Brett Ratner in a very short time, has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most successful directors. Ratner’s first five feature films have grossed nearly one billion dollars. At 26 years old he directed his first feature film, the surprise box office hit “Money Talks,” a comedy starring Charlie Sheen and Chris Tucker. His second film, the action comedy “Rush Hour,” starred Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker and earned $250 million worldwide. He followed that success with the romantic fantasy drama “The Family Man,” a critical and box office hit starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni.
A year later, Ratner delivered Hong Kong-style action with Chan and Tucker in the hit sequel, “Rush Hour 2,” which grossed more than $342 million worldwide. Ratner made his first foray into the world of suspense thrillers with his fifth feature film “Red Dragon,” the “Silence of the Lambs” prequel starring Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, and Emily Watson. Ratner’s latest feature film, “After the Sunset,” starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, and Don Cheadle enjoyed success in theatres nationwide.
Raised in Miami Beach, Ratner had dreamed of being a filmmaker since the age of eight. He enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts at age 16, becoming the department’s youngest film major. While attending NYU Film School, he made “Whatever Happened to Mason Reese,” a short film starring and about the former child actor. The award-winning project received funding from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Ratner’s big break came after he screened his film for hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, launching a successful career in music videos. He has directed more than 100 videos since then, for artists including Madonna, Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, Jay-Z, Wu Tang Clan, D’Angelo, Heavy D, Mary J. Blige, Foxy Brown, Public Enemy, P Diddy and many others.
Ratner won the MTV Award for “Best Video for a Film” for Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” from the “Austin Powers” soundtrack. In addition, Ratner received an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Sequence for “Rush Hour 2” as well as a TONY Award for producing Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Ratner was the recipient of the Spirit of Chrysalis Award for his dedication and leadership in helping economically disadvantaged and homeless individuals change their lives through jobs. He is currently on the boards of Chrysalis and Best Buddies and serves on the Dean’s Council of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
In addition to success in film and music, Ratner has also segued into the world of book publishing. He published the controversial book, Naked Pictures of my Ex-Girlfriends and authored Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures, which was released in October 2003. Ratner has recently ventured into still photography and his photographs have appeared in Vanity Fair, and have graced the covers of Vogue Homme and V-Life. In addition, he has shot the fashion campaigns for Baby Phat and Jimmy Choo.
After the departure of Bryan Singer, a director beloved by fan boys, from the third “X-Men” film, Ratner quickly came onboard. Ratner is a self-admitted comics fan and was among the directors considered to helm the original “X-Men” movie. Singer’s departure left not only a hole to fill, but a set timetable which could not be altered and so Ratner has been under the gun the past year readying the film in time. At a junket in New York to promote the film, Ratner spoke candidly about handling such a difficult job and what it means for him to take over such a strong franchise:
Question: Every single actor has said you have amazing energy on the set. Where does that come from?
Ratner: A lot of cocaine. (Laughs). I love what I do. When you love your job… when you have a passion for something the energy comes. It’s like when you’re in love and you can’t wait to get home to tell your husband or your boyfriend how your day was like, that’s how I was going to the set. I couldn’t wait to direct Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, all these actors. It was so exciting for me to be there and to be a part of that. It was like a dream come true. So of course I’m gonna have energy because I’m excited about being there. For me it was fun. It was hard work but at the end of the day, when you love what you do it shows in the work, I really believe. Were you a fan of the “X-Men” before you made this film?
Ratner: The cartoon, I was a huge fan of. It was my favorite cartoon ever. It was incredible, except the suits were much different. So I was a little disappointed when I got into the “X-Men” comics. I’m a comic book geek but I’m not an “X-Men” comic book geek. I’m a fan of the cartoon, so, just to make that clear.
Question: What was it like working with all the different actors?
Ratner: I’m pretty good with people and figuring out what they need from me and what I need from them. With time, with anything… you learn. There’s a lot of actors in this movie but because I made an ensemble with “Red Dragon”, I kinda went through that process.
Question: Was there any trepidation about making this third film in the “X-Men” trilogy?
Ratner: How can I not? It’s like a dream come true to direct this movie. Its one of the greatest movies you can ever make. All the brilliant characters and amazing actors and stories, it’s not just an action movie it’s really about something. It’s got a levity to it and humanity and emotion and humor. Do you think it’s important for a movie like this to have a diversified cast?
Ratner: Look the comic book and the cartoon were multicultural stories. I wanted to bring some color and some flavor to the movie. In the past, I think Storm (Halle Berry) was the only person of color. In the movie, I wanted to bring Dania Ramirez (Callisto) and Omahyra (Arclight)… Ken Leung the guy who played Spike was Asian. I love that stuff. I love not making it all kind of whitebread. I like making it cooler, if you can.
Question: Who was the easiest to work with and who gave you the most problems?
Ratner: I swear, everyone of these actors was a dream. I think, problematic in different ways. The only problem I really had, and it was a problem because it took so long to get the make-up on, was Mystique. I felt for her. That was painful to spend hours and hours and hours, and then she had to wait hours and hours and hours. That was a problem because I didn’t want to burn her out. I was already riding her with the process she had to go through. As far as easy going? Everybody was happy to be there. No one felt like, “Dammit, why am I on this movie?” Everyone is happy to be in an “X-Men” movie, no one feels like they’re taking a check. They felt like they loved their characters, they’d done it before, it was fun for them. The new actors were excited to be part of it. It was for me a great experience. I’ve worked with difficult actors in the past but not on this movie. What about all the rumors about this movie? Footage had gone missing…Brett Ratner: No, I don’t think so. I didn’t hear that. I was editing the movie so… I think there was some marketing material that got jacked from the studio. It didn’t effect what I was doing. I’m making a movie. According to Famke Janssen, after shooting sometimes you would go to Ian McKellen’s house and eat?
Ratner: The best eggs I ever had were at Ian McKellen’s house. I gotta tell you, this guy can cook. He cooks up a storm. I would shoot all night and then go there for some breakfast. Halle Berry said you really let her character Storm develop. Was that a conscious effort?
Ratner: Oh yeah, you’ve got Halle Berry in your movie you want to use her. Storm had done so many great things in the comic book. I understand, Bryan couldn’t… you can’t do everything for every character in a movie. So, someone has to kinda fall by the wayside. I just wanted to focus on Halle because I like beautiful women and I want them to shine in my movies. All the women, even Famke.
Question: You’ve gotta be pretty happy with the way that “Prison Break” is going?
Ratner: Well, “Prison Break” is fantastic. I’m very happy to be a part of anything that turns out to be a success.
Question: What can we expect from Season 2?
Ratner: Season 2 is going to become like “The Great Escape”. The first season was obviously like a prison movie but now it becomes like”The Great Escape”. It’s exciting. It’s very exciting. Out of the prison yard and to see these relationships with these character’s families. Were their debates on the set about mutant super powers? Do they or don’t they want them?
Ratner: Yeah, it was in the script. The cure is really the villain of the movie. Every single character is going to have an opinion of it. I really understand the point of view of Magneto and of Xavier. I understand why someone like Storm would definitely not take the cure. If you know the comic book, the backstory of Storm is that she was worshipped in her village of Africa and she changed the weather. So, why would she ever take the cure? It didn’t make sense. And then there’s Rogue, who can’t have contact with humans, you would understand why she would consider taking it. I think it has a lot of contemporary relevance. I think it’s something that is an issue that a lot of people deal with. Alienation, prejudice and I think that each person is going to feel differently about it. If you offered gays an opportunity to get a shot and they won’t be gay anymore, some gays will be like, “Oh, I’m happy being gay. I wanna be gay.” Some people would be like, “I suffered my whole life… okay, make me straight.” If they could. So I think it’s a controversial issue and it’s something that I think is going to create a lot of debate. People are going to walk out of the theater going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she took the cure. Why would she do that?” Some people are going to be like, “That was great. She did that because she made the choice to take it.” It’s like abortion. Whose choice is it? It’s up to the individual.
Question: Why do think Magneto is the villain he is?
Ratner: Well, he’s an extremist. He’s a radical. I always saw Megneto as more like Malcolm X. And then Xavier as more like Martin Luther King. So a person who is a radical is trying to really make a strong statement. I understand his point of view because of his personal experience of being a Holocaust survivor and the way that the Jews were exterminated. That’s his personal life experience that he’s bringing to this plot of the cure. So he sees the cure as a way for people to control mutants, to change them. He believes mutants are the superior beings. The movie is really about a choice and in order to make a movie about a choice you have to see both sides. One extreme to the next and then in between are all the “X-Men” who have different points of view about it.
Question: Has there been any talk about another “X-Men” film?
Ratner: I’ve heard. No one has made me an offer. Yeah, I don’t think there’s going to be any more “X-Men” films. Which is why I did this because it really felt like “The Last Stand”. I mean, how much farther can we go? What are you going to just keep killing “X-Men” ? I think that a Wolverine movie would be great. A Magneto movie would be great. An Xavier School movie would be great. Just kids, who knows? There’s a lot of different opportunities.
Question: What artist would you like to do a music video for right now?
Ratner: Michael Jackson. I’d like to do a dope Michael Jackson video.
Question: Is “Rush Hour 3” going to happen?
Ratner: Yes, it is. I start shooting August 16 in Paris. How do you deal with someone like Chris Tucker who seems to be making so much more than everybody else?
Ratner: The check doesn’t make the man. I don’t know what to say… (laughs). We’re all friends. I’m happy for him, he deserves it. We’ve done three movies together. Chris is one of my best friends in the whole world. There’s no ego. We all love working together. Is Jackie still going to do his own stunts?
Ratner: Hopefully, yeah. He’s amazing, Jackie. He really is. He’s like seventy years old now and he can do his own stunts. It’s unbelievable.