Do the new Fantastic Four know their atoms from their alkynes? ShortList’s Andrew Lowry meets the cast of the genuine reboot
“Really being in the Fantastic Four would be traumatising”
Mr Fantastic, Miles Teller, is happy leading a normal life
There are five decades of Fantastic Four comics – did you work your way through them?
To a point. Obviously there are elements of them in the film, because we’re not in denial about the source material. It was cool to read what happens to Mr Fantastic down the line, but you have to do your film.
Your superpower is the ability to stretch – not something you’ll have a lot of experience of…
You know, my arm can’t stretch that long, believe it or not. But I have to be emitting some emotion – you can’t do it with a blank face. It’s an absurd thing to have happen to you, but you want to play it as real as you can.
Director Josh Trank has talked about the influence of body-horror maestro David Cronenberg – so this isn’t going to be a light-hearted comic-book world…
There’s definitely some of the body-horror stuff. If you’re a young guy and all of a sudden you’re covered in rocks or you’re in this elastic form and you can’t control it, that would be kind of traumatising. What we’re doing with this movie, it’s more gritty and real – it’s not just super-fun and flying around blowing
stuff up. Although there’s plenty of that, too.
Reed is a science prodigy – were you into science growing up?
I wasn’t overly into science, but I was an academic kid. I was in all the honours classes, so academics was something pretty important to me and something I had a good hold on.
And you grew up in the manatee capital of the world?
Sure. I moved there when I was 12. It was one of these small towns, in a place called Citrus County, Florida, on the Gulf Of Mexico. There was a lot of nature and wildlife and yes, it was the manatee capital of the world. They’re the big local celebrities, not me – people go there to see them, not where I grew up. It’s a reminder of my station in life.
You got a huge amount of attention from Whiplash – did you feel a shift?
I guess I can judge how much people are interested in me by how many paparazzi are following me around. There’s been more and more recently. But the important thing to me was, when Whiplash came out, I had a lot of actors who I really respect and admire come up to me at film festivals and say how much they enjoyed it. That was pretty amazing.
Do you get bothered by the paparazzi hassle?
It’s a pretty gross profession – they’re really trying to get photos of you in compromising positions. They’re rarely there when you’re doing something good or heroic, they want a picture of you wasted, or if I’m with my girlfriend they want a picture of her. It’s a weird thing – do I cover my face, or let them get their picture and leave? The problem is when they get their picture and just hang around.
“I’m terrible at science”
The Invisible Woman, Kate Mara, is doing pretty well at acting, though
A lot is often made of the Fantastic Four being a family – was that in your minds?
It’s Marvel’s first family story, but it originated in 1961, so the question is, how do you make that relevant to today, with the family landscape having changed? One way is that Michael B Jordan and I are still playing siblings, but my character is adopted.
Your character can become invisible – does this tie in with her personality?
One of the interesting things about our movie is that you do see where it comes from. All of the characters have something special about them before they become superheroes, and one of Sue’s gifts is that she’s very smart. That said, her personality is that she hides herself from people. It was interesting to explore that, and how she reacts to her powers.
Did you talk to Jessica Alba, who played her before?
I actually just met her – Jamie Bell and I were on a plane to New York and Jessica was in the seat behind me. Jamie said, “What are the chances of there being two invisible women on one plane?” I just laughed, and we introduced ourselves. She asked me how comfortable the costume was – I said it wasn’t too bad, and she said it couldn’t have been worse than hers.
Science is a pretty big part of the Fantastic Four – is that something that interests you?
I know nothing about science. I’m pretty sure I got a C in it at school; I only passed because the teacher could see I was trying so, so hard. I was still terrible – I think he felt bad for me. I didn’t even blow anything up – I didn’t even get to that level, I was so bad at it.
You career has straddled the worlds of independent film and now blockbusters – are they substantially different to make?
If you’re doing a little independent film, the comfort levels will be different – you may not have anywhere to change and maybe you don’t get the food you like. On a comic-book film you have the intense fans and the expectation that comes with bringing the character to life. But you care just as much, regardless of the size of the film.
Your family is heavily involved in American football – was it surprising for them when you became an actor?
Well, I wasn’t born playing football. That would be strange, wouldn’t it? It was an odd step for both my sister and I to become actors – we have a massive family and no one had done this before. When I was growing up, all my immediate family were crazy movie fans. My sister and I grew up watching a lot of movies and going to Broadway plays with my mother, and it’s a passion we all share. It was something we all bonded over – and of course the love of football. They’re the two common denominators in my family.
“I’m into biology”
The Human torch, Michael B Jordan, on the darkness defining the new film
There have been two Fantastic Four films already – what sets this new one apart?
I think honestly it’s the tone. People want to see Marvel films that are a little darker, a little grittier. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films changed the way we looked at superhero films. It didn’t have to be so light, it could be more of a reflection of the world we live in.
When you were cast, there was some outrage in the uglier parts of the internet about an African-American being Johnny Storm. Did that bother you?
It doesn’t affect me at all – I did expect it, so it didn’t rattle me. It was motivation for me. I want to make you a fan of mine, even if you don’t think you are.
Do you think we’re close to the point where we don’t even need to talk about this?
No – you always want to have hope, but we’re human beings. We’re allowed to like what we like and not like what we don’t like. I don’t think people will ever get over it, but I’m OK with that.
You worked with the director Josh Trank on Chronicle as well. How did he manage the step up to this?
I think everybody develops – you’re always constantly growing. Chronicle was a low-budget film for what we did, and to go from doing that to a budget that’s 100-million-plus, that’s a lot of responsibility, that’s a lot of people you’re in charge of and a lot of questions you have to know the answers to. He nailed it, man.
Half the team are scientists – is that something you’re into?
I’m into biology, sure. I was home-schooled so I never had many science classes, but I’m fascinated by it. I still have a lot to read up on.
This home-schooling was when you were on The Wire?
Yeah, I had started modelling for print ads, and the acting came along. The Wire was amazing to be on. Nobody knew what it would become when we were doing it – we all thought it would be cancelled after the first season. I went in and auditioned like a normal show – I read for Bodie at first, but I was too young, so I didn’t get it. Then I read for Wallace and I got that. Honestly, bro, in hindsight we can say it was a great choice, but in the moment it was another job I auditioned for. I can’t take credit for that show being what it was, I was just a small part.
You’ve got Creed coming out later in the year – what’s that like, having Stallone approach you?
We called him! We asked if he wouldn’t mind us collaborating with his legacy, and it worked out. The whole process was cool. What were we supposed to do, not ask? It just seemed to come together, it was awesome – we’re not making Rocky 7 – we’re working to make Creed 1.
“I miss HP Sauce and builders’ tea”
The Thing, Jamie Bell, has a hankering for home comforts
Your performance post-transformation is done via motion capture – did your experience on Tintin help?
I’ve worked with Andy Serkis a few times now, and seeing how he creates these characters is inspiring. When I did Tintin I was asking a lot of questions. It’s all about breaking through that wall of technology and getting through to people. You need to work closely with the visual effects people to make sure you have authorship of your performance. That can be pretty blurry at times, but as long as you’re in close contact, then you’re fine.
How do you do the voice of a rockman?
We had a few conversations and we ultimately decided it would be pretty silly for me to put on a voice. You lose a sense of who the character was before. They’ve changed my voice in post-production – it’s me, but slightly warped.
Ben is one of the group who’s not a scientist – but are you into it in real life?
I was terrible at it at school – I’m a performer, darling. But I am really interested in it now. I don’t think there should be any fear in exploring – but I’m sure the guys who invented the atom bomb thought, “Oh sh*t, what have we done?” That said, it’s a push of a button and that button isn’t pushed too often. I love Nasa, I love space exploration, I’m fascinated by how we’re exploring other planets. I think we can achieve anything we put our minds to.
Was there an effort to keep the science of the film grounded?
The director was really focused on those elements – what is the possibility of interdimensional travel? How would it work? Who would want that technology? I think science is important, I’d be scared if we didn’t have scientists. What I like about science is that it’s science fact and not science fiction – it’s amazing what they know.
Now we’re well away from Billy Elliot, have you taken stock of that experience?
I was one of those kids who pretended to be unfazed, but I was very fazed. It’s impossible for a 15-year-old brain to comprehend what was happening. I was having a great time, and I really enjoyed myself – but what goes up must come down. Granted I had Billy Elliot in my back pocket, but there was a real sense after the Oscars when I was back at school in Billingham that I was at square one. I didn’t really know anything about acting, and I certainly didn’t know anything about how the movie business worked.
Do you miss home?
I do – LA’s just not England. I have been here for 11 years and have cultivated my own family here in a way. I have a child here – my life is here. But that’s not to say I don’t miss builders’ tea and HP Sauce. And the Arsenal.
Fantastic Four is at cinemas now