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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

FANTASTIC FOUR MOVIE PRESS CONFERENCE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia --The movie doesn't open until next summer, but the media blitz on Fantastic Four has already begun.

The Continuum was part of a group of genre journalists granted access to the FF sets on Monday, culminating in a press conference in the afternoon.

Attending the press conference were producers Avi Arad and Ralph Winter, director Tim Story and stars Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm/Thing), Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic), Julian McMahon (Victor von Doom), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm/Human Torch) and Jessica Alba (Sue Storm/Invisible Woman).

Following is an edited transcript from the press conference.

Question: Julian, how much do you enjoy playing the bad guy? Are you hamming it up or playing it straight?

Julian McMahon: It's been fun. It's been a lot of fun. It really has. You've got this guy here (points to Ralph Winter) and Avi at the other end and this wonderful cast. And you're surrounded by wonderful people and people who obviously know what they're doing.

For me, it's just about immersing myself in the role, enjoying myself and giving the fans what they want.

Question: In terms of your performance, How do you approach your role? Do you take it straight or is it a big comic book to you?

Julian McMahon: Initially, it is a comic book, so you have to understand that is the kind of environment that we're trying to fulfill. But there's so much outside of what we do that's the comic aspect of it -- it's the graphics, it's the computerization, it's the prothestics that he's (Michael Chiklis) been in for the last few weeks and all that kind of stuff that creates that world.

So, for me, it's really not about trying to push things too much. It's about trying to base it in reality so that you as audience want to take that journey with me, hopefully, for the expanse of the movie.

But, it's a little bit of both, to be honest. You try to camp up a little bit when you get those opportunitites, but you don't look like a schmuck.

Question: What can tell us about a hard day's work on the Brooklyn Bridge? That's an action-packed sequence of the movie, I gather...

Michael Chiklis: This goes in the category, "You know you're in a huge movie when..." The first day I went to the Brookly Bridge set, to see a 75-yard section of the Brooklyn Bridge having been recreated, with a half a mile track in a circle, so that the traffic could flow through it, surrounded by three stories of blue screen. You walk on the set that day and you go, (pretending to be on phone), "Hey Mom. You've got to see this!"

And to see it unfold. And we're going to spend at least eight days of the filming on that. The second unit spends an equally amount of time on that set. And it's going to translate into two minutes of the movie, three minutes of the movie.

It's an extraordinary thing to watch. And for me, spending 11 or 12 hours in latex is ... fun!

Julian McMahon: It's definitely Chickie's happiest moments.

Michael Chiklis: Yes, absolutely. It's a little like being in the seventh circle of Hell. But in a good way in that at the end of the day, honestly ... sure it's hot, its uncomfortable, it's cumbersome, the outfit. But when you see it, it really is extraordinary.

Question: How many hours a day pre-shooting do you need to get into that outfit and how do you spend the time?

Michael Chiklis: I'm doing it whatever it is I can do to relax and sort of let it happen. There's a sort of surrender that you have to give up. If you're trying to control the situation, you really can't it. It's three hours to get into this, head to foot, so you just have to relax in any way you can.

Initially, it was really, really kind of frightening for me. I knew it would be a physical challenge. I did not know it would be a psychological challenge. Initially, it was for me. I'm not a phobic person or an anxiety-ridden person. But I had a full-on anxiety attack the first time they put me in. And I think it's because once they put the hands on me, I can't get out on my own.

Now, it's two months later and I'm through it. Now, it's not fear. It's more loathing, in terms of the personal discomfort.

I talk about that a lot, but I want to make it clear that when you put your eyes on the prize and the big picture of it, and you look at the dailies and see what we're doing, now it gets good to you. You start to go, "Wow, this is someting special. This is something I can talk to my kids and grandkids about." This is a special, special job.

Question: For the cast, now that you're in the midst of shooting, do you pick up any of the comics at all or you are pretty much ignoring it and focusing on the script?

Chris Evans: I think we read a lot of comics before we started shooting. When we got the parts, we all ran about and got as many as we could. There's so many different series, the Ultimate series, it's kind of tough to keep track. You try to get as much information as you can to add to your performance.

Since shooting, I haven't actually done much reading. I'm kind of in shooting mode.

Question: For people who are not comics fans but might come into this through the X-Men movies, how would you present to the general movie audience how these charaters are different than the X-Men?

Avi Arad: Fantastic Four, actually, has been around longer than X-Men. It's, in its essence, more known. This is not a before and after. This is probably the most famous comic family out there.

So, one, there is a lot of awareness. Two, the tone, the relationship, the dysfunctional family we're dealing with, is really unique. It took a long time to put this movie together because we had to service five characters. The general expectation for this movie has been ... the market has been expecting this movie to come out for a long time.

So we have a really easy time putting it out there, especially now that we actually have dailies and footage, and we know that it plays exactly to the book that has been around forever. Bear in mind that over the years there are somewhere between 350 and 400 million copies sold of Fantastic Four. So there's great awareness.

Michael Chiklis: It's really a great time for this film to be made, too, because on a technical level, 20 years ago you make this picture and it's cheese-whizzy because you can't achieve the visual effects. You known Mr. Fantastic stretching and me with the prosthetics and you (Evans) turning on the flame and you (Alba) going invisible and throwing a force field and what not.

Now, the technical can be married with the practical and the emotional and the human in a way that never could be before. And I think that's what we're trying to achieve, not to just be a technical show. We're trying to infuse those elements as seamlessly as we can for it to work as a cohesive film.

Question: Avi mentioned about a dysfunctional family. Tim could you elaborate about that? Is that one of the reasons you decided to take on the film?

Tim Story: I'm a fan of arguments. To me, it makes the real drama, and even better, it makes the real comedy.

That's the fun part. When it comes to super-heroes, this one kind of fits me best because they're regular people. An extraordinary thing happened to them, and they have to deal with that. And to me, it's just fun bringing that to life, to see the arguments.

Question: Tim, does it interest you that this is the only group where they don't have any secret identities?

Tim Story: I think that's the other thing that drew me to it, this is an origin film so we're dealing with what's happening to them, but the future is how to play them on the fact that they are known. They go to the grocery store and they go get a slice of pizza.

Question: How excited were you when you could finally talk about being cast in Fantastic Four?

Ioan Gruffudd: I was incredibly excited. I have to be honest I wasn't aware of the comic books, hadn't heard of these comic books. So I came from just the script stuff and that's a testimony to how good the script is that I jumped at the chance of playing this character. And he's an American icon I'm a British actor, and I just fell in love with it, so I'm thrilled.

Michael Chiklis: For me, it started a year-and-a-half ago when I met this gentleman (Arad) at a party and Jennifer Garner actually introduced us and I said, "I have two words for you, Ben Grimm," and that was the beginning of it. He called me into his office some months later and we discussed the possibility of this happening.

And I was in excrutiating pain emotionally, frankly, because there was a big question whether I would be available for this film because I have a television series that's ongoing. It was all about can we make this happen purely from a scheduling standpoint, and of course the film get being pushed back and pushed back which made it more and more precarious. It really came down to Peter Churnen, and you know Avi and all those folks at F/X and everybody involved, the heads up state, sort of the meeting of minds and making it happen for me which I thank you and thank them all for.

Avi Arad: I had no choice, I had his bobblehead. So everytime I sit down at my desk his head is going like this.

Michael Chiklis: So it was out there and Avi was up for it and I couldn't say anything. It was pretty excrutiating at that time and it was great to be able to finally say, "Yeah!" That was pretty exciting to say.

Question: Tim, this is a different genre for you. What different approach are you taking this time?

Tim Story: You know I don't know if it's that much different of an approach. It's a character-driven comic-book movie, and that is one of the reasons, hopefully, why they brought me on. I remember sitting down with Avi and Ralph in terms of what support I would have for action and special effects because I knew I didn't have a lot of experience with that.

And they just said, you know what, we brought you to the table for character and story and we will support you with the rest of it. I look at it if I have to make the movie work, absent of the action sequences and absent of the special effects, if I can pull that part and make it successful, then I think the rest will take care of itself because the special effects, we have some serious wizards on this movie and it's going to be incredible, so I didn't really have to deal with that. It's all-character driven. It's all about story.

I felt comfortable and once I had a cast and Avi had the script I had the tools to make it work.

Question: To Ioan, what's it like working on A bigger projects? Is it different?

Ioan Gruffudd: No, no really. It's the same sort of process as television drama I've done, just on a much grander scale and there's more money involved. It's the hardest thing I've done to date because I have to present so much more imagination. Everything is done after the event or computer generated, with the stretching. It's a strange feeling as an actor to put your character in other people's hands. There's a huge trust issue there when you have that over you.

Question: Ralph, What is the challenge that's unique that is more present compared to the other films you've worked on?:

Ralph Winter: A challenge that is always present in these films is in the script of getting all five characters' heroes to have an interwoven journey so that everyone has something helpful and meaningful towards the final act. That's probably the greatest challenge that we keep wrestling with even now as we sort of tweak what we have in the third act to make it happen so it's fulfilling for all the characters.

It's always a challenge financially, trying to get as much on the screen as possible and make it look as big and exciting as possible. Brooklyn Bridge is a huge challenge, we feel very good about that now. Now we just have a small, you know, fight in the third act to do here in Vancouver. Throwing buses and cars and blowing things up, jumping from building to building. Easy stuff.

Question: Jessica, your character is known for having maternal instincts, is that something that comes naturally to you or are you learning as you go?

Michael Chiklis: Yes! Sorry. Yes, you are maternal. Sorry. I'm sorry to jump in like this. I didn't know Jessica before this and she's like a little mommy. I've always told her you should have children immediately. She's going to be a beautiful mother. She has a matriarchal way.

Jessica Alba: Thank you. Actually that is a big part of my personality that I don't get to do a lot, especially as an actress, because I get type cast as the kick-ass bktch or the whatever girl. I never get the maternal, loving, supportive, intelligent role. And Tim, I tell him I don't know how I will get this movie, I love this movie, but if I was in this movie this is who Sue Storm is me. I thought he was going to be opposed and he wasn't.

Question: Chris, were you lobbying for this?

Chris Evans: Of course! This was a group effort for me. I went back many times and it was a long audition process. And my agent pulled through, I was ecstatic. So far great, I never worked in anything this big, so every day it's an educational experience for me.

Question: Is it fun playing a superhero at the end of the day?

Michael Chiklis: Hey, I'm a rock-hard He-Man, that's crazy, who gets to do that. I was a fan growing up of the Fantastic Four. I loved this comic book. I've played cultural icons before and I know there's a certain responsibility that goes along with that, you can't get preoccupied as an actor with that, you have to just bring your own joy to the opportunity and to play this character to just jump in, you just have to go for it. There's always going to be someone in the audience who goes 'eh' that he didn't handle it. But hopefully the mass majority will go, 'Yeah, he was really committed to it and pulled it off.'

Question: Can each of you how the powers that your characters manifest represents who they are?

Ioan Gruffudd: For Reed, he's always reaching for the stars, he's always reaching for affection and that he's only human. His mistake in his calculation creates these characters, they are exposed. I suppose that's his analogy, he's striding for perfection and always reaching when he becomes a superhero. Does that make any sense?

Jessica Alba: My character, she's very intelligent and very maternal, and emotional because she's a woman. And the guys kinda run the show, they don't see that, she might as well be invisible. She still lives in a man's world and she has to work double hard to get ahead and they still overshadow her.

Chris Evans: I think Johnny's a hothead, you know, he's a playboy, loves to live life in the fast lane. He likes attention so what's more of a spectacle than bursting into fire and flying?

Michael Chiklis: The Thing, he's a tough guy, tough exterior, heart of gold. In a nutshell, that's it. He's been Reed's best buddy and protector. He's a strong guy and doesn't want to be a hero, just wants to do his thing and get on with his life. I think the thing that truly makes him heroic is choices, as you'll see in the film, he has to make a pretty selfless choice to be heroic, I think they all do.

Julian McMahon: Who am I again? (laughing) Oh yeah. You know the wonderful thing about this whole thing is you actually get to see the whole evolution of the characters. They start of as human beings, they don't start off as superheroes. It's fantastic, the guy who does Chiklis' character is a comic book freak. He knows everything about the comics. Every day he has a new T-shirt, every day he has a new thing.

Michael Chiklis: Every day there's a new Fantastic Four T-shirt. And he's not had the same one twice! I didn't know you made that many T-shirts!

Avi Arad: I didn't know either!

Michael Chiklis: Unbelievable, you know this guy asked me about Episode 285, I'm like "Whoa, whoa," I thought I was a fan before.

Julian McMahon: I watched the original TV series, '65 or something, so I saw the whole original comics and all that kind of stuff, and it's wonderful because I've seen the comics and watched it through the '80s, and first you're watching it through a child's eyes and you're not into the depth of the characters, and stuff involved with playing this kind of role. But after watching the original cartoons of this thing, it's amazing how much the original comics and cartoons are put to our characters, and it can be very subtle kind of things.

It really starts off with relationships between the four people. And these two are basically nemeses from day one, they went to college together, Ben was the one who stood by him, Mr. Fantastic and Victor had a spell for Sue who was the most gorgeous woman on the planet and then along comes this young hotstart, you know what I mean? And you really get to see these characters as people before they become something. So, it's not until they go up into space and they get hit by this comic storm and they will develop their individual powers that they really start to embrace and start to take on their original and probably deeper characteristics. And that's the fantastic journey about this, you're not seeing the heart of humanity until they get infected with this thing. So it's really a unique and interesting journey, and it's what brings these guys pull that together and that's what separates me from them. And that's a fantastic moment that will hopefully bring more money.

Question: For Michael and Julian, you said this movie has already almost conflicted with your TV schedule, as the franchise continues and both of you on running shows, how will your future schedules work out? Can we expect Shield episodes missing Vic Mackey?

Michael Chiklis: They did an extraordinary thing at FX. They pushed the shoot three months for The Shield so that I could film this. I had never seen that done. Makes you feel good and is humbling.

Julian McMahon: It all comes under the Fox umbrella. As much as we are on the FX network, it's owned by Fox.

Michael Chiklis: Synergy is I believe the word.

Julian McMahon: For me, I feel like it's allowed me to be here. And it's very difficult to make these kind of things work, it's not that easy to be on a TV show and try to upstart a movie career at the same time. The one thing we do have is that we've both worked on TV shows that only work 6 months out of the year, which is a bonus because you can do 6 months of something else. And when you have these kind of guys to do whatever it is right, eventually you work things out. I'm just trying to get myself in the sequel, so... Nip/Tuck won't go back into production until March.

Question:Have you decided on the music?

Ralph Winter: John Ottman is the composer, who did X-Men 2. He's very excited and we're very excited about him. A great choice for building themes and emotion. John is terrific.

Question:Jessica, this is your second comic book movie, this and Sin City, what approach have you taken from one comic to another?

Jessica Alba: They are completely different. I get to act and do what I love, and that's something that's great. They're both more about the work and about action, and about feeling complex, and this is definitely an action movie. I'm just thrilled that they're so good, you know. I love that comic fans are so loyal so hopefully I can still make movies for them.

Question:Chris, did you ever expect to be a superhero?

Chris Evans: No, in a lot of ways it's a little boys dream. I've said that 20 times today. What little kid didn't tie a towel around his neck and jump off the couch to be a superhero?

Question:Julian, have you had to do any prosthetic work yet?

Julian McMahon: Mine's a little more painful than Michael's, just so you know (laughing). He's trying to make it look better, but just look at that outfit, look at him up there (referring to the banner featuring The Thing that's hanging behind them)

Michael Chiklis: I would like you to know that (the first Thing image) was a test. That was taken the second test, the second time I put it on. It's close, but it's not exactly where it's come to.

Julian McMahon: To answer your question, I have started the prosthetic thing. Once they come back to earth, Victor gets a cut in his head and he starts to develop this stuff in his hand and it's a very cool thing. It's a very slow evolution of this man turning into a metal steel getup. So far it's just been stuff with my face and stuff on my hand. It does develop more into a Thing-like prosthetic, what you expect it to be. The thing really for me is, the prosthetics have evolved for so many years, and the computer effects, that you can actually see the actor beneath it. You can see Michael behind that face, you can see the expression of his face when he's going through certain types of emotions.

Michael Chiklis: That was a huge issue for me. I felt very strongly that I gave myself a 100 percent to this. I really wanted it to be a costume, because I felt that if it was just a CGI than you would loose the humanity part. The other question was, can we make it so it looks and feels like the original character? And that's the extraordinary thing that these guys have accomplished. Even when I'm in the 60 pounds of make-up, the prosthetic, you see it's my eyes, it's my face, and it moves along with my face. I think it's a pretty big accomplished, to marry the technical with the emotional, the human. And hopefully that will translate onto the screen.

Question: In the comics, the Fantastic Four attracted a lot of other Marvel superheroes at times, will there be a superhero cameo in the film?

Avi Arad: Well, we always have a couple of mystery acts, for the true believers, and as you see the movie you'll see some and you'll say, 'Oh, I thought that was...' Watch for Stan Lee's cameo and some other vinette, but these are the best kept secrets especially here.

Question: Does the loyal fan base affect how you make the movie?

Tim Story: If you can create the spirit of what comic books are, and you find the best actors the role and you find a script and you go for it, then all you do is put it out there and hope that they will accept it. Sometimes you have to win them over. Avi and Ralph told me about how much they screen, and how Hugh Jackman wasn't right for Wolverine and now you can't see that franchise being anything without him, so all you can do is give it a 180% and put it out there.

I think here with the actors, specifically, they have taken on their roles and just made the characters better than I can imagine. And I can't wait for people to see it. I'm definitely not one to talk before it's released, but I think they're doing it justice.

Avi and Ralph forbid me to look at Internet stuff and comments, and this and that. You know when this or that comes up, some people will shoot it down. That's not always a negative thing, because they're just so in love with the character and story that they want it done right.

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