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THE X-MEN: Senator Kelly Speaks! A conversation with Bruce Davison
By Frank Garcia
November 22, 2000
'Invisibility!' laughs actor Bruce Davison. 'My favorite super power, I guess, would be invisibility. As an actor, I always try to be invisible as possible. That's how I felt in life. As a kid, I was always trying to be the invisible person.'
Bruce Davison, one of Hollywood's most versatile character actors, has just revealed the secret to his success in films, television and theater. When he selects a role, he doesn't want audiences to see him. He's determined to use his personality and his talents to 'sink' into the roles and make sure viewers are captivated by the characters he's personifying. And when Davison was handed the pivotal role of U.S. Senator Robert Kelly in The X-Men
, it was an opportunity to jump into a project with a 30-year cultural history. Davison joined a cast of high profile, recognizable actors mixed with some exciting new talent. Star Trek: The Next Generation
's Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the X-MEN; Goldeneye
's Famke Janssen as Dr. Jean Grey. Disturbing Behavior
's James Marsden as Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops; The Flintstones
' Halle Berry as Storm; Australian actor Hugh Jackman as Wolverine;. Oscar-winning actress Anna Paquin as Rogue; and of course Shakespearian stage star Sir Ian McKellen as the villainous Magneto. The combination proved a successful one. The film, which 20th Century Fox releases on video and DVD today, has earned grosses of $288.2 million worldwide since during it's theatrical run.
When Senator Robert Kelly addressed U.S. Congress in the film, he boldly declared, 'The truth is that mutants are very real, and they are among us. We must know who they are and above all what they can do!' His bill to register mutants served as a lightning rod for Xavier's X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants, including supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Mystique, Ray Park as Toad, and Tyler Mane as Sabretooth.
In charge of the Senate Subcommittee on Mutant Activities, Kelly had very strong views of mutants and their presence in modern society. Davison explains. 'I find him to be a very reality-based person, under a mentality of fears. Kelly is a combination of [Radio/newspaper columnist] Rush Limbaugh, [U.S. Senators] Orrin Hatch, Jessie Helms and [Talk Radio host] Dr. Laura. All of them have fears about racism and homophobia. He wants to protect a pure breed society.
'Kelly's point of view is 'How would you like a nine-year-old kid in a fight with your kid in school but he has ten times the deadly force of any hand gun over a piece of chalk? How would you like getting into a fight on a freeway with a guy who can literally dump your car? How would you like a woman who can walk through walls, walk into your bedroom, your bank vault, the White House or the Pentagon? Are you fine with that? Or do you have some fears with that? Would you like to register them as we have done with hand guns?' That is Kelly's perspective. He's a character that makes sense. Magneto wants to do away with the human race for some very good reasons. When we first see Magneto, he's in a concentration camp as a little boy. He knows that side of the human race. Everyone has a point of view and an agenda.'
The film is not just a live-action superhero adventure story. These characters serve as a forum to explore how racism and prejudice manifest themselvesand how destructive those forces can be. 'Storm was a village kid, and the kids are all picking on her,' continues Davison. 'She could bring down the wrath of god on the township. What are the consequences of that? Rogue wanders around, wrapped up like a mummy because she can't have any human connection. Any human physical connection that she has, robs the loved ones that she touches of their very existence. They're all very metaphorical and elegant. Cyclops can't even look at his girlfriend! Wolverine doesn't have his identity. Who is he? Where does he come from? He's just this animal. Shades of Wolfman! He's the lost Wolfman.
'Xavier is trying to hold the two worlds together. He senses and is aware of everyone's fears. He takes it upon himself to be the ultimate father figure. He's trying to hold a psychotic world together. And they're all real conflicts that mirror our society. All of them make sense. All of them have a point of view. In the midst of all this cartoon stuff, there's a real archetypal verve in it.'
Born in Philadelphia, Bruce Davison, 54, studied art and theater in Penn State and has made for himself a rich and diverse career playing heroes and villains, doctors and lawyers, fathers and lovers. He continues to be remembered for roles in Willard
(1971) as the disturbed teenager who has a love for rats. Many SF fans still remember his memorable performance as George Orr in Lathe of Heaven
(1980), which was re-released on PBS earlier this year, before making its way to video and DVD. In 1990, Davison garnered an Oscar nomination for his emotionally powerful performance in Longtime Companion
'I entered the acting field at four years old,' grins Davison. 'I did Claude Rains imitations from a David and Goliath
record I had. I'd get a hall of adult people to laugh and fall down and keep me from having to go to bed.' Davison's very first stage appearance was in a Penn State performance of 'Oh Dad, Poor Dad Mama's Hung You in a Closet and I'm Feeling so Sad' by Arthur L. Kopit. 'My first moment in front of an audience was terror,' recalls Davison. 'But everyone started to laugh, and I realized they laughed because my 'fly' was open. They had buttons on them instead of zippers. I had not worn the costume before the performance. I didn't have enough time to put my fly up. I spent the next act surreptitiously trying to button up my 'fly.' But the audience got it and were hysterical.'
When he was first cast in X-Men
, Davison was given the comic books and the animated series videotapes. He also had additional help from the films' producers. 'Tom DeSanto is a real avid collector of all of that stuff, and he helped me with a lot of issues connected with Senator Kelly. I mean, geez, these characters go back, like, 30 years now! There's all kinds of tributaries about these characters. I know Kelly's relationship with the mutants have a lot to do with the death of his wife.'
Making THE X-MEN in Toronto, Canada, over a period of eight months was, by all reports, an arduous task. But Davison says that, in spite of this adversity, everyone in the production totally supported each other. 'This sounds like a bland, suck-ass actor's comment, but I loved every one of them,' says Davison. 'I really did. Lots of times, doing a film together, you get very close with people. Sort of like being caught in the Battle of the Bulge! You really get to know people in 17-hour exhausting days in war-like conditions!' laughs Davison. 'There wasn't one person in the group that stood out, [saying] 'I'm a star!' or anything like that.'
A memorable moment for Davison was being tied up at Magneto's secret arctic lair, where Magneto and his minions held the Senator captive. And there, the outside weather conditions were not only torturous but authentically frigid. 'I remember being with Ian [McKellen] at 4 a.m. Our breaths were just smoking like mad. I was stuck on this stainless steel chair in the middle of the freezing night. It was a set the size of a football field. I couldn't complain because poor Rebecca [Romijn-Stamos] was blue and naked! The first time I saw her, she was in half-makeup. She was upset. She was miserable!'
Romijn-Stamos required a six-hour, full-body makeup job each day, which stood in lieu of any costume. 'The first time I saw her in complete makeup was when we were shooting in a big set, a man-made lake,' says Davison. 'She was very cold. It was like 35 degrees. There were heaters, and we all sort of gathered around the heaters.' Imagining for how he would in that situation, Davison just shakes his head and says, 'I would have been nuts. She was really patient. I guess she was [used to] being frigid, freezing cold in that kind of weather because of being a model. It was real hard to put a robe or anything over that kind of stuff because it all just rubs off. She's quite a trouper. She walked on a stainless steel platform in 35-degree weather in bare feet! Imagine what that's like. And that's just her feet! Imagine the rest of her body!
'Ian was stuck up on top of this tower, and we were all freezing to death. It started to rain. We went through that for four days. Never a bitch or a moan. It was all of us against [the weather], in trying to do the best we could in making this film really exciting. And that's how it was all the way down the line. Tempers would flare. Certain things wouldn't happen on time. An airplane [flying by overhead] would screw up a shot. A costume would rip. Someone would get hit accidentally. All kinds of things that always happen. Never, for more than a second or two, would there be a conflict. It's certainly not the worst conditions I've ever worked with. It was lovely to come home to a really nice hotel. I was very exhausted at times.'
Davison is fond of a particular moment he shared, off the set, with fellow actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. 'Patrick showed us how to 'Star Trek act,'' Davison chuckles. With this comment, he is referring to the specialized technique of Star Trek
actors who shake themselves for the cameras while seated, to simulate the Starship Enterprise being hit by enemy firepower. 'They all had numbers from 1 to 10. One would be a little bump,' which would mean actors would merely shake slightly. 'Ten would be falling on the floor and being hit broadside by a photon torpedo. So we'd all get together and he'd say, 'Six!' And we'd all do 'six' together! Or 'Three! Three and a half!' We'd just have a ball doing that. That was a very precious moment, especially with Ian doing it [with Patrick] on a bar stool.'
Davison's other favorite memory happened in Las Vegas for ShoWest. The cast had reassembled months after completing the film to present themselves. A gigantic 'X' door was on stage with the cast behind curtains, ready to step forward. 'It's like a giant bazaar!' says Davison. 'It's just insane. We were all X-Men coming through this giant X-door. We never got to see the trailer. All we got to do is get through the smoke, find our places so that we could step out on a stage,' to an applauding audience attending the convention.
Later, the cast were swept to another room where several members engaged in an online chat to promote the film. From there, they were whisked elsewhere 'to a booth with a little tent set up all around with partitions for press interviews. In the meantime, eating a few canapés... My fond memories were playing craps for Anna. Anna was too young and couldn't gamble so she gave me a few silver dollars to put on 'Red' on the Roulette wheel. It was a lovely family.'
Looking at the cast of the film, Davison acknowledges that Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine has spun him into greater heights. 'He'll make a big star out of this picture, which I hope for him. He certainly will have earned it because he did work hard as anyone else on this movie.'
Davison was cast in the film largely because of a prior relationship with director, Bryan Singer. They worked together in 1998's Apt Pupil
, also starring Ian McKellen. When Davison characterizes Singer's drive and stamina, his voice is laced with awe and admiration. 'How does he run a set? Like a determined mad man! He's visionary. He can be a hard taskmaster. He's not a director who will settle. He's a director who will get what he wantswith a shove. Come hell or high water. And I respect that greatly. He's also a good man. He's a good guy.'
Singer's Herculean task was analogous to Tim Burton's chores in bringing Batman
to the big screen in 1989. X-Men
executive producer Richard Donner faced a similar challenge when he directed Superman
in 1978. In spite of having his experience on X-Men
, Bruce Davison admits that he hasn't a clue to what can make or break a comics-to-film adaptation. 'Sometimes great novels can't translate because it's all about what's in the protagonist's mind. It's not something active to play. Comic books are very visual, but so are films. Is there a connection that people can identify with? People have been identifying with The X-Men since 1963. My feeling is who knows? Citizen Kane
may work. Sometimes Hamlet
works; sometimes it doesn't.'
But what really tickles Davison is the film merchandise. He's already a 'Mutant Kelly' action figure. 'That's me! I'm action figure but I'm a little squishy!' laughs the actor. 'I come in the box with Jean Grey. I'm an addendum to Jean Grey's action figure! My son calls him 'Squishy Man.' It's kind of nice to be one of the softer action figures.'
With an X-Men
sequel looming on the distant horizon, the creative and enduring genius of Stan Lee and many of his collaborators has finally transcended its two-dimensional roots. We have endured years of bad live-action TV and feature adaptations of Marvel Comics; now we have graduated to blockbuster movie reality. The X-Men
's greatest achievement just might be this: Hollywood now has the confidence to prepare other superhero epics such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four,
and The Incredible Hulk