Anyone familiar with the creative team behind the X-Men film franchise will know the name Lauren Shuler-Donner very well. She’s produced every movie in the franchise but in recent years, with the series growing exponentially a few others have joined the family like writer Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker who also have producer roles.
We met Hutch back in fall 2012 on the set of The Wolverine which represented his first time producing. He previously worked on the studio side of things at Fox but is now a part of the X-Men family. Of the three X-Men movie releases in 2018, he’ll be working in Montreal again on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the followup to X-Men: Apocalypse which is set to be directed by Kinberg (his first time at the helm).
We had the chance to speak with him on the phone recently about Logan for its home video release after a record-setting and mega successful run at the box office. It earned a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and over $600 million at the worldwide box office without the use of 3D and with an R-rating, further solidifying the X-Men franchise the most adult of the superhero cinematic universes (Deadpool similarly crushed the box office and won critical praise as well, also without 3D, with an R rating, and without a China release).
Let’s start there…
Looking back now at the box office, the response from fans and critics, how does it compare to what you expected and what you’ve done previously with two Wolverine movies and Deadpool?
HUTCH PARKER: I think we were all pretty experienced in – and you know when you’re making any movie, you have your hopes and expectations – but reality doesn’t always conform with your hopes and expectations. We did feel like, we felt strongly – and Jim [James Mangold] in particular – but really Jim, Hugh [Jackman] and myself, felt very strongly that doing something different was critical. And being willing to delve into a deeper telling of the story, a deeper exploration of the character, an edgier version was all pretty critical to doing, what I think, the marketplace is, frankly, demanding across the board. Not just on these movies or comic book movies but on movies in general. Where there’s just an expectation and a demand on the part of the audience for a fresher and better story telling. I think we were fortunate because, for me, Jim Mangold is one of the best directors working in film. Just in my experience. And his instincts for how to execute this story, both in terms of its visual gritty tone and avoiding the traditional global stakes in terms of the casting and the detailing of all the choices. I think his instincts for that are just superb and it gave us a lot of confidence. On top of that, Hugh was pretty adamant. He really did not want to do the same thing and was drawn to this much more dramatic, much more grounded and emotionally real treatment of the character as a way of finishing his journey as Logan. So, all those things conspired to make us pretty confident but you never know and you hope people embrace the film as we all did but you really never know what to expect. We were really incredibly gratified and excited to see that the audience shared the enthusiasm for it that we had ourselves.
Hugh puts on the performance of a lifetime in this one, but X-23 was a very pleasant surprise and Dafne Keen’s performance was amazing. Because this movie is set in the future, is there any way to bring a character like that back, or is that just for this story and it’s a time to move on?
HUTCH PARKER: Anything is possible. I think part of the fun of this universe is, as it’s expanded and it’s gotten more off-shoots, there are ways to potentially explore X-23 further. It’s something we’ve been talking about a little bit and have, frankly, going back a bit. So that’s a possibility.
It’s a bittersweet pill to swallow seeing that Hugh is “hanging up the claws” so to speak, because this is one of the best superhero movies, and certainly his best. How long until you have to recast a character like that? Because Wolverine is so iconic in the comics and there’s no way to kill him there, but obviously you guys are delving into exploring other characters at the moment too…
HUTCH PARKER: Yes and I think for the moment our focus really is on other characters. I think there’s a part for all of us that feels like Logan, as played by Hugh, is the definitive performance of that character. And I think we’re all a little hesitant at the idea of rebooting it in any way. So, for the moment we’re going to look at – there’s so much else explore in the [X-Men] Universe and to play with. Particularly now as we’ve seen such bold tonal choices being made, I think that opens up the landscape as well, to seeing other genres living kind of fully within the comic book genre. And you saw that with Guardians of the Galaxy, I believe [it] is an exceptional example of that. Obviously Deadpool and Logan now, but I think there’ll be more to come.
Interesting that you brought up Guardians of the Galaxy. I have to ask, next year there are three X-Men films coming out, which is insane. It’s awesome. Was that always the plan to do three close to together for story purposes or did it just work out that way with scheduling?
HUTCH PARKER: You know with that, for me, I’m only involved in the one [X-Men: Dark Phoenix], so I’m not involved with Deadpool  or The New Mutants. So I can’t really speak to the, that really a Simon [Kinberg] question as to how that was orchestrated. But I think at the moment there is a, Fox has been really incredibly supportive of us and encouraging bold choices, new choices, multi-faceted choices and particularly with the type of film maker that have been draw to the genre. So I’m not surprise to see three films coming out that are all part of their comic book universe, within the X-Men world. I don’t know that you’ll see that every year but there’s really a plethora of opportunity and, as you know as a fan of the comics, in particularly when you, the genre has evolved from the classic tone into a broader array of tones. I really do think, when you think of the landscape of genre films that you begin to realize, “Wow!” Any one of those could be, you could do a romantic comedy version. You could do a thriller version. There are a lot of different options and that’s exciting potentially to filmmakers, that’s exciting to various storytellers, and I think it’s exciting to the actors. So, all of that simply argues for a continuance of this, what you’re describing this year.
Yeah, if you look at the three movies next year, every one of them is sort of like a franchise in and of itself, so you can see the potential there. Is Gambit still part of that plan?
HUTCH PARKER: It is. It is. I don’t have any news on that but there’s still a desire and a passionate interest to see that movie made.
Cool. This thing [the X-Men Universe] is not only expanding on the big screen but obviously we’re seeing these TV shows as well. Legion was awesome. We know Bryan [Singer] was directing the pilot for Gifted, which is coming up soon and looks great. Do those fit into these film stories as well or are they their own standalone things on TV?
HUTCH PARKER: They’re more of their own thing. I think they’re designed really to, again, part of what I think has always been compelling about the X-Men Universe to me is, it is about individuals grappling with the degrees and ways in which they’re different from the society in which they live. That as an idea allows you, you can follow any one of countless characters in the universe and have a completely idiosyncratic experience, right? A completely unique story. I think what’s great about what they’ve been doing in TV is they’re finding those nooks and crannies and characters and new articulations or expressions of those issues and exploring them in a series format. So without being specifically tied, they’re another way in which the [X-Men] Universe is getting expanded.
You talked about the tone of these films allow them explore, become any sort of genre – there’s no reason this should ever end, because you can do anything. But what I also like about the X-Men films in particular is how lately you guys have been playing with different time periods. Obviously Logan is a little bit in the future. Days of Future Past was in the future and we have Apocalypse is in the ‘80s, Deadpool in modern day – is that the plan going forward as well, not just different tones but to keep playing with these different time periods?
HUTCH PARKER: A bit. A bit. I think we’re liked the progression that was really started with First Class and that allowed us to tackle these different decades and see how the X-Men have evolved. How they’ve changed. I think there’s certainly an opportunity at some point for an intersection of certain of these story lines. I think, like you said in Days of Future Past, you’ve got time travel and you’ve got other mechanisms for moving the characters into different bandwidths of time – all of which are available. We haven’t necessarily committed to any of those yet but it’s just to speak to that openness of landscape. The real challenge, implicitly and otherwise, is I think the bar has been raised on these movies and again, not just on comic book movies, but I think the audience in general is being more aggressively discerning and demanding better filmmaking and better story telling. I think that’s the real challenge. There’s an incredible wealth of quality material from which to draw. The challenge is, we have to continually do a better and more imaginative and inventive job of telling those stories cinematically. That’s probably the thing, or one of the things, we talk about the most and where the filmmakers that are behind these films become so essential.
Speaking of that, everyone is very excited about Cable and Josh Brolin coming into the franchise. He’s been a fan favorite character for decades and of course, he has ties to all of these things: New Mutants, X-Force, Deadpool, and the main X-Men. What does introducing a character like that who can time travel let you guys do creatively going forward?
HUTCH PARKER: Well as you know, it’s kind of implicit in your question, it just opens a whole series of doors. I think that was part of what was so exciting of adding him to the mix is, not only what he brings as a character – and I think what I think Brolin will bring to the part, which I think was just brilliant casting – but it expands the landscape again and gives us more flexibility and opportunity which is one of the ways we can keep this franchise feeling vibrant and exciting and fresh – by introducing elements that are exciting and dynamic and different.
You’re working on Dark Phoenix next and we saw a major glimpse of Phoenix in the last movie, Apocalypse. And of course we saw a different version of Phoenix back in X-Men: The Last Stand. What are you guys hoping to do differently with [the character in] the next movie?
HUTCH PARKER: Quite a bit. Again, I can’t really speak to anything specifically but I think the challenge as offered by all the films we’ve mentioned is very – we’re very aware of the challenge that those movies pose and what it sort of demands of us as storytellers mining, again, one of the great comic runs in The Dark Phoenix Saga. Our hope and expectation is to try and do something that feels different, that takes the audience into a different tone and a different sense of cinematic style that is appropriately suited to the story we’re telling. So I’m trying to answer your question without giving anything away.
[Laughs] I got you.
HUTCH PARKER: But we are committed to that and know that it’s not as simple as picking up where we left off in anyway. We actually have to be more bold [sic] and more inventive than that.
You mentioned Guardians. Hutch, are you ready to get cosmic with this stuff?
HUTCH PARKER: [Laughs] That is certainly a possibility. That is certainly a possibility. Yes.
In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.
James Mangold directs Logan from a screenplay by Michael Green and Scott Frank & James Mangold and astory by David James Kelly and James Mangold. Logan is produced by: Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, and stars Hu