HeyUGuys recently joined several other film news sites at a round table interview with Matthew Vaughn for X-Men: First Class.
The interview lasted over 45 minutes, and because it was only for sites that write about film (unlike other round tables where we share with all sorts of outlets), it’s pretty much concentrated on things that should interest you. It certainly fascinates us.
We know a few sites will publish highlights of the interview, and if you’re pressed for time, we’d advise having a look, but we’re putting our whole (Not Safe For Work) transcript online; edited only to make it flow a little better.
This first section of the interview (1 of 3 that will be published) is about the writing of the film.
On Writing and Character
Q: Is the film about super powered individuals facing off against one another, or about political and social ideas. It’s clearly both, but which first and foremost?
Matthew Vaughn: No idea. It is what it is. I should be able to answer that, but the making of it was such a crazy experience, we were just trying to get it done, and get it finished on time. It’s the first time I’ve made a movie with no time to think. You ask me a question like that normally, I’ll be able to tell you,’ when I set out to make this film I had the following ideas’, but every day we were just making it up; so I think it’s a mixture of both.
I think primarily it’s about the relationship between Magneto and X, but set in a backdrop of political espionage and the Cold War. I always wanted to do a Cold War movie, I’m desperate to do a Bond film, always have been. I got my cake and eat it, managed to do an X-Men movie, and a sort of a Bond thing, and a Frankenheimer political thriller at the same time.
Q: You brought in Jane Goldman to write part of it with you, but there were other writers,…
MV: Not really.
Q: So it was you and Goldman who wrote it then?
MV: WGA don’t think that, but they’re fuckwits. Jane and I wrote the screenplay, threw everything out and started again. Sheldon Turner managed to get a ‘Story By’ credit, he wrote the Magneto script that none of us have ever read. I didn’t even know that. I was like, ‘who the fuck is this guy?’. Hollywood’s got its own way of dealing with things.
Q: How much input did Singer have? It feels to me that it’s got the undercurrent of humour that you and Goldman have brought to Stardust and to Kick-Ass, but it feels much more of an ensemble piece than you’ve done before, and that’s where Singer’s experience is.
MV: You say that, but Stardust had a shitload of characters, so did Kick-Ass, so did Layer Cake, in a weird way. And Snatch and Lock Stock. I’m actually more terrified of doing a movie with one lead character, because the good thing of having lots of characters is if one’s getting boring I can just say, ‘let’s cut to that plot line’. It’s hard to make sure they come across as three-dimensional characters, but at the same time I think it’s more interesting – it’s easier to con an audience that lots of interesting things are happening if I can switch the channel, let’s say, whenever I need to.
The influence of Bryan, Bryan came up with I think, I don’t even know who came up with the original idea, I think it was Bryan’s idea. Once I started, I think we made the film in ten months. We’ve had nine weeks post. I only saw the film for the first time five days ago; I hadn’t even ever seen it working on all these different sections. I got given two weeks for the director’s cut. When I say it was madness, there were times when I thought we wouldn’t get the film finished, and if it is finished, God knows what it’s going to be like to watch. I was taken out of my comfort zone on this film. I come from low budget film making, which is very much about prepping, making sure every dollar goes on screen. Here I hardly got any time to prep, and five DPs on this film, four different ADs. Every day I didn’t know who my crew were, I was like, ‘hey, what do you do?’ It was good for me, because I’d so relied on my AD and DPs, as that triumvirate when you make a film, and here I was sort of on my own, naked, running around. At first it scared the hell out of me, but I got used to it. So as a director I feel much more confident after this one.
Q: Obviously this isn’t the first time you were brought into an X-Men movie, you were originally slated to direct X-Men 3. How would that have differed, and more to the point, looking back are you pleased that it didn’t come to be?
MV: X-Men was a weird process. The reason I pulled out of it was because, I genuinely didn’t think I had enough time to make the film – and they were giving me much more time on that than on this one – and that world was already created. What was far more satisfying about this one was, because of Stardust and Kick-Ass, I was far more comfortable about bigger-budget special effects and all that shit , but I loved the idea I could recast every character, set up a new world, and do my version of an X-Men movie. X3 ultimately, you’re following a trend, and my X3 would have been – you know I storyboarded the whole bloody film, did the script – I think my X3 would have been at least 40 minutes longer, and it would have had – I think they didn’t let the emotions of those characters – I can remember when I was writing those scenes, when Jean Grey turns round to Wolverine and says ‘kill me’, and the deaths at the end, and Professor X’s death, I was writing that shit with them, and I just felt they didn’t let the emotion and the drama play in that film. It became just wall t-to-wall noise and action –how long was it, like 98 minutes or something, not even that, 89 it might have been – I would have let it breathe, and have far more dramatic elements to it, I think. But then they probably wouldn’t have let me do that. Fox were great on this film. Fox have got this really bad reputation, but they were true allies on this. They really let me get on with it.
Q: You say that you’ve created this world. It’s clearly a prequel, but is it a prequel in the sense that Star Trek is a prequel? If it comes to a point where it’s going to clash with the continuity of the other films are you just going to say, ‘bugger it, let’s just make a good movie’?
MV: Totally. Why would I give a shit about the other ones? We’ve started a whole new – for me I wanted to do my version, and a version where it was more similar to the comics at the beginning, they came out in the 60s. I really enjoyed X1 and X2, I think Bryan did a great job, but I think X3 and then Wolverine, they went off and – The whole superhero genre has been fucked up by a lot of Hollywood trying for big explosions, and lots of glossy and corny costumes and outfit – I was very inspired by what Nolan did with Batman Begins. I’m a big Burton fan, and then you see what happened with, the first two Burton Batmans were great, and then Schumacher took over, and you were just like, ‘what the fuck is going on?’ and they got worse and worse, and they kept making them, and they were getting camper and I just thought – I really enjoyed Batman Begins, a lot more than I thought I would when I first saw it, especially the first half more than the second half, and I just thought, ‘why not try to do the same thing?’ putting a realism, making the characters and genre of X-Men relevant to a modern day audience.
I think superhero films need to change. I’ve said this before, I think superhero films are on the verge of a genre dying anyway if Hollywood – Thor’s done well – that was weird as well, I was meant to direct Thor, so watching that one – but, it’s doing well. No-one’s seen Green Lantern? I don’t know what that’s going to be like. I love superhero films, I want more to be made, but I get nervous. I think they need to be taken seriously as a genre. I think the difference between Iron Man and Iron Man 2 shows, if you don’t really nail it, you can suddenly go, ‘what is this?’
Q: This is the third film you’ve co-written with Jane Goldman…
MV: Fourth actually. We’ve got another one coming out next month.
Q: This is the third we’ve seen. And of course you’re going to be working on Kick-Ass 2 together as well…
MV: Maybe. Everyone says we’re doing that, but I don’t know yet. The weird thing about Kick-Ass 2 is, I enjoyed it so much, but I’m a big believer that if you’re going to do a sequel it’s got to be as good as the first one, if not better. I just don’t know how I can – The business frame of mind is just to do Kick-Ass 2, just shoot it and get it out there, and it’ll make a lot of money, but I really do love that movie, it was a very special moment to me making that film. I’m not saying it was as good as Pulp Fiction, but I think if Tarantino made Pulp Fiction 2, you’d be like, ‘OK… let’s see what you come up with’ and everything that made Kick-Ass original and fun, I think if you do it again, it could be crass. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it would have to have something about it which made me feel comfortable that the audience would enjoy it as well.
Q: How do you and Jane work together? Do you actually sit down in a room and write together and bounce ideas off one another, or do you write separately and e-mail scripts back and forth?
MV: I normally bang out a very rough draft on my own, and send it over to her. She normally rewrites it, and then, when she’s rewritten it, we get in a room together and do the final coming together of the script. And then we give it to people.
Q: She’s suggested before that your speciality is very structural, and hers the fine points. Is that a fair distinction to make?
MV: I build the whole universe, the characters and all that…
Q: and that pretty much holds tight?
MV: Yeah, it doesn’t change at all, because I’m anal about structure, so it doesn’t change at all.
Q: I think one of the impressive things about this film was that the structure leads us to something that was inevitable, but it happens in an unexpected way.
MV: The first scene I wrote was the Auschwitz, or the concentration camp, scene with the little kid. I thought, ‘what’s the best way of doing a prequel?’ and I had the idea to start it, shot-for-shot with the beginning of the X-Men world, and then, let’s see what happened after he pulled the gate. That scene, for me, is the crux of the movie. It makes you feel sorry for Magneto, it makes you want to see him kick some fucking Nazi’s arse, and I also thought –the whole thing of Nazism, they were very obsessed with genetic mutation, and the whole blue eye, blonde hair shit, and all the experiments they did – I just thought it was a very natural way of starting, and then flipping to Professor X, you’ve got Magneto in a fucking concentration camp, and you’ve got Professor X wandering around this huge mansion, and I thought, ‘what a great way of starting it off?’
So they were the first things I wrote, and then, I was always imagining, but you have to figure out: how do they become friends? How do they then fall out? How does Professor X get crippled? And how does Magneto become Magneto? Was the end goal, but it was hard, because Fox kept saying, ‘this movies all about the friendship between them’, and I was like, ‘guys, they only get to see each other for three fucking weeks’, I had to somehow make it believable that you care, and Bryan came up with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I didn’t know much about it. I was English, and we didn’t really learn about that much in school, and when I read about the Cuban Missile Crisis, I thought our version made more sense in history than the real version. The idea that we nearly went to nuclear war, you just go, ‘I cannot believe that happened’, where ultimately, if there’s a bad super villain making all that shit happen, it makes far more sense.
It was Magneto I was obsessed with, Shaw is the villain, but you’re now seeing all those elements of Shaw, going into Magneto, that was, for me, the far more interesting arc. With Professor X, he’s a bit of a pious, sanctimonious, boring character, in that he’s got too much fucking power. It’s very hard writing when you’ve got some guy who can just freeze people, or read everyone’s mind, you’re just going, ‘how do you handle this guy?’ So I did like the idea of James and I going, ‘let’s make him more of a rogue’, ‘let’s make him fun’, and then how he slowly starts realizing there are other mutants out there, and gets slowly more responsible, but for me Magneto is the driving force, that was the character I most related to, and the most fun you can have.
Q: When Xavier is at university, at the beginning of the film, he’s quite cocky. I think his relationship with Erik is what does start to mellow him.
MV: Yep. I think when he realises there are other mutants out there, and because of Shaw, realising that the worst thing that can happen is mutants being hated because Shaw’s trying to kill everyone.
Q: You’ve talked about James Bond in reference to how you could see the character of Erik for Michael’s performance. Did you have a similar archetype for McAvoy as Xavier?
MV: Not really, actually.
Q: How did you direct him then? We’re you referential to Patrick Stewart in the other films?
MV: No we weren’t, in fact it was the opposite. I said, ‘don’t worry about Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, I think they did a great job, but you’ve got to make these characters your own?’ I think, the way I was saying to James was, lets’ make the character more fun, so that you slowly see him becoming the Professor X of – the professor. When we first meet him, he’s not a professor, and we were trying to show that transition. It’s just not as fun. Seeing Magneto growing into a villain is far more interesting than seeing a guy sadly becoming a cripple, and becoming a teacher, ultimately. It’s not quite the arc you want to see as much, but I think James did a fabulous job, because it’s the hardest character to make interesting.
Q: You talked about gender issues a little bit there, and the way women were treated in the 60s. The film’s also set around the time of the civil rights movement. What thinking did you have about race issues?
MV: We talked about it, because they say X-Men was based on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but I think I had enough of a political subplot in this movie. We’ve already discussed, in the next one, does the Civil Rights movement become part of if we do a sequel. That’s a real hot potato, as well, still, so I think we decided to stay clear.
Q: I’d love to see that.
MV: You can only put so much in a film, in the sequel, it could happen. I don’t know yet, I don’t really like talking about sequels because the filmcould tank, and that’s that for everyone.
You can check out our review of the film here, and check back later for the next two parts of this interview.