Meet the X-Men: Apocalypse cast: Storm, Magneto, Cyclops, Psylocke & more!
Over the course of two days, just after the fervor of Comic Con, I visited the set of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (along with a number of other journalists) in Vancouver, spending the biggest chunk of my time talking with the cast and crew of the upcoming superhero/mutant prequel/sequel from director Bryan Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg. From the set of a paper warehouse that was used to shoot a pivotal scene with Magneto and Apocalypse to a massive green-screen set that showed off a very famous school in fiery ruins, we talked with the cast and crew to see what's in store for the next adventure in the X-franchise.
Featuring a massive cast, the film takes place before the definitive events of the last film in the popular franchise, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which opens the doors to explore younger versions of established characters, as well as brand new players and returning favorites. From Cyclops to Jubilee to Nightcrawler to Psylocke to Magneto to Storm to Quicksilver to Stryker to Beast to Moira McTaggert, we dug into the characters, the story, and other interesting tidbits about the latest film in the X-franchise.
So, with that, let's get to know the cast of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE.
New to the scene actress Alexandra Shipp (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) sat down with us in her full-on Storm garb, rocking the white mohawk that the character is well known for in the comics. Shipp was full of energy and showed genuine excitement to be a part of the film. Although she yearned to meet Halle Berry before taking on the role, it didn't come to pass. Still, her interpretation of the chraracter and understanding of Ororo Munroe's plight in the film is sharp.
"My Storm in particular is kind of a, well yeah, she's the past derivative of Halle's Storm. This Storm is a little bit different because you're meeting her in Cairo. You're seeing kind of a little bit of where she comes from. You're seeing all the pain that she's gone through. It's not like she's in the mansion having a great time. She's so different from all of the other kids because they come from families. They come from some sort of love and support whereas, Storm hasn't had that since her parents dies in that plane crash into the house when she was like five."
Shipp says she'll also be channeling an accent for the character: "I'm doing a Kenyan accent. I'm also speaking Arabic, which is cool."
So, what makes Storm switch to the bad guy's team? "It's like, she's kind of just all really messed up and the only mutants that she knows are bad mutants," says Shipp. "She's in survival mode, so when she meets Apocalypse, she's kind of like hit this revelation where she has been struggling to feel like she belongs somewhere."
So, does Storm see herself as good or bad? It depends on perspective...
"She doesn't know anything about the X-Men. The only thing she knows is about Mystique when she saved the president, but that's basically it. Other than Mystique, every other Mutant that she's known has been bad so, that's kind of where she's coming from. I don't necessarily see her as a bad person, or as a bad mutant. I don't see her as a villain. She doesn't know that she's a villain. That's just all she's ever known, is just bad."
Returning to the role of Erik Lensherr/Magneto is Michael Fassbender, who first played the younger version of Ian McKellen's character from the first three X-Films in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the prequel that kicked off this whole time-jumping version of the franchise. After the events of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Magneto has retreated into the shadows a bit, waiting to be reawakened.
"I start off in Poland," says Fassbender. "Erik is basically living a normal life, has a family, has fallen in love, and has basically disappeared for the last eight years or so. He doesn’t use his powers, has left that life behind and lives a sort of simple life."
A bigger question is why would Magneto want to follow Apocalypse when he’s historically followed his own path. Fassbender explains, saying:
"He [Apocalypse] arrives and it’s like, “Okay well something much more powerful than me has arrived,” in a way kind of like a god; he’s the original mutant. And...Magneto doesn’t really follow anyone, so it was kind of a hard thing like, well how does he just become one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and is he cool with that? But he appreciates that this guy is going to do what he couldn’t do. He’s got just so much more power than him, he’s such an immense force. In a way, it’s like that classic thing of joining any cult or radical group, he’s caught him at a very low, vulnerable point where he doesn’t really care anymore whether he dies or not or what happens, so he’s like, ‘Yeah I’ll join this guy. I’ll go on this path of judgment.’ Apocalypse is sort of bringing judgment to the Earth.”
Seeing as the new franchise iteration is taking place before the first trilogy there's the question of whether or not Fassbender's portrayal is leading to the ultra villainous personification that Ian McKellen portrayed.
"Well I think Ian McKellen might have a problem with that," says Fassbender, laughing. "I’ve seen an interview with him speaking about Iago and how he’s an evil character and he’s like, ‘Evil, I don’t know what to do with that word.’ And that’s true, trying to unravel a character, “evil” is just too broad a word and too cloudy a word—how do you access it, and how do you bring that characteristic and display it in a character without being ‘Mwahahaha!’ Whereas Iago is racist, he’s insecure, he’s got all these other things that are huge things that you can build on. And the same for Magneto, he’s somebody who’s been injured, somebody who’s had all his loved ones taken away from him. He’s quite singular in his thoughts and yes there’s an element of a megalomaniac in there, and an aspect of a dictator for sure. So I always had those things in mind when I was playing him, so I don’t think it’s any more of a progression towards Ian’s Magneto. I think he was kind of doing the same thing.”
Fassbender elaborates, talking about the bridge between Magneto's young and old self, as well as his real-world inspiration in playing him.
"...I suppose by the time we see Ian McKellen’s Magneto in [X-Men: The Last Stand] he is, you know, pretty full-on. And I guess, in a way, it was these little steps that lead him to that, what makes him so empty towards human beings? And I think it’s because of these things that they’ve done to him, what they’ve taken away from him, their weaknesses. To me, personally, I know that my biggest fear in life is the mob, the idea of what happens to a mob mentality when people start feeding off each other’s fears and it can turn horribly wrong really quickly. So he’s been at the short end of the stick, putting it lightly, in terms of the mob mentality and human beings and how they respond when they’re under fear and insecurity. I guess the one thing about the comic book stuff, taking from anything else I’ve done that might be more let’s say anchored in reality, is I’ve always thought that there was an element here in these X-Men stories that is very anchored in reality in terms of people feeling misplaced or pushed to the outside of society. So I’m definitely drawing from real things to sort of ground it and root it in something that I can relate to."
Evan Peters (American Horror Story) was the scene stealer of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which had his Quicksilver saving Magneto from a heavily-guarded facility in a slow-motion showcase sequence that left everyone amazed. The only question now is whether or not they can top it and it appears that they’re going to give it a shot in APOCALYPSE.
“Yeah, I think that’s been the hardest thing,” says Peters. “Can we top it? They did such a fucking awesome job. The special effects team is amazing. Bryan Schmears over at Second Unit, everybody just made that whole sequence awesome, I thought. I was just a minion. They just told me what to do so I didn't really have much to do with it but I was curious to see how they were going to top it and if they could and I think they have. I'm very excited to see it myself. I'm excited for everybody to see it because we've been working hard on it.”
The other looming question for Quicksilver is if he’s parentage will be explored, considering that Magneto is his true father.
“I have learned that he's my father at this point and I am trying to … I don’t know what I can say. I'm trying to …” Peters pauses to consider his thoughts, then continues. “Yeah. It's like an adoptive child or any kind of child who has a strange father trying to … He knows who he is now so he is trying to find him. He's been searching for him. It's been 10 years and he hasn't found him and then something happens.”
Last year we saw the MCU version of Quicksilver come and go in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. What did Peters think of that version of the character and his quick demise?
“They could always bring him back to life somehow or there could be another studio that starts making superhero films and throw Quicksilver in there,” says Peters. “I was really confused as to why they killed him. I thought it was really cool. It was a different take on the character, completely different. Scarlet Witch was there and yeah. I was kind of bummed that they killed him.”
After a long run on G4’s Attack of the Show, Olivia Munn has begun branching over into the film world, making a big splash this year with both RIDE ALONG 2 and X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Playing the fan-favorite character of Betsy Braddock/Psylocked, Munn talks about her costume, training, powers, and personality of the famed badass mutant. In terms of the costume, which is typically a form-fitting one-piece bathing suit, Munn weighed in on its importance and image.
“Everybody together decides what the costume should look like, so it's like an art picture of, ‘Here's like what we think Psylocke is going to look like.’ There's my head. I was like, ‘Oh, you're going to want me to work out more than I've already ...’ Munn trails off, then elaborates. “I think my first thought was it has to be purple, because we were going up against time and making it. It was black at first...The latex is in black and all the armor is in black and it's just easier, but I was like, ‘You got to make it purple.’ That was kind of my first thought when I saw myself in the costume, which is the Photoshop. When I first saw myself completely put together, it was a very nerdy cool dream. It's just like, "Whoa." It just doesn't really seem real.”
In terms of how Munn views Psylocke in the X-Men cinematic universe, she says, “The way that I see Psylocke is as a very powerful weapon that has been used and abused by different people so that they could use her powers and she's somebody who's just looking for righteous purpose." As for Psylocke’s powers, Munn describes how they held back on certain elements, particularly her telepathic powers.
“Psylocke is telepathic and telekinetic. In the movie, we see her being a telekinetic. We don't see her being telepathic. It's a decision because this is the first time we've really been able to see the character of Psylocke and have her really, truly exist in the movie. I talked about it with Simon Kinberg. There's just so much going on, especially with Apocalypse's power, and then trying to take on all of the X-Men. When you are telepathic, I feel that it's a power that you want to hold close to your chest. It's a card that you don't want a lot of people to know about because it's so much more powerful when people don't know that you have this power.”
Munn elaborates on the sword fighting aspect, as well as Psylocke’s deadly psi-blade, saying she will utilize both in the film.
“Yeah, which is why I had to learn to use a regular sword with both hands, so I can switch in between. It's more work for the special effects guys but it's pretty cool. That was actually James McAvoy's idea. He was like, "’f you can use both hands,’ he's like, ‘Then you can go, you can switch, you can...’ Because the thing about sword work is that you're always keeping somebody off. Like they don't really know it's happening. You're really throwing people off. Your opponent. He was like, "Well, you can really throw them off if you're going from your real sword to your psychic sword and then just switching hands and it's just...’ I was like, ‘That sounds awesome.’”
In terms of Psylocke’s personality, Munn says, “She’s methodical and very loyal and she's very calm and she's fearless. Her aggression is below the surface, but it's like, it's bubbling ... It's right there at any moment to access. She's a very calm, easygoing, kind of person within this world of insanity, but she's so powerful and strong. That feeling of when did anything where you're learning a skill. Once you learn it, you feel really powerful. She's very comfortable in her skin.”
Don't expect to see much about Psylocke's comic book past, however, as her origins as Betsy Braddock, sister of Brian Braddock aka Captain Britain, and the events that led to her becoming this version of Psylocke are not explored here, but hinted at. "There's small, subtle references to it with Apocalypse," says Munn. "For people who love and know Psylocke, they will know who she is fully formed. You would know her storyline."
After two iterations in the prequel/sequel version of the X-franchise, Nicholas Hoult returns to the character of Hack McCoy aka BEAST, who is now an older, more experienced version of the character that acts as a mentor to the newer students in the fully established mutant school. He discusses his new role at the school, his inventions, and how much time he spends at Beast vs. Hank McCoy. So, where do we find ol’ Hank at the beginning of APOCALYPSE?
“It’s a pretty happy place. Ten years on, the school’s going well, it’s got all these new students, Charles and I are kind of running it I guess. It’s a lot happier than the last movie where I was kind of his enabler and having dark days in the X-Mansion. Hank, since the last movie, still believes that the world kind of needs the X-Men, and that even though there’s peace between humans and mutants at this point, he senses trouble and has kind of been building this jet war plan and kind of preparing for the worst. But other than that, other than his pessimism and preparing for the worst, he’s hoping for the best and having fun teaching I think.”
In the previous films Beast has always been working on something and in this film he’ll be bringing more inventions to the table, this time on a more individual level to his fellow X-Men.
“He’s got to build inventions for some of the new characters that are having trouble with their powers, so he’s building some stuff for that. He’s actually gotten a lot better with his inventions in this movie, they seem to work. I don’t know if you remember in First Class but he’d build stuff and it never worked most of the time. He builds a jet, which is really cool.”
Hoult says the Beast version of his character remains relatively the same as past incarnations in terms of the look and says he’ll spend about half the film as Beast and the other half in his human form.
“I haven’t really been tallying it up and obviously when they cut it all together who knows, but yeah it’s been around 50/50 I think. The last film it was more switching back and forth, this film just because of the pacing of the film and how it comes together it’s more Hank at the front and Beast towards the end of the film.”
Hoult says he’ll have a bond with Cyclops as well, having come up through the ranks with his brother, Havoc, acting in a mentor-like role to him and the other new X-Men.
“He kind of takes him under his wing a little bit. Hank does take on a more paternal role with all the youngsters—not as much as Professor X, because Professor X has got more of a connection with everyone because of his powers—but Hank is certainly kind of a figure in all of that as well. I’m taking care of all these youngsters, cause he’s been through it and fought in battles and kind of lived it.”
Played by James Marsden in the original X-MEN trilogy, Cyclops is now entering the series in his younger form, played by actor Tye Sheridan (MUD), who brings a slightly more rebellious edge to the character, who eventually becomes the straight-laced, no-nonsense leader of the X-MEN of the future.
“It’s just the younger version. I mean, everyone’s a different person when they’re younger. You evolve as a human being with knowledge and attitude and challenges and obstacles in life and so, I feel like the younger-it’s the younger version of Cyclops; why is he the way he is in the first two or three movies that he’s in? What made him that guy? What obstacles did he go through to get to that point? And that’s kind of what I get to explore in this.”
In terms of his relationship with Jean Grey (as played by Sophie Turner in this film) and their romantic development, Sheridan says, “Yeah, it’s developing, for sure, but it’s still, y’know, like I said earlier, you still want to leave some space for these characters to develop and…later on down the road…(laughs) Or just to kind of to mesh into who we know them as in the previous films.”
The film will also delve into the brotherly relationship between Cyclops and Havoc (played once again by Lucas Till), which will be the first time their blood relationship is addressed in the X-films and Sheridan says that he and Till were able to form that bond for the film, "...Me and Lucas have gotten on just like actual brothers and he’s actually got a younger brother in real life and he’s like, 'Dude, you remind me so much of my younger brother.' And there are a few really, really good scenes between Havoc and Cyclops in this one and I feel like I can definitely feel it while we’re shooting."
Sheridan goes on to explain that the elder X-Men mentoring the younger X-Men is symbolic of what the entire film is about, saying, “It’s pretty much about mentors and students. And, the older generation is kind of teaching the younger generation how to become them basically and all these things are explored throughout the movie, especially in the third act.”
First appearing as a tenacious CIA agent in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert is back for APOCALYPSE, still echoing the pro-mutant stance she developed, while digging deeper and deeper into their mystery in the new film. Byrne describes her character’s motivations, relationship with Professor X, and the character driven aspect of the X-franchise. To start, just what has Moira been up to for the last twenty years?
“Yeah, she’s been in a fog,” says Byrne. “Well, she’s been at the CIA, because they took her back even after her unceremonious ending in First Class, so yeah, it kind of unfolds a little bit in this one.”
With Moira back at the CIA, she says the government organization hasn’t changed much since FIRST CLASS, keeping her on edge and in the fight for mutantkind.
“I think they’re still essentially suspicious, except Moira is still such a champion of them and believes in the progressiveness of Charles and still holds that very, very true and so she’s, uh, sort of in the same position really she was in the first one in a way, that she’s battling against the bureaucracy of the CIA and their suspicions of the mutants, yeah.”
With the focus of Apocalypse’s power coming from his strength as a master manipulator and the idea of his Horsemen and overall plan for mutant domination being cult-like in its direction, Byrne elaborates on Singer and Kinberg’s ideas for that aspect of the film.
“Yeah, I mean that was always their intention with this one was to explore that world and the dark side of the X-Men and, yeah, cults developing around a sort of radical, sort of, fundamentalist kind of mutants, really, and what kind of destruction those schools of thought are indoctrinating people into, so definitely a thing they’re playing with, yeah.”
In terms of her relationship with Professor X (as played by James McAvoy), Byrne talked about working with McAvoy and coming back to the series to explore that relationship, as well as the impact of having everyone back for a third film.
“Yeah, James is an actor’s actor,” she says. “He’s one-hundred percent committed to performing whatever the situation is and he’s so compassionate and passionate actor, too, so it’s really always a pleasure to work with him. And it makes these fantastical worlds grounded, because he’s so in the moment. So, I love working with him, yeah. And it’s lovely to sort of have that-it’s like being a character in the novel and sort of get reunited again in another chapter, so it’s very-I’m very flattered they wanted to try and tie that up. And this is a big one, it’s the third one with Michael and James and Jen and these people that audiences have come to love and we’ll see if they return, but at the moment, y’know, it’s up in the air.”
With so many characters in motion for the X-franchise, Byrne commented on the feeling of depth, both in character and emotion, for the series overall.
“If you look at sort of all the…I’m not the most up-I don’t know all the Avengers series and Fantastic Four series, I mean there’s so many sort of great beloved series of action comic books come to life, uh, but I do feel like X-men has a lot more emotional side to it and it’s sort of metaphorically a little bit more powerful and packs a punch and character driven. Like I said, I don’t know the other ones as well as I should, but I agree, I think X-Men has a lot of heart.”
The last time we saw Nightcrawler was in 2003’s X2, where veteran actor Alan Cumming portrayed the famous blue-skinned teleporter. Now, Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler is back, this time as his younger self and played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (THE ROAD), who offers some insight as to where he drew his inspiration for the character, how he’ll appeal to fans, and what Kurt’s feelings are toward Apocalypse. So, what can fans expect from Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler?
“I believe we kind of get to see the side of Nightcrawler that we love so much in the comics,” says Smit-McPhee. “The more vulnerable, swashbuckling, joyous, random, personality that we love, but also so grounded in his faith at a young age as well, as we went with the choice to still have the designs. So, it’s a mix of ideas, but uh, something that I believe is pretty faithful to what the fans enjoy and, um, something that I can kind of relate to as well, so…”
Smit-McPhee also addresses where he got his inspiration for Nightcrawler and whether or not he drew from Cumming’s performance.
“…A lot of people would ask if we looked to their performance for any inspiration, but I think the beauty in it was being able to refer to the Marvel Universe itself and what fans love so much about the characters and being able to bring back the younger versions of them, I think it’s a great place to expand to and actually you’re going backwards, so that’s pretty cool.”
With such a massive threat on the horizon with Apocalypse, Smit-McPhee says that Nightcrawler starts in one place and end up at another, much like his teleportation skill, when facing the big bad and his own fears as a mutant and an X-Man.
“I’m sure Nightcrawler, he’s kind of scared of his own shadow at this point, so he’s probably pretty terrified. Through everything he does in this movie it’s kind of, as we say, the stepping-stones of becoming the brave hero he is.”
Another fan-favorite character, particularly from Chris Claremon’t ‘90’s run in the comics as well as the ‘90’s animated series, Jubilee is finally getting her fully-formed due from actress Lana Condor, who makes her big-screen debut with the character. Condor discusses Jubilee’s powers, her ‘80’s inspired wardrobe, and her relationship to the other X-Men, especially Jean Grey.
As far as Jubilee's powers go, they will look a little different than in the comics. Condor elaborates, saying,"…Her power in the comic books is fireworks. In this film, I can safely say that her power is more fire-plasmoid, electricity type." Jubilee, unlike the other newcomers to this story, has actually been a staple at the X-Mansion for a while when we meet up with her. "She is a student at the X-Mansion and she’s been here for about 10 years," says Condor.
"So she’s not new, unlike some of the other characters who have just arrived. She’s mostly with Scott, Jean, and Kodi. They’re like her good core friend group. And, I think in this film she serves as a timepiece, ‘cause you’ll never really forget that you’re, like, in the ‘80’s. Because if you’ve seen my costume, like I’m straight out of the ‘80’s, like, they literally took me out. And, she also serves as kind of comedic relief at times where things are-might be a little more tense and real S-H-I-T is going down."
Jubilee, much like her character in the comics, seems to be retaining her bubbly, tenacious energy, but also her strong attitude, which Condor seems to emulate.
“Like, she’s fun. She’s a really, really, really fun girl. I hope I’m fun, like a person, but Jubilee is very, very fun. She’s very much a student. Like, she knows her subjects and knows her stuff. So, for example if Professor X were to lecture us, like, I’d be the first one to be like, ‘yo, me, pick me, because I know.’ She gets along with everyone. I think maybe at first when Scott kinda came into the school, Jubilee was like, ‘He thinks he owns this place. I’ve been her for 10 years. This is my castle.’ But, now she’s like- he’s a great, great friend. She gets along with everyone. I wish I had maybe a little conflict!”
Condor goes on to say that her Jubilee is closest with Jean Grey than any of the other characters and that Grey’s powers are explored in great detail, which tend to frighten many of the other students.
“Yeah, she…I guess I’ll say she’s learning, just like all the rest of us, she’s learning how to control her powers. She’s incredibly powerful, but she has no clue. It’s almost kinda like alienating, I think, at least for her in school, when she’s at school with all of us, because she doesn’t know her strength, sometimes. And she can’t control it, I think, sometimes. She lets loose and it freaks people out and they kind of, I feel, she might feel she’s alienated. But, not by me! Because I’m a good friend and I’m like ‘Yeah, yup, still your friend!’”
We’ve seen two different actors portray William Stryker (Danny Huston in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and Brian Cox in X2), the infamous anti-mutant militant who spearheaded the Weapon X program in the films, before Josh Helman (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) took on the youngest incarnation in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Now, Helman returns to the role, which looks to delve much deeper into his origins, setting up his villainous future in subsequent films. Helman talked about Stryker’s feelings on Apocalypse, the “birth” of Stryker, and a hint at Wolverine. So, how does the younger Stryker feel about Apocalypse?
“Well, I don’t think Stryker has the full idea yet of what Apocalypse means,” says Helman. “I think that they’re playing in two kind of separate fields, at least at the beginning of this. So, I think it’s a question- Apocalypse is a presence that moves further and further into the ideal of what Stryker knows the mutant world to be. But, it keeps changing.
Helman also comments on how Stryker views mutants, which he’s commonly used as tools against themselves.
“I think depending on- Stryker is an incredibly capable and intelligent man. I think that he looks at the world in terms of what he can use to achieve what he needs to achieve. I think that while he certainly looks at mutantkind not the most generous or understanding of lights. He will- he’s a master manipulator in a way and I think that’s something that he probably had to deal with at a very young age and he will use whatever he has at his disposal to move forward with his own ideas.”
Singer has said that X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is the birth of the X-Men, so the question arose if this was also the birth of the Stryker we’ve come to know and hate/love in the other films.
“I think in a…yeah, in a way it is,” responds Helman. “The great thing about…I mean, everyone kind of loves an origin story no matter who the character is and I think that all of us are getting our own particular origin stories.”
In Days of Future Past when we see Stryker transfixed by Wolverine when he sees him. With a deep history already planted in the previous/future films, would we see Stryker on the hunt for a clawed mutant at some point in APOCALYPSE?
“Well, I don’t want to mislead you, but I don’t want to ruin anything. It’s not about that anymore, I think it’s a facet of the progression. And, I’ll leave it at that.”
On the overall impact of a villain like Apocalypse and a villain like Stryker both appearing in the same film, Helman gives his perspective on the dual baddies and how one certainly outweighs the other.
“It would be a very short movie if it’s Apocalypse and Stryker going head-to-head,” says Helman, laughing. “No, it’s a very good question and one that’s been thought about a lot. And, you’re right, it’s one of those situations that, again, Stryker is the sort of guy that picks his battles. He’s going to try to be the last rat left at the end of the fight.”
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE hits theaters on May 27th.
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