Christopher Nolan’s name sits central to “The Dark Knight” trilogy, with three distinct entries, a towering worldwide box office take, and a new vision of how superhero films could be created. But alongside him and writer/producer David Goyer, producer Charles Roven was and continues to be a key collaborator to that duo’s creative process.
Working on some of the most singular films ever made (“Twelve Monkeys,” “Three Kings“), in addition to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Roven now looks to add Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot “Man of Steel” to that list. Roven sat down with us during the film’s Los Angeles press stop to talk the darkness in Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), the pitfalls of realism-based superhero stories, as well as another anticipated upcoming project, director David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
Over the course of the “Dark Knight” trilogy and now “Man of Steel,” which aspect of these projects with Nolan and Goyer have you felt most successful? Is it the breaking of the story, or perhaps the central casting?
The breaking of the story has really been sort of a Goyer/Nolan thing on “The Dark Knight” trilogy, and I was actually invited into the “Man of Steel” project after the first draft — I wasn’t in development on it. But on “The Dark Knight” trilogy, I was involved in the script process, certainly in terms of being a sounding board and throwing my ideas into the ring in terms of what we could move or work on in the script in order to get the desired result. My biggest job is really to help in the casting and the production, post-production, and marketing of the picture.
Because you came in later than Nolan and Goyer on “Man of Steel,” were you able to see where the film needed to differ in terms of the “realistic” approach to superheroes that “TDK” popularized?
Well, Chris and David really focused on making the character of Superman as relatable as they could to a 21st century audience; normally, with superheroes people think they have no problems and lead an uncomplicated life because they can go and do whatever they want. While that might have worked in a simpler time, it wasn’t — I don’t want to say uninteresting, but the character needed to be brought into the 21st century.
Those guys did that with their first draft, but there were other aspects in the area of making the script more emotional: that amazing relationship between the Kents and Superman, the desire for Jonathan to on the one hand make sure his stepson knows ultimately that he’s not from this world, but also that he was going to have to make a decision about how he was going to respond to that. Those things we felt could have real emotional resonance, and even if they were headed in that direction anyway, they didn’t really appear in the script until several more drafts.
So all the producers – Emma [Thomas], myself, and Debbie [Snyder] — really threw our voices in the ring to make sure we were moving in that direction. But then Chris and Emma went off to make “The Dark Knight Rises,” and so Debbie and I were left to help Zack realize the vision that he had taken over, and also to enhance it and to make sure he had the tools to realize the story, and to deal with the scope of the script. So that’s really where we focused our attention. And also making sure that we could figure out whom to bring in to play these amazing roles.
You alter the Superman origin story in several different ways here. With such a built-in audience as with the character, does that embolden you to experiment with these high-stakes, big-budget properties, or does it inhibit you?
Well, first of all, you get energized by that built-in audience; But you want to make sure you don’t give them what they’re asking for, which is an answer to every single question that you read online, or every single rumor. Because even though they want to know, it will certainly take the enjoyment of the film away if they do. We left a couple of easter eggs in the movie for you to find, and that really allowed us to leave possibilities open, but we haven’t really focused on any of them. We just wanted to make sure that we didn’t shut the door on those possibilities.
So getting back to your audience question, we want to make sure that we hit the beats — it doesn’t have to necessarily be what those fans are telling us, because there’s not really a groundswell of commonality. Like I said, it energizes you, but in our minds, we want to make sure we make a great movie, irrespective of what someone might perceive the genre to be. We’re just looking to make the best movie we can.
What were the main factors when approaching the Superman mythology in the new film?
We knew, for example, that Kal-El had to come from Krypton, he had to have a father who sent him from a dying planet, but exactly why the planet was dying — that’s something that’s worthy of discussion. And the conflict going down on the planet was worthy of discussion. That had nothing to do with the canon, and as good a character as Terence Stamp played as Zod in “Superman II,” he was a little arch. He didn’t really have a point of view where you could say, “Oh gee, if I was Kryptonian, and I was charged by what my culture made me to think about Krypton, I might see where he’s coming from, though I wouldn’t do exactly what he does.”
So we thought, let’s plant flags on the things we know we need to have — The Kents have to be his foster parents, for instance — but maybe they need to have a reason for keeping him a secret, and maybe part of that is he doesn’t know who he is. Maybe he doesn’t know what that is. David and Chris really started that with “The Dark Knight.” Those characters are very different. Bruce Wayne is a dark character because he feels responsibility for his parent’s death, which came out of fear in his mind. Clark has no responsibility for the destruction of Krypton. He was just born there. So he’s not a dark character. We wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be perceived as that. Questions, searching for something meaningful in life – those matters don’t make you dark.
The entire section in Kansas [in reality, Plano, IL], with Jonathan Kent and Clark both coming to terms with their beliefs, is central in terms of that. How was it shooting there?
[The city of Plano] was amazing to us. It was like a set when we arrived. In fact, a train wreck actually took out three blocks of the city, so we went in and built fronts and in some cases actually built the buildings — the bank, the IHOP. We built those structures and streets of the town so we could destroy those streets of the town. You don’t always get that opportunity.
After “Man of Steel,” there’s David O. Russell’s [Abscam film] “American Hustle” landing what could be an Oscar release date. Is the film gearing up to be an Oscar hopeful?
Eric Singer‘s script was on the Black List, and I would say that when Eric was the only writer and there was another director on the project, it was more of a procedural in the foreground; even though the characters were great and the dialogue was great, it was really the narrative that was the driver. With David, characters and how these dysfunctional people with ambiguous backgrounds mix together, that’s what David does so incredibly well. And he moved them into the foreground, and he moved the procedural into the background.
The film has really become a fictitious movie that takes place during the time of Abscam, and has some Abscam in it. But it’s by no mean the true story of Abscam, the “Zero Dark Thirty” version of that story. It’s an O. Russell picture through and through. But you know, he released “Silver Linings” during that period and before that he released “The Fighter” during that period. With the cast that we have, which is just amazing [Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Amy Adams], we felt that if we could get the movie done in time, we should try for that time period as well.
And how are things with the Kathryn Bigelow film, “Triple Frontier?” [which Roven is producing]
You know, that’s been put on the back burner. It had a lot of support in the beginning, but I hope it happens, it’s a great script, but I just haven’t had a chance to focus on it, to be honest. I’ve been busy. [Laughs]
“Man of Steel” opens in theaters on June 14th. Read our review here.