Brett Ratner: New Direction for Mutants

After setting box office records by pairing Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the action-comedy Rush Hour and its even more successful sequel Rush Hour 2, director Brett Ratner must have been ready for some new challenges.

After all, a year ago, he probably wasn’t even thinking about directing X-Men: The Last Stand, the highly anticipated threequel in the Marvel mutant franchise. That gig was still Matthew Vaughn’s at the time, but by early June, Ratner was on board, ready to try to develop, shoot and edit the effects-laden action movie in time for its Memorial Day ’06 release. In that time, Ratner would face criticism from comic book fans and internet fansites that claimed Ratner was little more than a director-for-hire without the visual style necessary to replace Bryan Singer. Ignoring his critics, Ratner endured and was able to finish the job despite a ridiculously rushed schedule.

Superhero Hype! recently had a chance to grill Ratner, who has a lot on the line, as far as keeping the fans happy and proving his detractors wrong. It’s going to be a nervous weekend for the director to see if he successfully met the challenge.

Superhero Hype!: You ended up coming in late to this movie, not that it was your fault…

Brett Ratner: It was my fault. (Laughter)

SHH!: Knowing that you had less time to prepare, what made you think that you were up to such a challenge?

Ratner: Well, the script was fantastic. I really found it was a much more emotional story, and it was thought-provoking and it was something that I just said, “Wow, if I can pull this off, this is going to be a good movie.” And it was the final chapter. It felt like that when I read it. I didn’t know it was going to be called “The Last Stand” at the time, but it read like the last stand. For me, it was a huge challenge. I’ve never done a movie like this before, and I thought if I could pull this one off, it would be exciting.

SHH!: How did coming into this project so late affect casting. Obviously, Vinnie Jones was cast by Matthew Vaughn because they’re friends. As a director, did you decide that you could work with whomever was already hired for the roles?

Ratner: Well, once I came to the movie, I was the director. I could have fired Vinnie Jones, but I thought that Vinnie Jones was perfect casting. If it wasn’t, I would have fired him, but I thought it was brilliant. In between, from when Matthew Vaughn left and when I came on, they hired Kelsey Grammer, and Kelsey was a brilliant, brilliant choice. I thought, “Wow, this guy personifies Beast.” I couldn’t come up with a better idea than that, so yeah, I go with what works. If you watch the movie, I didn’t try to reinvent it. I tried to make it part of a trilogy and part of the three. I wasn’t trying to make my version of it. Unless you’re a very sophisticated viewer, I don’t think you’d be able to tell Bryan Singer’s version to my version. Could you?

SHH!: Was it disappointing that you’d be making a movie that you weren’t able to shepherd, because it was developed by another director?

Ratner: It really wasn’t developed by another director. I think Matthew Vaughn came on very late, too. He was only on for a few weeks, also. It takes years to develop something, really. They started developing this right after “X2,” and I don’t really hear much in the media about who did what. At the end of the day, I directed the movie, so that’s what I care about.

SHH!: Can you talk about how you picked some of the mutants. At one point, there were even rumors of you using Stacey X, the hooker mutant from Joe Casey’s run on the book.

Ratner: It’s so ridiculous. Making this movie is a strictly confidential process. Because there are so many people wanting to get this information, there’s so much that is made-up. I literally went through the Mutant Encyclopedia, the X-Men Encyclopedia, and just went like this… turn the page and went BOOM! (sticks finger down on page).. Stacy X…because we couldn’t tell them who they were auditioning for. We had the writers write sides for a character that wasn’t in the movie, but then all of a sudden, I’m in the paper saying that I’m putting whores in the movie. (laughter)

SHH!: How did you pick the mutants though, particularly the new characters with new powers?

Ratner: I just went through the comics and the materials and thought, “This is cool.” They’re what I thought was cool, and I just wanted to go in and put some color into it. It’s a multi-racial comic, and Halle Berry was the only person of color in the last few movies, so I wanted to bring some flavor, as they say. They were inspired by the comics. For instance, Spike started as Kid Omega, but there was another character. I found one character that I liked and then I took the powers. For instance, Callisto has the power of another character who moves fast and has the telepathy thing. The girl from the wall looks like Psylocke but she has the power of one of the other characters. So I mixed and matched powers to service the story. Instead of having ten more actors in the movie, I just said, “You’re going to have these three powers.”

SHH!: One of the major changes from the comics was changing Bill Duke’s Trask to be a government agent rather than the creator of the Sentinels. Why did you decide to change that?

Ratner: Yeah, because it has to service our story, I mean, this is not a comic book. This is a comic book movie, but the comic book is not the script. If you see what Bryan Singer did, if they followed the comic book, Wolverine would look more like me, a short stocky bulldog, you know? So you have to interpret the comic and work for the cinematic world. As far as Bill Duke’s character, I didn’t want the government to be villainous. I didn’t want them to be a cliché, which was in the other movies but is what worked, but I didn’t want to do it again. I didn’t want it to be about the government, I wanted it to be about this cure. The President wasn’t quite Bush, but he wasn’t quite Clinton. I was kind of like trying to find a middle ground. I didn’t want the villainous Trask in the comics to be a villain.

SHH!: Several of the actors say that you feel comfortable on the set with mayhem. How much does accident play in your creative process?

Ratner: It’s not just my creative process. I think any creative process. I think some of the most brilliant stuff comes out of just putting all these great actors in a real setting in these costumes, and magic is going to happen. The perfect example of that is “Apocalypse Now.” You get these brilliant actors and you go to the jungle for two years with helicopters flying everywhere and loud noises and they’re eating their rations, and magic is going to happen. And the guys with Marlon Brando around. This is a very complex story, so there’s not a lot of room for improvisation, but I think some magic did happen out of just us being there. I have brilliant Shakesperean actors, and Patrick Stewart says “Well, Brett, don’t you think I should say this?” and I’m like “Great! Yeah, let’s do that!” These guys are really smart. They have an opinion and they vocalize them and I encourage that.

SHH!: Did you change any of the dialogue while on set, and did you have the writers there to help with that?

Ratner: I had the writers there. The story never changed, that’s what I loved about it. I completely changed the third act, but not the story. The story was there. It was just the location changed, because the third act was ending in Washington, DC. I said to the studio that these movies always end in Washington, DC. I’ve seen it so many times. They had this incredible set piece, which is this bridge sequence, but it was in the middle of the movie. So I said, “This is crazy!” This is the biggest set piece in the entire world, that I’ve ever read, and it’s in the middle of a movie. We have to move this to the end and make it part of the plot. Breaking them out is just one part of it, but where are you going to go from there? So I convinced Tom Rothman, the head of the studio, to move it to the end of the movie.

SHH!: There were some obvious analogies in the previous movie that the gay community could relate to. Did you bear this in mind with the sequel and its premise of a “cure” for mutants?

Ratner: Well, I think it relates. I’m not going to just narrow it down to the gay community, but it affects any minority, anybody who had prejudice against them. It’s a very contemporary relatable subject matter, and it’s really about a choice. Do you choose to retain your uniqueness or conform, and what are the implications of that? I think it definitely has a lot of importance. The gay community will see this and go “Wow, what if they offered a cure for being gay?” It’s interesting. I don’t think it’s the choice of the parents really. All those issues can relate, and I think it’s up to the individual. I think that every single character in this movie is going to have an opinion about it. If you ask them, “Would you take the cure?” “Well, maybe when I was 12 I would, because I felt very different and alienated and picked on” but then the person matures and grows up and they feel like, “Hey, this is who I am and I’m proud to be who I am.” Probably young people of any gender or race or sexual preference is going to feel different and consider it.

SHH!: What was the most difficult scene to shoot in the script and was there anything you didn’t know how you were going to do it?

Ratner: The whole third act! The bridge sequence really, is so complex. You can’t even imagine. If you dissected that and broke it down, it’s crazy.

SHH!: How many cameras did you use for that?

Ratner: 27. No, I’m kidding. (laughter) It wasn’t just cameras, it was elements. It was miniatures. We built a four-lane bridge in Vancouver, a quarter mile long just to shoot some of the action. It was unbelievable! Then we shot the real bridge in San Francisco, then we did a scale model of it, then we extended it with CGI, then we had real people, fake people, cars, fake cars. We started shooting it the day we started shooting the movie. That thing was just a monster.

SHH!: The actors mentioned that you shot a lot of scenes from different angles. How did that affect your editing process?

Ratner: That what makes it rich and makes it feel like a movie instead of a TV show. I’ll be done [editing] a scene two days after I shot it. You have to because visual effects have to start months and months and months before. My editor has cut every one of my films so he knows how I shoot. The guy just knows what I’m going for, he gets it. He knows me like the back of my hand.

SHH!: Was there any particular thing in this movie that differentiates it as your own from Singer’s movies?

Ratner: I don’t think it’s a shot. I don’t think it’s something like Spike Lee with the shot of the guy floating down the street. (laughter) I think it’s more of an energy. If you watch the other movies and you watch this movie, I think this movie has a pace that’s my kind of ADD frenetic. I get bored very easily so it’s next scene, next scene, next scene, keep it moving, keep it moving, keep it moving… I mean, did you fall asleep at all in the film? A few times? No?

SHH!: You mentioned trying to be really top secret about things happening on the set. Does it bother you as a director when certain elements leaked online?

Ratner: ‘Cause they weren’t right. Were they right? Did you go back and look at it?

SHH!: Do you follow what people are saying about the movie online, like here at Superhero Hype!?

Ratner: I don’t actually. Now, I do. I love Superhero Hype! now, but when I was doing the movie, I wasn’t really worrying about it because there was so much negativity and I was trying to stay focused and stay positive, and when I took the movie, Bryan gave me incredible advice, he said, “Whatever you do, don’t read the stuff on the internet about you.” I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Because they wrote the exact same stuff about me when I did the [first] movie, so just do your own version of the movie and don’t worry about it.”

SHH!: So do you consider this negativity as another challenge to overcome, like trying to do your best to prove people wrong?

Ratner: I just followed Bryan’s advice. I didn’t really pay attention to it. I know it’s out there.

SHH!: Was there a DVD crew on set for extras?

Ratner: There was. They have some EPK crew come by once in awhile, but I had my own “Making Of” that I’m shooting, as I’m making the movie. I have a team that I’ve done all my movies with. They get a very intimate, inside look, so there probably will be a two-hour “Making Of”–or maybe hour and a half–of very private and intimate… my point of view, instead of being the EPK crew where everyone is acting when the lights are on with the EPK crew. “Hey, the EPK crew is here! EPK crew on set today!” and everyone’s like, “Oh, this is great!” I get stuff where the drama ensues.

SHH!: Any deleted scenes?

Ratner: Are we going to video that fast? Is this going straight to DVD? Forget about the theatrical release, this is going to be on DVD next week! There aren’t many deleted scenes, believe it or not. There’s alternate versions of these scenes, but there aren’t many deleted scenes.

SHH!: X-Men movies usually do pretty well, so have you started thinking about whether you’ll do another X-men movie?

Ratner: No, not until they pay me. I don’t think about anything until I get the check.

X-Men: The Last Stand opens everywhere on Friday, May 26. Also read Superhero Hype!’s interviews with Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, and Kelsey Grammer.

Source: Edward Douglas