The five principle actors for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards / Mr. Fantastic), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm / Invisible Woman), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm / Human Torch), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm / The Thing) and Julian McMahon (Dr. Doom) — joined us in one of the Vancouver Film Studios stages.
The session was originally scheduled to take place in an outside hospitality tent, but was brought indoors due to the sub-freezing temperatures in Vancouver that week. Even this indoor location was chilly and uncomfortable for some, with numerous space heaters set up around the perimeter, and each actor clothed in several layers, including jackets and even gloves and toques.
As most of the filming for the week was taking place at night, the actors were relaxed for this mid-afternoon session as their first assignment of the day. While a press meeting is rarely an actor’s favorite part of the film-making process, the mood was playful and jovial between them and engaging with the crowd.
Behind the five folding chairs was a huge wall of green screen and the three full-sized individual pod props of the split Fantasticar.
Q: Can you tell us about the new and improved Doctor Doom and how much fun is it being more evil this time?
Julian McMahon: Well, I didn’t know I was. Really? I think there’s a part of my personality, and you know after doing the movie the first time I became a bit of an *sshole and I’ve put that into the evilness of this character. No, I think he’s just a little bit more evil because he’s coming back for revenge, I think and then we have the new suit, which is pretty extraordinary. I just wore it for the first time last week. It looks amazing. I can’t tell you too much about it, but it’s very evil. But at the same time, it’s not that evil. I always pictured this as a bit of a kids movie, so you can’t be so evil that the little kiddies can’t be watching it. But, it’s been fun. I haven’t been here the whole time like these guys have. I’ve been kind of flitting in and out, because I’ve been shooting my TV show at the same time, so I haven’t been as immersed this time around as I was last time. It’s been good fun and it’s been evil.
Q: Can I ask each of the cast members to briefly talk about what’s new or different for your characters this time around?
Chris Evans: I think everyone has the arc. They made sure everyone has a journey. I think Johnny just, in the first one I think Johnny was kind of a one-man show and wanted center stage. I think the reason Fantastic Four has always succeeded as a group of superheroes and as a comic book is that they’re a family, they’re a unit, a group. I think Johnny has come to know and respect that. In this movie he learns to appreciate the relationships around him.
Jessica Alba: Nothing’s changed. [laugh] I have longer hair and more blond… kidding. You know, we’re much more mature in our characters as superheroes and so this definitely is a product of that. We’re all very much a family. We all live together. We’re getting married, that’s sort of the centerpiece for my character and this movie is about the wedding. She’s sort of bride-zilla, in the best way. She’s stressed. It has nothing to do with you Julian, sorry.
McMahon: Getting married? To him?
Alba: Yup, to him. Not you. To him.
Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, finally Reed Richards is taking center stage, and about time too really. He’s come more to the forefront. He’s much more comfortable with his role as the leader, and as sort of the father figure of the family. I’m delighted about that. He’s a lot more interesting character to play compared to the first one where he was a little bit more nerdy or dorkish. This time I’m stepping up to the plate and becoming the leader. And of course our relationship — between Sue and I — is much more intimate, much more real. It’s more three-dimensional and involved. Jessica talked a little bit about how we’re much more comfortable now being superheroes. It’s kind of like we’re, ’cause we are actors and people watch us through our work and we’re sort of commodities. The Fantastic Four appreciate themselves to be commodities and sort of sell themselves as commodities as well as being superheroes. That’s an interesting aspect.
Michael Chiklis: As far as Thing is concerned, he’s taken another step in his relationship with Alicia in this picture. You know, he’s the lovable curmudgeon. If Reed is the brain of this outfit, I would think that Benn Grimm would be the heart. He’s a lovable curmudgeon. He’s much more come to grips with his malady, as well as being a superhero. He’s also a lot of the conscience and strength of the group. As a complement to everybody else who is watching this, I always thought like Chris said before, that separately we’re pretty fantastic but together they’re obviously much more powerful as a group.
Q: Michael, I’ve heard that your suit is lighter and some changes were made. Can you talk about what kind of improvements to expect from the Thing this time around?
Chiklis:The first time, I talked a lot at nausea actually to the point where I couldn’t stand hearing my own voice about it, where it was a pretty uncomfortable situation. You know, it was a main concern coming into this one that it not be the same. It was very experimental and there wasn’t a lot of time to look into it. The last one didn’t even have a zipper. You know, not even a pant zipper. So it just made it like a 45 minute ordeal to urinate. Frankly, sorry. Yeah, that’s lovely. So, there were things… the heaviness. The hero suit itself isn’t much improved meaning when I’m dressed in the Fantastic Four car, that you really can’t fake because he’s bare chested. Fortunately, I’m only about 25% of the movie in that one. In the rest of the movie it’s quite really cute, I think. You see him in a tuxedo, for example. So when I’m dressed in wardrobe, we’ve been able to use a much more light-weight material that breaths that creates the appearance of bulk without the intense discomfort and it’s able to come off and on very, very quickly. So this has been a markedly more comfortable experience and much more helpful, frankly.
Q: For each of you I was wondering what the movie means to you.
McMahon: Other than the paycheck? I feel a little repetitive because this is the second time around, but I was a big fan of the comic book and the cartoon. I always thought Dr. Doom was the most evil guy on the planet, until Darth Vader came around and then I thought Darth Vader was, and then they were kind of one and the same in a way, so to be able to play that character and to play in that super hero genre. It’s ridiculous, it’s just fun! As an actor, playing an evil guy you get to do silly fun stuff.
Chiklis: We’ll it’s really about good battling evil, and about a dysfunctional family. People relate to it because they all have their own dysfunction in their own families. It’d be hard pressed to find a family that isn’t dysfunctional.
McMahon: It’s also a comic book, which gives you license to be a little bit different than you would be with any other character.
Evans:Yeah, I agree. I think it’s just a great opportunity to play a superhero. It’s kind of like every little boy’s dream, so in that regard it’s a great character to land. Any film that’s this big and this exposed, it’s good to kind of get your face out there and have meetings like this.
Chiklis: Speak for yourself.
Evans: Sorry man.
Alba: “That you might be able to have.” Good forbid. You just have nothing going for you! Good looks, and a really good actor in case you guys were wondering. Me, I think just being part of a comic book book movie that appeals to family is part of a big deal. And being able to play a female character that’s so strong and so dominant that doesn’t use her sex appeal to get ahead. She’s not a villain, she’s not a nasty. She’s kind of a noble character to play and that’s great. I think it’s a great female icon.
Gruffudd: It’s sort of seeing the image of myself when I was watching these sort of movies as a kid. It literally is a dream come true to play a heroic part, and to play a super hero is a bit of an extra bonus. Just seeing that sort of childhood dream come true.
McMahon: What is this thing behind us, by the way?
Chiklis: The Fantasticar. This is pretty fantastic. I’d love to have one of those. It breaks up into these pods, individuals. It’s pretty awesome. This is mine right behind me. And they all come together. It’s kind of macho.
McMahon: I’ll destroy it. I’ll tell you that much. By the time we’re done, it’ll be finished.
Chiklis: Put together, it’s going to look phenomenal. The first time I was in it, I was excited. This one flies. I dunno but I’d like to cruise around in this to get to work.
Alba: It made me a little sick, actually when we were shooting. I got a little nauseous. In all honest, we spent a lot of time in the car and in filming full days in the car doing a lot of the virtual stuff and it’s just… what is it like, the back to the future ride at universal studios? Going down, going up.
Q: What’s it like being a British actor in a big Hollywood movie, but not being the villain?
Gruffudd: Well, I’m delighted to break that tradition, really of having a Brit or a person who isn’t an American playing the bad part. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve immersed myself into a 100% American character and that was a major desire of mine as an actor moving to Hollywood — to be believable as an American. I didn’t want any attention brought to the fact that I was a British actor. I’m an actor period, and I’m very proud to have this opportunity.
Q: There’s no actor here representing Silver Surfer and his name is in the title, so I assume some of you have interactions with Silver Surfer. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how that invisible actor worked on set.
Evans: We can’t talk too much about the Silver Surfer, but I can tell you that he looks really good. There’s somebody there. There’s Doug Jones wearing a green suit.
Gruffudd: It’s like Andy Serkis and the character of Gollum, he was there for the off camera work. Doug is there for our off camera work so that we have a physical presence to work with. He has dialogue and it’s good to bounce off a real person rather than a tennis ball with an X on it.
McMahon: And sometimes though, I’ve done some scenes where he hasn’t been there. And I like the tennis ball, by the way. I do! It’s so good having no other actors. There’s no arguments, you can do what you want.
Alba: Center of attention, Julian.
McMahon: With those scenes, all those fight scenes… you guys have no idea what I did. Just one tennis ball there and one tennis ball there. That’s Ioan, that tennis ball down there… oh, I’m going to burn that one!
Q: Kind of piggybacking on that question, has it gotten easier to work with the effects the second time around or is it just as challenging?
Chiklis: I think we’ve all gotten better at it. It’s moving more smoothly. There’s more of that than there was in the first one.
Gruffudd: There’s certainly a lot more green screen this time around and to be perfectly honest, the preparation for that sort of process is to get yourself a lot of DVDs and a lot of PlayStation games because you’re going to spend a lot of time in your trailer. That’s just the nature of greenscreen because it’s so precise and such an art in that sense that takes so long for them to set it up just for one particular shot. And then you come on to set and they quit literally work you for two or three takes which maybe takes ten minutes which they’ve set up for the last hour and a half. I tell you what, my hat goes off to those guys who did all the “Star Wars” movies totally against the greenscreen, because at least we have the organic nature of working with sets and tangible things.
McMahon: It’s also a different kind of performance.
Chiklis: This isn’t what I would refer to as an “actor’s piece”. You know what I mean?
McMahon: Speak for yourself, buddy. I’ve done some of my best work!
Chiklis: It requires…
McMahon: … being evil!
Chiklis: … skill as an actor, absolutely. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s just…
McMahon: It’s a different type of skill. You have to work on greenscreen it’s a different type of skill as working in a house in a kitchen with a big bowl. I think it’s very developmental in regards to the way you start to think about things. Once you work on green screens you are looking at tennis balls, you are looking at X-marks, you have to create it all in your heads. Like he said, take your hats off to the “Star Wars” guys. Harrison Ford’s like flying in that thing with Chewbacca behind him… I mean that’s pretty good effort. It definitely creates another part of your brain.
Chiklis: You have to be in touch with your child. Imagination.
McMahon: And the fantasy of the whole thing, flying through space or flying through the air in a car like this. The imagination that goes along with it is very cool.
Gruffudd: It heightens your concentration, that’s what it does. Because you are searching for things that aren’t physically there. Somehow, weirdly it gives you real focus, because you have to focus on things that aren’t there, you really concentrate your mind. I think it will add to all these sequences when you see us so concentrated and so involved, you’ll believe we are flying around in this car, or being tossed around by Doom. If we don’t believe it then the audience isn’t going to believe it.
Q: Going back to the suit and the Fantasticar, what kind of a challenge is it to getting into that thing in that suit.
Q: This is a sequel, and the first time around is sort of an adventure. The second time around you’re trying to find a way to make it serious when a lot of it, from the outside to a casual observer, would be fantastical or silly. How do you as an actor find the seriousness and heart of it?
Chiklis: I guess you’re addressing me? Frankly, in the first one I had a much more serious storyline told. I was a guy trapped in a body he didn’t want to be in and I had a much more of a conflict that way. In this one, it’s very light for me, so this would probably be better for one of the other guys to answer that.
Gruffudd: Because there’s a practicality of it, because we have done the first movie… we’re setting up the story in the first movie. There wasn’t much scope of the adventure. We were explaining who we were, introducing ourselves. Now we start the movie, everybody knows who we are, we start the adventure almost immediately. In that sense, it’s a massive step forward. As far as the acting, to go back to your question, it’s a pleasure to come back to a character having played it once. It’s a luxury you don’t get, unless you’re in a show, but on screen in a movie like this it’s a great feeling, giving you a lot of confidence. And I’ve been involved over the last two years and that will in turn feed into the character of Reed Richards.
Alba: To be honest, as silly and big and comic book-y everything is, we really play it for real. And with as much conviction and sincerity as anybody would be in those circumstances. There’s been a two year gap where I’ve been able to do a few things as well, where you’re growing as a person as an actor will help you in doing the next movie and being able to do a third one would be even more involved.
Evans: I agree. I’ve never had an opportunity to work on a sequel, I’ve always been curious about working on television playing a character and getting an opportunity to see the way he came to life and then refine your approach. This has been a great opportunity, regardless of the genre — whether you have a children’s movie or an action film or a deep thinking piece. It’s exciting to get back in the saddle and try to adjust what you don’t think work and make better what you think did. Regardless of whether the script is directed to children or adults or silly, I was excited to get back in the saddle.
Chiklis: I’m regressing, I’m not evolving.
Q: [interrupting Julian] All of you have different powers…
McMahon: No, it’s alright…
Q: No, I want to hear it.
Alba: You’re bigger, badder.
McMahon: I will kill you later. Take down his seat number! What was the question? Oh, yeah yeah yeah. That’s our job to take it seriously. I know it’s a kids movie and a popcorn movie, but to make it that you have to take your job seriously. So if I’m in a situation that’s funny, you have to make it funny. If I’m in a situation that’s dramatic, you have to make it dramatic — and dramatic can be funny sometimes, and all that kind of stuff. It’s just like any other job, you take your script, you work with it the way you can. You work with your other actors. You work with the director and you come up with something that’s hopefully plausible and something that sticks to the screen and everybody goes, well I believe that they’re in that situation in that moment in time.
Q: All of you have very specific powers. Can you give us a taste of what you do better or new or different this time?
Gruffudd: I don’t think… I mean, the powers are the same. They are limited in that sense to our own individual powers. What’s interesting is the psychological aspect of it. They’re presented with the character of the Silver Surfer who is rather ambiguous. We’re not sure if he’s good or evil, so that’s more of the challenge this time. Of course, there will be lots of fantastic special effects of myself stretching and catapulting objects, and Sue protecting us in her invisible sphere, and Johnny flying and chasing the Silver Surfer, and Ben chasing away bears. The interesting part is that psychological element… how do we work as a team against this force coupled with Dr. Doom, so they challenge it twice as much this time.
McMahon: My power is… we have to be pretty specific to the original comic in a way, so it’s not like we can just come up with powers that weren’t already there. I think it’s just an enhancing of the storyline and enhancing of all the powers. I do come back and try to get more power, which I do get for a period of time. Then, at the end of the movie I kill them all.
Chiklis: Well, Ioan really touched on it. The fact of the matter is that the first piece is an origin piece. We can jump right in now and the stakes are raised immediately. We’ve introduced another character, the Silver Surfer. His powers are enhanced and now we have a bigger challenge on our hands. It’s bigger, it’s better.
Alba: I think the difference as far as our powers go, I mean we all have the same powers but it’s been integrated into our day-to-day life. So at first it may have been a big deal if Johnny can toast his own toast, now it’s instant. We don’t care any more, or if I turn things invisible, it’s like, “Make it reappear, Sue!” “Well, listen to me then.” It’s just a bit more integrated, I guess.
Evans: There’s just a more of a practical approach to the powers. Much more comfortable. In the first one we were clunking around and figuring them out, but now we get it down.
Q: You said that the script references celebrity, the super heroes are now famous, but maybe Jessica you could tell me your feeling about what it says about celebrity and is it accurate in terms of what celebrity has done for you, or done to you?
Alba: Well…. I hate everyone. And I don’t know my family any more. I only walk out when I’m in full hair and makeup and I’m ready to do press conferences. Yeah. OK. No… You know, really it just shows that they still want to be human beings. They still want a very regular family life. Unfortunately, when you’re under a microscope everyone is very critical of your version of what that means, and so people are picking them apart and putting them on pedestals and lifting them up or tearing them down for newsworthy sound bites. And they’re like, “but we’re still human beings. We just want a family, we just want to be married.” Unfortunately they can’t because they are superheroes and they have to sacrifice their regular life for that. In turn, in wanting to be an actor and losing your… um, I don’t know. You lose your anonymity a bit, but it only means as much as you want to give them. If it really matters that much if whether someone’s hair is messed up or not, or whether you’re wearing the right boots for the season, or whether you’re out partying too much. Who cares? And I think it just really depends on how much weight you put on it.
Gruffudd: For the Fantastic Four, there was no choice in the matter for these guys. These powers were thrust upon them. There’s a certain element of choice being an actor. You are going to be in the public eye and therefore you have to take on that responsibility. I think the Fantastic Four, as much as they’ve capitalized on their fame — they’re marketing themselves — there’s a certain amount of responsibility. You can’t have your cake and eat it. So that is actually brought up in the movie and it’s a very interesting subject, actually.