The buzz around X-Men: First Class is immense, especially considering the disastrous third mutant installment almost destroyed the series. So what changed? We asked First Class producer — and X3 screenwriter — Simon Kinberg what he learned.
Plus we also asked him to spill a little on his next big science fiction projects: Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and the bloody historical epic Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Apologies about the noise (we've transcribed the interview below)
This isn't the first X-Men movie you've worked on. You wrote X-Men 3: The Last Stand. What did you learn from that film that you brought into this film [X-Men: First Class]?
A lot of things, actually. Part of it was X-Men 3, as the third of a trilogy, I think in some ways went for a bigger bang, probably less character development than we did in this movie. So we went back to the basics of what Bryan Singer and Chris Nolan has done so well — of making a really character driven, dramatic story.
On top, you have superpowers and massive action. But the underneath is really what the movie is about, which is the interplay between these two characters who are flawed and broken and fundamentally human at the core. And it was something that Matthew [Vaughn] as a filmmaker was attracted to. And if Matthew had directed X-Men The Last Stand, perhaps that would have been different too. You know he was initially going to direct X-Men 3. The biggest lesson to learn was to sort of scratch all the way back to [the question of], what's the human story? And then build from there.
What was it like pitching a movie that was set in the 60s?
The studio was really excited about doing a prequel about the origin of Erik and Charles' friendship and then enmity. So once you commit to that, then you do the math and it's got to be the 60s or the 70s. And I think the 60s was actually more palatable than the 70s for the studio, as the 70s were a little disco and a little weird. The 60s were dramatic and had big themes and big issues. Very quickly Bryan Singer, who is a producer on the movie, Lauren Shuler Donner and I came up with the idea of setting it around the Cuban Missile Crisis. And once we had that as an idea, we thought, "There's no better beginning for a movie, this could start World War III."
You're also working on Neill Blomkamp's next picture Elysium, how is this going to be different from all the other alien pictures that came out after District 9?
I can't tell you about the content of Elysium but I can tell you, it won't really be... it's a very different movie than anything you've ever seen before. It's not necessarily an alien movie. He set himself up, because [District 9] was one of the greatest first films any director's ever made. I'm hoping that this movie has an opportunity to be even better. He was very young when he directed that movie, he was like 26 or 27. He's only 31 now. He's learned as a filmmaker, he's evolved as a filmmaker. Visually, stylistically it's actually very different than District 9.
I literally will be murdered in my sleep if I tell you too much more. It's a unique movie. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before. And I will say, where I would be daunted because of District 9 being this masterpiece Neill is so talented as a writer and as a director that I'm kind of fearless going into this movie. I just think the guy is special.
One of the big themes in District 9 was second class citizens and other social issues. What are the big social issues what are the big themes in this picture?
I can't tell you what the big themes are, but I can tell you that there are big themes. He's someone who's really interested in the world. He's not a filmmaker who's only interested in other movies. He's somebody who's interested in the politics of the world, the reality of the world. Whatever kind of movie he makes in whatever genre, it's never simply going to be a synthetic movie about the movies he liked growing up. It's always going to be about something bigger, and this movie is too.
I'm excited about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The book is very dark!
As is the movie.
How dark will it go?
It's a pretty gory movie. It's dark and gory. It's hacking people's heads off and killing vampires left and right. The main character has an axe, with which he kills countless amounts of vampires. It's a dark, cool, edgy, twisted, movie. I don't know what the rating will be, but I suspect that the rating would be an R.
Are you gunning for R?
I think that if R is what makes sense. Then yeah. I suspect it will be an R just because there's a lot of murder and decapitation.
Do you set up like they do in the book, with the introduction in the present day?
The set up is a little different than in the book. But the story is very much intact and Seth Grahame-Smith who wrote the book, wrote the screenplay for the film. So anything that deviated from the book is in his hands. But for the most part it really is the story from the book. We have this great actor named Ben Walker playing Lincoln. He was in a play on Broadway, he was incredible in it. He happens to be 6'4" and look just like Lincoln, but he's really spectacular in the film. And if you've read the book you know that it spans decades. So watching him evolve and get older and mature and eventually die, I'm not giving anything away there.
X-Men: First Class will be in theaters this Friday!