Interview: Jane Goldman, Co-Writer Of X-Men: First Class

Jane Goldman has co-written, with Matthew Vaughn, the screenplays for his films Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, as well as The Debt, an upcoming film that Vaughn passed over to director John Madden. We got to sit down for a good long chat about First Class, as well as a little about some other, upcoming projects. Here are Five Things that Jane told me:

1. On Getting The Script Ready

I was literally working 12 to 14 hours a day without a day off for three weeks, just to get a script to reflect what Matthew wanted to do with the film. We wanted to get that ready in time for preproduction to begin so that we didn’t have a script that wasn’t ready, and say “We’re going to change this and change this” but to actually have it all in the script.

I actually wrote on the movie solidly from the moment Matthew signed on at the beginning of May until shooting started in September, and during the shoot also. The three weeks I referenced before were the solid three weeks it took to complete a first draft… after that, we rewrote and polished constantly right up until shooting began, and beyond.

2. On What’s Missing From The Film As Released

There’s such a lot that was shot which isn’t in the film, most of which is the absolutely right decisions, but there was extra character stuff. The most important thing, and I think the intention always was that the relationship between Charles and Erik to be central. I think that as the film evolved it became clear how powerful that was. It was important to not trivialize the differences in their ethics and outlooks by not having it to appear to be about one person. Moira is a really strong character and her involvement is massively important, but in earlier iterations, before we came along, there was a sort of love triangle thing. We had already very much drawn back from that but it was ultimately a matter of drawing back from that even further.

Sometimes things go just because of length, but it was also sometimes in service of actually allowing the Charles and Erik relationship.

When you write a screenplay, it’s the combination of things you put in that convey what you want the character to be. When it reaches the editing stage it is no longer in your hands so it’s obviously not going to be exactly the way you planned it. In service of the film, these cuts were the correct decision, but in the service of Moira’s character, it doesn’t give a full picture.

3. On The Gender Politics Of The Film

Emma, I don’t think, needs a reason to be dressed the way she is, that’s the way she looks like in the comics, and it’s absolutely what she should look like. If you want to make it realistic, there are absolutely reasons given. In terms of Moira removing her clothes, I have to take responsibility for that one. I was just trying to think of a clever in way that she could infiltrate the party, and that was the idea that popped into my head.

I think there’s definitely an element of 60s sexism, which is supposed to be not-a-good-thing, running through the movie, though unfortunately sometimes, when a film is edited you end up with a thread seeming that you’re not following all elements of all threads. There was much more of story about Moira being oppressed.

I think what was originally there is that Moira was a woman, so in the minority in the CIA, and in that sense was an outcast in her own way, just as all the mutants are. She was a victim of prejudice. That story line was supposed to reflect what was echoing and reverberating throughout the film, including with Raven.

4. On The Film’s Ethics, And Charles Vs. Erik

I think the film is very strongly connected with real life race issues, and references to the Jewish holocaust. We were obviously aware of the civil rights movement contemporary to the events in the film, but didn’t want to force it down anybody’s throat. It absolutely potentially could be a storyline for a whole new film. Certainly the Malcolm X/Dr. King parallel was something that was absolutely present in our minds.

We wanted it to come down to a matter of opinion. Is there anything that Erik does that’s really utterly morally wrong in this story? In terms of what motivates him, anyway, it’s a case of how far do you go for what you believe in and do you believe in violence in the name of your cause. It’s asking that question without making a judgment. I come down on the pacifist side, too,* but in a way it’s kind of like a litmus test, I think there’s a lot of people who are not pacifists can see the righteousness in Erik’s decisions.

I think I would say that Erik and Charles are equal protagonists. Technically, there’s definitely an argument for saying that Erik is the sole protagonist, just looking at the structure of the story, but I think the way it plays, and correctly so, is that they are equally the heroes. It’s not about hero or anti-hero, it’s just about two heroes who take different paths.

5. On Her Other, Ongoing Projects

Anubis is the one I’m at the earliest stage on. I just fell in love with that short story. Terrific short story. It’s going well, but I’m at very early days – maybe a third, half way into writing that.

Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem [based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd], I’m further along with. I’m at revision stage with that.

Jane told me that there is currently no director attached to Dan Leno. It’s a project that Terry Gilliam was looking at some years ago, but he’s such an obvious choice, I didn’t make the note. I did, however, recommend Neil Jordan and Ms. Goldman said “Yeah, that could be good”. Which it really could.

Jane’s next film to reach cinemas will be her adaptation of The Woman in Black, directed by James Watkins and starring Daniel Radcliffe. That’s due next February, but the teaser trailer has already been released.

There’s more from my interview with Jane Goldman, later, in another post… but you’ll have to stay tuned in to find out what it’s about, exactly. Suspense.

*I’d proudly said to her that I side with Charles.

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