It seems like the quality of X-Men: First Class is inversely proportional to the difficulties faced in bringing it to the screen. These challenges, and how some of them were overcome, made up much of my chat with Matthew Vaughn at the weekend. We also talked about the X-Men film he almost made some years ago, his writing process and a whole lot more.
Here are Five Things he told me.
1. On What The Film Is Actually About
Making this movie was such a crazy experience that we were just trying to get it done and get it finished on time and I didn’t really have any time to think . Normally and I’d be able to tell you “When I set out to make this film I had the following ideas” but everyday we were just making it up. 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 and I’m desperate to do a Bond film, always have been, and here I got to have my cake and eat it. I got to do an X-Men film and a Bond thing Frankenheimer sort of political thriller at the same time.
I sort of want the Brocollis to regret never hiring me. I was very keen to direct Bond. I don’t know if I am any more, to be blunt, now that I’ve done this. I really love Daniel [Craig], though you know, it might be interesting if they one day decide to cast Fassbender as Bond, then maybe I’ll go “Hey!”
2. On Writing The Film
Jane [Goldman] and I wrote the screenplay, threw everything out and started again. Sheldon Turner somehow managed to get a ‘Story By’ credit. He wrote a Magneto script that none of us have ever read. I didn’t even know that – I was like “Who the fuck is this guy?” but Hollywood has got it’s own way of dealing with things.
The X-Men we used were already chosen by Bryan and Fox. In the draft they gave me all of the characters were in there. We cut Sunspot because we didn’t have enough time or money. They couldn’t make him work, he was a pain the ass.
Bryan came up with the Cuban Missile Crisis. When I read about it, I thought our version made more sense in history than the real version. We nearly went to nuclear war? I cannot believe that happened. If there was a bad super villain making all that shit happen it makes far more sense.
I’m terrified of doing a movie with one lead character… if something’s getting boring I can just say “Let’s cut to that plotline”. It’s hard to make sure they all come across as three dimensional characters but at the same time I think it’s more interesting, it’s easier to con an audience into thinking there’s lots of interesting things happening if I can change the channel when I need to.
We cut out a whole love story between Moira and X. In most of my movies I try and shoot too many things. It’s better to be able to take things down than try to build it up.
When it comes to the line “There’s no place for women in the CIA”, Lauren Shuler Donner said “You’ve got to get rid of that line, I hate that line” and I said “Lauren, I don’t believe in that, but that’s what it was like… if we’re going to recreate the 60s, we’ve got to recreate the 60s, that’s what the attitude was, so we’ve got to keep that”.
I normally bang out a very rough draft on my own and then send it over [to Jane Goldman]. I’m anal about structure. She then rewrites it and then once she’s rewritten it, we get in a room together and do the final coming together of the script.
The first scene I wrote was the concentration camp scene with the little kid. I thought, “What’s the best way of doing a prequel?” I thought let’s just start it, shot for shot, at the beginning of the X-Men world and then let’s see what happens… that scene, for me, is the crunch of the movie. It makes you feel sorry for Magento, makes you want to see him kick some Nazi ass… and also 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. You have to figure out “How do they become friends? How do they then all out? How does he get crippled? How does Magneto become Magneto?”
It was Magneto that I was obsessed with. Shaw is the villain but you’re now seeing all those elements of Shaw going into Magneto, that for me is the far more interesting arc. Professor X is a bit of a pious, sanctimonious boring character. James and I were saying “Let’s make him more of a rogue, make him more fun” and then he starts realizing there are more mutants out there and becoming more responsible.
3. On Shooting The Film
I got hardly any time to prep, had 5 DPs on this film, four different ADs. Every day I didn’t know who my crew was I was “Hey, what do you do? Are you the DP?” It was good for me, because I’d so relied on my AD and DP, that little triumvirate when you make a film, but here I was sort of on my own, naked… at first it scared the hell out of me but I got used to it. I was, as a director I feel far more confident after this one…. John Mathieson [the credited DP] came on half way through the shoot. We got through it. Normally I was far more collaborative with DPs, here I become bit more of a megalomaniac… somebody’s got to take control…. we seemed to get away with having different DPs.
People are always asking “What’s your style as a filmmaker?” and it’s very simple – I just want to tell a story and I’m always about every shot keeping that narrative drive moving along. And I don’t like throwing the camera around. I see these movies where I have no idea who the fuck is doing what to who and what character is meant to relate to who. Because this is set in the 60s I tried not to shoot it in a very modern style, I said “Let’s go back to the Frankheimer”… very traditional framing and camera moving when it needs to move… trying to make it as classic as possible. And to tell a story.
4. On The Cast
I made McAvoy audition with every single actor that came in for Magneto. He got pretty annoyed with me. But I was like, if we’re going to try and do that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid chemistry, I think it’s really, really important that you’ve got to see that chemistry before hand… when Michael came in, after 20 seconds of the two of them together, I was like “I found them”.
I think people with one line are just as important as people with a thousand lines. It takes one bad delivery to take you out of a film, so if I can get away with casting great actors in smaller roles, I’ll take it. With Flemyng, I had to bullshit him that in the sequel he’d have a much bigger role.
Actually, we were thinking of Dexter [Fletcher] to play the Oliver Platt role… Fox were saying “You can’t have all these Brits” but I like working with my friends. It’s so much easier to turn up and you’re with your mates on set and you have a laugh and I don’t have to pussyfoot around and you say “do this, do that” and they get on with it.
I don’t normally have any pity for actors, but the prosthetic work is pretty horrible, really horrible. I remember when I was on set looking at Beast and Mystique talking to each other and, fucking hell, this was just laughable. You’ve got two blue people… and trying to get that emotion, to believe it. There were moments I was panicking on this movie. Trust me, there was a lot of editing to make that stuff work.
5. On The X3 He Never Made
I storyboarded the whole bloody film, did the script. My X3 would have been 40 minutes longer. They didn’t let the emotions and the drama play in that film. It became wall-to-wall noise and drama. I would have let it breathe and far more dramatic elements to it.
I really enjoyed X1 and X2, I think Bryan did a great job… I think superhero films need to change. I think superhero movies as a genre are on the verge of dying, if they don’t. I think they need to be taken seriously.
X-Men: First Class is in cinemas on the 1st of July, here in the UK, and the 3rd, over there in the US. Wherever and whenever, it’s highly recommended.