Meet The Fantastic Four

Total Film wasn't expecting the cast of The Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer to walk out dress in their costumes, but a little unison couldn't have hurt. Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans and Tim Story all decided to dress down for the occasion, whereas Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffordd were resplendent in a chic brown dress and smart suit (respectively, obviously). Still, there's one thing they could all agree on, they love being superheroes...

Jessica, did you find resonance in the subplot of superheroes not being able to do what they want to do, because of public and press intrusion?

I think it’s interesting and it certainly parallels what actors go through, the difference is they don’t really choose to be in those circumstances, and we all know it goes with the territory.

Ioan, you play the smartest man in the world, how hard was the scientific jargon to get to grips with?

I’m just pleased I managed to get it out in an American accent…that was one of my greatest challenges. But I’m very proud of the fact that Mr Fantastic has evolved from being the nerdy science guy, to become the leader of the Fantastic Four, the father figure, the husband, the lover, friend, and I was very pleased with that evolution. I was very excited when I read the script, last summer before we went in to shoot the movie, and I think all the characters are so well established now. I think we took our time to enjoy their relationships, and that’s what makes a good movie, it’s a good story and it has good characters. You can have all the special effects in the world, but unless they’re married into a fantastic story, then there’s no point to them. Compared to a lot of franchises that are out there, we have a fantastic story to tell.

Chris, you’ve saved the world twice this year – how did your experiences on Sunshine and FF differ…

I think the major difference was the budget, as far as the approach, in regards to acting; it’s all the same, acting is acting. Whether it’s a Reebok commercial or Schindler’s List, you’re going to approach it with the same appreciation. The pace and the filmmaking and the environment is drastically effected by the budget. If you have deep pockets you can take your time, you can experiment a little bit and I think the general vibe onset is more light-hearted because you’re not always checking the clock. Sunshine was a bit more of a crunch, you had to really map out your blueprint before you came to work every day, because you have limited takes, you have limited time and you feel maybe a little more rushed, maybe a more like work. This one felt more like summer camp, I think we can all agree.

Michael: It was, this one was a lot easier on me, I’m happy to report. This one was so much better.

Why? Did the suit have a redesign?

Michael: Huge redesign. Stark contrast – first movie, three and a half hours to get my face and head on, another hour to get the body on, then I’m locked down. Second incarnation, an hour and a half to get the face on, seven minutes to get the body on, when the take’s over, the body comes right off – big difference, I was actually able to get to know these guys and talk to people and be a person in the world, it was great.

Chris, you tried on the suit, did it make you appreciate what Michael had to go through?

Absolutely – luckily it was only one day, that I got stuck in it. There was an amazing difference, the fact is my scalp was exposed, which is where most of your body heat escapes, but I didn’t get the full experience, and I don’t want it. You do have a huge appreciation.

Michael: It was a little vindicating for me. It was a little shaudenfraude for me.

What’s the hardest part of making a film like this, the emotional scenes or the action scenes?

Jessica: The emotional scenes are fun, and you get to play and there’s a human being there. The action scenes are a little tiring, you do the same scene over and over again, and you can shoot a tiny sequence over four days, depending on how big it is. In a lot of the action sequences there’s green screen, so I’m just imagining what the London Eye looks like, and what it feels like, and having to play that with all this conviction. Tim is like, ‘It’s harder than that,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay!’

Michael: And acting with a tennis ball is a lot more difficult than looking into those eyes.

Ioan: To reiterate what Jess is saying, it is incredibly repetitive and you’re using a lot of concentration and imagination, that’s all you can rely on because there’s no direct interaction, but the satisfaction of seeing it all put together on the big screen, it’s all been worthwhile, all that repetition and concentration, you’re marrying what you did as a character with what the special effects team are doing, it’s a real thrill.

Chris: Ioan stole my answers! I think it is difficult because there is nothing tangible to play off, but I think the real difficulty is getting on the same page with your director and your special effects supervisors, even if you can tap into your imagination and commit to the silliness of what you’re doing. You still have to know exactly what it’s going to look like in the end, if you’re playing off of something that’s happening around you, but it looks totally different to the final product, the performances wouldn’t match, so it’s about communicating with your director and your special effects supervisors, to make sure everyone’s on the same page and we’re all making the same scene.

Michael: A common question on this movie for an actor on this movie was ‘Timmy, what am I looking at? How loud is it going to be? How far away is it?’

Ioan, how hard was that dance scene to choreograph? How are you on the dancefloor?

Ioan: Ioan Gruffudd on the dance floor has two left feet, so that performance was thanks to the special effects team, although I did have a week long intensive choreography session, which wasn’t such a bad thing, because I was surrounded by those three gorgeous actresses that played the dancers. It took about three days, all in all, believe it or not, that whole sequence, because the nature of shooting a sequence with special effects is you do it several times with the actors there, and several times without them there. That was the embarrassing situation, being up on that stage on my own, performing the dance, pretending to be spinning, pretending to be enjoying myself, while feeling incredibly self-conscious. Again, all worthwhile when you see the movie put together. It was great to see Reed Richards more relaxed, more confident and having fun.

Ioan, what would you do with your power in the real world?

Ioan: All of us have to admit that all of us, as human beings, we’ve all dreamt at one point or another that we could fly, so that would be my favourite power – so I am quite envious of this young man here. As far as Reed Richards being able to stretch, how would I use that? I think I’ll leave that to your imagination.

What’s it like having your own action figure?

Michael: Speaking as a father, I gotta say, it’s the greatest thing in the world I’m top man at the school. I go to my kid’s school and kids come running up to me with the action figures to sign and it gets big props at the school. I was walking down the street during Halloween this year, and it was the funniest thing, I was with my wife and my children and all of a sudden, I heard my voice go ‘it’s clobbering time’ and I turned around and there’s a ten-year-old kid with The Thing hands, and when you hit them together my voice comes out of it, and I looked at him, and he looked at me, and I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we were both like ‘How cool is that!’

Ioan: From a personal stand-point, they’ve got my doll absolutely right, if you turn the doll into profile, you see my big nose, so I’m very pleased actually.

Chris: It’s my first doll, and I’m very pleased with it as well, I love my nose. My mother has every single toy made from this movie, you can walk in to her room and it’s like a toy store. It’s much cooler seeing it in action. When you first see it, you’re like ‘that’s great, it’s unbelievable’ a lot of things about this business are quite overwhelming, but when you see it independent of you, it’s weird.

Jessica: My family love it, they all collect the dolls. It’s completely surreal.

The Stan Lee cameo is very funny...

Tim: You gotta have him, all of the directors made a silent oath that you have to have him in the films, that’s always a given.

What did the actors get from the comic-book experience?

Michael: I think it needs to be said that it’s a thrilling time to be in the movies, anything that comes out of a wonderfully creative mind like Stan Lee’s can be incredibly realised on film now. A lot of this film for me was like being in film school, I would be in the background and these guys wouldn’t even know that I was there, I would be out of costume and I would stay way back and watch the guys from Weta and Tim working on some of the sequences that I wasn’t involved in, just to learn. It was a phenomenal experience in a lot of different ways. The Silver Surfer alone, to have two different individuals coming together to form one character was incredible.

Jessica: This one is a similar audience to Dark Angel and Sin City, and that was rated R and was very dark. Similar fanboy loyalty, with a very specific idea on how they want to see our characters portrayed, and what they want to see in the movie. Tim obviously took that into consideration and put in the Silver Surfer and brought back Doom, with amazing rich characters that feel very real. So all that said, there’s nothing better than a little girl coming up to you and looking up to you the way I thought of superheroes when I was a id. That’s why I do movies, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Chris: It’s not only great to have little kids, but it’s great to have a 70-year-old man come up to you and say ‘I loved these comic-books as a kid.’ That’s when you process what a major part of pop culture and how iconic these characters are. Any movie you make us amazing, and any time you can be part of a film is a blessing and you have to be endlessly grateful, but when you go to conventions and you see the ripple effect that Stan Lee has had, to stand even close to the sun this guy emits is unbelievable, it’s a blessing.

Have you bumped into fans in weird places?

Ioan: Absolutely. Predominantly, I get collared at baggage claim, waiting for the bags to come round. But there’s nothing like that wonderment in a kid’s eyes when they come up and I always try to play a little trick with my arm in my sleeve, pull it out as far as I can go, say ‘the Invisible Woman is here, but she’s a little bit shy, Johnny’s off flying around, Ben was too heavy to get on the plane.

Michael: I’ve been tearing my voice apart saying to kids ‘It’s clobberin’ time’, but I can’t let them down, so I have to do it.’

How late in the day was the Silver Surfer there for everyone to see?

Tim: It took us about two months to figure him out, and once we had him figured out, putting him in the scenes becomes quite easy. Once you figure out how reflective he’s going to be and this and that, certain shots are more difficult than others. So that stuff was finished like a week and a half ago or something (laughs).

Is he going to get his own movie?

Tim I hear he is, it’s always been the plan to have a Silver Surfer movie, and we kind of stole him from a pre-existing plan, so now he’s had his introduction I think it’s quite exciting that he may now go on to have his own series.

What are the differences between Rise and the first film, tonally?

I thought this wasn’t played as young as the first one, because I’ve always looked at it like Empire Strikes Back versus Star Wars, where we get a little bit darker, we get a little bit edgier. We realised what worked and what felt great in the first one, and we held on to that, but we knew that as far as the characters and the situation we wanted to get a little bit deeper, more edgier, because we were looking towards a more mature audience. In my opinion, the film is exactly what I hoped it would be.

The Ben character is lighter this time around, which is more true to the comic…

Tim: The Ben character, he was a certain way in the comic-book, he was much lighter in the comic-books he was the fun character, but in the first movie, we had to tell a dramatic story first.

Michael: To be sure, with regards to my character there was certainly less pathos, but what happens to the Four in terms of what we have to deal with is decidedly darker. It’s a balancing act. To me, anyone who’s a real true fan, as you are, knows that the tenor and the tone of the Fantastic Four, to compare it to the others, which will remain nameless, but you know who they are, those are decidedly more darker and enigmatic characters, characters that are loners, in the shadows. One of the things I responded to in the beginning as a kid, reading The Fantastic Four was that there was a lightness about them, there was an accessibility about them.

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