Premiere Magazine Snippets
Look! Up On The Screen!
Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, and Director Bryan Singer Revive A Franchise With The $250 Million Superman Returns.
By Tim Swanson. Photograph by Max Vadukul
Spacey excerpts from Premiere, February 2006
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The work this day has largely been dedicated to capturing that chunk of film crucial to any comic book adaptation: the sequence where the villain, often in some sort of crowing exposition, begins to reveal his nefarious plans for world domination, which almost always include offing some hero in tights. In Superman Returns, this comes as an exchange between Luthor (Kevin Spacey) and his brassy girlfriend Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey). In the scene, which the crew has been shooting at different angles for hours, Kitty brings Lex a martini, which she promptly smashes in the fireplace after he cuts her down with a few deliciously dry insults.
“So now that we are in the middle of nowhere, away from prying eyes, does the oldest criminal in the world think I’m worthy of hearing his plans?” Posey says.
Singer interrupts the scene by speaking into his “god mike” which, oddly, has a grinning devil’s face drawn on its red foam head in Sharpie pen. “The ‘oldest criminal mind,'” he says. “Not the ‘oldest criminal.'”
“I’m crashing,” Posey says, breaking character. “I was so ready to do this four hours ago.”
They give the scene yet another go. This time, Posey and Spacey step on each other’s lines and end up standing in silence. “You’ve got to play that, babies.” Singer says.
“I’ve worked with actors before,” Posey replies sarcastically. Singer leaves the video village and walks on set. “Go back to your chair,” she says, laughing, attempting to diffuse the mounting tension with a joke.
As Singer huddles with the actors, his hushed voice conceals his words, but his hands act out the instructions, fluttering with staccato flourishes. They run the scene again. And again. So many times that the prop master is worrying that there might not be enough martini glasses to finish what they’ve started.
The scene ends with a sort of historical precis from Luthor: “Romans built the roads. Persians built the ships. Americans built the atom bombs.” He makes an allusion to Prometheus and cryptically promises to bring “fire to the people.” He closes by saying that “the gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.”
Now it’s time for Spacey, who won an Oscar working with Singer on 1995’s The Usual Suspects, to become frustrated. Shaved head shimmering with perspiration, he’s clearly reveling in his evil genius speechifying, but he can’t quite find his rhythm with the lines.
“It’s okay,” Singer says reassuringly into the mike. “We’ll get through this.” However, by the time Spacey gets so irritated that he nearly puts a jackboot through the bookcase, even the unflappable director has to wonder if they’re going to survive their time on this ship.
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And years before Spacey became Lex Luthor, he was close to being cast as the diabolical Brainiac.
“They never officially offered me the movie,” Spacey says, “but I did meet Tim Burton.”
On hiatus from his job as artistic director of London’s Old Vic theater, Spacey says that his Luthor is a “much more bitter, vengeful, and dark” villain than the humorous huckster played by Gene Hackman in the Reeve movies. He wouldn’t have been interested had Singer not been directing. “It’s incredible to be back with Bryan after ten years,” he says. “Our relationship is no different. We’re both perfectionists. I trust him implicitly.”
The feeling is apparently mutual. It was Spacey who recommended that Singer consider Bosworth for the ambitious but vulnerable Lois Lane. Singer was wowed by her performance in Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, and after a rooftop screen test with Routh, she signed on even though she hadn’t read the script in its entirety.
A female assistant is holding a tiny fan over Spacey’s bald head, cooling the actor while he sits placidly in a chair. The mood on the Gertrude has lightened considerably from the previous evening.
Posey is keeping limber between takes with yoga poses. Singer is slugging down a cranberry juice and Metamucil cocktail in preparation for the long flight back to the States (to hype his film for fans at Comic-Con), a trip that often causes a full-system shutdown! He pretends to pour the red sludge over his head. “Mmmm. Stem cells,” he says, laughing.
After a few takes, however, it’s clear that there are more rough seas ahead. Lex and Kitty are discussing how he cut the brake lines in Kitty’s car so that Superman would come and save her (a subterfuge to help Lex get his hands on a much-desired rock). She hauls off and hits him. Problem is, Posey keeps pulling her punch, so the slap looks staged.
“I don’t really want to hit him,” Posey says.
Singer speaks into the god mike: “You have to hit him. He has asked that you hit him. He will be the first to tell you if it’s out of line.”
In the next take, Posey pulls back and swings at Spacey like she’s Barry Bonds. CRACK! The contact instantly raises the emotional stakes, and the scene goes from cartoonish to operatic in seconds. Singer nods while watching the monitors. They cut and Posey collapses in a chair on the side of the stage, crying uncontrollably. She’s spent, but the take is a keeper.
Watching the playback, though, Singer detects a weird sound – a “chug, chug, chug,” he says. A crew member assures him that it’s just the hissing from the fire. Singer looks stressed for the first time in two days, but quickly decides to mask the sound with a crackling noise in post and “have a nice shot of the fire in the fireplace” to give it a visual foundation. Another crisis averted.
Outside, Spacey, incognito in a red baseball cap (Singer has forbidden him to go out without a hat, to confuse the always eager paparazzi), is enjoying some fresh air. “Those are the kind of scenes where you can only rehearse to a certain point and then you have to come in with a degree of emotion,” he says. Besides, he adds, “what’s a little bitch slap between friends?”
Premiere, February 2006