X-Men: The Last Stand Set Visit – Part 6

After chatting with Kelsey Grammer, we made our way back to the main hanger. Along the way we passed another guy made up to look like Beast. He was the stunt double for Grammer.

We then piled on the bus again to go look at some completed sets. We again weaved through the trailers and headed towards a dark part of the lot. There we saw a 200 ft section of the Golden Gate Bridge. The ground had been paved like a freeway and the sides of the famous bridge were copied on either side. A few snow covered cars were parked on it. Surrounding the bridge were 4 story green screen curtains. It was quite a sight, even in the dark and snow.

We then drove nearby and saw a bombed out, war torn city. We were told that this was the Danger Room set. The room creates a destroyed city-like environment for our heroes to fight in. One of our tour guides told us that they had huge fireballs there a few nights back and that Halle Berry had been flown over the set as a car was thrown into the air. It looks like quite a background for an action scene. All of the main X-Men (except for Cyclops) are seen in this scene.

We then headed back to the main set and the hangar. After arriving, we walked through a side door, through some scaffolding, and into an amazing sight. In front of us was the Alcatraz set. A large portion of Alcatraz had been recreated at the Vancouver location. Surrounding it was a large wall with spotlights. Fog was being blown in from large vents around the wall. On the far side was a destroyed portion of the Golden Gate Bridge. There were huge chunks of pavement and railing and destroyed cars, obviously redirected to the prison island by Magneto. It was amazing. At the location where we had walked into the set, a portion of Alcatraz had been turned into Worthington Laboratories. There were air conditioners, fans, and other items surrounding the lab. However, this was outside of the camera range and away from where filming was taking place that night.

Our Fox hosts told us a little bit about the set: “This was just a tract of land that was sitting here empty. So everything was built. What you see here is the side of the building in Alcatraz which has become one of the buildings of Worthington Industries where the cure is being developed. And this is where a battle takes place much as the cast were talking about. You know, philosophically there’s great difference and people have different ideas about what is going to happen. So all those opposing forces converge here. There’s a huge battle. And because of the smoke, you can hardly see it, that is the wreckage of the bridge.”

As we walked to where they were shooting, we walked on large gravel all over the ground. The approach of all of us internet geeks was quite loud on the gravel and it caused just about every head on the set to turn in our direction. As we would later find out, we were the only press visitors to the set during the whole shoot and it was quite an honor for us. However, it also made us a bit of an oddity to see for the crew (despite blue mutants and guys with claws and capes running around). We then attempted to position ourselves out of the way but in a location good enough to see what was filming.

A few feet away from us were Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman preparing for their scene. Both were in full costume. They were all under a large covering hanging from cranes and keeping the snow from landing in the area they were shooting. The two actors discussed the scene and their positioning for it. But as I watched them, I saw them start discussing other scenes from the film. It seemed to turn into a very friendly but passionate discussion about the characters. A few minutes later Brett Ratner walked up and started talking with the actors. I only caught bits and pieces of what was said, but I heard them mention someone making Bobby (Iceman) jealous by something they said. It was really interesting to watch Wolverine and Magneto get into a deep conversation about the characters with the director. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen actors and a director really discussing a story while on set. I started to realize how this story was really a group effort with input from everyone involved.

It was then time to film the scene. Everyone was told to quiet down. Jackman got down on the ground and started doing push ups to make himself be out of breath. They placed the clap board in front of the camera and called out the marker. Some gas flames nearby were turned up to light the actors with flickering firelight. Wolverine lay down on the ground in front of Magneto who had his hand out. Action was then called. Wolverine, who was laying on the ground face down, flipped over onto his back. Magneto then said, “I warned you.” He then moved his hand and Wolverine spun around on the gravel with his clawed hands stretched out to the side. Wolverine then begins to yell out in pain while on the ground and arch his back. “Aaaarrrggghh! Jean!!!!” he calls out. Magneto then says, “You never learn, do you?” Wolverine then replies, “Actually, I do.” Magneto then balls his fist and Wolverine again arches his back in pain and screams in agony some more. “Aaarrrggghh!!!!” Then someone on the set yells out, “Beast!” and the scene ends. They call, “Cut!” and the flames are turned down again.

Hugh Jackman then pops up off of the ground and a woman comes to him with a towel and starts cleaning the mud off of his costume. As she towels off his backside, I wondered how many female fans would have liked to have had that job. In the meantime, Jackman starts talking about the scene again with McKellen. Ratner joins them and tells Hugh to shake his claws as he writhes on the ground in pain to sell the effects more that Magneto is manipulating him. Hugh agrees and they prepare to do the scene again. While all this is going on, a guy comes over and attends to Wolverine’s adamantium claws. Ratner comes over to us journalists and tells us that they have a guy entirely devoted to maintaining Wolverine’s claws. Apparently he custom made them and has a variety of metal, rubber, and plastic ones. As Ratner tells us this, we watch him dry the melted snow off of the claws. They then set up for the scene again while Ratner started chatting with us. He spoke again about what Bryan Singer said to him: “‘Make your version of the movie.’ He said, ‘You can follow my lead or just do your version.’ So it gave me a lot more confidence. But I still have been precious with it even though he gave me that kind of license to go out and do whatever I want, he was really generous about making my version of it. The same thing Jonathan Demme did when I’d call him, “What do I do?! Anthony Hopkins….?!!” He said, “Woah, Brett, make your version.” If he had watched Manhunter before he made Silence of the Lambs, that movie would have never been the way it came out. So Bryan really kind of just gave me the blessing. He blessed me and said, “Go for it.”

Ratner also spoke with us about the massive Golden Gate Bridge pieces on the set: “I was shocked ’cause this is like real concrete and real metal that they literally designed it, drew it, formed it, thought about the side railings here. The detail of it was designed. I mean look at this set! I’ve never been on a set this big in my whole life! It’s incredible!”

Ratner also chatted about the story itself: “There’ an awful lot of story in this one. It’s a character, plot driven movie. It’s not just about action. It’s got a lot of talking, a lot of storytelling involved. Very complex storytelling. Hopefully all the dots connect and you understand what’s happening.” He was asked how close he was to being done: “When does the movie come out? The film will be wet and hand carried to each theater around the world. (laughs)” Of course that was a lead in to ask if he knew how many minutes the cut would be: “I’m hoping under 2 hours. I think in this story you can make a 2 hour 15 minute movie and it will still be fine. There’s a lot of stories to tell. But I have a very short attention span and I like to, if I can, I mean I’m always going to service the story, but I like the pace.” With that someone yelled, “Here we go!” and Ratner returned to his monitor.

Wolverine goes through the scene one more time and is tortured by Magneto once again. I actually find myself holding my breath as he’s screaming in agony. It’s quite tense to see in person and even the Fox representative with us said she was holding her breath, too. This time Wolverine shakes his claws a little as directed by Ratner. What’s odd, though, is that we only see one camera filming (besides a camera shooting DVD footage and another camera shooting a Ratner documentary). That one camera doesn’t even have Wolverine in the shot, it’s only Magneto. So why have Hugh go through agony over and over? Is it just to get the audio? I never found out.

As they set up to shoot it once again, Ratner comes over to us and starts chatting some more. He asks us how we got the jobs to visit movie sets. (Dumb luck.) He mentions that we’re the only press to visit the X3 set and jokes that his mother even had to sign a 200 page document to come visit. As the snow continues to come down, Ratner says, “I was told this was the first time in Vancouver history that it has snowed in November!”

Ratner is then called to film the scene once again. As they call action and get ready to shoot, a plane starts flying overhead and they hold everything until it passes by. It was an amusing sight as several dozen people stood there quiet and still in the snow with Wolverine laying on the ground and Magneto towering over him….until a plane was finished passing over. If only the people in the plane knew they had ground one of the biggest films shooting in Vancouver to a complete halt. After taking an eternity to pass, they began to shoot again.

Once the scene was done, Hugh Jackman came over and started chatting with us. Everyone has heard that Jackman is a nice guy and I saw it first hand. Earlier in the Q&A, a journalist asked Jackman and the others if they had followed their characters in the comics between films. Jackman didn’t get a chance to answer, but he told our fellow internet geek that he’d answer his question later. Sure enough, in between scene and in full Wolverine garb, he came over and said, “I need to answer your question!” It was just cool to see him go out of his way to chat with us.

“I tried to read the comic books again and I thought I’d develop Wolverine’s fighting style. I took it very bar brawling, not fancy, just messy, dirty kind of Mike Tyson, pretty much in X1 and 2. And I looked in the comics and he’s much lower, lowering his legs. So we have incorporated that. And I worked with Simon Crane and the stunt guys on developing that. So that’s in answer to your question about do I look at the comics. I do.”

Does he have a favorite comic in particular? “Origins is my favorite. I love it. (joking) Oh, Weapon X is my favorite. No, I really love Origins.”

While talking with us, Jackman asked, “Have you seen the trailer yet?” We said we hadn’t. He said, “Oh, you’ve got to see it!” He then went back to filming the scene. The Fox people started talking on the side and mentioned that the trailer had just been finished and that they were going to show it to Jackman after filming the scene. One of our fellow geeks asked, “Can we see it?” The Fox reps looked at each other, thought about it, then said, “Well, I guess if Hugh says it’s OK.” It was then that filming of the scene took place once more. Ratner had told Jackman to really sell the pain that time. Sure enough, as Magneto started crushing his metal skeleton, Wolverine writhed on the ground and said, “Aaarrgghhh!! Aaack! Son of a b***h! F**k! Aaaaahhhh!” My fellow internet geeks and I looked at each other and started wondering how many times you could say “f**k” in a PG-13 film before bumping it to an R. After calling “Cut” Ratner ran over to Jackman and told him he did a great job and really sold the pain. I guess the language wasn’t a problem!

With that, a crew member put a heavy jacket on Wolverine and gave him an umbrella to protect his hair. Off to the side, one of the visual effects guys had pulled a writer out of the crowd and asked him to hold up the grey and silver lighting reference balls in the middle of the set. These are used for the visual effects in the film. The crew member yelled out something like, “We have Will here today and he brought out his balls for us!” Everyone started clapping as he held out the balls to his side. Looking a little shell shocked, Will did as he was told. Jackman then called out, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a round of applause for Will and his big balls!” Everyone again started laughing and clapping. Jackman jokingly congratulated Will and told him he’d be on the DVD.

Jackman then came over to the rest of us and the Fox rep said, “Is it OK if they watch the trailer with you?” Jackman said it would be fine if it was OK with Fox. They went back and forth a little trying to figure out if it was OK to show us the trailer, then they decided to go ahead and do it. Jackman told us to follow him. Thus began one of the more surreal moments of my life. I found myself walking through rows and rows of trailers in the snow with about a dozen internet geeks behind Wolverine holding a big blue and yellow umbrella to see the X-Men: The Last Stand trailer. It was one of those moments where you said, “How in the world did I get here??” Along the way Jackman said Hi to the caterers whom he knew by name. They greeted him back with enthusiastic Hellos.

We finally arrived at a large truck trailer that had a screening room inside. Executive Producer Kevin Feige also was there. As we sat down they joked that we were never there and to not tell anyone about seeing the trailer. Of course, we agreed. Jackman allowed everyone to take the seats and he stood at the back. The screen came up and they actually had to enter a password to get the tape to play. We were told it was a rough version that didn’t have all the effects completed. In fact, the audio on it had only been recorded by Patrick Stewart a few days before. It would go online the following Monday, only a week after Stewart’s dialogue was recorded in London. It was an impressive turnaround. Finally the trailer played and we were all blown away. As Wolverine’s claws popped in the final shot, it was quite surreal to realize that Wolverine himself was standing right behind us. We gave the trailer a big round of applause and said we thought it was great. Jackman then said, “OK, now get the hell out!” He then walked out the door and someone said, “Can we see it again?” The Fox folks said we could, and someone stuck their head out the door and told Jackman that they were showing it again. He then quickly returned to see it once more, and we again applauded. As Jackman started to leave again, Will (without his big balls) asked if he would record a greeting for his son and Jackman agreed. All in all, I was really impressed with Hugh Jackman.

With that our trip ended and we made our way back to the bus. As we stopped outside of the hangar and waited for it to arrive, Famke Janssen passed by us in X- Attire. We all stopped and gawked at her and she looked at us like, “Who the heck are these geeks?” She then passed by and our brush with Phoenix ended. We boarded the warm bus and headed back for the hotel. On the way back we got word that our unplanned screening of the trailer went so well that Fox agreed to let us write about it online several days before it was released despite an embargo on articles about the set visit.

Thus concluded my trip to Mutantland. I have to admit that I was very skeptical about X-Men: The Last Stand before I visited the set. However, after seeing everything and talking with the cast and crew, I realized the film had potential to be another great entry into the X-Men mythos. They have the right look, the right cast, and the right effects. Now all they need is the right story. We’ll find out if they have that when it hits theaters on May 26.

I want to thank the Fox geek wranglers Carol Cundiff and Michael Brady for being fantastic hosts to us in Vancouver. It was fun guys!

Source: Scott Chitwood