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Fantastic Four - Jessica did kindly allow me to feel what it was actually like, before I started kissing the air

Feature by: Jack Foley

AT A time when superheroes seem to be getting in touch with their darker and more intimate sides, it's refreshing to find one that's devoted purely to fun.

So while Fantastic Four might not rate as strongly as Batman and Spider-Man in terms of emotional depth, it does offer an amusing break from reality that is easy to enjoy while it lasts.

Audiences in America obviously agreed with this sentiment, helping the film to over-perform at the box office despite some negative reviews and thereby providing a welcome relief for the actors who play the characters.

"It certaintly seemed like they were reviewing Wuthering Heights," joked Michael Chiklis, who plays The Thing/Ben Grimm, at the recent London press conference.

"We went in to it knowing what it was and what we were trying to make, which was a fun ride - something to go to with the family, friends, or a date, with a big barrel of popcorn, candy and a soda, and have a ride and a laugh. That's it, that's what it is, a jaunt."

This sense of fun is as apparent on-screen as it is in person, given that the Fantastic Four - Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Ioan Gruffudd - seem to share an obvious camaraderie.

But this was something that each actor strove to achieve from the outset in order to create a dysfunctional family ethic that audiences could believe in.

Explains former Hornblower star, Gruffudd: "The success of the film is based on the fact that you believe this is a dysfunctional family of superheroes - and I think that's a testimony to our relationships off camera.

"If you've got any sort of relationships off camera, it always informs the relationships on-screen, and I think you do believe that Chris and Jessica are always bickering like brothers and sisters, while Michael and I are best mates and I feel guilty for all I've done to him..."

He continues: "To be honest, the process of making a movie like this can be quite tedious, because it's so technically-based.

"But I think we did our duty as actors to bring the characters to life and to make them three-dimensional, and then the video effects team have just gone and run with it, and married those two together to create this believable film within this genre."

As passionately as the foursome talk about the film and their characters, however, it was only Chiklis (best-known as the star of TV's The Shield) who actually remembers the comic books from an early age.

"When I was 12, 13, 14-years-old, I used to go down to the corner store and get The Fantastic Four.

"I really thought I was a big comic book fan until I went to Comicon with these guys and realised what real comic-book fans were. They put the fan in fanatic, they're people, they really live it.

"And I knew it was going to be a little daunting when a man said to me, "Mr Chiklis, in Episode 283, when your character..." and I went, "Whoa, wait a minute..."

For Chiklis, becoming The Thing was probably the most arduous process of the lot, especially since he spends most of the film in make-up.

But in spite of confessing to finding it difficult, he believes the right decision was made to add to the overall authenticity.

"We all agreed instantly that it shouldn't be CGI, that it should be a person.

"And it obviously ended up being an incredibly onerous task being in that costume, but ultimately we made the right choice because you want to see a human being in that body, because there's tremendous amount of pathos and humanity behind Ben Grimm. If we'd done it with CGI, it would have been lost."

Chiklis wasn't the only one to find the superhero transformation a little difficult to cope with.

Gruffudd, too, had to contemplate kissing The Invisible Woman, aka Jessica Alba, without actually getting to perform the real thing - although, fortunately, he was able to do so in rehearsal.

"Jessica did kindly allow me to feel what it was actually like, before I started kissing the air, miming it," he joked.

"But for those moments in the film, we'd do it once, naturally, and then Jessica would step away and then I would physically resort to mime," he concluded, before treating the assembled journalists to an example of how he performed it.

Fantastic Four opens in UK cinemas on July 22.

Related stories: Fantastic Four review

Fantastic Four - clips and footage

Michael Chiklis interview

Ioan Gruffudd interview

Jessica Alba interview

Chris Evans interview

Fantastic Four sets US box office alight

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