After his little-seen indie feature debut Public Access, Bryan Singer made a big splash with the 1995 mystery-thriller The Usual Suspects, winner of Oscars for Best Original Screenplay (Christopher McQuarrie) and Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey). The dark-toned Stephen King adaptation Apt Pupil followed, and in 2000, Singer first took the reins of a Hollywood franchise with the blockbuster hit X-Men. Singer also helmed the sequel X2, but the opportunity to claim the long-aborning Superman Returns led Singer to jump ship from X-Men 3 to take flight with the Man of Steel.
After much speculation, Singer cast unknown Brandon Routh as Superman. Routh spent the better part of a season on One Life to Live before his role was recast; his other TV credits include guest spots on Undressed, Gilmore Girls, Cold Case, Oliver Beene, and Will & Grace. Routh also shot a role in the 2006 Canadian feature Karla before donning the red and blue tights. I spoke with Singer and Routh during their appearance at the 2006 WonderCon at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco (and earlier spoke to Singer at the 2005 Comic-Con at the San Diego Convention Center).
Groucho: What Superman comics would you put on a recommended reading list for people who want to bone up before they see the film?
Bryan Singer: Uhhhhh, I don't know, I'm...probably uhh—. Well, the early Action Comics. You know, I—as most of you know, I never grew up reading enormous amounts of comics. I've gone back obviously to look into the—you know, I've sort of fallen in love with the Alex Ross comics, just because [of] the visual style and because of the duality thing. So those would be my favorite, for at least looking at the comic and taking it seriously. Also, in terms of just execution, if you look at some of the Max Fleischer animations, [they're] very unique, very extraordinary. And also the George Reeves television show and of course the 1978 Richard Donner film. I would definitely see the 1978 Richard Donner film, of which this is kind of a springboard from...
Groucho: Superman Returns deals with kind of an evergreen Superman theme that sometimes he just has to go away for a while, so I'd like for you guys to talk about what it means for him to go away and what it means to him to go away, and what it means for him to return.
Brandon Routh: Um, I think I got all of that. I think a lot of things, so I'll just pick one that I'm remembering. This is something you will never know, necessarily, in the movie. This is character explorations that I did and Bryan and I talked about. Superman, not knowing exactly where he's from...There are certain things he doesn't know about himself. And so he goes ...sometimes we take a walk in the woods to find ourselves, to have a moment of zen or to really consider what we're here for. I mean, you know, a guy whose purpose in life is to be Earth's greatest protector, that's a lot to deal with and he doesn't even have anybody to talk to about it. I mean, you know, I had to make a movie, but thankfully I had friends and family to talk about it, to deal with the stress of that, but he has nobody, other than Martha, I believe. So he's going to work it out for himself...
Groucho: Could you guys talk about your evolution together—your journey together—with this character, from initial discussions to the first weeks of filming? Was there any kind of fine-tuning you did with the character as you went along?
Bryan Singer: My process began with seeing Brandon in an early tape he had done previously for the role, a screen test actually, and then a tape of him doing another role, or some other lines that I wasn't familiar with. And then eating—we met at a coffee shop where we talked for a couple of hours about the character, about Brandon's history, which is good for me because when I get to know the person, then you can help find the traits within the person that apply to the character, and that was sort of my deciding moment, even though I didn't share it for several months. I cast Brandon, and then we started talking about it. The process you probably remember more than I do.
Brandon Routh: Um, uh, I forgot what the question was. How the process grew, how we grew with the process?
Bryan Singer: Yeah. How we—
Brandon Routh: Well, I mean, certainly, as we talked more, we understood each other more, which is a big thing. We talked a lot about—you know, whether it was sitting down for two hours or, in passing, talking about scenes. Every couple days we'd update, or I'd come back to Brian and say "hey." 'Cause we were in Sydney for two months before we started actually shooting, during pre-production. And I'd run things by him, we'd talk about decisions that Clark was making or Superman was making. So that was a big part of growing, and what was great is we never—nothing was ever set in stone. There was always a door open for change, for new creations to happen on the day. You know, we might have even been shooting a scene five or six times one way, and it just wasn't working, and Bryan would—we'd stop and figure out what it was that wasn't right, and we'd change it so it was.
Bryan Singer: We also had a lot of discussion about the physics of Superman. What is hard for him to lift? What's effortless? And to what levels of effort different things were. And it always was a point of conversation, you know, 'cause in theory his strength can be somewhat infinite, but you still have to—an actor still has to embody that.
Brandon Routh: You don't want everyone and everything you lift to look the same.
Bryan Singer: Exactly. Or how you fly—
Brandon Routh: How you take off, or how you turn.
[For Groucho's review of Superman Returns, click here.]