June 9, 2006: “Superman Returns” Press Junket

Roundtable Interview with Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty

Writers Press: You basically went back to some of the early Superman movies, the '70s Superman movies, to make references in this one. Did you do that from the get-go? Were your sources the comic books? The '70s films? And before we start, say your names.

Dan: Everything. I'm Dan

Mike: I'm Mike

Dan: And this is...

Mike: Coffee Talk (laughter)

Dan: Well, there's certain lines, and there's certain bigger story ideas, and you know, a lot goes back to Superman: The Movie...

Mike: Obviously

Dan: ...and our collective experience of who Superman is, played by these certain actors, and what it felt like to watch that movie.

Press: Donner said that you guys on X-Men would watch Superman on set. Is that true?

Dan: I have a funny feeling Donner is remembering X-Men 1. I don't know. But we watched it on X-Men 2, so I don't...I don't know what he's referencing specifically.

Press: How much input did Donner have in the way the script was shaped?

Dan: Um, Dick? Not necessarily input, but I think we ran things by him, and Bryan got the kind of golden stamp of approval that we wanted. Because they're friends of ours, we know Lauren from X-Men for years, and we met Dick through her, and he's amazing, and she's amazing, and we have such respect and reverence for them...that we didn't want to do anything that would upset him, or go against what he put out there.

Mike: Yeah, when the project got out, he faxed us a letter, it was just like three sentences, and he's such a classy guy, but I think it was something along the lines of, "Just heard about Superman. He couldn't be in safer hands. Love, Dick." And it was just...I got really choked up about it.

Dan: Yeah, it was like a blessing to go off and do it.

Mike: Yeah.

Dan: Did we save that fax?

Mike: Of course. (laughter)

Press: There are some lines in this movie that are taken straight from the original film.

Dan: Yeah, mhmm.

Press: Was that your idea of paying homage to Chris Reeve?

Dan: Yeah, a little bit of homage, and also, it's fun to take lines like that and kind of twist them and put them in a new situation.

Press: Playing off of (unintelligible)

Dan: Yeah, flying...the flight is a lot worse this time (laughter) than last time. So that's why the joke is kind of funny to people who know it.

Mike: But it's also a matter of, it's a respectful way of acknowledging everything that came before. And I think whenever you do a Superman project, whether it's a comic book, a TV show, or a new film, you have to acknowledge the legacy. You can't be cocky about what you're doing and just say, "Well, I'm not going to use the theme, I'm not going to use any situations from previous (incarnations), I'm going to be brand new and fresh and original." No, you're doing Superman, you're part of the bigger picture, so acknowledge what came before.

Dan: Yeah, I mean, obviously this character and this history is bigger than any of us put together.

Press: You talked about referencing the past, you even had an homage to Action Comics #1. Who's idea was that?

(Mike pointed to Dan, who smiled)

Press: Thank you. (laughter)

Press: What was it like working with Jon Peters?

Dan: Jon was absolutely amazing with us on this movie.

Mike: Yeah. Honestly.

Dan: I cannot say more, and it is the complete and honest truth. The guy was great. The guy heard the story, heard the take, we had lunch and talked about it early on...

Mike: ...gave us a hug...

Dan: Yeah, gave us a hug, and then when we started shooting, sent us telegrams. Telegrams!

Mike: Flowers!

Dan: Never got in my life, a telegram.

Press: So they never set any stipulations?

Mike: No, none whatsoever.

Dan: No.

Press: So no giant spider?

Dan: Which version did you watch? (laughter)

Press: If you hadn't seen the '70s movies, and today's audiences may not have, what are the dangers of including such references as, "I spent the night with Superman," and we know what that refers to...is that a problem, do you think?

Dan: Well, I think that specific thing will help sell some bigger story ideas to people if they take it at face value and don't know what it refers to. It was a careful balance of not remaking anything and not retelling the origin and yet slipping enough stuff in there to say, this is what it's like when he discovers his powers, this is what it's like when these things happened in the past. You don't have to imagine they all happened if you hadn't seen it.

Press: But don't you also know that Superman 1, 2, and 3 are going to show on TNT and TBS...

Dan: Hopefully, yeah

Mike: Hopefully, but I can't assume that my 8-year-old cousins have seen those films, so it's like you have to kind of reintroduce certain concepts and ideas to a new audience.

Dan: It's like Mike says, it's like James Bond, and in every James Bond film, there's a little reintroduction of Q, there's a little reintroduction of these things.

Mike: You have to have Q.

Dan: You see the car again, like you saw it for the first time, even though it's a different car, but it's the same car.

Mike: M has to wave the finger, you know.

Writers Press: Was it tough to switch from a franchise like the X-Men with Bryan? I'm sure you had ideas where to go with that third movie, and to suddenly switch over and do Superman? Was it frustrating to leave any old ideas behind with that whole other franchise that you couldn't fulfill? And did you have any long-running Superman ideas that you finally got to explore?

Mike: A, yes, it was very tough to leave X-Men. Not because it was just a great opportunity to help finish the trilogy, but because on a personal level we got to know that cast and crew really well. So we felt like, all of a sudden, we had to tell them, "Well, I'm being transferred to this other school, called Superman, and you guys have fun." And yes, we had certain ideas...it wasn't like a detailed treatment, but we had ideas that we wanted to do, so that was a little tragic. As far as Superman goes, it's not like I was brainstorming ideas growing up, like I'd love to do a Superman movie, blah blah blah, but when Bryan first introduced the idea of doing a Superman film back in '03, we were finishing X-Men 2, and it was just, "Wouldn't it be fun if we got to do a Superman movie someday? And we got to do this, this, and this? Then all of a sudden the gears started turning. The seeds got planted there.

Press: Have you seen the third X-Men movie?

Mike: Yes

Press: And...did you cringe?

Dan: We're in a more Zen place than that. (laughter) No, seriously. You can't sit there, and say, "Oh, I would have done all that differently!"

Press: Were you surprised?

Mike: No, honestly...

Dan: I was surprised.

Mike: There were some really cool, pleasant surprises in that they actually did some ideas that I think we were leaning towards...I remember even when Jean takes off Cyclops' visor, this was in a little e-mail that Dan sent me one day, like, wouldn't it be cool if Jean came back as Phoenix and took off his visor and was able to hold back his blast? So it was eerie to see that on screen...

Dan: It would have been the end of the movie, but... (laughter)

Mike: But even Magneto using Phoenix as a weapon, I thought that was a cool concept and a neat idea, and so to see that happen on screen was really kind of fun, to know that the people who were now running with the series were kind of heading in that right direction.

Press: Superman has always been the ultimate American icon. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way. Why did you guys drop the American way?

Mike: Perry dropped the American way. Perry White did it. (laughter) It was a very conscious effort, because we wanted Superman...we feel like the character has evolved into a global superhero. When he was first created, he is an American icon, he's part of the lexicon, but he has evolved and been embraced by everyone around the world. So it was a conscious effort to not alienate everyone else.

Press: The global box office (laughter)

Mike: Well, no, not just the global box office, but to kids all around the world, I think.

Dan: Let's be honest, the term "The American Way" means something different than it meant 50 years ago.

Mike: It's grayer.

Dan: It's grayer. Exactly. There's no easy answer for that right now. And at the same time, the character is an alien, he's come to the earth.

Press: Illegal

Dan: Yes, illegally.

Press: And he doesn't have papers.

Mike: Good luck trying to pick him out!

Dan: It was the '40s, you were allowed to do that back then.

Press: So is there a timeframe when you guys are gonna start writing Superman 2? Have you already started with some ideas?

Dan: There are ideas, but we need a giant vacation, or at least a little vacation or something, because it's been nonstop.

Mike: Yeah.

Press: What would you do, what are the dangers when doing a Superman 2 to not replicate...

Mike: Superman 2? (laughter)

Press: Well, yeah, to not go back, although we do miss General Zod.

Mike: Everyone misses General Zod.

Dan: Yeah, General Zod.

Press: How do you avoid that?

Dan: Well, there are some things in this movie, you guys have seen it, that set up, maybe, a different path for Superman 2. It's not just spinning.

Press: The child obviously would have a very unique role...

Mike: I'm sorry?

Press: The son.

Writers Mike: Oh, I don't know. (laughter) But, in terms of Zod, or other Kryptonians, if we were going to follow that path of other Kryptonians showing up, maybe, possibly, I don't know, I doubt they'll be showing up in black jump suits and knee high leather boots blowing up small towns. (laughter)

Press: But that was cool, that was the bomb.

Mike: Oh, trust me, I love all that stuff, but I think in today's day and age your villains have to be painted in more shades of gray.

Press: Who wants Nuclear Man back? (laughter)

Dan: You can hire him. He'll clip your hedges or something.

Mike: You want Richard Pryor back, is what you're saying. (laughter) Chris Tucker as Gus Gorman. (laughter)

Press: Do you guys read every single comic ever written?

Mike: That's impossible.

Dan: We would not be here.

Mike: Yeah, we'd still be reading.

Press: From writing the X-Men movies to writing this one, which one was more pressure? Which one had greater challenges?

Dan: This one.

Mike: Yeah, this one.

Dan: Absolutely.

Press: How so?

Dan: Well, X-Men 2, there was a luxury, there was a difficult part in that it was our first big movie, but there was a huge luxury where everybody already knew each other, the characters were already decided, with the exception of Nightcrawler and Brian Cox and other people but...

Mike: The first one came out three years...

Dan: The first one came out years before, we'd seen it before, we knew them, we were directly moving off and they all knew each other, and there was a lot there already as a foundation.

Press: What's going on with I, Lucifer?

Dan: Um...

Mike: Casting.

Dan: Casting right now. That's a movie that we wrote based on the book I, Lucifer...about the devil.

Press: That guy Lucifer (unintelligible)

Dan: It's a black comedy (lots of laughter) where the devil retells Biblical history from his point of view. You're being dropped into the body of a screenwriter who's about to kill himself in London.

Press: You're directing it?

Dan: Yes. Oh, uh, we'll know soon.

Press: Who's in it?

Dan: Some excellent Scottish actors.

Press: Oh, Ewan McGregor's going to be in it? (laughter)

Mike: Yes, excellent Scottish actors who were in a Star Wars film.

Press: When you guys are on set, you're on set every day. Is there a lot of rewriting day to day?

Dan: Yeah.

Mike: But it's not a bad thing.

Dan: No, some days we sit there and kinda eat craft service, but some days he'll stop the scene, and be like, "That line is terrible."

Mike: Yeah, fix it.

Dan: Fix it right now! (laughter)

Press: How about the fact that you wrote the whole return to Krypton, and that was cut out?

Mike: Yeah.

Press: Little sad?

Mike: Yeah. (laughter)

Dan: You know, it's interesting, we published the screenplay for this movie, I'm not sure if Bryan and everybody is aware, or they're kind of aware, but we published the full script to the movie, which is probably an hour longer than the movie is right now, so any deleted scenes that are not going to show up in the DVD for one reason or another will all be in the script. I mean the script is a full-on, big big big...

Mike: Different opening.

Dan: Yeah, entirely different opening. Big change.

Press: There are photographs of that deleted scene in the book they gave us at the junket and it never made it in the movie.

Mike: Yeah, it's tough. It's not an easy decision, you know, to cut that stuff out.

Dan: Yeah, there's a reason for that. In the movie, it kind of felt like there was the lingering question of where he went was better to be wondered about and then answered in the movie as opposed to shown right away and dropped back in the world.

Press: But there's going to be an extended DVD anyway...

Mike: We'll see. We don't know.

Press: Did you guys do any audio commentary with Rob yet for the DVD?

Mike: Not yet.

Dan: No, there's a weird thing with the commentary where the length of the film prohibits the commentary, but there's going to be a visual commentary?

Mike: It's some new idea. Ask Rob. Where's Rob?

Press: Yeah, high def DVD where you can do that on high def DVD.

Mike: Yeah, we're going to project holographic images of ourselves onto your couch.

Press: Which is really exciting. (laughter)

Dan: Yeah, we're really great couch mates. We'll sleep on your couch, too. (laughter)