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In the aftermath of Fantastic Four’s opening, critical reaction hasn’t exactly been glowing. From established critics to the blogosphere, from the Rotten Tomato reporters to serious fan-geeks, this Fantastic Four re-imagining hasn’t fared well — though maybe it is an overreaction, given the huge expectations developed by a fan base 50 years in the making.
When artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee's creation, Fantastic Four number one, appeared in November, 1961, Marvel Comics barely existed. DC Comics -- home of Superman and Batman -- defined the superhero genre at the time. So there was a need to go against the grain with heroes that did not necessarily relish having powers, ones that were bestowed upon them accidentally. The Four’s real powers were their brains, quality of character and determination to both be normal and/or use the powers for something other than themselves. Their nemesis, Dr. Doom, was the embodiment of fury and self-obsession.
The groundswell that made Fantastic Four a benchmark in comic book history -- and the core series in Marvel’s history -- also built up a level of anticipation that was not rewarded with 20th Century Fox's first cinematic edition of Fantastic Four or its sequel, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Released in 2005 and 2007, these two tried but didn’t quite establish both the grand mythos or the quirky charm of the longstanding printed series. Its cast — older, established actors Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Chris Evans — tried but didn’t quite succeed in convincing audiences of their super-ness.
So when the quartet of leads who play this Four — Miles Teller (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic), Kate Mara (Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/Thing) came to an Apple Store to do a Q&A just before the film’s opening, they offered some insight into the making of this new-gen Fantastic Four. In doing so, they gave the audience a sense of the film’s creation and the dynamic the cast developed to make it work for them.
In being rebooted, this film deviates from the core origin storyline by making their visit not into outer space but to another dimension and offers a far more sinister and deadly Victor Von Doom played by Toby Kebbell).In being rebooted, this film deviates from the core origin storyline by making their visit not into outer space but to another dimension and offers a far more sinister and deadly Doctor Doom. Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of everyone from the studio, to the director Josh Trank and/or producers or even some of the performances. Yet this cast has shown a pretty enthusiastic belief in their performances and how they were making the best of it all for the release of this film.
Whatever has been said about the film since its opening, no one can fault the cast’s credits in establishing acting chops and opportunities to try on a range of characters.
Of the four, Teller’s been in the spotlight most recently having had lead roles in two critically acclaimed films — 2013’s The Spectacular Now and last year’s award nominee Whiplash. He’s also portrayed Peter Hayes in the commercially successful The Divergent series and will headline the upcoming biopic Bleed for This, playing boxer Vinny Paz.
Jordan has also culled some serious accolades, particularly for his performance as shooting victim Oscar Grant in the award-worthy Fruitvale Station. But he also built his own fan base through a couple of high profile, gritty television series, Friday Night Lights (as East Dillon High School quarterback Vince Howard) and The Wire (as teenage dealer Wallace). He also played Steve Montgomery in FF’s director Josh Trank’s debut scifi thriller Chronicle, and, costarred alongside Zac Efron and Miles Teller, in 2014's That Awkward Moment.
Jamie Bell has shuttled between copping serious creds playing Revolutionary War spy Abraham Woodhull in the TV series, Turn: Washington's Spies and a set of genre-based vehicles such as 2005 's King Kong, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011), to the futuristic Jumper (2008), produced by FF’s Simon Kinberg (there's a sequel underway) and the much praised Snowpiercer (2013). An English actor and dancer, this 29-year old rose to prominence in his debut Billy Elliot (he won the BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2000).
While Kate Mara hasn’t been in the action spotlight of her younger sister Rooney who starred in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, she's made her mark as a character actor in the Netflix political drama House of Cards as Zoe Barnes, appeared in the Fox series 24 as computer analyst Shari Rothenberg and was in the FX horror mini-series American Horror Story: Murder House as Hayden McClaine. The 32-year-old actress made her film debut in 1999 with Random Hearts and was cast in 2005's Brokeback Mountain.
Nonetheless, despite the disparaging reviews and advance notice swirling around them, this quartet was enthused by that day’s fan ballyhoo and this Q&A was culled from that event. Excelsior.
Q: This is a different, darker, more serious spin on the superhero genre in general and Fantastic Four in particular. Are you playing Sue Storm or are you playing a “superhero?”
KM: This was a unique superhero film screen test, for me, anyway, because I’ve screen tested for many of them and never got any roles, unfortunately. But with all the other ones I’ve auditioned for, you have to get in costume and do the powers and all that. This one was more about the chemistry between Miles, Jamie, Michael and I. So it didn’t feel like any other drama or film I auditioned for.
Q: Fantastic Four is a beloved property in a genre that has good standing right now in pop culture. Everyone has been excited for this film and the other superhero films coming out right now. Michael, did you go after this, or did its producers come after you?
MJ: I’m in a unique position because this is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it came at me. It was a great opportunity to work with [director] Josh Trank [who had worked with Jordan on his debut sci-fi superpowered Chronicle]. We were playing video and sitting in the house one day talking about future ambitions, and he asked me if I wanted a job and if Johnny Storm is someone I wanted to play, and I said, “Yeah.” It was an awesome opportunity and I’m glad it worked out.
Q: Miles, were you able to see yourself in this context when you heard about this character and read about him? It’s different from other roles you’ve played.
MT: I have pretty eclectic taste and that’s a good thing to have. You want to keep yourself fresh; you don’t want to repeat yourself. I had just got done playing a character that’s closer to Johnny’s thing, [one with] a bit more of a temper.
That wouldn’t have interested me at the time. But I was into this guy who’s obsessed with science and discovery — wanting to push the human race forward. I love that kind of spirit in Reed. He doesn’t care about whether or not this person likes me or if they think I’m weird, no, man. He’s dead set on creating something that will give us the ability to travel inter-dimensionally [no matter what], and I like that [attitude].
Q: Jamie, you’ve done motion capture performances before. Could you have done this role without having that knowledge and experience going in?
JB: Well, I’ve worked a few times with Andy Serkis, who’s considered a guru of performance capture. For those who don’t know him, he did Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
So I had seen how Andy really used this technology to his advantage and really got under the skin of these characters, and [was able to] move audiences around the world and give them these experiences. So having worked with him before on Tintin, that technology was useful.
Q: What does it look like on set when the scene is in another dimension and you’re playing The Thing, which is not a suit, but it is performance capture. Are you in a void? What does it look like?
JB: It’s just a green void. It’s green, everything is green. The floor’s green, the wall is green, everything is green.
KM: Jamie’s suit was green as well.
JB: I’m basically in pajamas that look like a jockey with a wig cap on and I got [to wear] stilts to get me up to 6’8”. But the funny thing about that is that I’m in scenes with these guys….
For us it’s a leap of faith in terms of acting, as though we’re in an environment and then reacting as such and then it’s going to be put on the screen. We really have to have a lot of faith and trust in the director and the story so we don’t look like idiots when the movie comes out.
Q: Earlier this summer, with another big movie [The Avengers], actress Elizabeth Olson [Scarlet Witch] said she had to do what you had to do, create something with her hands, and you just have to go with it. Do you feel silly on set, or do you feel like, “I’m in it with these guys, I can’t half-ass it.”
KM: The first day I thought I felt like an idiot, but then you have to own it. You got to go for it. Also, we all had to do stupid things, so any time I felt stupid I just looked at Jamie.
Q: What were the stupid things Miles and Michael had to do?
MT: It was a scene — I think they show it in the trailer — they were trying to get this one line and I was saying, “The light, it’s swallowing the earth!” Every time we’d do it they just didn’t get it. So they’d re-write it or add a scene and I would just be in a different environment saying, “The light! it’s swallowing the earth!”
We did it in three different scenes, and after a while I’m just like, “Screw the light. Let the earth get swallowed, it’s not a big deal.”
And the stretching stuff, it’s all in your imagination. When I’m on the bed and my body is stretching, Josh was walking me through it, saying, “Your hand is stretching down and going to this grate and your fingers are grabbing it.” And it’s nice, it takes you out of your head and you just have to give in to the process.
Q: Michael, you play a superhero that flies — did you have to work on your flying pose?
MJ: You want to have your own unique kind of style with this, so I played with a couple different poses and I went with what I was most comfortable with. With those safety harnesses and flying harnesses, they aren’t as comfortable to the males as they are to the females, what with the way the anatomy is made up, if you follow me. So that was the most uncomfortable part of the movie, the flying stuff and the harnesses.
Q: How much of your costumes were CGI or actual outfits?
MT: The wardrobe was not CGI at all. Obviously when Michael is flaming-on, it has to be CGI to look like flames. But the suits… Reed’s looks different because built his own suit at one point. And you have to think, if I’m building a suit and also stretching all the time, it has to contain all that business so I’m not overflowing with limbs and stuff. So yeah, the suits were all real.
Q: You have all been in some great TV series. I’ve seen Jamie in Turn and Michael in The Wire as Wallace. Like the Marvel Universe, these shows have huge fan bases. How did these two experiences relate?
MJ: I don’t know. When the Wire came out it was after the fact that it got attention, it wasn’t while we were filming it.
Q: The same for Friday Night Lights.
MJ: Friday Night Lights was also an awesome show. But it’s the same thing. I didn’t get the instant gratification from the fans. This movie hasn’t even come out yet and a massive amount of fans are here showing love, so it’s pretty awesome to be part of the Marvel Universe.
Q: Miles, what was the best thing you got from acting school and the worst thing?
MT: Being in acting school was the greatest time in my life. It’s tough going from film set to film set and you have to work on yourself. In theater school, you’re with sixteen other weirdos in sweatpants who are pretending to be seaweed while their teacher is playing whale music, and you’re pushing an imaginary box across a ballet stage for 30 minutes, stuff like that.
If you’re not learning and you’re not growing and not getting to work on things… I miss it, yeah.
The worst thing, the debt. The student loans. And also, I think a lot of people got caught up in… they couldn’t do sense memories or some can’t hold a coffee cup and they forget at the end of the day you’re just talking to another person, so they can get a little intellectual. But it was the best experience of my life.
KM: I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was nine years old. I used to watch movies with my mom and little sister. I was completely obsessed with film then and it was all I wanted to do.
Q: Who were your superhero inspirations?
JB: Tim Burton’s Batman.
MT: I liked Batman, but for me it was also Indiana Jones and Dick Tracy.
MJ: There are so many, but I’m going say Darkwing Duck.
KM: I loved Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.
Q: And if you had powers, what would they be?
KM: I’ll give MBJ a power that he needs, and it’s to be on time.
ALL: Ooooohhh [laughs].
MJ: I want… The power to stop time.
KM: You do that already.
MT: I dunno, man. Fly, just fly. I took yours, right?
JB: For me? Teleportation… [Laughs].
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