Bryan Singer, the godfather of the X-Men movie franchise whose X-Men: Apocalypse is scheduled for release next year, spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the recent comic-book revelation about original X-Men character Bobby Drake (a.k.a. Iceman), the potential for a gay comic-book character to make the jump from the page to the screen, and a memorable lunch conversation he once had with Stan Lee.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are your thoughts on the latest All-New X-Men comic book, where the character of Iceman comes out as gay?
Bryan Singer: Well, did he come out or was he outed? This is just being explained to me today. And someone asked me this morning if Shawn Ashmore was gay and I said, “No, no, he’s married, he has a lovely wife.” I was confused. I said, “Oh, wait, you mean the character!”
In the comic, it is probably more accurate to say that he is outed by Jean Grey, who can tell that he’s overcompensating when he talks about how hot some girl is.
She’s a psychic, so she would know. So… oops for him. [Laughs] I’m glad, I’m sure it’s very good for him.
To some extent, it seems like you’d thought of Iceman in those terms as well.
Well, I think it is interesting that in the early movies he develops a relationship with a girl who he is physically unable to touch. There’s something subtextual in that. I’m not sure if I necessarily intended it at the time, but there is something ironic about it in the first and second film—I’m referring to his relationship with Rogue, played by Anna Paquin. And in the third one, which I didn’t direct, Iceman develops a relationship with Kitty Pryde, which I did address in Days of Future Past, and which is even more coincidental because Ellen Page recently came out as gay. So it puts an even more humorous spin on the whole thing.
Do you think Iceman was sort of primed to go this direction from your films?
The important thing to remember with comic books is that you’re always dealing with universes. In one incarnation a character can fly and in another they could be evil and in another they could be gay or straight. But in this incarnation, I’m enjoying the irony of it all and how it relates to my films, particularly with a girl he wants to be intimate with but can’t. I’m excited and quite amused that that idea has been able to play out.
Everyone remembers the “coming out” scene in X2, with Iceman telling his parents that he’s a mutant.
Yeah. As a gay or bisexual guy, which is what I am, I don’t know if I’m the guy who at that moment in my career was ready to make an “issues” film. So that scene where he talks to his parents was blatant and meant for humor. And that was always something very specific about the X-Men, which related to the LGBT community. You’re born into a family or a neighborhood which you do not identify with. A person of a certain religion or race is born into a community of similar faiths or physical attributes. But an LGBT person is born into a world—to use the example that X-Men uses—like a mutant. And of course the parents aren’t mutants, the brothers and sisters might not be mutants. And they feel a unique kind of aloneness. I’ve always felt it made sense to include that in the comic universe. I know Northstar of Alpha Flight, from years ago, was also a gay character.
But you’re saying that that scene, or any of the other Iceman scenes, wasn’t written with an agenda?
No, no. It wasn’t like, “Okay, Bobby Drake is my gay character.” Maybe subconsciously there, I thought it was a possibility. And that’s because there’s some logic to it. In the movies, he did develop an affection for a girl that he know he wouldn’t be able to have genuine intimacy with. And so of course there is an allegory to be made, and always has been.
Right, I think comic-book readers do get allegory.
I spoke with Stan Lee about it years ago once, over lunch. I said to him, “Did the gay allegory ever enter the minds of you guys?” I didn’t want to speak out of turn, if that’s not something he’s publicly spoken to. But he said, “Absolutely.” He might have said that out of politeness towards me, but I believed him. And he’s a pretty open guy. I never felt like I had to tiptoe around him in terms of what I asked or what I said.
Isn’t it true that you pitched this aspect of the film to Ian McKellen in order to get him in the first movie?
Yes, that was one of the ways I got him to understand it. I told him, “Your character and Xavier are two very different leaders in the gay rights movement—how about that?” And Ian was like, “I can wrap my brain around that.” And so I was like, “Alright, now get in this helmet and this red suit.” [Laughs]
What do you think of the future of gay characters in comic book movies?
Well, I don’t necessarily explore that in X-Men: Apocalypse, I can tell you that. But I would hope that at some point a character could emerge as gay or transgender. If it is explored, I hope it’s done the same way as in something like [1971’s] Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, where two men kissed on screen for one of the first times, and the way John Schlesinger filmed it, to quote him, it was just no big deal. Because the producers thought he should make it dark and moody. And he said, “No way, it is what is it: No big deal.”
Like two people just saying hello to each other and kissing, which is totally normal.
Yes, exactly. So I hope if it is explored in the X-Men franchise by either myself or others, I hope they just treat it like what it is and not make a big deal of it. And I think we’re seeing that in television now and we’re seeing it more and more in movies, where gay characters are not just gay for gay’s sake. They just happen to be gay or bisexual or transgender. The less a deal one makes of it, the less of a deal it is.
So you’re pretty confident we’ll see that in a comic movie?
It’s inevitable. It’s evolving to a place, finally, at least in the United States. In other place it’s going backwards, unfortunately. But gay isn’t what it used to be. I remember in my high school, there were no gay people. I mean, obviously there were but nobody knew about it. Now people have coming-out parties for their high-school buddies. Not in every state, of course, but it’s happening.
I was looking online to see if I could find any anti-gay comments about Iceman from when your first X-Men movies were released. And I found one guy saying that it was homosexual propaganda.
Oh good! Well at least he got the message. [Laughs] But of course it’s not propagandistic in any agenda-driven way. I love science fiction and fantasy. I love those X-Men characters and I love that universe. But there is that allegory to be made and I’m not going to ignore it.