Talking Fandom, Villains And The Relief Of A Good Movie With The X-Men: First Class Cast
Most press conferences aren't any fun, especially when large casts are assembled before a room of reporters like a line of cows in front of a tank of piranhas. But most press conferences also don't feature a group of actors just getting wind that their movie is really good, a movie that was made in a hurry and and with an incomplete script, a production so rushed that at least one of the actors had no problem admitting it to the press. But by the time a portion of the X-Men: First Class cast gathered in New York last week, word was already out that the movie was worthwhile, and there was a jovial atmosphere in the air that you can't fake.
Below are some highlights from the brief conference, which included the following: Lucas Till (Havoc), Zoe Kravitz (Angel), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lensherr/Magneto), James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X), January Jones (Emma Frost) and Rose Byrne (Moira McTaggart). Fassbender and McAvoy did most of the talking, as you might expect from the two leaders of all the mutants (well, at least they play them in the movie). You can read my rave review if you want even more on the film; X-Men: First Class opens everywhere this Friday.
Things kicked off with a question about the two actors to previously play Magneto and Professor Xavier, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and of course Fassbender and McAvoy were both eager to play lip service to the titans who preceded them. What's surprising, though, is that both had considered mimicking the older actors in their performances-- for about two minutes.
Fassbender: Obviously Sir Ian McKellen has done such a great job, and I was aware that fans of the X-Men comic book were very pleased with what he did. Initially I thought to myself, should I study a young Ian McKellen, study his voice and physicality. So I talked to Matthew about it, the first day or second day, and he wasn't so keen on the idea. He wanted me to use my own voice and take it from there. We wiped the slate clean of that idea and I really delved into the comic books.
McAvoy:We talked for a brief couple of minutes in rehearsal about mimicking the voices and all that, and we had a good laugh about that, but it didn't stay too long. I looked really closely at Sir Patrick's performance, which I really enjoyed, but to validate just making these movies you have to make the characters different, otherwise it's just the same performances with sexy suits. I tried to take the key points of his character and flip them. He's a good guy, I couldn't make him a bad guy, but where he was wise I was unwise, where he was chaste I was randy, and so on.
But the pressure to perform with this film doesn't just come from fans of the previous three films-- ther'es obviously a legion of comic book fans out there who are very opinionated, and one of them is actually in the cast. Lucas Till plays Havoc and apparently already knew what he wanted to see in a new X-Men story.
Till: I was a big fan of the animated series, because that's what I grew up with. I like this movie because it showed me something I always wanted to see, which is Xavier and Magneto coming together as friends at the beginning. I wanted to see that history there, and that was cool for me. Also this new generation of new characters that they brought, which is something I want to see, I wanted to see new. I haven't seen the movie yet guys, but I think it's pretty good, right?
McAvoy: Bang on, bang on. That's the party line.
As for the fans who weren't part of the cast-- Kevin Bacon, playing the villainous Sebastian Shaw, seemed to be mostly worried about them, while Fassbender kind of got where they're coming from.
Bacon: The only thing I am maybe a little concerned about is that I don’t look anything like the comic book character. He is like a gigantic muscle bound guy with a pony tail and he dresses like George Washington. He has britches and all of this kind of stuff. When I saw it I thought, “Okay. I am kind of a weird choice to embody him.” Obviously, Matthew was going in a different direction. That being said, it was from the comic books. As Michael mentioned earlier, most of the research came…all of a sudden you realize people have been writing…one of the things that are great about comic books is that they really are into talking about backstory. I would learn all this stuff about him like where he grew up, his relationship to his father, his relationship to his wife who died and was killed. It was all of this kind of stuff. It was all extremely helpful to me in terms of creating the character. So I hope that I was true to the essence of him even though I don’t look like him.
Fassbender: Since getting the job and speaking with various people, [fans] are everywhere. The waiter is like, “I’m a X-Men fan. You better not mess it up.” or whatever. I think the themes involved are so universal that they are X-Men and mutants everywhere and amongst us. That I found really surprising actually. To realize just how widespread that audience was. I think the whole concept of X-Men is a very mature idea, in terms of, I suppose superhero comics in general there's an alter ego that makes up for the geek inside. But that idea of alienation is a universal thing. Whether it be for religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation, everybody experiences it even on a smaller scale, when you go to secondary school and want to be accepted. Obviously it touches on a nerve that everyone can relate to.
One of the best questions asked at the press conference was about each actor's reaction to being cast in the film. Bacon had the best answer by far, but all of them had interesting responses.
Rose Byrne: I was nervous! It was so last minute, and it had all begun, but I was very excited to work with the cast.
January Jones: I was a bit nervous, to be honest. It's a big responsibility to take on a character that's so beloved by the fans, and I wanted to do a good job. It happened very quickly for me as well, and I was just a bit nervous, physically how it would come to play that I, in a day, would look amazing. That didn't really work out.
McAvoy: I was a little bit surprised. I didn't see myself as the archetypal Sir Patrick Stewart, bald, Jean Luc Picard professor of the Starship Enterprise. That was quite difficult to get my head around. I read the script, or the first 40 pages that existed at the time, and I realized we could take the character in a whole different direction.Have a lot more fun with him, make him a little bit more silly, a little bit more drunk, a little bit more randy. And that was good fun.
Fassbender: I was intrigued.
Bacon: I don't know if this says something about my self-esteem, but the first thing I thought when they said they're offering you X-Men was "Who fell out?"
Zoe Kravitz: I was fucking excited.
Till: I guess in a few words, "Holy shit!" Awesome. That was actually my reaction.
Fassbender and Bacon both went in-depth discussing the villainous motives of their characters, and how this is the first X-Men movie in which you walk out thinking Magneto might actually have a point.
Fassbender: Nowadays, especially in big commercial films it's much easier for the audience, and they tend to get spoonfed. It's much more interesting to me, people leave the theater and they start asking themselves questions and find their own moral compass about what these characters have been doing. In terms of justification for what he does, I could see where the motivation was, and where the motivation came from. For me, Erik is a Machiavellian character-- the end justifies the means. That really sums him up best in one line.
Bacon: People ask what's it like playing the villain, playing the bad guy. If I'm really in the skin of who I'm playing, I don't think of myself as a bad guy, I don't think of myself as a good guy. Obviously, my perception of the world is one where humans are a threat to our survival. As Michael said, the ends can justify the means. The ways he goes about it, and the misguided nature of it, and the power-hungry egomaniacal aspect of it is there, but he's not thinking, "I'm going to do something evil now."
Fassbender: That was really evil! I just upped my evilness! [Magneto's] actions are one thing, but his philosophy stands true. Everything he says comes to fruition. This idea of the human race. As we all know, history teaches us that we are an incredibly destructive race and the fact that whenever a fear element comes into something that is unknown or different we tend to destroy it. So all of those discussions that Charles and Erik have, in the end, the human beings prove Erik right.
And finally, only a few of the actors had actually seen the film before the press conference, but not only did they proclaim how much they loved it, but they freely admitted they weren't necessarily expecting it to turn out so well.
McAvoy: I phoned Michael within half an hour to just go, “Dude, you just have to just see it quick because you are going to be relieved. You’re going to be able to go to the toilet again.” [laughter] We were worried because sometimes these things are a nightmare when you make it. It’s well documented that it was and there is no point in hiding it. It has turned out really good. We always thought that it could be really different and really brilliant or really bad and different.
Bacon: I was completely knocked out. I really was. Many people that I contacted said to me, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you react to one of your movies like that.” It was also super cool for me because there is so much that I am not in and that I wasn’t really seeing or being shot in that I didn’t know. Even though we had seen some of the mock ups of the effects, they are jaw dropping. They are so well done. Even scenes that we are in, we don’t know how exactly that is going to pan out. For instance, I had no idea what my own power was going to look like. It was really great. I was thrilled.
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