Only Human

By Chris Monfette

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Movie PictureThe shoes of a mutant are large, indeed, and terribly difficult to fill. So for many, it was a surprise when the X-Men finally flickered to cinematic life, battling their way across the silver screen, each mastering their powers in the interest of making what turned out to be a rather impressive debut.

And now, nearly four years later, the team has reassembled, gathering once again to tackle the film’s larger and more-complex sequel. Thankfully, Lights Out was there to celebrate this reunion by sitting down with two of the film’s more intriguing mutants, Professor Charles Xavier and the ever-morphing Mystique (played, respectively, by Patrick Stewart and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

“I always felt that we were shooting a rather expensive trailer,” says Stewart of the first film. “There’s nothing like success to make you feel good, and X-Men was a huge hit.”

Buried beneath a steadily shrinking budget and watched, always, by the great, ticking clock, director Bryan Singer and his cast of mutant hopefuls worked tirelessly to lay the foundation of what they hoped would be a faithful and entertaining adaptation. And without a doubt, their effort paid off, as X-Men went on to become the first in a steady stream of successful comic book films, combining action and story with artful direction, and earning itself the respect of both fans and critics alike. A sequel, of course, was well on the way.

Movie Picture“With the second one,” says Stewart, “because we don’t have to spend so much time saying, ‘This is what I am; this is what I do; this is the background; this is the conflict,’ we were up and running immediately…We arrived on set with a very clear agenda.”

And with Singer once again returning to the world of mutantkind, there was no question that X-2 was going to be as rich in action as it would be in character.

“Bryan is such a meticulous filmmaker,” praises Stamos. “The acting is hugely important to him. He’ll come in with one statement and just change the direction of a scene…He focuses on the little moments, and those, I think, are what make the movie great.”

“And [his] enthusiasm is just so infectious, and so charming,” adds Stewart. “He’d bring people in off the streets! Poor John Ottman, his editor. He’d be there working under huge pressure and Bryan would turn up with people he didn’t even know, who had just arrived on set, guests of other guests…That kind of enthusiasm is like gold dust.”

An enthusiasm, no doubt, which translated to the set itself, as Stewart describes one of a few comical moments that punctuated filming. “Yes, we had our jolly times…There’s a scene early on in the movie, when Xavier has gone into Cerebro, where Wolverine comes up behind him. So we have this dialogue, and there’s Hugh’s voice, and finally the moment comes when I turn around and it was not Hugh Jackman. At all. It was James Marsden, who was done up in a really terrible kind of Wolverine wig, with panty hose and a suspender belt. And they were all very dismayed because I continued playing the scene as if it was absolutely for real. I was not going to be broken up by anyone.”

Stewart smiles at the thought. “You have to relieve the pressure of shooting a 150 million dollar movie somehow.”

But for all of the fun had on set, the reality of moviemaking was never far behind, as each actor was forced to ponder a wide range of considerations, from the broader concepts of the film at hand to the minor eccentricities of character.

Movie PictureMystique especially, says Stamos, as the popular character from the first film is featured far more heavily in the sequel. “She has a lot more dimension this time around. She’s more misunderstood, and I think that you have a lot more sympathy for her.”

Of course, sympathy abounds, both on and off screen, as the actress had to endure five hours of make-up each day to achieve the blue-scaled look of her serpentine character. “And to break down the paint, they would use this chemical, and you couldn’t leave it on or it would start burning your skin. We would have to run to the shower trailer, which they set up for me and Alan Cumming [the film’s other blue-skinned mutant]…and, of course, it didn’t work half the time.”

“But it was great having Alan around,” adds Stamos, “because we had our little blue support group. We were like a bitter, blue married couple.”

For Stewart, however, the difficulty was quite different, as the wheelchair-bound Xavier posed a more logistical problem. “

“There is a difficultly, clearly, with Xavier,” says Stewart. “As a powerful mutant in an action story, he is literally handicapped. What he can do, he does with his mind, and so you’ve got to get him physically to the places where he can do this.” Which spawns a story involving one of the film’s final sequences, where Xavier, sans wheelchair, must be moved from one location to another, with no solution provided for in the script.

“I had been asking the question for 18 months…and we were on the set about to shoot the scene when we finally said, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ So we settled for Halle Barry and Alan Cumming simply carrying me…A very high-tech way of doing it,” jokes Stewart.

And should there be an X-Men 3, what would Stewart envision for Xavier?

Movie Picture“I would like to be more active in the central narrative. I would like not to be disabled for huge portions of the movie, as I have been in the first two…And more opportunity to use those extraordinary powers that Xavier has.”

Of course, with the sequel having turned out as wonderfully as it did, there is very little doubt that a third chapter in the X-Men saga is soon to be on the way, but with future Spiderman, Superman and Hulk films in the pipeline, what is it about X-Men that stands out so effectively?

“ What I think sets X-Men apart,” offers Stewart, “is that although we’re fully inhabiting the fantasy world of comic book superheroes, there is a significant foundation of a very, serious subject matter…It’s not just stuck on, like saving the world. It’s about tolerance, about living together, about accepting those who are different. And what it comes down to is deciding to fight for the moral values that you believe you have a right to assert.”

And from the thrill in his force, Stewart is undoubtedly ready to once again step into the mind of Charles Xavier, and once again fall under the spell of Singer’s much-praised enthusiasm, and of that thrill Stewart has only this to say:

“I think that, when the time comes, that any person can fail to get excited about something that was once important to them, it’s time to just stay in bed and never get out.”

Read our reviews of X-2! CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

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