn’t just making a movie about a ship sinking and all the technical aspects and terror and horror of that. He was making a love story that happened to be set against the backdrop of Titanic. To me, Superman Returns is very much a love story set against the backdrop of this classic comic universe. To me, it’s out and out a story about love and modern relationships.

Q. There are two very violent sequences in the film – one involving Lois Lane and one involving Superman himself. Why did you include that level of violence?
A. Seeing Kate Bosworth tossed around the plane early on and seeing the kind of fun and charm of the air rescue is like putting us into that classic, “everything’s going to be ok” Superman place for the first act of the film. So I decided to lull the audience into a place of security and then turn that security a little bit with the violence, thereby earning a moment that I don’t want to give away here. Unless that happens, how do you earn that moment? You really had to feel that Superman was in jeopardy.

Q. At one point in the film Superman is said to represent “truth, justice” but not the American way. Is that just an in-joke or a reflection that the world is different now?
A. In 1978, one forgets that they did actually poke fun at it. “Truth, justice and the American way” dates very much from the support that Superman had during the Second World War among the troops. It then merged into the 1950s TV series. In the 1978 film, the dialogue was actually, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice and the American way”, at which point Lois says: “You’re going to end up fighting every politician in Washington.”
So already in the post-Watergate world where things weren’t quite as simple. Superman had become extremely powerful – he used to be a crime fighter in the city who could leap from building to building but now he could fly anywhere in the world, at any time. He was truly a global superhero.
Even in ’78, the notion of him being there for America was kind of dissipating. Oddly enough, people have mentioned this to me and suggested that I’ve recoiled from my patriotism by excluding that but it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m truly patriotic and by putting the line in there, “truth, justice and all that stuff”, I’m actually reprising it and celebrating it. I think Americans – although they don’t always do the right thing – generally idealistically embrace positive thought and genuine freedom and all the good things that we like to verbally export.

Q. What can we expect from the DVD?
A. I originally had a two hour and 45 minute cut of the film that I finally decided I would show to some friends and step back. There’s one sequence at the beginning of the film that I’m not going to put on the DVD, that I removed which is quite elaborate. It involves a return to Krypton in outer space but I’d like to save that for some kind of 3D IMAX, or some kind of place where it could be more reasonably presented. I just didn’t feel that it worked in the context of this story. But we had a crew that followed us around quite aggressively, which felt kind of like being on the real world. We trusted them and eventually forgot they were there, so they were able to record certain things that happened on the set and some of the theatre that took place behind-the-scenes that you normally don’t see. So there will be documentary material that will hopefully be unusual. Not Hearts of Darkness but the funny version!
Secondly, there’s a bit of a relationship that Martha Kent has with Ben Hubbard because she’s now a widow. They had scenes together that I cut and will try and have on the DVD.
There are some also things technically, in terms of recreating Marlon Brando and making Brandon fly, that had never been done before, so there’ll be a little insight into that. As well as some fun Easter eggs and the odd blooper.

Q. Did you ever worry after the fantastic success of The Usual Suspects that you wouldn’t be able to replicate that?
A. I picture my gravestone and I picture the name ‘usual suspects’ [laughs]. It’s like a double-edged sword. Without a movie like The Usual Suspects you don’t have the ability to make these kind of films with these kind of actors. But you always have The Usual Suspects nagging at your neck. It’s better to have it than not to have had it.

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