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IESB's Candid Interview With Fox Chairman Tom Rothman

Written by Robert Sanchez

Friday, 29 September 2006

The IESB had the chance to chat up Tom Rothman, Chairman at 20th Century Fox, recently and talk at lengths about various upcoming Fox projects including Silver Surfer, Wolverine, Pathfinder, AVP 2, future X-Men films and Live Free or Die Hard.

While we talk to Tom on a regular basis, most our interviews have been by catching him at red carpet events for a few minutes. We wanted to make sure this interview was a bit more in depth with more details and a bit more candid.


During his production tenure, Fox has produced plenty of successful fan boy and genre films such as the X-Men series, AVP, Napoleon Dynamite, Minority Report, I Robot, The Day After Tomorrow, the distribution of the Star Wars prequels and while not really "genre" we can't forget about the top grossing movie of all time Titanic.

So with all the successful genre hits of the past I knew that our readers had plenty of questions for Tom about future projects. So I did the best that I could and tried to get him to reveal as much as possible about all the films that geeks like me care about.

So have we seen the last of the X-Men ensemble films? Will wee ever see Gambit? When will Wolverine go into production? What is going on with the long rumored stand alone Predator and Alien films? So who is the villain in the new Die Hard film? What can we expect on AVP 2 and what MPAA rating are they going after? How about a spin off Silver Surfer movie and will we see Galactus in Fantastic Four 2?

Tom did not hold back and answered all those questions and more. Plus went into detail on several of their sci-fi projects that are slated to start production next year.

Tom Rothman


IESB: It’s been a good year for Fox, from successes like X-Men to Little Miss Sunshine, which one is more rewarding for you?

TR: Robert, you're a father

IESB: Yes, I have four girls

TR: Which one do you like better?

IESB: (laughter)

TR: That’s your answer, they are different, right, very different, but I couldn’t prioritize it, there are very different kinds of gratification that come from both. As are all the kind of movies, you know, Devil Wears Prada also a big hit movie that spawned in a third way. You know, when you set yourself a goal or you succeed at that goal that’s where the real satisfaction in our business comes. What’s hard is when you try and come up short, but it’s funny that you picked out those two examples ‘cause they are at opposite ends of the spectrum but at the end of the day they have the same goal which is to move people and impact the culture and they both succeeded.

IESB: Why do you think that X-Men outperformed Superman Returns?

TR: You know, I don’t know that answer to that, I really don’t know. I liked Superman Returns I thought that it was extremely well done. I thought Bryan did an excellent job on it and that it was really a first class picture. Why X-Men outperformed it worldwide? I don’t know, maybe X-Men is a little more current thematically. I’ve always felt that one of the great strengths of X-Men and one of the keys to it’s enduring success is it’s the relatibility of the characters that everybody deals with feelings of alienation and separateness. I think that thematically X-Men is very relevant and I think in particular story of X-Men 3, if you could choose to change who you were to fit in, if given the choice to not be what separates you but also causes you pain, would you take that choice? I think that is a very contemporarily relevant and relatable subject. So I think that’s part of the reason why it [X-Men] succeeded and X-3 is very unusual in franchise pictures in that each one in the series has done more than the one before.

IESB: What is going on with the Baz Luhrman film?

TR: It’s moving forward, it gonna go in February or March in Australia with Baz, Nicole [Kidman] and Hugh Jackman. So it’s an epic picture, doesn’t have a title right now, and it’s Baz really moving into a new genre, very sweeping but naturalistic.

IESB: How soon before we start hearing about some new casting announcements?

TR: I don’t know probably not until after the first of the year. There are a lot of very interesting secondary parts, a lot of really cool character parts but, the heart of the movie is Nicole and Hugh. It’s African Queen or Giant or Out of Africa, the story centers on the adventure and romance between the two of them.

IESB: How is Eragon turning out?

TR: Great actually, it’s funny I just came from upstairs seeing, really, the very first of the finished dragon shots from Weta who is doing the bulk of Saphira, creating Saphira, and she is pretty damn cool. It’s fun after all this time to stop looking at a tennis ball and start looking at a dragon. Our hope is that Weta is going to do for dragons what Jurassic Park [and ILM] did for dinosaurs.

IESB: You guys are going to have an extremely busy winter in Vancouver. You have three tent pole films. You’ve got Live Free or Die Hard, AVP 2 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Is it a little difficult to juggle all these movies all at once?

TR: Die Hard is not shooting in Vancouver, it’s in Baltimore right now, right now the first part of the shoot is in Baltimore, Washington, which is where they are filming today, which is sort of ironic. I spoke to Bruce Willis on the phone and I’m from Baltimore and I said that I am getting all kinds of complaints from everybody in my family that we are tying up traffic in downtown Baltimore (laughing). Everybody is all pissed off you know and I told them too bad. Too bad they gotta stuff it. You want to make big action you gotta tie up some streets, yeah, and we blow some shit up! So that’s in Baltimore and then it will come back to LA and the bulk of the shooting will be in LA. The others are in Vancouver, it’s sort of a home away from home for us, we’ve made all the X-Men, or two of the three X-Men there, Fantastic Four, I-Robot, we’ve done a lot of our shows up there.

IESB: Going back to Die Hard, John McClane has gone through everything, he’s faced some of the toughest villains, when are we going to hear who the new villain is?

TR: Soon, very soon and it’s, well we’re not quite closed on it, but it’s a very cool piece of casting. Very cool and contemporary.

IESB: It’s really hard to top Alan Rickman.

TR: It’s always been hard but the great thing about big action, or these kind of films, you’re right, I mean, they often are only as good as the villain is. And the thing that we pushed for here is to make a complicated villain and my own personal belief is the more complicated and more interesting the villain is, and the more ambiguous his agenda, or the motives let’s put it that way, the more mysterious rather than ambiguous, the more fun the movie is.

IESB: So within a week or two we may hear?

TR: Yeah, within a week or two, we just announced Justin Long last week and I would think within very shortly.

IESB: British, American, can you say anything?

TR: American.

IESB: We gotta come up to Fantastic Four 2.

TR: Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer.

IESB: Yes, Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer, Weta is doing the CGI, Doug Jones doing the motion capture, we want to confirm this, you can’t have the Silver Surfer without Galactus making an appearance at one point or another in the film right?

TR: That’s true.

IESB: Avi has always referred to Galactus as a force of nature.

TR: Yeah.

IESB: Is he going to look like anything like we’ve seen him in the comic books?

TR: Yes, I think that Galactus, look, I don’t want to give away too much, right, but I will say this, Galactus will appear and fans will not be disappointed.

IESB: Do we have multiple villains here? Tim has said we are going to see Doom come back in full Doom gear but Alicia Masters is the daughter of the Puppet Master.

TR: I am very aware of that.

IESB: So, are we going to see any Puppet Master action here?

TR: (laughing) I will neither confirm nor deny, I will not confirm or deny, you got Galactus and Silver Surfer out of me and I am not going to confirm or deny.

IESB: Ok, we’ll try to get that out of you at a later date.

TR: That is correct.

IESB: Obviously we know the story line, we know he’s the herald and we know that he eventually comes over to the hero side, are we hoping to see a spin off of the Silver Surfer?

TR: Well, I don’t want to be exuberant, but I will say this, we are investing a tremendous amount of money, time and care, to make the state of the art CGI Silver Surfer, to make him as great as modern technology can make him. And, the only thing that I would say is that the real, the ultimate pay off of that level of investment and doing it to its fullest possible extent, would really come if we are able to make future films. Like any movie, you have to make a really good first one before you should, let’s put it that way, make another one. So, we need to make this movie great and we need to make the Silver Surfer’s debut incredibly dazzling and compelling. But, we’re certainly putting everything that the business has to offer behind it in the hopes of doing that, in the hopes that the Silver Surfer has a long life.

IESB: And traditional look as well? We will see him with a surfboard?

TR: Yes, traditional look, very, very faithful look but it’s, obviously, it’s taking the comic look and giving it a 3D rendering. We have not yet determined what the voice casting will be. We’ve done a lot of work lately with Weta, as I said I saw some absolutely breathtaking shots of Saphira the dragon from Eragon, and even the test work they have done on the Surfer is incredibly cool. I honestly think it’s gonna blow people away but people will be able to judge pretty soon for themselves because I will tell you that the first teaser that we are going to put out of the movie, which will be very early in the new year, the first teaser will definitely reveal the Silver Surfer. So people won’t have long to wait to judge how well it is done.

IESB: So we will see the Silver Surfer the first couple of months of the new year.

TR: Yes, I can’t say exactly and I can’t imagine there would be a whole lot of it right, but, there will be shots of the reveal that will be in the first teaser.

IESB: I am sold. AVP 2, man, you are just keeping the fanboys ecstatic…

TR: We are genre lovers, yeah, I just started [AVP 2] actually, we’re stoked. It’s a pretty big piece of news…I don’t know…

IESB: Oh come on...Tom it’s me…

TR: Everybody will just…

IESB: What, are you giving it to Variety? Ooh-ahh…

TR: Let’s put it this way, I think the approach this time is going to be very hardcore. Very R rated. I think this is a, we believe that, this pass on AVP with these filmmakers is going to be a lot closer to the hardcore experience.

IESB: I am hearing that this AVP 2 script resembles a lot of [James] Cameron’s Aliens, that it is very hard, and it doesn’t resemble the first AVP film much. Is that accurate?

TR: That is accurate. Very hardcore. Very violent.

IESB: Can you tell me what time frame this takes place in?

TR: Yeah, it’s contemporary.

IESB: Is Lance Henrikson going to have any kind of appearance?

TR: I have no comment

IESB: That’s fair. Someone sends me this rumor that you guys are so happy with the way things are turning out for AVP 2 that you are already looking at a stand alone Predator film, any truth to that?

TR: Yes and no, no truth to that in current active prep, but yes it’s true that it’s something that we think and talk about.

IESB: Going back to the X-Men properties, Wolverine, there was a script review online, has the script changed much since then?

TR: I don’t know, what was the review?

IESB: I don’t know, I didn’t read that review, I try to stay away from script reviews.

TR: You should. There’s a David Benioff script, all we’ve ever had is a first draft so it’s being worked on right now, so if there was a script review it could only have been entirely premature.

IESB: I do know it was a positive review

TR: Even if it’s positive, I am glad it’s positive and we’re optimistic the first draft was good but that’s all that could have possibly been. We are no where near a finished script on that.

IESB: And when could we expect any movement on that, sometime next year?

TR: Our hope would be that Hugh Jackman after he does Baz Luhrmann’s film in Australia next year, the first half of next year, our hope would be that he would do it in the second half of next year. That really ultimately will be up to him.

IESB: And Magneto, how are we doing on that end?

TR: People are quite optimistic but I haven’t yet been given a script from that one.

IESB: I know you’ve said X3 was the last of those stories, but stockholders, you know, the company always wants to make more money…

TR: Here’s the answer, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

IESB: Oh come on Tom, there are going to be more ensemble X-Men films right?

TR: I think, this is what I have always said, this is the truth, X-Men is a very well populated universe and I am sure that we will see those and many other characters from the X-Men universe again, I’ve always said that. I do not believe we will see that exact grouping of characters again. The story arc on those characters, in that incarnation, was completed with those three films.

IESB: That I accept, but we haven’t seen Gambit.

TR: Correct. And I am sure that you will. Lots of characters that we’ve either not seen or glimpsed only briefly, have a huge and rich future. That’s the advantage of having had the third one of the trilogy be so successful and it goes back to your first question, where one of the satisfactions of having that movie being so successful, $450 million dollars worldwide it’s the third biggest film of the whole year, is that it provides a fabulous basis for doing lots of other X films, but what we’re not gonna do is just repeat the same thing. Because we believe that the audience wants more, that they just don’t want the same story told over again and that’s where I think “sequelitis” comes from. That’s why, to tell you the truth, the decision was made on Fantastic Four, which was extremely successful for us, Fantastic Four is well over $300 million worldwide, $154 million here in box office. And we could have just made another one. But, to make it fresh and new and take it up a level, we took basically the greatest and yet unrealized character, part of their universe, so it’s true to the comics and we bring him to life with the Fantastic Four in a new film. So you get the elements that people love but there is a freshness to it. We just don’t want to repeat and repeat.

IESB: Any other big announcements we are going to hear soon, any big genre or epic films you guys are putting together?

TR: You’re a glutton for punishment aren’t you?

IESB: Absolutely, that way we eliminate rumors and go straight to the source. Daredevil, Elektra, are they totally dead?

TR: Hey man, this is Marvel, nobody’s ever totally dead.

IESB: Are they dead with Fox?

TR: They’re not totally dead, they may be on life support but never totally dead.

IESB: Since we talked about the stand alone Predator film, is there talk about a stand alone Alien film? Ridley Scott during Kingdom of Heaven said he would always consider going back and doing one.

TR: If Ridley would ever do it, we would do it in a second. So, never say never.

IESB: Any big sci-fi projects coming from you guys in the vein of Star Wars?

TR: Well, we make a lot of sci-fi pictures. We are working on Halo right now with Universal, we have a very interesting, young, new filmmaker named Jim Cameron and Mr. Cameron tends to play in that sandbox.

IESB: You are doing Battle Angel and Avatar with him, what’s going on with those two projects.

TR: Yeah, both of those movies are on his plate. I could tell you everything but then I would be killed and no one would be able to feed my family.

IESB: You’d be found on the Titantic somewhere…(laughing)

TR: Yeah, we are also gonna make this really cool sci-fi movie with Matthieu Kassovitz called Babylon AD which is a very cool sci-fi action film that we’ll make probably next year. It’s a big, healthy genre for us. We make a lot.

IESB: Yeah, you do, I think 20th Century Fox makes the most genre films out of all the studios.

TR: Probably do. And now we have a whole other unit, oh there are a couple others, Dave Boyle’s new film which is a really cool genre film called Sunshine that is about a spaceship and a group of astronauts journeying to our dying sun to try and save it. You know Danny is the guy who made 28 Days Later for us and a number of pictures, Millions and The Beach etcetera, and that’s a terrifically cool genre film in a future setting. And now we have Fox Atomic which is a whole new label to do genre films, we’ll do a number of horror films, Turistas coming out in December which is a pretty kick-ass cool horror film. They’ll do the sequel to 28 Days Later called 28 Weeks Later which comes out in the spring and The Hills Have Eyes 2 also in the spring. We make a lot of edgy, genre product because we like it, it’s cool. It’s fun.

IESB: You just mentioned Atomic, you’ve got Kyle Newman doing Revenge of the Nerds starting in two weeks.

TR: Yes we do.

IESB: One last update, Pathfinder it got pushed back…

TR: Coming out second week of January in a hard R rated version. The version originally previewed was a watered down PG-13 version and we elected instead to go with the uber hard R rated, you know, the real deal that Marcus [Nispel] made. So that’s the movie that will be coming out.

IESB: You oversee a lot of divisions with Atomic, Searchlight, etcetera, how do you oversee all that, you have a lot of projects going on.

TR: Here’s what you do. You hire really talented people and you support those people. We know each other so you ask me right, but it isn’t me, Hutch Parker carried the mail for years on X-Men and Peter Rice at Atomic and Chris Meledandri, you hire great people and you hire talented individualistic filmmakers and then you support them. That’s what you do. That’s the way you do it and you also have to realize as I do how un-fucking-believably lucky and privileged you are to have this job and you have to treat it like a privilege.

Special thanks to Tom Rothman for taking time from his very busy schedule and giving IESB readers an inside look at all the upcoming Fox releases.


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