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X-MEN: David Hayter - Part II

Concluding our interview with the X-Men writer, he continues his discussion of the script's evolution and the franchise's future

By Matthew F. Saunders     August 10, 2000

Making films is an organic process. Particularly if you work with a director like Bryan Singer, who constantly refines scenes until the day they're shot. And while it's normal for scripts to be revised numerous times, the X-Men feature film went through no less than 60 drafts. If anyone should know, it's the writer who came away with sole 'Screenplay' credit, David Hayter. Working in tandem with Singer and executive producer Tom DeSanto, Hayter says he made constant script revisions throughout production.

In part one of our interview, Hayter defended his involvement in the X-Men production and the WGA's decision to grant him sole writing credit, a seeming point of controversy among fans unfamiliar with the previously unknown writer. Hayter also began a discussion of the script's evolution, which continues here, along with his thoughts on the already-planned X-Men sequel.

QUESTION: ONE OF THE CRITICISMS OF THE BATMAN MOVIES AS THEY WENT ALONG IS THAT IF YOU KEEP ADDING TOO MANY CHARACTERS, YOU CAN'T GIVE THEM EACH ENOUGH SCREEN TIME. HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT HERE TO JUGGLE SO MANY CHARACTERS?

Hayter: We developed pretty much everybody to a great degree. Everybody's got a lot more story about them that was shot, which isn't in the movie. Bryan and myself went to great lengths to explain who these people were and to try to justify as much stuff as possible. But in the end, Bryan went back in with the editors and said, 'What don't we need to get the story across and still know who these people are?' So, it's kind of a toss up as to who's gonna end up with more screen time. It's just a matter of how much their characters play into the main storyline.

SO IT'S A MATTER OF PACING?

Well, it's a decision all the way through, but in the long run that's where it finally gets decided. You know, Halle Berry has really been taking a raw deal. She was great on set, but unfortunately the development of her character didn't always play into the main course of the story. And when Bryan was cutting it down to an hour and a half, she bore a lot of the brunt. It's not because she wasn't great, because she was great. It's just that's the way it worked out. It's a shame, but that's what happens when you 'Kill Your Babies,' as it were.

IN THE END, YOU DID END UP REMOVING THE BEAST. WHY? AND DID THAT REQUIRE A MAJOR REVISION?

No, everything was a major revision of the script. The thing about Beast was that we couldn't afford to have him in the big fight at the end. He's just a big, blue CG and creature effect deal, incredibly complicated, and he couldn't go jumping around the Statue of Liberty. So, he got his leg broken in the mansion. Magneto came to the mansion and broke his leg and then he couldn't go.

But, you know, it doesn't really work. You've got this huge, blue guy who can leap around, then he got his leg broken. And it's Bryan's tenet, if it's not going to be great, then it's not going to be cool, so don't do it. Don't do it just because you want to have Beast in there. Don't. And I think that's where the Batman films sometimes go awry. 'Oh, wouldn't it be funny if Tommy Lee Jones did this?' when it really doesn't have any basis in anything. You can do that, but that's just not the type of movie we were making.

DID YOU EVER DISCUSS EXPANDING THE NUMBER OF SCENES BETWEEN PATRICK STEWART AND IAN MCKELLEN, TO TAKE MORE ADVANTAGE OF THEIR TALENTS?

We originally didn't have Magneto in the Senate hallway at the beginning. At another point, we didn't have Xavier in the train station scene. And we just started to think about it and said, 'We've got these guys together, we have to see them together.' I think at one point the plastic prison scene wasn't going to be in there, as well. And then we just pushed and pushed, and it eventually became right. We need three scenes between these two gentlemen. And the train station was hard, too, because what's Xavier gonna do? Magneto will just crush him if he shows up. We were like, 'Can we put him in the car and still retain that tension?' But Bryan really did that well.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SCENE TO WRITE?

There's a bunch of scenes I like. I really like the scene on the train between Rogue and Wolverine. I really liked Cyclops' scene with Professor Xavier, where Xavier is out, and he says, 'If anything happens, I want you to know that I'll take care of them.' I think that's a neat thing. I think it says a lot about what Xavier has done for all of these people, and what lengths they're willing to go through for him. I think something like that really lets you in on Cyclops, who really doesn't get to say a whole lot in the final cut. It's a private moment between him and the audience where he gets to show who he is. And it's neat. And then the rest of the time he can be stoic or reserved or stiff or whatever, and you still know that inside he's putting on the act.

X-MEN IS OBVIOUSLY A VERY BELOVED PROPERTY, AND FANS ARE QUITE VOCAL ABOUT THEIR OPINIONS, GOOD OR BAD. HOW MUCH DID THEIR FEEDBACK, PARTICULARLY VIA THE INTERNET, DICTATE WHAT YOU DID ON THE FILM?

We always read the fandom feedback. We got stuff from Harry [Knowles ain't-it-cool-news] Website, and just read it all the time. It's hard, because a lot of it's really insulting and hurtful, you know? Which is fine. That allows you a certain insight into what people want. But Tom and I were fans, I mean real fans, and we knew what we wanted to see. And you can't bend to what everybody wants to see, or you'll end up with extraneous things that don't make sense to anybody but a few people. So we really went through and chose with Bryan what we had to see as fans, as bare bones, and then anything we could put on top of that, we would do it. It was a real compromise between filmmaker and fan. But what they were saying was generally what we would want, so we knew we were on the right track. And the things we couldn't afford, we just didn't do them.

GIVEN ALL THIS, DID YOU FEEL A LOT OF PRESSURE?

Absolutely. It was really hard. It was tense. And just long hard days. Keeping a monster like this together is very very difficult. And then when we walked out of it, I was like 'I don't know if I could ever do this again.' And then, seeing the response to it, I was like, 'Oh, I so want to. It's worth it all.' It's just so worth it. If it all comes out right, then it's worth it.

WAS THERE ANY POINT IN THE PROCESS WHERE YOU KNEW YOU HAD A WINNER, DESPITE THE NEGATIVE BUZZ THAT SURROUNDED THE FILM LEADING UP TO ITS RELEASE?

I think you can never know. You never know when you're making a film. Every film I've had the pleasure to work on, before it came out, we thought was going to be a disaster, really. And, look at Fight Club. Those guys who made Fight Club, I'd have been thrilled before it came out. I think that's a brilliant film. And nobody went to see it. So you never know. Bryan actually joked to me when he called me after the opening, after all the journalists started coming up to him saying how great it was and that it was going to be a phenomenon, he said, 'Thank god I never lost faith in this project.' I laughed, because there were times when we thought this is never going to work. But Bryan pulled it off.

SO YOU WERE VERY SURPRISED AND GRATIFIED BY FAN RESPONSE?

It's far beyond what I expected it to be. It's just so thrilling, after hearing so much negative fear on the part of the fans during production. I haven't heard that much bitching about, 'Well it didn't have this,' or 'It didn't have that.' It's very gratifying to me that fans were able to go, 'Wow, look what we got' and 'Look at all the stuff they fit in for us.' Of course, everybody's nice to your face. But one thing that people say is that they're really grateful we did it the way we did. And that's just the coolest thing I've ever heard.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE SEQUEL?

I don't know. There're a couple people working out storylines and so forth. I have some thoughts. I'm sort of waiting to see, if I was to come aboard, what was going to be presented and where people wanted to go. I want to see Wolverine figure out his past. The comic book never really told us where he came from. I would love to do that. And maybe that's an affront to Marvel Comics, but I think that's really cool and I would love to see that. And see him wreak revenge on the people that did what they did to him.

CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE THREE STORYLINES THAT HAVE BEEN TOSSED AROUND SO FAR? THERE'S THE REALITY-WARPING EVIL MUTANT PROTEUS, WHICH BRYAN HAS TALKED ABOUT...

Yeah, he likes Proteus a lot.

THE MUTANT-HUNTING SENTINELS HAVE ALSO BEEN MENTIONED. AND FAMKE JANSSEN HAS BEEN DISCUSSING THE DARK PHOENIX STORYLINE FOR JEAN GREY. ARE THOSE ALL LEGITIMATE POSSIBILITIES?

Absolutely. I think Dark Phoenix is a scary thing to me, though, because unless she commits suicide at the end, it's not Dark Phoenix. That's what made that story echo with resonance across the entire comic book world. It was like, 'Oh my god! Look at the sacrifice Jean made because she knew she had to die.' If the studio wasn't gonna let us do that, and I'm not saying they wouldn't, but it might not be worth doing. So, I don't know.

IN A VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH FANDOM, JANSSEN SAYS THERE WAS FORESHADOWING IN THE MOVIE FOR THE DARK PHOENIX STORYLINE. IS THAT TRUE?

I don't know if anybody's noticed it yet, but this is something I really wanted to do. After the machine goes off and blankets New York harbor with the radiation, it's on its way towards killing everybody. [But before that], they say, 'What effect does it have on mutants?' and Xavier says very specifically, 'Apparently none.' But as soon as the light dies away, there's a push in on Jean Grey, sort of shaken by something. Something's happened to her. And I sort of put that in to sort of lead us into Phoenix if we couldn't set it up the way they did it in the comic books. It's just a little thing, and I don't know if anybody's seen it or not. But watch it again. You'll see this weird look on her face and you don't even think about it, but it's there to use later if we choose to.

AND THE SENTINELS AND PROTEUS?

I'd love to see Sentinels. I think with the technology we've got now, we could do something really intense and frightening. I don't know how Proteus would work in terms of film, though. It's a weird ability he has, to make the world twisty and stuff. That would be a character we might have to re-examine, to figure out a definitive filmic way of presenting that. Proteus would be a villain, so we'd have to come up with some reason why he could do it. Although I love the storyline--I think it's great.

THE ACTORS ARE ALL COMMITTED TO THE SEQUEL. BRYAN SAYS HE'S THINKING ABOUT IT. ARE YOU COMMITTED, AND IF NOT, WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO IT?

I would have trouble seeing it go without me. It was just such a personal thing, especially for Bryan, Tom and myself. It was really like a baby. I'm not going to die if I don't do the next one, but I would like to do it. And I would like to do it with Bryan.

WOULD YOU DO IT WITHOUT HIM?

I don't know. It would depend on who they got to do it, what their vision of it was, if it was gonna be the sort of thing where a director was going to go a totally opposite way. I don't think I could stand to see that. And that's really how I'm trying to look at future projects. It's got to be some thing I enjoy, or else I won't do a good job on it. So as far as my involvement with the sequel goes, I think that's all up to Bryan and Fox. And if they want me there, great. And if not, that's fine, too.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU? DO YOU WANT TO STAY IN GENRE FILMS?

Yeah. I'm going to be pitching an idea of mine around town for a movie that I think, and this will be the first time I've said it, will be called Immortal. It'll be a fantasy-action-adventure thing. That's just what I love. We're developing the pitch right now, so I have basic concepts, but I don't want to talk about it yet. It'll change about a thousand times as I write it. But that's the next thing I'm focused on. There's also the discussion of X-Men 2. And if that comes through, then that'll be a priority as well.

SO YOU WANT TO STICK WITH SCRIPTING?

Oh absolutely. I've always written, but I never really considered that my main focus. And X-Men has clearly changed that. I eventually want to direct, as well as write, act and produce. Just whatever seems interesting to me that I want to attack. And if people are willing to give me the money to do it, that'll make it a lot easier. I'm just gonna let the wind take me where it takes me.

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