Luke Owen looks back at a time when Hugh Jackman was not Wolverine…
There was a lot of buzz and excitement in 1999. People around planet earth were excited to see what the new Millennium would bring; while big companies panicked that the Y2K bug would kill all their hard work and shut down the working world. For Dougray Scott, 1999 was set to be the year that changed his career. He had been handpicked by Tom Cruise to play the villain in M:I:2 and he was set to play Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s X-Men.
The adaptation of the popular Marvel Comics property had been a long one. In 1984 Marvel writers Gerry Conway and Rob Thomas wrote a screenplay for production company Orion Pictures (Platoon) who had optioned the film rights. But when the company fell into financial troubles the rights went over to Carolco Pictures (First Blood) who began plans for a big screen outing for the X-Men produced by James Cameron (The Terminator) with his then-wife Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark) directing. Bigelow began drafting up a script and started talks with Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) to play Wolverine alongside Angela Bassett (F/X) as Storm, however financial strains reared its head once again and disrupted the process. Not only that, but Stan Lee had convinced Cameron that rather than do an X-Men movie he should instead focus on a Spider-Man adaptation. By the mid-90s, after a deal with Columbia Pictures fell through, the rights were picked up by Lauren Schuler Donner (St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink) following the successful animated spin-off of the comic series, who took the project to 20th Century Fox.
The first draft had been written by Andrew Kevin Walker (future writer of Se7en) in 1994 which saw Xavier bringing Wolverine into the X-Men team that already consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel, with Logan and Scott Summers clashing over leadership duties. This new team would take on the Brotherhood of Mutants, headed up by Magneto alongside Sabretooth, Toad, Juggernaut and Blob who are trying to take over New York. The script also featured Bolivar Trask and the Sentinals, and even hinted that Magneto was responsible for Chernobyl. After Walker completed another pass on the draft, it was re-written by a series of writers including Laeta Kalogridis (future writer of Shutter Island), John Logan (future writer of Gladiator), James Schamus (future writer of Hulk), and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Changes were made along the way, removing some characters while adding in iconic figures such as Storm, Jubilee and Nightcrawler. One draft saw Magneto turning Manhattan into a new mutant homeland, while Whedon’s draft concluded with Jean Grey dressed as The Phoenix, but was rejected because it was “too quick-witted” with too many “pop culture references.”
Next up was Michael Chabon (future writer of Spider-Man 2), who handed in a six-page pitch for a page-one re-write. Chabon’s script focused on the relationship between Wolverine and Jubilee, and also included Xavier, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Beast, Iceman and Storm but did not include any villains who wouldn’t come in until the second movie. Fox were happy with Chabon’s vision, and attempted to bring in Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) to direct, but neither signed on (Ratner was only ever considered for the role, while Rodriguez turned it down). Instead they brought in Bryan Singer, who had just finished The Usual Suspects and was initially offered Alien: Resurrection but instead took on X-Men due to its themes of prejudice, who then brought in Ed Soloman (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) to re-write Chabon’s script. By this point Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Pyro, Magneto and The Brotherhood of Mutants had made it into the script, and Soloman’s draft made more of Rogue’s position in the movie, as well as merge the traits of Kitty Pryde and Jubilee into her character. Magneto’s plan was to now turn the world leaders into mutants so they would accept his kind was to be reminiscent of Constantine I’s conversion to Christianity (which would have been highlighted by Storm teaching this in a History class).
With a projected budget of $50 million, Soloman’s draft would actually cost around $80 million and Fox were not willing to go above $75 million for such a ‘risky movie’. Before the turn of the millennium, comic book movies were not a ‘sure thing’, with Batman & Robin, Steel and Mystery Men flopping at the box office. In order to cut costs, Beast, Nightcrawler and Pyro were removed from the script and Beast’s dialogue was moved into Jean Grey. The movie was finally given the greenlight by Fox, with further re-writes done by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and David Hayter (the voice of Solid Snake in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid), who would receive sole credit for the movie.
Casting for the movie had been relatively simple, with Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) signing on to play Charles Xavier while Bryan Singer chose Ian McKellan (Apt Pupil) to portray Magneto over the studio’s first choice Terrance Stamp (Superman II). Angela Bassett was again approached to play Storm as was pop singer Janet Jackson, but the role went to Halle Berry who joined Anna Paquin as Rogue (Paquin dropped out of the lead role in Christina Wayne’s Tart to play the role). Although Eric Mabius (Resident Evil) had expressed an interest in the role, Jim Caviezel (The Rock) was cast as Cyclops but dropped out due to scheduling difficulties with Frequency, and was replaced by James Marsden (Disturbing Behavior). Scheduling difficulties were not exclusive to Caviezel, as the role of Wolverine was also causing some issues.