On complex comic-book heroes, piracy, butting heads with Fox's CEO and living up to big expectations
Since graduating UCLA film school in the early '90s, Gavin Hood has strung together one success after another in his native South Africa, culminating with his 2006 Best Foreign Film Oscar-winning, “Tsotsi." Here, he talks about his latest project in Hollywood, the big-budget, effects-laden summer sequel, Fox's “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” due out May 1.
“Wolverine” is not unlike “Tsotsi,” where a hardened criminal is transformed by caring for this baby. There’s a similarity there.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think what producer Hugh Jackman (the film's star and a producer) saw in “Tsotsi” — which is why he called me — is that there you’re dealing with a character who once again is struggling with his own inner demons and attempting to find his better nature — sometimes against his will.
It’s that way with all of us — our better nature does often shine through, but we do have this tendency, as human beings, to do things that we don’t always feel particularly proud of.
So you didn't see “Wolverine” as just another fanboy character?
It very quickly became apparent to me that what drew Hugh to the character and was drawing me to the character was the same thing: that you’re dealing with someone that is uniquely emotionally complex in comic-book lore.
He's very different from the “Pale Rider” kind of hero from the days when I was growing up, where young men were subliminally taught that you should not show emotion — you ride into town, you solve the problem, you maybe sleep with a couple of women, but you don’t get too attached to them, then you ride off into the sunset, and you don’t show any emotion.
Here you have a massaively popular character that struggles with emotion, struggles with the idea of rage. No sooner does he have his claws out that he wants to withdraw them.
There must be a lot of pressure to sustain the “X-Men” franchise and satisfy fanboy expectations.
Bryan Singer, when he started this franchise, was incredibly brave in combining great thematic ideas with a sort of fantasy comic-book genre. I’m inspired by that and impressed by that, but when you make your own movie, at the end of the day, for me at least, I can’t let that other stuff be coming into my head.
There were elements missing from the copy that was pirated back in March, but those who’ve seen it feel it’s a pretty complete experience.
It was very unpolished, it was not finished — 450 of 900 visual effects shots were not done. Harry Gregson Williams’ score was not in place. The print hadn’t been color timed.
Does the leak hurt you?
We have no idea how many people have seen it. They might have seen it and decided, "That’s great! We’ve seen it. We don’t need to see it," in which case there’s serious risk to your investors of not getting their money back. You know, movies don’t always make money, and now add to that risk the possibility that your product is going to be stolen. I mean, this is just a horrendous thought in terms of those of us who are trying to attract investors. So we’ve got to get a grip on these things.
There are stories of Fox CEO Tom Rothman’s involvement during production, going behind your back, painting the set. (editor's note: Rothman was reported to have ordered the set repainted.)
I actually have enjoyed my interaction with Tom. I think we’re both very proud of the movie that we’ve made. But there were certainly times where, without putting too fine a point on it, that I wanted to make perhaps a more earthy movie than Tom was expecting.
I know this film has to be part of a franchise, but I also want it to stand alone. My point of view might be ”A.” Tom’s, at times, may have been “B.” I think the two of us often arrived at "C," which has actually better than his idea or my idea. You do this on a movie all the time.
I mean, certainly Tom and I never wanted to do the character in a spandex outfit, for example, but there were some fans who thought that’s how Wolverine should be portrayed because he wears yellow spandex in a lot of the comics. I look forward to somebody making a version of Wolverine some day in yellow spandex.
Yes, but did he paint a set without your say-so?
It’s a very terrible oversimplification. Tom did not personally arrive in overalls and start repainting a set. Tom’s concern was that perhaps the film should have a more glossy look, and he put this to the production designer. I was away at the time. When I came back, I said, “Guys, look, I need to deal with this. You’re not painting these sets until I’ve had a chat with the studio,” because we’re gonna suddenly make a U-turn in terms of what we’re been doing stylistically up to this point. I had a very good conversation with Alex Young (producer of 2011's "X-Men Origins: Magento") about it, and I explained, “Look, we’re stylistically in a certain zone. We can’t suddenly spin styles here.” So, no, he did not.
What’s next for you? Are you reading right now? Are you looking at big movies, little movies?
I’d rather not say because so much of it depends on what happens when "Wolverine" comes out May 1. I’m not being coy saying that. The expectations are huge on this, and I think a lot of people are waiting to see: "Did he pull this off, or does he fall on his ass?"
Where will you be that day?
I’ll probably be home with my family — being too afraid to look at the box-office results until my agent calls me and tells me what they are.