Simon Kinberg has been associated with the X-Men franchise ever since co-writing the script for X3: The Last Stand (but he asks that you don’t hold that against him). As a producer/writer on 2011’s marvelous comeback, X-Men: First Class, as well as the highly anticipated X-Men: Days of Future Past, Kinberg has become steadily more involved in the mini-Marvel Universe that 20th Century Fox is building — a role confirmed by his writing/producing duties on the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot and X-Men: Apocalypse as well.
Kinberg’s big breakout was the screenplay for Mr. and Mrs. Smith back in 2005, and his credits since then include Jumper (2008), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), and others, in addition to his work on the X-Men films. Other upcoming writing or producing projects include the big screen version of the board game Ouija, District 9, Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi comedy Chappie, and the animated Star Wars: Rebels TV series. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so in the short time we got to sit down with Kinberg at WonderCon, we focused on the “other” Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Den Of Geek: You have your hands in a lot of the Fox Marvel stuff, particularly the X-Men franchise. So is your role in all this to be the guy who knits all these things together into some sort of continuity?
Simon Kinberg: It sort of evolved. I mean it wasn’t the plan. I am a huge X-Men fan and I came onto X3 as a writer and then I rewrote and I produced First Class and then wrote and produced this one, Days of Future Past. I think it just really evolved from that I had a mostly good experience on X3, even though I wish the movie were different than it turned out being. But I actually enjoyed the process very much and I got very close with the actors and the studio came, I think, to trust me.
So when it came back around for really in some ways rebooting the franchise, which is what the intention of First Class was, Lauren Donner and I sat down together and we were like well, what do you want to do? What story do we want to tell as the origin of the X-Men? But when we were doing that, it was with no expectation that we were going to do Days of Future Past that would actually bring the two sort of in some ways sub-franchises together. So that just sort of evolved, and because the process has been good they brought me on to work on Fantastic Four, to rewrite the script and produce that, which is what I’m doing now.
I was in Baton Rouge two days ago and we start shooting in a couple weeks. It just is a natural thing, because of the success of Marvel, to want to eventually tell stories that at least are parallel, if not intersecting. I have definitely been involved intimately now in building these worlds up at Fox and with plans to continue, with plans for what the future of the X-Men will be and what the future of Fantastic Four will be.
What’s been the biggest challenge then of taking the original cast and weaving them together with the First Class cast?
Well, it’s interesting because it’s like on the one hand it was just given to us, the blueprint, because Days of Future Past existed and it’s such a beautifully told story. That and Dark Phoenix are my two favorite stories from the books and I kind of messed up Dark Phoenix so this is an opportunity to do a better job with Days of Future Past. The blueprint for it already existed of really just doing a time travel story where you have two versions of the characters. We sort of stumbled into that. It was not the intention with First Class that we would ever bring the original cast back together, other then the cameo we had for Hugh (Jackman) in First Class.
But as (First Class director and Days of Future Past producer) Matthew Vaughn and I were developing what the sequel to First Class would be, we started thinking well, what if we brought back Ian and Patrick just as bookends to the movie, not actually sort of integrated into the story but just as emotional bookends to the film? And then very quickly I was like, “Now we’ve got to tell Days of Future Past.” And Matthew was like, “We absolutely have to do that.” And the studio was like, yes we have to do that, but we don’t have deals with any of the original cast and we don’t know what their schedules are and the notion of bringing together ten movie stars for the same movie in the span of three or four months was daunting and almost impossible.
So some of the writing, but very little of it, had to accommodate the reality of what our cast’s availability was. So maybe there would have been more Rogue in the movie if I had more time with Anna (Paquin) but she was in a TV show, or maybe a little more time with Storm if Halle (Berry) wasn’t pregnant and unavailable. But Ian and Patrick made themselves very available. Hugh obviously was there the entire time and the younger cast, despite Jennifer Lawrence’s insane life and schedule, also made themselves available for the run of the show. I’m sure the deals they had to make were no fun to have to make for the studio, but it ended up giving us pretty much all the ammunition we needed to tell the broadest possible story.
Was it a challenge creatively to have everyone do something important even if they were in the movie for a short time? And how did you sell that to the actors?
It’s a challenge of any of these X-Men ensemble movies because you have so many rich characters and they’re being played by actors who are used to being number one on the call sheet and the lead and having the most words in their mouths in a movie. And so suddenly if they’re number four or five or six or eight on a call sheet and they have really one or two dedicated scenes as opposed to 40 dedicated scenes to them, that’s sort of the buy-in to the franchise. I think for the original cast, the idea of coming back to X-Men was so much fun for them, so exciting for them that they were okay with the fact that they are not the bulk of the movie.
I mean, the truth is the core main portion of the movie is the X-Men First Class cast. It takes place in 1973. The stuff in the future bookends the film and there’s some integration in the middle of the movie as well, but it’s them sending Wolverine back in time to tell the story that takes place in 1973. And the original cast, they were so tickled by being back in anything resembling an X-Men uniform and being back together with one another that what you try to do as a writer is give them a couple really sort of resonant moments, dramatic moments. And in many of the cases it’s a goodbye; in some of the cases it’s a reunion with someone that they love and haven’t seen for a long time. But it’s something that resonates emotionally and they can play dramatically. As long as they have that and they’re not just walking through the frame or they’re not just fighting then you could bring those actors back and they’ll get excited about doing that.
And they’re all — you know, people talk about the embarrassment of riches and the cast in terms of their celebrity and talent, but it’s in terms of their kindness too. They’re the sweetest group of actors I’ve ever been around so you don’t get a lot of ego in terms of, “Oh that person has a bigger part or better lines.” The big challenge for me was as a fan is that I love some of these characters, but I couldn’t service them as much as the other characters. So I’m there going “Oh, I want more for Storm. I want this to be the movie where Storm becomes the kick ass warrior that we’ve always wanted her to be in these films,” but that’s not the story we’re telling. So I have to be true to what services the main story this movie’s telling.
Does this set up the next movie, Apocalypse? And how closely related will that be to the Age of Apocalypse story in the comics?
We’re drawing elements from Age of Apocalypse. There will be things that are different and there will be things that are loyal and I can’t say much more then that. And partly I can’t say because we’re still figuring it out. But there isn’t a huge bridge between this and Apocalypse, though obviously we follow the main characters past the 1973 storyline and the movie takes place, Apocalypse, between X-Men: First Class and X-Men 1.
Do you have someone in mind you’d like to see play Apocalypse?
I have someone in mind but it’s only my own taste. So there will be some value placed on it because I do have something to do with these movies, but I think it will be a long exhaustive process the way a lot of these casting decisions are.
Let’s talk about Fantastic Four.
We start shooting in two weeks. (NOTE: This interview was conducted in late April)
Based on the casting (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell), it seems like you’re telling a younger Fantastic Four story.
We’re definitely telling a younger Fantastic Four story than the original films did. It depends on which books you look at. There are some, like the Ultimate books, that tell this story. It is an origin story of the Fantastic Four and it does follow them before they really know what a super hero is. And I would say this movie, more than any other that I’ve worked on, treats powers in a very grounded, realistic, gritty way. I would say the tone of this movie is somewhere between, both in terms of age and in terms of realism, Spider-Man 1 and Chronicle. So they’re older then high school, but they’re not yet grown into the world. If anything this is a coming of age story.
Will we see the classic origin in which they’re in a spaceship and get their powers after being bombarded with cosmic rays?
There’s archetypal imagery of how they get their powers for sure. And it does involve some sort of scientific travel.
You’re also a producer on Neill Blomkamp’s next film, Chappie. Where is production on that?
Done. I saw a cut of it. We shot the movie in South Africa, entirely in Johannesburg last year and a month this year after Christmas because Hugh Jackman’s in it. Hugh needed to shoot this year so we shot Hugh’s whole portion of the movie in January. It is the most outrageous, original, unique movie I’ve ever seen. It is Neill at his most genius. It was amazing to watch him make it and it’s a really, really neat movie. There’s nothing like it that’s ever been made.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is out in theaters May 23.