Cyclops. Jean Grey. Storm.
They are the children of
the atom, homo superior, the next link in the chain of
evolution. Each was born with a unique genetic mutation,
which at puberty manifested itself in extraordinary
powers: Cyclops' (James Marsden) eyes release an energy
beam that can rip holes through mountains; Jean Grey's (Famke
Janssen) strength is both telekinetic and telepathic; and
Storm (Halle Berry) can manipulate all forms of weather.
In a world increasingly
filled with hatred and prejudice, they are scientific
oddities ... freaks of nature ... outcasts who are feared
and loathed by those who cannot accept their differences.
Their detractors include U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce
Davison), a McCarthyesque politico whose legislation is
designed to "expose the dangers" of mutants. Yet
despite society's pervasive ignorance, Cyclops, Jean,
Storm and thousands like them survive.
Under the tutelage of
Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the world's
most powerful telepath, these "gifted" students
have learned to control and direct their respective powers
for the greater good of mankind. They fight to protect a
world that fears them.
Xavier welcomes two
newcomers: Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a solitary
fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers,
retractable adamantium claws and an animal-like fury; and
Rogue (Anna Paquin), an alienated teenage girl who can
absorb the powers and memories of anyone she touches.
As Wolverine and Rogue
adjust to life among their "kind," the X-Men
find themselves locked in a physical and philosophical
battle with the Professor's former colleague and friend,
Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellen). One of the
world's most powerful mutants, Magneto has turned his back
on society, believing that humans and mutants can never
coexist, and that mutants are the rightful heirs to the
future. He and his evil Brotherhood - the mammoth
Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), the metamorph Mystique (Rebecca
Romijn-Stamos) and the nearsighted, far-jumping Toad (Ray
Park) - will stop at nothing to ensure that future, even
if it threatens the very existence of mankind ... or
Twentieth Century Fox
presents, in association with Marvel Entertainment Group,
The Donners' Company/Bad Hat Harry Production, a Bryan
Singer film, X-MEN, based on characters from the
best-selling comic book series in history. The film is
directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Apt
Pupil) and is produced by Lauren Shuler Donner (Any
Given Sunday, You've Got Mail and Ralph Winter (Mighty
Joe Young, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). The
screenplay is by David Hayter, from a story by Tom DeSanto
& Bryan Singer. Avi Arad (Blade), comics legend
Stan Lee, Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Superman) and
Tom DeSanto (Apt Pupil) are the film's executive
producers. Co-producers are Joel Simon and William S.
The film's creative production
team includes director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel
(Three Kings, The Usual Suspects), Academy AwardŌ
-nominated production designer John Myhre (Elizabeth),
visual effects supervisor Michael Fink (Braveheart,
Batman Returns), editors Steven Rosenblum (Oscar nominated
for Braveheart, Glory), Kevin Stitt (Lethal Weapon
IV) and John Wright, A.C.E. (Speed, The Thomas Crown
Affair ), special makeup designer Gordon Smith
(Legends of the Fall, Nixon), costume designer Louise
Mingenbach (Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects) and composer
Michael Kamen (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Iron Giant).
In 1963, as
prejudice and fear gripped the U.S. at the height of the
Civil Rights movement, Marvel Comics editor, head writer
and art director Stan Lee created X-Men, a comic
book centering around a team of mutant superheroes. The
X-Men, like many of their Marvel predecessors, were an
unusual heroic group - at times sarcastic, antisocial, and
clearly flawed, yet sympathetic when battling the demons
of their love lives, tackling the traumas of self-esteem,
or taking on powerful villains in their universe of
Stan Lee's X-Men world
imagined the existence of a superior species and the harsh
political and social environment they encountered in a
not-too-distant future world. X-MEN director Bryan Singer
appreciated the comics' allegories about racism and
bigotry and their underlying themes of tolerance, running
throughout the dramas' non-stop action and adventure.
"The story of he
X-Men is quite political," says Singer. "It's
about differences and similarities. Because the comic was
born from the tumult of the '60s, there are political and
sociological issues and messages inherent in the X-Men
Singer continues, "the relationship between Xavier
and his one-time friend and colleague, Magneto,
exemplifies the ideological and philosophical differences
of that era. They are essentially cut from the same cloth,
and both see this mutated breed of humanity as a subject
of persecution. However, Xavier lives to protect
those who fear him while Magneto lives to destroy them.
Each believes his side is right. Neither is willing to
film is about how difficult it is to find a level of
tolerance that is mutually beneficial to all involved.
That's a philosophical concept that mankind and mutantkind
could fight about forever,
"It's also a
kick-ass movie," he adds, grinning.
Six years ago, a staff
member gave producer Lauren Shuler Donner some back issues
and character profiles of X-Men. "I read
first about Logan/Wolverine, who is a truly tragic
hero," she remembers, "and I got caught up in
his search for himself. He was so psychologically complex.
"I then read about
the other X-Men," Shuler Donner continues. "X-Men
struck me as different and more complicated than other
comics. It is grounded in terms of character. It revolves
around the themes of prejudice and repression. We are all
mutants and misfits in one way or another."
subsequently set up the project at Twentieth Century Fox,
beginning a chain of events that, four years later, would
lead finally to the start of production. In 1995,
Bryan Singer and his creative partner, executive producer
Tom DeSanto, had a meeting with Fox executives - on
another project. DeSanto, a self-described X-Men fanatic,
suggested that Singer instead take the helm of X-MEN.
"I explained," recalls DeSanto, "that while
Bryan wasn't the most obvious choice to direct a comic
book film adaptation, there were cinematic elements and
important social themes in X-Men I knew he
would find challenging and appealing.
"At its heart, X-Men
is an allegory for prejudice," continues DeSanto.
"It's Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the next
wave in human evolution: Xavier's dream of mutants
and humans living together in peace versus Magneto's
Darwinist view that mutants are superior and must survive
by any means necessary."
As Singer considered the
project, he and DeSanto began work on a new story that
would capture the comics' characters and mythos. Singer,
widely respected for "smaller" films like The
Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, and who was new to the X-Men
universe, committed to the project after much
"I immersed myself
in the history of the comic book series," says the
director. "I read all the issues and character
backgrounds I could find, and watched all 70 episodes of
the animated series. My life became saturated in X-Men
lore. Through it all, I kept looking for what leapt out at
me emotionally and texturally. It all came down to the
characters and their philosophies. What really excited me
was that their special powers exist in our 'real' world.
So I agreed to direct the film, determined to make the
story as believable and real as possible."
Says executive producer
Avi Arad, CEO of Marvel Studios: "Bryan knew X-MEN
was a story worth telling, and was about more than cool
costumes and visual effects. X-Men is a mirror of life, a
reflection of how people treat each other based on
preconceived fears, prejudices and discriminations.
Bryan's personal philosophy was in sync with the
philosophy of the comic book and its characters."
As Singer dug deeper into
X-Men mythology, he discovered the crux of the characters.
"They are all reluctant superheroes," he says.
"With each of their fantastic special powers comes a
frailty, flaw or weakness. For example, Xavier is an
incredibly powerful psychic but he's also 'crippled' in a
wheelchair. Rogue, who has the extraordinary ability to
absorb the powers of anyone she touches, faces a life
devoid of intimacy; she can never hold hands with her
boyfriend, never make love, and never hold a baby in her
makes them all the more human, adding depth to the
characters, which in turn makes their adventure more
relevant and exciting."
As Singer and the writers
continued to finesse the screenplay, Ralph Winter came on
board as a producer, joining Lauren Shuler Donner as X-MEN's
producers. At the same time, the filmmakers began to face
their greatest creative challenge: walking the tightrope
between satisfying the die-hard fans (who weighed in daily
on numerous Internet Websites and chat rooms), and
exposing the next generation of fans to the X-Men.
It was a delicate
balancing act. "Bryan put his heart and soul into
this in terms of finding a way to tell a story that would
satisfy the core audience," notes Winter.
"However, since he didn't come from that core
audience, he knows how to make X-MEN an engrossing picture
for all audiences."
Singer relied heavily on
the expertise of several self-professed X-Men
fans-turned-production staffers, like Tom DeSanto and
associate producer Kevin Feige. "I wanted to respect
the X-Men history for the fans," says Singer,
who says he relied heavily.
"I also insisted on
creating a story that would be interesting, entertaining
and provocative to all the new fans as well. I called it
'designing the evolution of the evolution.' That is, we
set the story against the backdrop of the early days of
the X-Men, when Logan and Rogue first come into the fold.
This helped set up the exposition needed to introduce the
characters to those who are unfamiliar with them. Then as
the story unfolds, we delve farther and further into
elements that the die-hard fans have come to know and love
about these characters."
CASTING A WIDE NET...
Casting X-MEN proved to
be another formidable challenge. The process began in the
spring of 1999 and wasn't completed until late October
1999, when principal photography was already underway.
"There are so many
great heroes and villains in the comics that one of the
toughest parts of development was choosing the characters
on which to focus," says Lauren Shuler Donner.
"Once we figured that out, the task was to put a
great ensemble cast together."
The first actor to sign
on was former professional wrestler Tyler Mane, who plays
the 7'2" havoc-wreaking Sabretooth.
"The transition from
professional wrestler to Hollywood actor is actually a
pretty natural one," says Mane, who in reality stands
a still-formidable 6'10" and weighs 275 pounds.
"Wrestling is performed on the hardest stage in the
world - the four-sided kind - where you can't hide
anything. It's all out there for the world to see. As a
wrestler, you create a character in the ring. It's a
totally different persona, which translates easily into
acting for the stage or screen."
For the role of Professor
Charles Xavier, the filmmakers agree that Patrick Stewart
was their first - and only - choice. Shuler Donner first
mentioned the project to Stewart several years ago when he
was filming Conspiracy Theory with her husband,
producer-director Richard Donner.
"Just look at
Patrick next to a picture of Xavier," says Singer.
"There's an obvious similarity. Much more
importantly, Patrick is an incredibly talented actor. His
voice, presence, and ability to understand the material
made him perfect for the role."
For Stewart, best known
for his role as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The
Next Generation, Xavier is the latest in a long list
of strong characters he's played over the years. "I'm
just another authority figure," says Stewart,
laughing. "Since I was a teenager, my career has been
littered with kings, captains, emperors, party bosses,
trade union leaders, presidents, generals; you name it,
I've worn the uniform. Now, in X-MEN, I am a mutant
leader. What's truly ironic is that I am the least
authoritarian figure you're ever likely to meet."
Stewart was particularly
pleased to have the chance to work opposite his old friend
from his Royal Shakespeare Company days, Ian McKellen.
"In all the years we spent together at the RSC, Ian
and I worked together only on one production, and that was
just a few days work. But we are of a similar age, our
careers have grown together, we come from the same part of
England and, in many respects we have similar backgrounds.
Then, to find ourselves playing these two closely-linked
characters in X-MEN was a total delight."
The feeling was mutual
"What fun," enthuses McKellen. "Two actors
of the same generation, tempering our respective English
accents to battle each other in this fantasy world."
McKellen also was pleased
to reunite with Bryan Singer, with whom he had worked on Apt
Pupil. "I am a great fan of Bryan's," says
McKellen, "and we are good friends. He has wonderful
taste, and a clear vision of the material."
Singer's depiction of the intolerant society in which the
X-Men live. The actor also has his own take on this aspect
of the X-Men mythos. "I'm interested in this mutant
world because, in a way, I feel like I'm a 'mutant'. Being
a gay man, I often am thought to be too dangerous, unusual
and abnormal to be allowed into society as a whole,
judging by the laws that prevail in my country and indeed
throughout the world. And it's not just gay people who can
identify with these characters, but other minorities, as
"I was also
attracted to the film because it is a rattling good
adventure story, complete with the sort of moral dilemmas
that Shakespeare plays with in his characters. I don't
think it too far-fetched to say X-MEN owes a lot to the
Bard in terms of its epic quality, imagination and serious
James Marsden, an avid
film lover, relished the opportunity to work with two of
his acting idols, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
"Growing up in Oklahoma, I used to watch them at the
movies - and there I was on X-MEN working with them,"
Marsden shares. "It was a real treat and a great
With McKellen and Stewart
on board, the filmmakers turned their attentions to
filling the other key rules. Over the summer months of
1999, Marsden, Famke Janssen, Academy Award winner Anna
Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Bruce Davison,
and recent Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild AwardŌ
winner, Halle Berry, signed on.
"I think we were
able to put together such a wonderful cast because of
Bryan," says Shuler Donner. "He sent the message
out to actors that his vision was more reality- and
dramatically-based, which, in turn demonstrated that this
was not going to be a typical comic book adaptation."
Indeed, Singer's take on
the themes and characters was a particularly strong draw
for Halle Berry. "I really appreciated X-MEN's ideas
about acceptance and tolerance," she explains.
"Storm is the only black character in the movie, and
I was pleased that she possesses such wonderful strength
and soul. She is the earth mother and conscience of the
team. I felt really positive about Storm and loved the
idea that many people will see her as a powerful yet
sensitive role model. Of course, I also had fun with the
character -and kicked a little butt."
Famke Janssen agrees.
"I really don't see X-MEN as a comic book movie, even
though it is," she comments. "Because it's
called X-MEN, people will perceive it as being of that
genre. But Bryan Singer's approach makes it much more than
that, and I think the film will appeal to a wide
As this stellar ensemble
began preparing for a late September start, the filmmakers
faced a small crisis. Dougray Scott, who originally was
cast as Wolverine, was scheduled to finish work on Mission:
Impossible 2 by late October, and then join the X-MEN
production in Toronto in November. However, when Mission's
wrap was delayed, it became clear that Scott would be
unable to take on the role.
The filmmakers moved
quickly to re-cast the part. When they found their
Wolverine, the actor's name had cinephiles in the U.S.
asking the same question: Who is Hugh Jackman? But
audiences in Australia and London already knew the answer;
for several years, Jackman has been a rising star on the
stages of London and Australia and the film and television
screens "down under."
For Jackman, who like
some of his colleagues was as yet unfamiliar with the
comic book series, the auditioning process alone was an
eye-opening entry to the X-MEN universe.
"When I arrived in
Toronto for my final audition," he recalls, "I
told the airport Customs and Immigration officer that I
was there to have a meeting for the X-MEN movie. His eyes
just lit up and he asked me which character I was playing,
and I said, 'Wolverine.' He screamed, 'Wolverine!!!', and
wanted me to sign an autograph - even when I explained
that I was just auditioning for the part. That moment, I
realized how much Wolverine means to the fans."
with the teen-aged Rogue is central to the film. They're
both looking for something critical. For Wolverine, it is
clues to his past, of which he has almost no memory; for
Rogue, it's something even more daunting: living a
"normal" teenage life. "Rogue is having the
ultimate bad teenage experience," notes Anna Paquin.
"The problems faced by a typical teen are magnified a
hundred times for Rogue because she's a mutant who can
never touch another person for fear of harming them."
began at one of Toronto's most popular film locations, the
thirteen-acre Gooderham & Worts Distillery complex.
Amidst the collection of 19th century industrial buildings
and red bricked-paved streets, the cast, crew and over 350
extras slogged through ten inches of mud for two days,
effectively creating the chilling concentration camp scene
that opens the film.
The camp, replete with
thousands of feet of barbed wire, German-language signs
and gun-toting Nazi soldiers, was the first of almost 80
different sets or locations created by production designer
John Myhre and his staff and crew of 200. Myhre jumped at
the chance to, do X-MEN after being Oscar-nominated last
year for his work on Elizabeth.
"That's what I love
about my job," says Myhre. "One day I'm creating
an Indian village, the next day I'm in an Elizabethan
castle, then I'm building an ultra-modem, secret
underground laboratory for the world's most powerful
Among his favorite X-MEN
designs are Xavier's underground lab, Magneto's Lair, and
Cerebro, the global mutant-monitoring system housed
beneath the Professor's Westchester, New York mansion.
"I liked these three
sets because they provided the opportunity to show a
little history between Xavier and Magneto," explains
Myhre. "They once were colleagues and even friends,
and we used that bit of history to connect their
respective habitats. Cerebro was designed by both men, so
in that set you'll see details that link their two
The X-Men's above-ground
world is Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, which was
designed as a beautiful, classic mansion, where mutant
children could learn to find their places in a society
that had shunned them.
The exteriors of Xavier's
mansion were shot at the Parkwood Estate in nearby Oshawa,
Ontario, while the Toronto landmark and tourist attraction
Casa Loma was home for the interiors.
The X-Men's secret world,
which Myhre calls "rabbit warrens of underground
passageways," lies underneath the mansion. Unlike the
two Toronto homes used for the exteriors, Myhre and his
team had to design and build the laboratory from scratch.
"We wanted the
underground space to be clean, sophisticated and elegant,
reflecting Xavier's personality," says Myhre.
"We used blue tiled walls, floors and ceilings to
create a multi-purpose space that could be used as a
research library, medical operating room, or even a
By touching any of the
blue panels that rested on the walls, floor or ceiling,
the X-Men would have equipment and furniture available to
them for any number of projects. It is a very utilitarian
space, connected by hallways and sliding
"X"-doors. In addition, the laboratory set was
suspended from the ceiling, which opened up some creative
lighting opportunities for director of photography Newton
Cerebro also is located
underneath the mansion. Myhre, using the same blue tiles
and panels seen in Xavier's underground laboratory,
constructed the three-story circular set on a sound stage
at the headquarters of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).
Myhre also created an
entire subterranean world for Magneto's Lair.
"Magneto lives on and inside a very rugged,
Spartan-like island," he says. "He has used his
powers of magnetism to hollow out caverns and tunnels,
which is why we employed a circular motif of metallic ore
and water inside and outside the Lair. His magnetic powers
also explain why we made all of his furniture is
The Lair's exterior
included a huge steel monolith extending ten stories above
ground and fifty-two stories through the center of the
Earth. The set was a combination of miniatures, digital
paintings and a three-story section of monolith built by
The monolith, X-MEN's
most expensive set, was built in the Greenwood
Conservation area, located outside Toronto. "Our
biggest challenge was creating the water surrounding
Magneto's Lair," says Myhre. "First, we laid
down asphalt, much like a parking lot would be
constructed. Then we built an asphalt lip all the way
around the perimeter, and flooded the space with about ten
inches of water. This gave the impression that the entire
set, including the monolith, was sitting in the middle of
a deep, deserted body of water."
The production spent
about one-half of their 90-day shooting schedule on
Toronto area sound stages, including Showline Harbourside
Studios. The facility's three stages were needed to
accommodate the enormous sets, including a replica of the
Statue of Liberty.
The filmmakers decided
early in pre-production that the film's climactic
sequence, set at the famed landmark, could not be filmed
in New York due to prohibitive costs, complex physical
logistics and the restrictive conditions of working at a
Instead, the production
constructed the Statue's torch, and interior and exteriors
of the head and crown on the Showline stages. The Statue's
torch, head and crown-were built about 50 percent larger
than scale in order to accommodate the intense action
involving several actors and stunts. Showline's Stage 14
also was home to the largest blue screen background ever
used for a movie, built especially for this sequence.
Another notable Gotham
attraction also figures prominently in X-MEN. For a key
scene set at Ellis Island, the production used Toronto's
Central Commerce Collegiate school, whose architecture is
similar to that of the historic locale.
While X-MEN comics have
been top sellers for decades, only today's cutting-edge
special effects could bring them to cinematic life.
Overseeing the technical wizardry were Oscarnominated
visual effects supervisor Michael Fink and creature
effects/special makeup effects designer Gordon Smith.
Stunt coordinator Gary Jensen (The River Wild, The
Usual Suspects), second unit director (fight
sequences) Corey Yuen (Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon
4), and special effects coordinator Colin Chilvers
(Academy Award winner for Superman) also made key
Fink relied heavily on
computer animatics, a series of animated shots used as
reference for a final product. For example, an explosive
action sequence set at a train station was created as an
animatic, stored on a laptop computer and readily
accessible on set as a reference.
Fink's biggest challenges
were designing the computer generated effects for the
characters' unique powers, including: adamantium claws,
optic blasts, ten-foot tongues, the Blackbird jet,
shape-shifting, and a character meltdown (literally).
"We don't save our big effects for the third
act," says Fink, who supervised the work of no less
than six top effects houses to realize the X-MEN CG
Working closely with Fink
was special creature effects makeup supervisor Gordon
Smith. Smith and his team from FX Smith, Inc. were
responsible primarily for the design and execution of
Wolverine's claws, Toad's elastic tongue and the special
prosthetic makeup applications for Mystique, Sabretooth
Smith knew that fans
would be looking closely at one of their favorite X-MEN
trademarks: Wolverine's claws. They'll no doubt be pleased
that Smith designed and created fifteen different sets for
actor Hugh Jackman. Some were plastic or metal, others
were flexible, or chopped off for scenes of Wolverine
punching through walls. Other models were mechanical or
created through computer generated images.
Another critical X-MEN
component is Toad's tongue, which can stretch from six
feet to fifteen feet long. Smith designed it as a dental
plate that actor Ray Park bit to keep his mouth open, as
Toad's elongated lingua (courtesy of Mike Fink's effects
magic) wreaked havoc on the X-Men.
According to Smith,
designing these special devices and, especially, the
character makeup, provided new opportunities. I had to
jump into a new area of technology to achieve what was
needed," Smith explains. "Although I have been
working with prosthetic technology for the last seven
years, X-MEN required the newer field of silicone
technology that had never been tried before on film."
The Toad and Sabretooth
makeup applications were relatively straightforward,
because only the visible parts of their bodies - faces,
heads and hands - had to be applied. However transforming
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos into Mystique was a whole different
ball of wax - or in this case, silicone.
"It was a very
elaborate process," Smith explains. "From head
to toe, she was wearing close to 70 self-sticking silicone
prosthetics, and her entire body is painted blue,
including ears, nose, soles of her feet, and just about
any other place you could imagine. That's all topped off
with a vibrant red wig and yellow contact lenses. The
first time we did the application it took ten hours. By
the end, we got it down to between six and eight
surprisingly, had mixed feelings about her makeup routine,
which she calls a cross between "the coolest thing
she's ever seen" and "the most obscene,
excruciating and humbling experience" of her life.
"The most difficult part was the amount of
time," she states, "during which I was poked,
prodded and painted in places I never expected." The
extensive makeup process, time working on the set, and the
two hours it took to remove the prosthetics and the body
paint, sometimes had Romijn-Stamos toiling 22-24 hour
days. This made it logistically impossible for her to work
two days in a row.
CHANGE IS COMING...
After five months of
shooting and several months of post-production, X-MEN was
ready for release. Thirty-eight years after its comic book
debut, film audiences will experience what the fans, the
filmmakers, the cast and the crew of over 400 artists,
craftsman and technicians have known for quite some time:
The X-Men will never die; they just keep evolving.