On Monday night, Bryan Singer took a break from filming his ragtag A-list team of X-men in the period-dressed streets of Montreal to sit down for a Q & A with fellow New Jersey native and old friend Tony Timpone.
The energy was high inside the packed Imperial theatre, as festival-goers, industry professionals, and some seriously hardcore Marvel fans clawed their way in for a first peek at the soon-to-be in post-production film footage of X-Men Days of Future Past, potential plot spoilers and – dear Lord please – a drop-in from cast members Jennifer Lawrence or Michael Fassbender… maybe?
A highlight reel montaged the unorthodox career of Mr. Singer, who after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for his film Public Access back in 1993, and receiving mass critical success for The Usual Suspects, eschewed a gone in 60 seconds type trajectory. After allegedly being given carte blanche for his next project, he decided to slow down and direct the oft-underrated Apt Pupil, upon connecting with the Stephen King novella on which the film is based.
Interestingly, the Jewish-born Singer, who cites Spieldberg as a major influence, frequently – albeit in an intentionally peripheral way – revisits Holocaust themes in his work. “Science fiction and fantasy films,” he says, “teach us about good, evil, and moral ambiguity if they are done well…they are our modern day mythologies.” After spending a year and a half developing X-Men, the director transitioned with aplomb into tent-pole filmmaking, effectively opening up the mass market to the consumption of humanized comic book heroes portrayed by larger-than-life actors on the silver screen.
Questions from the audience can always be cringe-inducing for everyone, but leave it to Fantasia fanatics to keep the mood light and the aisles laughing. On casting for films, Singer comments: “I just want to take everyone out for lunch.” A sneakily worded “Who is difficult to work with in Hollywood” type question is answered in a fully accented impression of Russell Crowe, who was originally courted for the role of Wolverine. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it bald!” Singer growls in earnest. Or my personal favourite, an imitation of Ian Mckellen requesting politely on set: “Bryan, would it be possible for you to give me any additional direction other than ‘less theatrical?’” Pitch perfect.
When asked whether he would posit a film school education or developing a film consciousness (à la Tarantino) as a more viable avenue for aspiring filmmakers, Singer offers some diplomatic advice. While film school (Singer graduated from the USC cinema school in 1989) offers the opportunity to make connections and learn the history of the medium, getting behind the camera by any means possible is equally paramount. Singer did just that early on, shooting short films on Super 8 with neighbourhood friend and actor Ethan Hawke, who told him “Good actors equal production value.”
This advice admittedly and evidently registered with the producer/director. With X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer has assembled an international dream cast for what looks like the most ambitious installment of the franchise to date. Juggling the First Class mutants and the old pros portraying their adult selves, Singer has a resurrected Professor Xavier (forever 41 actor Patrick Stewart) transport a more enraged than ever Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 with the objective of altering alliances, history, and thus human/mutant relations.
“It’s somewhere in between The Dark Knight and a Marvel movie,” the director admits. Judging from the trailer premiered (twice) at the Q & A, the film appears committed to delving deeper into the dark and sometimes tortured psyches of its characters. Apparently Patrick Stewart did not get the “less theatrical” memo reserved for McKellen, but overall this next installment with Singer back at the helm promises to negotiate blockbuster aesthetics with complex storylines, acting, and allegory.
Unfortunately Jennifer Lawrence and the Fass were no-shows. (I hear they’re working long days in the future past). And so we’ll have to wait until May 24th, and it will be so worth it. Let the countdown begin!
This event was held as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival which ran from July 18 to August 6. For more information visit the festival website.