Since gaining worldwide attention with his Oscar-winning 1995 thriller "The Usual Suspects," director Bryan Singer has entertained audiences with colorful characters that manage to stand out even in big-budget spectacles like "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United." Although his "Superman Returns"—a film true to the spirit of Richard Donner's original film—didn't lead to a sequel, Singer will soon be returning to the X-Men universe at the helm of "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
Nicholas Hoult, one of the director's "X-Men" main players, is also the titular character of Singer's "Jack the Giant Slayer," an action-packed reimagining of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer" stories that hits theaters this Friday. We sat down with the 47-year-old fanboy-favorite to discuss the challenges of expanding the fairytale's limited story, why he's now okay with someone else taking over the Superman franchise, and why he won't be shooting in 48 fps anytime soon.
FILM.COM: Was it challenging to elevate this movie from the perception of being just a children's story?
BRYAN SINGER: It's still challenging as you're trying to sell it. You want people to know how fun and cool it is. I knew that the fact that it's based on a fairytale kind of makes it a little more accessible to a younger audience and families. I could play with the tone so it could be somewhere between "The Princess Bride," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Jurassic Park." From there, it's being creative enough to tell a story where there really isn't one. Besides the beanstalk, the giant and a guy called Jack, there really aren't many similarities. It's basically an original story using those iconographies.
The first trailer made the movie seem softer than it really was, and the subsequent trailers highlighted the action sequences with the giants. Did you push for that?
Yeah, I pushed for that. Frankly, the first trailer had to go on "Rise of the Guardians," and the MPAA has certain rules about what kind of trailer can go on what movie. If we were just going to go on "The Hobbit," it would have been cool to have the second trailer that was released online recently. That's what I wanted. The studio was anxious to get it on "Rise of the Guardians," which was playing to five year olds, so the trailer had to be comfortable for a five year old to see. So that became the trailer and was on "The Hobbit," and I said, "Okay… but it's got more to it than that." It's scary, but it's not upsetting. Anyone seven or eight or up would probably be okay.
You've worked with "Jack the Giant Slayer" star Nicholas Hoult before on "X-Men: First Class" and will direct him again in "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Is he maturing fast as an actor?
Oh, yeah, but he was always quite talented. He's been acting since he's been a boy and working for years. Whether it's an accent or a piece of humor, he's very talented. I'd happily work with him in anything. He's such a cool guy and funny. Even though we didn't come out first, we were the first one to put him in a lead in a movie. We shot our movie before "Warm Bodies," but ours took a little longer to finish [Laughs]. "Warm Bodies" really wanted to come out after us so it could benefit from the cache of "Jack" because we're a big movie. As it turns out, "Warm Bodies" did fantastic and that ended up being really great for us. Nick and I were joking about that last week because it's the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.
In your mind, what is the beanstalk a metaphor for? Growing up?
I think it's a metaphor for big dreams. Before Jack's father died, he encouraged Jack to take control of his dreams and to dream big. Giants, big stalk, big dreams, looking high, looking to a princess—he's a kid who reads adventure books and dreams of a bigger place. One day in the place of his tiny farmhouse is this giant thing. I think that's what it represents.
You shot "Jack the Giant Slayer" in a lot of real locations in the U.K. even though there is a lot of CGI in the movie. Why is it important for you to use natural, existing spaces instead of just doing all the scenery on a green screen?
One, I'm a filmmaker and I like locations, sets and physical things. They aren't always necessary and I am able to work in an imaginary world, but they help inspire the scenes and actors. It's good to have physical, tangible things. Secondly, I didn't want you to feel when you were watching this movie that you were entering some kind of colorful "wow!" CG world. For this particular movie, because it's grounded in a real place—in England—and not an "Avatar" on another planet, I wanted it to feel very real so when the giants entered the scene they would feel more real.
Given the great difference in size between the giants and the humans, can you speak about some of the challenges that created while filming the actors?
It's very challenging because we have a lot of giants interacting with humans in physical spaces. The greatest tool is a thing called SimulCam. It takes the captured performance of the giants and then gives you a crude rendering of the giants and projects it into your camera. When you're on set, you can actually see the giant playing out the scene with your actors, while the actors are reacting to tennis balls on tall sticks. SimulCam was very useful, from eye lines to framing to the general look.
Was "Jack the Giant Slayer" converted to 3-D in post or did you want to shoot it in natively?
I shot in native 3-D and we took a lot of care with the 3-D. It was my first film [in 3-D]. You're paying extra to go see a 3-D movie, so it should be cared for as much as the visual effects. It affects your editing—my editor would edit in 2-D and then run it in 3-D and go back and adjust things appropriately. It affects your framing and the way you shoot to some degree. We did some fun things, like the giant's point of view. They're larger and their eyeballs are farther apart, so I played with the space between the two lenses and I moved them 10 inches apart to create a miniaturization effect. Whenever the giants are staring down at you, wherever he's looking has been miniaturized. That's why in some scenes you see the giants looking at these cowering humans that look like tiny little toys.
I'm not sure if you've seen "The Hobbit" in 48 fps, but is that a technological advance you will be embracing?
I was at the world premiere when I happened to be in New Zealand, so Peter [Jackson] totally set me up with the best seats in the house. It was great. Pursuing 48 fps is tough because of the cost involved. You are rendering more frames and visual effects, so it would be prohibitive. I couldn't do an "X-Men" like that. People have different feelings about the look. I thought it was cool, so it's something I wouldn't rule out for the future.
You appeared as guest judge on Syfy's "Face Off." Can we interpret that as meaning that you still prefer practical makeup when possible?
Yeah, absolutely. There's room for both, depending on what you're doing. When done right in the right environment, it can be really effective. Whether you're doing a CG creature or something in a prosthetic, you still have to have the artistry and the vision to design it. Those people are not just applying the prosthetics, they are designing them. I'm a fan of those kinds of artists.
You kept the spirit of the Richard Donner "Superman" with "Superman Returns," and now "Man of Steel" is about to come out directed by Zack Snyder. Was it disappointing to have to step away from that character? Did you want to make more movies with Brandon Routh as Superman?
I would have liked to, but at the time I went off to do "Valkyrie" and the appetite wasn't there at the studio. By the time I was done with "Valkyrie," it didn't feel like it was going to happen. I didn't particularly have a story in mind, so there was nothing for me to fight to do. I knew tonally what I wanted to do; I wanted it to be more aggressive. I couldn't quite crack it. Now that there's more distance, I don't regret having that experience and doing that kind of movie. I am genuinely, absolutely, sincerely looking forward to sitting back, getting my diet Coke and popcorn and watching Zack Snyder's completely different movie. I looked at the trailer and said, "Yeah, that's what I want to see right now!" I used to hang out with Henry Cavill years ago, and he's a really great guy. Had this all been happening a year later [after "Superman Returns"], I would have been much more uncomfortable seeing this Superman movie.
How you will combine characters from your original "X-Men" movies with the younger versions of themselves in "X-Men: Days of Future Past?" Time travel?
It's something like time travel, but not exactly. It takes place at multiple times, so there will be the past, the future and things like that.
If "Jack the Giant Slayer" is a success, are there more "Jack" stories you would like to tell?
There is one. In fact, we were going to shoot a little scene at the end where a kid says, "What's that scar on your neck, Dad?" And the father says, "Oh, well, that's a story for another night." We did not do that. There's one place you could go, but this movie was not designed with the intention of there being a sequel or anything like that. It was enough just to get enough story pulled out of thin air for this one!
Look for our review of "Jack the Giant Slayer" tomorrow at 6 P.M.