When the sun set on the original “X-Men” trilogy in 2006, fans of the superhero film franchise had no reason to believe they would ever see their beloved band of mutants again.
The future of the Marvel franchise was not only in question because of the deaths of three popular characters in the much-derided “X-Men: The Last Stand” sequel, but also because the series’ lead actors – including Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin and Ellen Page – were quickly becoming the biggest names in Hollywood.
This weekend, the past catches up with the future in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
The new film serves as a sequel to the 2011 franchise reboot, “X-Men: First Class,” as well as the original trilogy, and welcomes back the series’ original director Bryan Singer.
“Days of Future Past” opens in the bleak future of 2023, where an army of giant robots called Sentinels hunt down and kill both humans and mutants. The X-Men – including original trilogy characters Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Wolverine (Jackman) Storm (Berry) and Kitty Pryde (Page) – are among the last survivors. In a last-ditch effort to save the world, Kitty Pryde uses her powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to the 1970s so that he might stop Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from executing his plans.
In the past, we catch up with young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who has lost both his powers and hope for the future. If Wolverine is to stop Trask, he must convince Charles to repair his fractured relationships with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and change history.
I recently joined a group of reporters for the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” press conference in New York City. Check out what Jackman, Stewart, McAvoy, Fassbender, Page and Dinklage had to say about the film.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is intense. How did that effect you all during filming?
Hugh Jackman: It’s difficult for me to answer, because I don’t really talk to anyone when I’m on set. I don’t like people looking at me. [crowd laughs] It’s weird with a cast like this, and it’s filmed, in a way, like two films. The beginning was the future, which was like and incredible reunion, wasn’t it Patrick? And then, on came the younger, more inexperienced actors…
Patrick Stewart: Can we stop calling them that?
Jackman: Should we just call them inexperienced?
Jackman: And the whole time, as intense as the material was, it was unbelievable. I’m probably uniquely qualified to say, having worked with everyone, that being on the set throughout the whole thing was a joy. This film has always had a great bond from the beginning, and I felt it with [the younger cast] when you’re working together, it’s a great bond. Everyone’s very passionate about it, takes it very seriously, but has a lot of fun. In terms of intensity, I remember very clearly sitting at the back of that private plane watching [Patrick and James] go at it. And I say this absolutely sincerely – I was never sure it would be possible to fill the shoes of Ian and Patrick and what they did in “X-Men.” When I saw “First Class,” I realized these guys did it with such confidence. Not only did they feel like the younger versions of those characters – sorry, the more inexperienced versions of those characters – but they had also made it their own. And it’s an incredible feat, what you guys did.
Ellen, for you, so much of the movie hinges on what you do to Hugh’s character. What were those moments like?
Ellen Page: It was kind of back to what Hugh was saying – getting to be in a confined space with unbelievably extraordinary actors. One minute, I’m watching Patrick deliver a monologue over and over and over again and you’re just inspired by it, completely. And then the next, you’re spending your day with the loveliest human beings, who are sweet and generous and funny and it just makes every day a joy.
Patrick and James, your scene together was so powerful, in part because you’re positioned so close to each other physically. What was that like?
Stewart: It was, in a sense, a no brainer how that was staged. If it had been set where we could have had cocktails, opened the window, had a cigarette – it’s a very different kind of scene. I’m not quite sure how it came about that we were nose-to-nose like that, but I can’t now think of any other possible way of making the scene work, because you are looking into the eyes of yourself. It was James’ first day of work on the movie, and it was my last day of work on the movie. I don’t recall rehearsing it.
James McAvoy: No, we didn’t. I’ve been a fan of Patrick’s for a long, long time. But I watched him for 7 years in “Star Trek,” and way back to “Dune.” And so getting to come and do my version of a character that he’s been in charge of for 14 years at his face was quite nerve-wracking. In your face, man! So, you’ve got two choices – you either get nervous and let it overcome you, or you get quite excited about the fact that you might fail, strangely.
Peter, if I had told you 10 years ago that you’d be the go-to villain on TV and film, what would have said to me?
Peter Dinklage: “Define villain.” [crowd laughs] Uh, no, I mean, I jump at the chance to do these little indie movies.
Patrick and James, did you coordinate your portrayal of Professor X, and what did you learn about the character that you didn’t know before?
Stewart: It made me feel that I’d really like to go back and shoot all the other movies again now that I know exactly where I came from and where I was. I could get so much more James McAvoy into that performance.
McAvoy: I think everybody needs a little James McAvoy in them. [crowd laughs] We didn’t talk at all, but again, I’ve been watching you for years – since I was 10, 11, something like that – so I know him quite well, in terms of a performer. But the key thing was watching the empathy that pours out of you in the previous movies, and I hoped in “First Class” to be able to emulate that, particularly. It’s sort of the prime characteristic of Professor X, I think – this willingness to care and reach out and touch.
Jackman: I think what Simon [Kinberg] did so brilliantly with the script is invert what happened in “X-1,” where Professor X was a mentor and guide for Wolverine, and that became the opposite in this movie. There’s so many great surprises in there for fans of the “X-Men” film series, and yet [Simon] still made the film feel like, not just a celebration, but a fresh beginning. With the Wolverine going back to the ’70s, it’s perfect. I don’t think Wolverine ever wanted to leave the ’70s. The hair, the mutton chops, the clothes, the car – I think the moment that Tears for Fears, Flock of Seagulls, Wham!, Durran Durran came along, Wolverine was like, “I’m out!”
Peter and Michael, what was it like playing a character that interacts with a U.S president?
Michael Fassbender: That was Mark [Camacho]. I just didn’t realize he was the same person when he was out of makeup, of course. We spent quite a while in that green tent, and he was fantastic. It was a joy. And it’s fun when you take moments in history and play with them, and I think that’s another great thing the “X-Men” franchise does. To play out those scenes on the lawn with Nixon – not only is it a bold move, but it’s also a fun one.
Dinklage: With President Nixon, there’s a fine line. You can easily go into a little bit too of a comedic territory. So many people have done their famous impersonations and get really Rich Little with it. Mark certainly did not. And considering my mother was an elementary school teacher for 35 years, and she taught at the Nixon School in New Jersey. I was raised a very liberal democrat. She was protesting Nixon when he was in office, and we have a picture of my mother and President Nixon shaking hands. Much to her demur, we put it up on the mantle and rubbed it in her face for a while.
Peter, can you elaborate on not feeling like you’re the villain? And how does Bolivar Trask compare to Tyrion Lannister?
Dinklage: [The reporter] said, “Two villains.” This guy, sure. Not so much the other guy. I’ve said that before, even regarding this guy, and it was more like a highfalutin actor thing about judging your character, seeing them as the villain.
McAvoy: You are so highfalutin.
Dinklage: [mocking] “I go back to the text.” [crowd laughs] He really believes he’s doing the right thing. He wants to save humankind worldwide. In a time of war, in the Vietnam War, he thinks this is an opportunity to bring the world together, but he’s also a capitalist. And I think if you’re gonna tack on “villain” or “evil” to someone, those are the guys I don’t trust. War profiteers. And he sure has his big “T” [logo] on all these cargo containers with the Sentinels in them. And that’s ego, war profiteering and that’s where true villainy for me lays. The guy screaming at a tree in Central Park – he’s crazy. I get that, being a New Yorker. But the guys on Wall Street in the suits, bleeding people of their life – that’s villainy to me.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is in theaters everywhere now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.