Bryan Singer is busily trying to mix the final two reels of X-Men 2 but is boyishly enthused about his eagerly anticipated sequel to the hugely successful X-Men. "It's a great rollercoaster ride," he says.
Talking exclusively from his Fox production office, a week shy of the film's first major press screenings, Singer no doubt as to why the original movie struck such a chord with audiences. "I think it touches on a universal theme, which is acceptance. Even though it has elements which are fun, romantic and dazzling, and a science fiction fantasy, in a way, it is ultimately the characters that stay with people. They have a history, they relate to one another in a way that a large audience can relate to."
In the sequel, the X-Men band together to find a mutant assassin who has made an attempt on the President's life, while the Mutant Academy is attacked by military forces. In trying to live up to the original, Singer says that his biggest challenge this time, "is to service so many characters while at the same time introducing new ones. The pleasure was having gone past a lot of exposition in the first one, I was able to have a lot more fun with them and explore them more deeply," Singer explains. "
He says he was able to delineate such an ensemble group of characters by learning lessons from his Usual Suspects days. "It's a kind of ensemble film making that whereby side characters have arcs or moments and relate to the primary characters in such a way that you FEEL and experiencing the journey of a group of people, as opposed to a single journey," he says. In X-Men, the film is primarily about Wolverine and Professor Xavier, while the other characters support that centre."
In comparing X-Men with its sequel, Singer happily admits that the newer film "is a far more superior movie than X-Men but it's the kind of film that requires the first one to exist to enable it to work." Not that you necessarily need to have seen the first movie, Singer hastily adds. "I think you'l enjoy this one even if you haven't seen the first one but for me, as a film maker, I needed to have made that first one in order to have made this film for dozens of reasons."
Getting the first X-Men off the ground wasn't exactly a piece of cake, despite its eventual success. The studio spent little money on a film they were convinced was destined to fail. Singer, whose previous features were Usual Suspects and the critically mixed Apt Pupil, says that he learned a lot from the experience of the first film. "There were two factors that helped ME a lot. Firstly, we didn't have an extraordinarily large budget so it took the edge off the studio's fear of losing money. And secondly we shot in Canada, so even though we were making studio picture, it was a severely independent studio picture and I could still approach it the same way I approach all my films."
Working on a low budget enabled Singer to cast X-Men with actors, rather than movie stars. "That was nice, particularly in regard to the character of Wolverine, because at that time Hugh Jackman was just coming out of musical theatre and was really unknown, so it made the mysterious nature of his character all the more mystifying." Much has changed for Jackman, and working him now, Singer says, was a genuine joy. "I think he's always been extraordinarily talented and has become much more comfortable in the Wolverine role. Both physically and mentally, he has truly nailed the character this time around from day one, and he helped make my job a helluva lot easier". Singer believes that given world events, X-Men 2 is more relevant today than ever, "though not intentionally" he adds laughingly.
Singer is looking forward to putting the final touches on X-Men 2 "and take a well-deserved vacation, preferably deep sea diving." The director isn't ruling out a third X-Men but insists "that I'l do something else first, either big or small. But I'm having too much fun to give up X-Men altogether."