Fifteen years ago, the premiere of Bryan Singer’s X-Men kicked off our current era of non-stop superhero films. He revamped the genre with a more serious, character-focused take on comic book adaptations that served as a much needed change of direction after 1997’s uber campy Batman & Robin. While X-Men’s $296 million worldwide gross looks quaint now, it was an unexpected success at the time, lending the genre some legitimacy and paving the way for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. That’s not to mention the fact that X-Men’s success boosted the reputation of Marvel Studios—then just the film and TV licensing branch of Marvel Comics—which has since gone on to create a seemingly infinite universe of blockbuster films.
Back around the time of X-Men: Days Of Future Past’s release, Empire Magazine conducted an excellent interview with writer/director Bryan Singer about the whole mutant franchise (including the much-hated Brett Ratner-directed third film, X-Men: The Last Stand, which Singer can barely remember the title of). While a lot of time is spent on DOFP, Singer also offers some interesting perspective on his first film. When asked what he would do differently, Singer explains:
I’d probably boost up the visual effects a little bit. It’s a movie that I had a lot of frustrations during the making of, and I was very critical of it before, but in rewatching it as I started to prepare to make this movie, the thing I appreciated most about it was the journey of Wolverine and Rogue. I thought, wow, two lone characters with no place to go, wandering the mountain woods of Canada, find themselves embraced in this huge sequence in the torch of the Statue Of Liberty. For those two characters to begin where they do and to end up there in this very emotional scene, where he dies and heals, I thought that really worked. In rewatching the film, for all the things we couldn’t do and couldn’t afford and had to rush, I felt that that stuff really played and that Wolverine’s character really came to fruition by the end. He went from being this guy who played no part in the universe to being someone who risked his life for it.
Although casting Hugh Jackman as Wolverine now stands as one of the best choices in superhero film history, it was a controversial one back in the late 1990s when it seemed impossible that a 6’2” Australian musical theater performer could play a surly, squat superhero. (For some perspective, Bob Hoskins was a fan favorite casting choice at the time.) The role was actually original offered to Dougray Scott, but when filming for Mission Impossible II was delayed, Singer had to find a new actor.
In an interview with SiriusXM, Jackman recounts going in for an initial audition in the midst of playing Curly in Oklahoma! on the West End. He auditioned between the matinee and evening performances, which meant both his southern accent and his permed hair were involved.
Speaking to Empire, Singer explains:
It wasn’t until [Hugh] walked into Roy Thompson Hall and I saw him in person that I thought there was potential here, physically. I never saw his Curly audition; he did an audition dressed as Curly and they never showed me that one. They waited to show me that. Then he did the screen test. That was the first time I’ve offered an actor the job on the spot. I did it again with Brandon Routh and Hugh Laurie.
The rest, as they, say is history. And pulling from that history: Here’s footage of an early meeting between Singer and Jackman in which they work through some specific moments in Wolverine’s arc and read some dialogue that wound up cut from the final film:
When asked about the film’s legacy by Empire and whether he sees himself as the instigator of the current superhero film craze, Singer credits Superman director Richard Donner as the real godfather of superhero films. But he adds:
I consider myself a kickstarter. I probably did the first movie that eliminated all aspects of camp that had always been a part of comic book movies. I saw the X-Men universe as a much more serious universe. There was no room for camp. Early on, I made a couple of tongue in cheek comments about their costumes and character’s names which I thought was necessary to ease the audience into it and I thought it was a great illustration of Wolverine’s personality. I always took the universe very seriously and was probably the first person to do that.
But to balance out X-Men’s reputation as a more serious superhero flick, here’s the blooper reel from the first film which features, amongst other things, a surprise appearance from Spider-Man and the cast struggling to jump over a wall in their tight black leather suits as Singer directs, “Hold your breath, but don’t make it look like you’re holding your breath.”