Tell us about what we can expect from this version of the Fantastic Four.
You can expect a new take. You can expect an origin story. You get to see these characters as human beings before they put on the suit, and because of that, you’re able to get a strong sense of their personalities before they become superheroes. And you can expect to see a lot of really cool effects and action stuff. I think the final act of the movie is going to be particularly impressive on that front.
It’s been suggested that the movie draws from different incarnations of the comic book?
Yeah, we pull mostly from the Ultimate Fantastic Four in terms of their origin story. That’s directly drawn from the canon of material. What sets us apart is that it’s not just a bunch of superheroes on screen. This one is a little more humanized and probably grittier than a lot of the other superhero franchises.
In this version, is the Reed and Ben relationship still pivotal?
Yeah, a lot of the heart of the story is Reed and Ben’s friendship. When we meet them, they’re really just kids, last year in high school, graduating high school, around there, and when this accident happens that changes everything. They’re terribly scarred from this traumatic experience. In a way, they lose their innocence.
Yeah, it’s hard not to have that there. Reed blames himself, I think. His intense desire for discovery puts his friends in a precarious situation: it leads them to Planet Zero where they are struck with the elements that change them forever. Reed absolutely feels a lot of that guilt and burden. It’s hard for him when he looks at his best friend and his best friend is a rock creature for the rest of his life, just because of something that Reed wanted to do.
What else would you say your main thoughts were on the character of Reed Richards when you approached this role?
He’s a very intelligent guy, so whenever Reed was talking about quantum physics or bio-mechanical engineering or any kind of complex mathematics, you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about! Josh sent me these “quantum physics for dummies” books. I wanted to understand as much as I could. We also had a supervisor on set whom I could ask: “Okay, I know I’m saying this, but what am I actually talking about?” And then, with Reed as a person, you wonder – considering how obsessed he is with this quantum gate – what time is left for anything else? And so you get that he’s not super social. His whole journey through life has been pretty isolated. The only person who kind of understands him is Ben, so that friendship means a lot to him. But even there, because of his obsessions, he lets it fade a bit. So those were some of my main thoughts: you just try and build a complete person I guess.
He’s not super confident, but he seems to come out of his shell a bit with Sue Storm.
Yeah, he gains confidence a little bit once he goes to Baxter because that’s a think tank, and for the first time he’s surrounded by people that are just like him. He starts to come out of his shell a little bit. But let’s not overstate it: when Sue talks to him, that’s probably the first time he’s ever had a pretty girl talking to him. He’s not exactly over-confident!
What did you and Josh Trank discuss before you signed up for the role? What did he say he wanted? What appealed to you? What was that conversation?
It’s funny because I was working with Michael B. Jordan when he found out he was going to play Johnny Storm. I said, ‘That’s cool, man. What can I play?” And he said, “You actually might be right for Reed Richards…” I met with Josh and he talked to me about what Reed Richards was all about, and I thought it was great because I love playing guys that are a little more introverted. We talked about developing a person that, really, if they were this intelligent and this obsessed, what would they be like? You start carrying yourself in a different way. And then once he’s been through everything, he becomes a leader. He is the leader of the Fantastic Four. So really it was about finding the moments of the movie where he does come around and the points where you need him to be the leader of this group.
He thinks Sue is a very pretty girl and very smart. He likes her and they form a friendship when he’s in Baxter. He gets to know Johnny and because they’re working long hours, they become close. And then of course, Ben’s his best friend. It the origin of these characters, and it develops so, by the end of this first one, you’ll start getting more of the inherited history with them.
You already knew Michael before you started filming. What about Jamie Bell? Did you know him at all beforehand? Is it easy to build a rapport quickly?
Yeah, it is when they’re a good actor. And Jamie’s a great actor – I’ve been watching Jamie since Billy Elliott. I love that movie and really respect Jamie as an actor and just as a person; he’s a really great guy. We get along great.
That’s good, considering the four of you could be spending a lot of time together.
Yeah, that’s true. What’s nice about the Four is that you don’t have to feel the weight of an entire franchise on your shoulders. For me, I always prefer the ensemble. I enjoy acting in that way. And there’s no ego on this. It’d be very difficult if there was one clear star and then a bunch of other people. But that’s not how it is.
At this stage, have you seen any of the finished FX scenes or shots with you with your powers?
Only the stuff that came out in the trailer recently where it’s me on the board as I’m stretching and that’s cool. But no, I haven’t seen any action scenes. That’ll be cool ‘– hopefully I’ll feel like I’m rooting for myself to kick ass, simply because they did that stuff after I was gone.
Yeah. I remember even just being a part of Divergent, when they first showed footage of that at Comic-Con and you had thousands of people in the room and they show the clip and the sound kicks in and then – for me anyway – I was a part of a big movie for the first time. I didn’t even have a big part, but I was excited. It’s just cool to be part of a big action movie that people are looking forward to.
What was the biggest challenge of filming for you?
Acting’s tough because you’re living in a different skin. You have to fill your mind completely with characters’ thoughts all day. You don’t want to bring anything of your personal life into it, unless it’s something you can relate to. The hardest part is just staying in the scene, when it takes a lot longer to setup the lighting and everything. There was also some hard stuff in the suits. In the beginning of the movie we’re in these space suits and they were just hot as shit! And you couldn’t really hear too well out of them. We’re actually doing a decent amount of stunts in them, so that was tough.
The original Fantastic Four comic arrived in the ’60s; it was the age of space exploration. There’s a certain wide eyed optimism. What do you think are the themes that may be coming across in this new version?
Discovery, exploration. I think all that stuff’s there because I don’t think it ever dies. Except now maybe instead of the Moon, we’re looking at Mars. Exploration of the unknown is always going be desirable to the human race. We always want to find out, ‘What do we not know?’, ‘What are we still discovering?’ These days, there’s this constant instant gratification, so I think there’s something nice about the unknown, if only because it seems like there’s less and less of that, whether it’s the depths of the ocean or space. I think that space exploration is always going to be interesting. It’s a power thing too. A lot of this movie is dealing with power. They’re throwing millions of dollars into discovery of this quantum gate for power, and that probably leads to war, just for more control. I think we’re exploring that through these four kids who are at an age where they’re not jaded, they are wide eyed and thirsty for this sense of discovery and being the first ones. They kind of do that naively and that’s what ends up screwing them. They think they’re untouchable, which is often the case at that age.
Honestly, it didn’t feel comic book-y to me at all. Well, I guess there are moments at the very end of the movie when we’re all in our suits, but for the most part I think the superhero stuff just goes along with the story. For example, I’m wearing this suit because it’s a containment suit. I built this suit so I’m not stretching everywhere. It humanizes things. For the most part, it’s all so grounded that I didn’t have a problem grasping the world or the scenes because it seemed like any other movie I’ve done and I think that’s the way you have to approach it. I couldn’t approach this as like, “I’m Mr. Fantastic and I’m talking to Johnny Storm!” I’m just… “I’m Reed Richards and this is Sue Storm and she’s really cute”, you know?
That makes sense.
What, that Sue Storm is cute?
That too. But it makes sense that you treat each of the characters as human beings and not as pop culture icons.
Yeah, it wasn’t this like abstract world that I had to try and relate it to. It all makes sense, which I think gives a nice accessibility and relatability to what we’re doing.
Why do you think comic book adaptations are so prevalent today?
It spans generations. I mean, when I got cast as this role, I knew that it was my Dad’s favorite comic book because he had told me. It’s cool that Fantastic Four was my Dad’s favorite comic when he was younger than me. Now he’s a father, 60 years old, and his son is playing this comic book character that he grew up with. It’s pretty bizarre.
It’s kind of awesome.
I think that’s why the studios make these films. They want to make movies that you can see, your friends can see, your parents can see, your grandparents… And then you look at what Christopher Nolan was able to do with Batman. He took such a beloved franchise and he came along and did something completely different with it – and that’s cool. It breathes life into these characters. I think it’s a form of escapism. You look at what kind of movies studios were making during the Recession… Well, they stopped making dramas and they kind of went for these bigger ones that you could just go and enjoy. I think where ours is different, though, is that it will be a little more thought provoking than your standard summer comic book movie.
Fantastic Four is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Fox