X-MEN | Blog | 15 May 2000

Magneto's Lair

Words by Ian McKellen

Click to enlarge
In Los Angeles for post-production work on X-MEN
April 2000
Photo by Keith Stern

When I finished my three months on X-MEN last Christmas, in time for the holiday hiatus, I knew that wasn't the end of Magneto. Any actor's contract will promise to do any post-production work, weeks or months after principal filming is done, at no extra cost to the film company other than generous per diems plus accommodation and travel requirements. I've often wondered what happens when an actor is so busy with subsequent employment that there is no time to complete the previous movie. Last month I nearly found out.
The X-MEN production office - or what's left of it since principal photography was completed in Toronto in late February - is now based in Los Angeles. Although filmed in Canada with a mainly local crew, the movie belongs to Hollywood where Bryan Singer and his editorial crew are now piecing together the pictures and sounds so eagerly anticipated - and in some cases stupidly reviled - by fans of the comic on which it is based. Early rumours about the script and the acting and the look of the film have been replaced by fact as 20th Century Fox has established its official websitse and begun to release still images to entice the huge potential audience who may know nothing yet of X-MEN but who will be interested in what seems to be this summer's biggest release, at least in the United States.
Ian McKellen (Magneto), Bryan Singer (Director), Thomas DeSanto (Co-Producer), out on the town in Toronto December 1999
Photo by Keith Stern
Across the world, mostly by Internet, the film's plotlines have been leaked and not denied by the producers. There have been two teaser-trailers on the net and in selected American cinemas. At cinemas across America last month there were screaming approval and standing ovations — for a preview! With so many financial hopes riding on the takings of the first weekend's box office (14th July in the USA and, shortly after, worldwide) this pre-publicity is crucial. As the date approaches, just watch Fox battling for the film, placing it against its summer competitors and extolling its promise. It's rather like getting the vote out on Election Day. Thereafter posters and full-page ads can scream in full color and cost a fortune but nothing can combat word-of-mouth.

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Ian McKellen is Magneto

E-mailers have mused about why Patrick Stewart and I should deign to swap Shakespeare for Marvel - as if Star Trek and my own sorties into hoped-for-blockbusters had never happened. Patrick has just opened resoundingly in the transfer to Broadway of the Public Theatre of New York's A Ride Down Mount Morgan, Arthur Miller's newest play, which I enjoyed in London two seasons ago. I am busy with The Lord of the Rings. But we both selfishly hope that X-MEN fulfils our confidence that popular culture need not be crude or shoddy - even if we have been turned into action figure dolls in celebration.

With one of the most famous faces onscreen today, Patrick is no stranger to the world of marketing. I am only beginning, at last realising the difference between "publicity" and "marketing". I've done my share of the former, particularly for movies, although I am doubtful how much use I've been in all those interviews and chat show appearances. One weekend I spoke to 75 journalists for the Berlin opening of Richard III and still the Germans didn't crowd in to see my '30s take on Shakespeare's politics. Will more people want to see X-MEN because their kids want to buy the merchandise?

From toyfare.com

From toyfare.com

I have never before been carved in plastic by Japanese technology and sold in Hamley's and FAO Shwartz. In December I was shown the four-inch-high prototype, as my contract allowed, and approved it. I'm not sure why Magneto's steel grey hair now looks dark brown - probably by distortion of my laptop's screen. There are now being advertised on the Net and in the specialist shops, figurines of all the film's characters - identifying the actors' names for the first time - with extras like Wolverine's motorcycle, Cyclops' shades and Magneto's magnetic helmet (for holding paper clips) - a must for that special occasion. I have seen the first editions of cast trading cards and signed a few of them. One was recently auctioned on Ebay. Toys R Us plans to open at midnight the day the merchandise is released for sale.
From afar I have wondered at it all, although I don't any longer much consult the fansites as they plough over their prejudices and their hopes. This is because my own insider's sense of the film is firming up. Two weeks ago I saw a lot of it onscreen and marvelled at the emerging stylishness of the storytelling. I was adding my voice to the pictures in an Additional Dialog Recording (ADR) session. This was needed for a variety of reasons. Once or twice I spoke indistinctly on the take which has made it into the film. Elsewhere, there were extraneous noises on the original soundtrack from traffic and machinery and weather on location or from camera creakings in the studio. It was also possible to change the dialogue and fit slightly different words into the old mouth movements. My favourite dubbing is to add grunts, breathing and other non-verbals to enhance the action.

Bryan Singer (Director) and Tom Sigel (Director of Photography) 
set up a shot of Ian McKellen as Magneto

In the last week of March there had been an urgent request for my availability to do these tidyings at an ADR session five days later. A rough-cut screening of the film was planned and Fox understandably wanted as complete a version as possible. Although many visual effects are still in the making, at least the actors should sound good. It was assumed at such short notice that I shouldn't be able to join Bryan Singer and the sound technicians in Los Angeles. So, I was invited to be alone in a sound studio in Sydney and dub my voice aided by a video transmission and Bryan's comments down the telephone line. I wasn't confident of this long-distance disembodied method and was tempted to refuse to fly four hours across the Tasman Sea, by citing the filming schedule in New Zealand.
When we did Apt Pupil ADR, Bryan and Tim Monich (my dialect teacher) had flown especially to London where I was working onstage in the evenings. I wanted to return the compliment and do the X-MEN ADR with them in the same room. (Tim authoritatively advises on the transatlantic accent that Magneto has adopted for the film.) By postponing the session for a week, it was easy for me to go for ten days in Hollywood to coincide with an April break from my other filming duties.

Click to enlarge
James Marsden (Cyclops), a menacing Wolverine, and Ian McKellen (Magneto) at Universal Studios Hollywood, April 2000
Photo by Keith Stern

Click to enlarge
Ian McKellen (Magneto), Bryan Singer (Director), and James Marsden (Cyclops) at Universal Studios Hollywood, April 2000
Photo by Keith Stern

The dubbing went well so there was time to catch up with other pals - Bryan's assistant John Palermo, and Louise Mingenbach, who designed Magneto's beautiful clothes. There was a cast supper though not everyone could make it. James Marsden and other friends [webmasters note: including me!] joined me for an outing to Universal Studios. Fun to watch this show - part theatre, part movie, all deliciously and ingeniously entertaining. 
The day I left I slipped into Magneto's boots and combat outfit for one last time and shot a crucial extra close-up, without which a climactic scene could not be clearly resolved. I wonder what would have been done had I not been available? On Friday 14th April a minimal setting was mocked-up with a fragment of the original scenery. With reference to Ann Brodie's Polaroid records, Magneto's hair and look were recreated. Tom Sigel and his faithful crew came in straight from a night shoot on their current assignment and lit the scene to match the footage shot five months previously. Bryan took time away from his editors to direct proceedings. Then we all waited until the camera equipment arrived - five hours late! Once it turned up it was over in three minutes and Bryan joked: "That completes Ian McKellen's filming on X-MEN."

Ann Brodie (make-up) on the set of X-Men
Photo by Ian McKellen


NEXT: 21 June 2000

X-MEN (2000)

X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)



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