As a part of the Junket Press Day for Fantastic Four here in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to join some of my fellow critics and entertainment journalists to sit down at a press circle with a few of the stars from the upcoming Fantastic Four to discuss the secrecy surrounding the film, working with director Josh Trank, and what they’re most excited about regarding the future of the franchise.
Sitting in with us from the film were Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm), and Kate Mara (Sue Storm). While I’ve interviewed television performers before, this was my first go with folks from the big screen! To say the cast was very gracious and fun to chat with is an understatement. I even got a nice compliment from Jordan in the middle of the interview. You can imagine how much mileage I got out of that last week.
Speaking of Jordan, the first question that was raised related to the dynamic between himself and Trank, and if that had evolved at all since they worked together on Chronicle:
I think it was just about growth…seeing how everyone grew in two years, from one project to the next. The size of the project was ten-fold compared to Chronicle‘s budget. That one being more of an origin story and being completely original and this one following more of the legacy of the Fantastic Four and how he adapted that material and making it something fresh and an origin story in its own right as well. You’re kind of being reintroduced to these characters for the first time, seeing them pre-accident, pre-powers, watching them grow and what they become. Josh was very specific about the characters and what he wanted the performances to be like and the tone of it all. I guess he was more in control and more in charge of (Fantastic Four). Where (Chronicle) was more collaborative as far as the actors, and being his first time out, etc etc…
One of the questions I wanted to make sure we covered was regarding the secrecy of the project. During its production, there were never any set photos that made their way on-line and I could only imagine how aggravating that might be for an actor being hit with a million questions from the press. Jordan addressed this as well:
It’s just hard being asked the questions you don’t have answers to. And in a lot of instances you’re trying to be super vague and stuff like “I don’t know sh*t!”. That just kind of comes with the territory with these bigger projects, bigger studio films, and everybody is trying to be super top secret and not let anything leak…it was a little annoying, but it kinda came with (the territory).
On the subject of comic book research, and if they had read any particular story arcs before or after signing onto the film:
Mara: Well, it’s hard to not be curious about the comics that have been written, especially since I didn’t grow up reading comics. I knew a little bit about Fantastic Four, but not enough…once I knew I was doing the film, of course I was excited and wanted to see what that world looks like. But Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg were very specific about which story we were telling. You can’t really do research on that, because when you’re trying to make something unique and new and create a totally different world, there’s nothing you can really look at for that. So, it was mostly in just trusting in what script we had and what world our director wanted to create.
Given the rumbles of a 2018 cross-over with the X-Men, the cast was asked as to whether this version of the Fantastic Four would work alongside Bryan Singer‘s X-Men or square off with them:
Bell: It’s a good question! Both! Yeah, I’d love to batter someone. Batter Wolverine! I’d love to batter him before he’s done.
And on that note, Bell thinks Hugh Jackman will absolutely come back for their eventual team-up film if Bryan Singer is in charge.
Speaking of Ben Grimm, I couldn’t help but wonder if Bell found himself disappointed that he wasn’t able to suit up like Michael Chiklis was able to in previous FF features:
Anonymity is really important to me. I don’t know why, I usually hide behind affectations of character. It’s easier for actors to do that because you’re less on display. I think Josh kind of had a test for me when I first sat down, he said: “you did Tintin…how did you feel about your face was never (being) seen?”, I said: “It was perfect for me, a perfect role, because I could go get coffee, wake my kid…so anonymity is great, I love it! If I can hide behind…if it’s a kid with a quiff or a guy made of rocks, as an actor it’s great, because I get to hide myself and become something else completely.
What about the general difficulty of filming CGI based scenes, given the varying power-set of the team? Mara specifically had thoughts on the issue:
I thought that was challenging, for me it was anyway, because you have no idea what it’s going to look like. It really is a trust exercise, you have to really trust the people that are on the team with you, creating it, the director and everyone else. I’d say the first couple of days of using our powers and figuring out what that means and what that looks like…for me, that was a scary sort of time. But then, once you own it, and feel like it’s yours, then it’s less so.
The subject of sequels were then brought up and after a pretty fun digression where Bell brought up how Batman Begins and how that film’s environment was completely abandoned for The Dark Knight, the question was raised regarding what the actors would want to see in a possible sequel to their own film?
Bell: More of how the characters interact with one another…
Bell: …from the comic would be appealing to me. And this film is very much to get them to that point, to take them as people you don’t know and transition them into character you recognize….I think for the next film is to take it further and having the characters already established, see them interact with one another…like the stuff between me and Johnny gets a bit more antagonistic and maybe more of a blossoming love story between Reed and Sue, and something like that. More of a family dynamic maybe. That would be great! There’s a wealth of material there that with the runtime of an origin story is difficult to get to.
How about villains they’d like to see?
Bell: You can’t get away from the Silver Surfer. I know chronologically speaking that was the next in the old franchise (makes a face). I think the Silver Surfer is cool looking.
Jordan: Namor is a pretty cool one….he’s pretty much the strongest mutant. It’d be a pretty interesting battle between Fantastic Four and him.
Me: Sue is right in the middle of that too.
Jordan: Oh for sure, all that tension…oh see, you know your sh*t! (laughter) The classic (storyline) where he’s running rampant and the only reason why he’ll stop is if he’ll get a kiss from Sue. Pretty classic! That’d make for a good movie/storyline.
Me: It sounds like you’ve read a lot of the Jack and Stan stuff.
Jordan: For sure, I’m pretty big into comic books, I’ve got a pretty big collection at home.
But Jordan says, sadly, he hasn’t met Stan Lee yet:
It’s crazy, we were at Comic Con, but there was so much chaos, so much going on, it’s just one of those things that didn’t quite work out.
On any potential hesitancy to lock themselves into multi-picture contracts:
Mara: Well, it’s definitely a huge decision to sign on to potentially three movies, but because we knew who the rest of…for me anyway…I knew who the other guys were and I love them all so much as actors and now I love them all so much as people, I felt good about that and knowing that I would feel safe acting with them and challenged acting with them…however many years time down the road. That was exciting to me, that was more exciting to me than it was scary.
Are there any scenes they’re excited for audiences to take in on their viewing of the film?
Bell: Yeah, I had a scene with Kate and apparently it’s cut! (laughter) I was really excited about that one!
Mara: It was so cute! Apparently it was too cute!
Bell: Apparently it was too cute because they thought “the love interests are all wrong”. (laughter)…it was a scene where Dr. Storm is at Reed’s house and he’s trying to tell his parents how talented Reed is…and (Sue) is waiting outside and I’m kind of awkward because she’s a girl and I say “what’s going on? Is he alright? Is going to be taken care of?” I just kinda fled the scene with like six thumbs. It’s kinda fun.
Mara: That was actually the first scene I shot.
Lastly, I had to ask about the body horror element in the film and if Josh Trank made that influence as apparent on the actors as he has with the press:
Jordan: Cronenberg, The Fly, that was definitely one of them that we talked about.
Bell: A lot of Kubrickian elements. I watched 2001 finally recently and was kind of like “f*ck, we kind of nicked a lot of stuff from this movie!”. It’s inevitable, it’s a great reference and it’s definitely not the first and it definitely won’t be the last. But to be honest, I don’t know about the rest of you guys… but for my (transformation) scene, (Josh) had me screaming…”It’s painful! It’s f*cking painful!!”….after every take I was exhausted. That element to him was so important.
Mara: I had a really different experience, because I was just laying there. (laughter)
Below is the full audio of the interview, for those who’d prefer to listen in and catch all the details of our conversation. Forgive the muffled audio at the beginning, as I was scrambling to get my recorder set-up.
Stay tuned as we’ll have a review of Fantastic Four going up Thursday!
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.