It’s been 20 years since Bryan Singer directed X-Men, a blockbuster that would usher in a new wave of superhero movies. A new report from the Hollywood Reporter sheds light on the film’s deeply troubled production, including the alleged sexual abuse of a cast member whom Singer hired—and the explosive moment in the director’s trailer that led star Halle Berry to reportedly tell Singer, “You can kiss my Black ass.”
The latter moment occurred the day after Singer and some of his crew members reportedly took a narcotic that left him incapacitated. Singer had apparently insisted on shooting a stunt scene with star Hugh Jackman, who played Wolverine in the film. Jackman was injured during the scene, writes THR, prompting producer Tom DeSanto to shut down filming for the day. But when the studio ordered DeSanto to leave the set the next day, effectively handing the power back to Singer, the film’s main cast, save for Ian McKellen and Rebecca Romijn, protested by going to Singer’s trailer and threatening to quit if DeSanto was removed, THR notes. That’s also when Berry allegedly made her defiant declaration to Singer. (A representative for Berry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
A rep for Singer denied the report, telling THR, “nothing like that ever happened.” But that’s not the only damning allegation about the film’s troubled production made in the THR piece. Just a few days after the film’s premiere, actor Alex Burton, who played Pyro in the superhero story and was 18 during filming, filed a lawsuit against three of Singer’s friends and associates at the Digital Entertainment Network (or DEN, a media enterprise that Singer was affiliated with at the time). Per THR, Burton claimed in his suit against DEN’s Marc Collins-Rector, Chad Shackley, and Brock Pierce that he “had been plied with drugs, sexually assaulted by the trio at the DEN outpost in Encino, held against his will and threatened with physical harm between July 1999 and May 2000,” during which X-Men was in production. (THR noted that Pierce was eventually dropped as a defendant.)
Burton was a DEN employee at the time. He was joined by two other DEN employees in the suit; they were awarded $6 million, according to THR. The amount was never paid, leading Burton’s lawyer to reportedly file a renewal judgment in November 2019, bolstered by an additional $4.8 million in accrued interest.
Burton, THR notes, never acted in another film, and was replaced in the X-Men sequel by Aaron Stanford. In a statement to THR, Singer’s rep said, “Alex Burton was a terrific day player as young Pyro. But when it came to doing the sequel, Bryan needed the character of Pyro to appear older and go through a darker transition where he ultimately becomes a villain. Since ‘movie time’ had elapsed since the first X-Men, Aaron Stanford was the right choice.”
Though Singer was not named in Burton’s suit, he has been accused of assaulting numerous underage boys over the course of his career, though those allegations have not stopped him from helming films including the $1 billion biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. (Singer was fired as director of the film midway through production. He has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.) Prior to X-Men, as THR notes, he was accused of ordering a 14-year-old actor and a 17-year-old actor to strip naked on the set of his 1998 film Apt Pupil. Two other actors made similar claims, filing civil suits against a number of defendants, including Singer. Their suits were reportedly later settled for undisclosed sums. Singer also settled a $150,000 suit in 2019 with Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, a man who claimed Singer raped him in 2003, when Sanchez-Guzman was just 17 years old.