A Flying Leap

two years ago Bryan Singer walked away from the "X-Men" franchise he had created to direct "Superman Returns." Good call. Early reviews, including NEWSWEEK's, have been raves. As the film begins, Superman (Brandon Routh) has returned from a five-year search for Krypton to discover that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a 5-year-old son, a devoted boyfriend (James Marsden) and a Pulitzer Prize for writing the column "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), meanwhile, is hatching a plan for global destruction.

In casual conversation, Singer can be charming, hilarious company. During interviews, however, he can be twitchy and guarded, like a man who's just been read his Miranda rights. Over lunch in the Warner Bros. commissary last week, the director, 40, was exhausted but cheerful and talkative on most, if not all, subjects.

BRYAN SINGER: Oh, yeah. This is my first chick flick. There's plenty of stuff for the boys, but in the past I've made movies that boys have to drag their girlfriends to. This one shows my friends that I have a romantic side. They have accused me of having affairs with my movies, to the point where [they take the place of] human romance.

There's definitely something about his dilemma that I can identify with. I'm adopted. I'm an only child. I have a very strong relationship with my parents, but that sense of aloneness has always been a part of my life.

More than a twinge. Leaving the "X-Men" universe was an enormous step for me because I love it, and it was a part of my life for six years. It was a Friday when I pitched [Warner Bros.] the Superman story I wanted to do. I left, and I knew that they were going to put my deal together very quickly--and that meant that I was going to be leaving the "X-Men" franchise. I got in my car, and I hit play on the CD player, and Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" came on, which he wrote about leaving the band Genesis. I've had two panic attacks in my life. One was when I found out my stepmother had cancer, and the second was three weeks before production began on "X-Men 2." And now I'm listening to this song and driving and I feel another one coming on--this tightness in my stomach, this terrible physical constriction that won't go away. I got home and just lay in my bed for an hour, and a friend came over and we talked and sort of circumvented it. But it was all very traumatic.

It was all for emotional and artistic reasons. Richard Donner's "Superman" showed that you could take a comic book and make it into an epic movie. Had I not been such a fan of "Superman," I never would have been involved with "X-Men." I wouldn't even have considered it.

They were upset.

Yeah, I heard that I was "thrown off the lot," but that was exaggerated. I mean, the last time I checked, my parking space was still there.

My production budget on "Superman Returns" was $204 million. The approved budget was $184.5 million. We had projected overages for visual effects, and there was a sequence that I wanted that was going to cost an extra $2.3 million. So the hard, honest number is $204 million. It's aggravating, because all of my movies have been fiscally responsible. If anything, I go out of my way to figure out how to operate with financial constraints because I think good ideas come out of that. I heard a story about the making of "Rocky"--that they couldn't afford extras for the ice-skating rink, so they changed the script so that on Rocky and Adrian's first date, Rocky paid the guy $10 to let them use the rink for 10 minutes. And that's one of the most magical dates in film history. Now, that being said, I still have to make Superman fly.

Probably the part I'm best at--casting. Having to reject people all day has some weird cumulative emotional affect. The only thing worse would be being rejected all day, which is why I never became an actor. That, and the fact that I can't act.

[ Silence. ] I try not to talk about my personal life in the press, but I can confidently tell you that "Superman Returns" is the most heterosexual movie I've ever made.

Yeah, there's a bit of the Moses story in the origin of Superman--the parents who send their child downriver to fulfill his destiny. There's a very strong Christian allegory as well, particularly in our film, which is about saviors and sacrifice. I was very conscious of that. But [Siegel and Shuster] were born of immigrants, and Superman is very much the ultimate immigrant. That's what I think it's really about--being an outsider.

Oh, yeah. I graduated high school with a GPA of 1.9. I'm dyslexic, so I can't read very fast. I'm terrible with math, and I get distracted easily. My parents hate when I talk about this, but that's the way it was. I was beat up a lot. I had big hair. I wore the same pair of jeans every day.

Not for a long time. I have such incredible parents that I don't think about it. I prefer to imagine that my birthparents were Kryptonian royalty or something. Besides, I'm such a hypochondriac, the last thing I'd want to know is their medical histories.

The night of my birthday it was wonderful. I was drunk. It was in the weeks afterward that the midlife crisis set in. I'm very un-grown-up. I live like a college student.

I think so. I don't really know. You can say you're not ready, and then suddenly the right person is sitting across from you. Or maybe you discover that the right person is two people. That's the conundrum that Lois Lane faces in this movie.

It's this weird combination. It's a dream come true to be surrounded by people you love, and yet if the ship goes down, you're the captain and you have to go with it. That's the loneliness of the job. They don't call it "a Bryan Singer film" for nothing.