Last year, when Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was filming in Montreal, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. For those not familiar with the story, the movie finds Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) having his consciousness sent back to 1973 in order to help Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and the rest of the X-Men: First Class crew stop the rise of the Sentinels, giant robots programmed to exterminate mutants. The film also takes place in the future, so we’re going to see the original X-Men cast and what will happen if Wolverine fails. Trust me, Days of Future Past is a very cool storyline, and a perfect way to have the old and new cast in one film.
During a break in filming, I was able to participate in a group interview with Nicholas Hoult. As someone that loved his portrayal of Hank McCoy/Beast in X-Men: First Class, it was great to be able to ask him a few questions about the sequel. During the interview he talked about Beast’s new makeup, his character’s relationship with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the amazing cast, filming some of the action scenes (including taking a hit to the crotch from McAvoy), working with Bryan Singer, whether the script changed on set, and so much more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
NICHOLAS HOULT: Yes. Yeah, in fact-
There’s a poster for it down the hall.
HOULT: Yeah, but I literally just walking over here now a lot of the crew are working on a TV show here now at the moment. So I just bumped into to a lot of of them, which is nice. We had a lot of fun shooting that film and I really like Montreal as a city. It’s good to shoot in so it’s good to be back.
So how much time are you spending in full, serious makeup this time out?
HOULT: In full Beast? What’s happened up to this point is between the time of the last movie and this movie my character has created a serum which basically controls his mutation so his appearance is normal as long as he doesn’t get worked up. Any animal instinct or urges, that kind of brings him out. So yeah, he changes into Beast a few times throughout the story and they’ve done some great action sequences with him this time, particularly in the mansion flying around on these chandeliers and stuff, so there’s some good stuff.
How much of that do you get to do?
HOULT: You know what normally I try and do a fair bit myself, but my stunt double Alex is a phenomenal gymnast and can do things that I wouldn’t even be able to dream of.
Has the design of Beast changed at all from the last movie to this one?
HOULT: Yeah, it has changed. It’s become slightly smaller makeup, there’s a bit more of my face underneath it. So yeah, it’s a different design and slightly cooler than the last one as well in terms of heat.
With the success of X-Men: First Class I think everyone assumed there was going to be a sequel, but when did you first hear that there was going to be another movie and that it was going to be this story?
HOULT: There were kind of rumors about it through the end of last year. I think they’d been working on the script for a while, but it’s always one of those things, you’re never quite sure, and then we were starting to finish up filming Mad Max and it all started to roll together. We stayed mates with quite a few of the cast, so we started to hear from them snippets of what might be happening. I didn’t read the script, it was kept really top secret, until like maybe a month before we started shooting. But I had already spoken to Bryan, because we were obviously doing press for Jack the Giant Slayer at the same time, so I had managed to get little bits of information from him about the time displacement and things in this story.
Is there a particular scene that you were most excited about shooting?
HOULT: You know what, my first couple of days on set- when we did First Class it was pretty much a completely new cast and story and a whole new set up, but when I was 11 I remember seeing the first X-Men movie, and I grew up with them, so the chance to be in one with the old cast and have some scenes with Hugh playing Wolverine. I remember the first day of shooting with him, I remember walking along and looking across at him and being like, “That’s Wolverine”-who we’ve now nicknamed “Wolfie”. That’s the strangest thing, doing a scene and then going to have a pee and he pulls up at your arm and you’re like, “Wolverine, cool.” So that was a big thing for me just because it suddenly felt very real like a proper X-Men movie in a way.
As a fan, the fact that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are in the movie- I don’t know if you have scenes with them, I’m going to take a stab that you might not. Even if you didn’t have a scene with them, were those the kind of people that you want to come to set just to watch them work?
HOULT: Yeah, obviously I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve seen both those guys on stage in London a couple of times, and to see the relationship that they’ve developed throughout these films and and throughout just their life and working together so much is just amazing to watch. I think there’s also something really cool between McAvoy and Fassbender. You can kind of see their relationship going and they mirror the same kind of thing really well. Watching anyone in this film- it’s one of the best casts you could ever really put together, I think, from my opinion, so to watch any scenes and see how they work, and I get some nice stuff with Hugh and James so just to watch those guys work together and develop stuff is just a treat and I’m hopefully learning a lot from it.
Can you talk about the differences in approach as far as working with Bryan as a director on this and going back to the same character under a different director? Has his influence changed your approach to Beast at all?
HOULT: It’s interesting because when we were first getting cast in X-Men obviously Bryan was a producer on that movie, so slightly influential in that, and he kind of enjoyed what I did with the character last time. And obviously we already had a good working relationship from doing Jack together so we kind of have a short hand and I understand kind of what he’s trying to get at. Sometimes it not always necessarily worded exactly as you would imagine, but then you kind of get into a rhythm so it’s a very relaxed working environment. That was the great thing about this film starting off, because most of the cast all knew each other and had already worked with Bryan it felt like going back to school in a lot of ways. And once you’ve already played the character once and kind of got an understanding of them that makes it quite easy. The thing with Bryan is he’s always trying to make these films feel as real as possible and give them an emotional kind of tie in for all the characters. So that’s something we’ve been working on, just making all these relationships feel real, particularly between me and Jen who have in theory been living in this mansion together kind of looking after each other for some time.
This is based off a very famous comic, when you found out that it was going to be this story did you get the comics?
HOULT: Yeah, I read the comics and it’s also one of these things where whenever you get these scripts they obviously take from the comics but then change and alter them. So you can learn things, and that was something with the first film as well, reading the comics that we’re loosely based around, but other comics as well just as a kind of back story for the character and the language he uses and just little things like that. It just gives you a sense of him and its a great thing to have so much material to get hold of to use. [Background noise stops] Ah, it’s quiet.
HOULT: We’re having some work done in the east wing [laughs].
In the last movie your character and Mystique had a romantic subplot, does that continue in this film? Can you talk about that?
HOULT: Can I talk about that? Can I talk about the Beast and Mystique romantic relationship?
PR PERSON: Yeah.
HOULT: Uh, Yeah [Laughs].
PR PERSON: The onscreen one.
HOULT: Yeah the onscreen one. No there’s kind of a- I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but obviously from the last film as well there’s a set up where Mystique, Raven- Charles has a very close relationship with her and then at the end of the last film she obviously head with Erik, Magneto and kind of believes more in his method of what mutants should be in the world. So there’s those two relationships and Hank’s relationship with her, which is maybe the most pure and simple, but there’s also the thing whereby he’s not happy and comfortable in his blue form where she’s becoming more at peace with hers and understanding. She’s kind of maturing a lot quicker than him.
You talked before about the look of the makeup being cool, and obviously you have the First Class experiences, you’ve now been through Warm Bodies as well, are you more used to just being in makeup and acting through it and just dealing with it or do you just hate it?
HOULT: It depends. It can be tough, it can be time- I did another quite big makeup job on Mad Max as well, so it’s one of those things where I seem to be doing a lot of it. And it’s fun to be able to transform that much and it gives you a lot off…you know you can play around with it a lot more and push the character in very different ways., but it is something whereby it’s kind of trial and error. We’d be doing some scenes and then Bryan would be like, “Try and use the makeup more. Try and express.” And you have to do things that feel silly as well. You have to growl and jump around and do things which if you weren’t wearing the makeup would be completely ridiculous, but in the makeup luckily I think it’s slightly more intimidating. And I’ve got a muscle suit on so it’s maybe not as funny as me growling and roaring and stuff. But yeah, there’s definitely a real playing element to it.
If I’m not mistaken you’re one of the main five people that are working throughout almost the whole shoot. What has it been like sort of watching certain people come in and out? Like Halle Berry being here for seven days or certain other people being here for a few days.
HOULT: I never met Halle on the shoot. A lot of the future part of the story was taken care of before we arrived, but that’s always a great thing- Evan Peters coming in, and these great little characters just coming in and kind of lifting the story up and just having fun with them basically.
You mentioned earlier the cast is crazy when you think about it. What was it like for you when you found out? The initial reaction of “Oh by the way, we’re going to have fourteen people,” or whatever it is, “and some academy award winners, and everybody’s back.”
HOULT: It was obviously exciting…[laughs]. It was one of those things where I was thrilled that James and Michael and Jen and us lot were coming back, and Lucas Till, and to see all those guys from the original film, but then you just get the chance to- yeah, like I said earlier with the original cast. And some of the new additions as well, like Omar Sy, are people that I’m big fans of and do some phenomenal work. I think it’s exciting and it’s a very international cast. It’s people from all over the world and playing very strange, odd characters. It’s good, it’s good.
I know you said you were excited about Hugh Jackman, other than that was there anybody else that you were excited about in particular?
HOULT: Really psyched about getting to act with?
Yeah, or just getting to meet.
HOULT: Yeah, that was the great thing, because as I said a lot of the time the future and the past cast weren’t actually around at the same time, so when we went to Comic-Con and did that surprise panel that was the first time and probably one of the only few times that we’ll all actually be together, so to be there and be part of that- that was an odd thing, to kind of of walk out on the stage and to hear all the fans, how much it…Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, what a dude [laughs]; very funny guy and brilliant in this film. And also Josh Helman as well, who is in Mad Max with me as well. Great to see him in the film. Yeah, the whole cast is cool.
HOULT: On First Class the script was really strong right from the beginning and the action sequences changed a fair bit, but overall it stayed pretty true to what was there on the page. Bryan has a much more malleable way of working whereby if we turn up and scene’s not quite clicking or working and not progressing the story how he wants then he kind of believes in making a movie three times, Bryan, whereby you get the script and that’s one film, and there’s the film that you end up shooting on the day, whatever people might change or add or whatever happens there, and the film that comes out in the edit, and it all varies a fair bit, hopefully keeping the main structure but improving along the way. So you have to keep on your toes a little bit and be aware of what’s going on and try and understand time displacement.
Is there a lot of improv? Or is it Simon on the side writing new dialogue?
HOULT: There can be both, which is something that was actually new on this film that I hadn’t really experienced, particularly before on Jack the Giant Slayer with Bryan, was in this he has really been letting Hugh and James and people just go off and improvise and just leaving the cameras rolling and just seeing what comes out of it. Then once they get a new idea from that or find something new to use they’ll maybe take that back to Simon on narrow it down and finesse it and maybe restart again. It’s a great way of working the scenes to work.
Is that the benefit of having everybody playing these characters that they’re familiar with over the course of doing a few movies? Everybody knows their basic character well enough that that sort of improv can happen?
HOULT: Yeah, exactly everyone kind of knows where they stand in their relationship s with each other so there’s more of an understanding and I think everybody just feels more relaxed and free to have fun with it. It’s been a very relaxed shoot and everyone’s got a good sense of humor and there hasn’t been any real pressure and tension, which is nice. Not for me anyway.
Bryan’s been using Twitter a lot to release first images of a lot of different people, speaking of you, the first image of you I think was through Bryan’s Twitter. Talk a little bit about, was he talking to you like, “I’m going to release the first image on Twitter”? Or was it sort of like you were just as surprised as everyone when you got out there?
HOULT: No, this is something which I think is very clever and good that Bryan’s doing, which is that the fans of his and the fans on Twitter are the people that kind of rather than some random shot taken from a building five miles away in between the makeup trailer and the set or wherever, it’s good to kind of release official images that we’re happy with and give little sneak peaks behind the scenes. But yeah, he’ll check with us first. He’ll be like, “Hey, I’m going to release this. Is that cool?” And you’ll look at it and be like, “Yeah, cool. Carry on.” [Laughs]
You’ve been successful recently with a string of genre oriented roles and kind of fantastic characters and fantastic films, is that something you would like to continue?
HOULT: Yeah, it’s definitely a realm that I enjoy playing around with and hopefully the thing that I’ve been fortunate with is to play very different characters in those. Obviously I kind of want to keep doing more realistic drama kind of smaller films as well. I did one at the begining of the year with Jake Paltrow directing with Michael Shannon and Elle Fanning, which is smaller more family drama sort of film and then going on to do Dark Places in a couple weeks based on the Gillian Flynn novel with Charlize Theron who was in Mad Max as well, so that will be nice to go back. I’m kind of getting a little network of actors that I have worked with and keep working with, which is cool.
This is a question for I think all of us in the room, when the eff are we going to see some Mad Max stuff?
HOULT: Oh dude.
Seriously we’re all waiting and we’re dying to see something.
HOULT: Mate, honestly I can’t wait to see it either. The stuff that I saw on set was phenomenal, it really was, it blew my mind. They’re still working on it. It will be out next year, but I’m starting to hear whispers of people who have seen rough bits and bobs and they’re very excited about it. I think it’s going to be something pretty exciting. George Miller is a genius so-
Yeah, I mean we’re all just waiting. Seriously, just please show us.
HOULT: No, me too. I’m completely on board with that. That’s starting to drive me mad now, I feel like we finished ages ago. I mean, we only finished shooing in December and there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of how much footage they’ve got and the amount they’re trying to pack into the film.
Is there anything else that you can tell us about Days of Future past that you think you’re clear to reveal?
HOULT: Days of Future Past…um…James hit me in my pelvic region during a scene one day.
HOULT: Intentionally, yeah, well I don’t think he was aiming there, but we were shooting a scene whereby we were meant to be flinching and things were blowing up above us and all this, and the camera panned to me, it was the first time the camera had been on me all day and I was like, “Yes. Acting. Here I go.” I was into it. I was there, acting, and then I suddenly just feel (thwump) and doubled over in agony. I was like, “Wow!” It was a proper punch. He was like, “Oh I was just trying to give you something to act with. I thought I’d hit you in the leg and you’d flinch and it would look really good on screen, but I missed.” So that was a nice moment.
Are we going to see that?
HOULT: [Laughs] Yeah, well you’ll see it in the edit when you see me go [gasps]. In terms of story…
PR PERSON: Well the fight scene with Michael outside the Paris hotel.
HOULT: Oh yeah, I’m allowed to say that, yeah. No it was great and it was also in a fountain so it kept me cooler for the day, which is a big bonus. I think there’s always been a bit of tension between Erik and Hank because of the relationship they both have with Mystique obviously, and also just because Hank is very much in alliance with Charles so he doesn’t believe in Erik’s ways. But yeah that was fun for us to have a little play in the fountain together.
How did that work with the makeup though?
HOULT: [Laughs] The makeup guys just tried to look after me as best as possible basically. They had fur falling off and sticking it back on. There’s been fur ending up in lots of amusing places on this film, eaten quite a lot and stuff. So yeah, that’s just a maintenance thing that once we get going on scenes like that, because I sweat a lot as well, so it’s coming off all over the place and they do a great job of keeping it ready for the film.
With a sequence like that, was that a one day fight sequence? Or was that over multiple days?
HOULT: Oh no, that was over a few days, yeah.
So was that one of those things where you have 40 moves you have to learn?
HOULT: No it wasn’t forty moves it’s one of the smaller action sequences so there wasn’t a whole lot of choreography, but there were a few rigs of things and getting bashed around a lot.
What’s the style of fighting that Beast employs? Is it more animal?
HOULT: Yeah, it’s animal and athletic and gymnastic and fast and agile basically, but very strong and throws people around a fair bit. Obviously, it’s a seventies film and I would have loved to have more Kung Fu in it. That’s something that Mike has been a big advocate of as well, getting some Kung Fu scenes in.
One of the other things about your character is that he clearly invents things, he’s very smart.
HOULT: Oh yeah, if there’s a problem in a scene I just invent a serum for it [laughs].
Exactly, are there new inventions that he comes up with in the seventies? What are you allowed to talk about?
HOULT: There’s the main one is a serum that controls- am I allowed to talk about what that serum does?
PR PERSON: No, these are questions for Bryan. He’ll decide.
HOULT: It’s a great serum [laughs]. What else have I invented? Cerebro I did in the last one, that was good.
The danger room, maybe?
HOULT: (hesitates) I would love to though, that would be great. I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about my inventions.
Are you allowed to talk about your scenes with Peter Dinklage?
HOULT: With Dinklage, he’s another inventor and comes up with the Setninel program and everything, which I think I was slightly in awe of when I saw those Sentinels. I was like, “Oh, blimey, I should have invented those.” Not to do what they do obviously, but it was impressive, just the design. Well done. There’s a scene with him that’s kind of later on in the movie, kind of the big final third. Yeah…I’m just going to stop talking.
We saw pictures of the Sentinel and I have to say at least for me I was just blown away by the design and it’s the Legacy Effects, the guys who did the Iron Man stuff. What was your initial reaction when you first saw it up close.
HOULT: I thought it was amazing- and that was the brilliant thing, I think it was in the studio just over here and Bryan was like, “Hey, come check this out.” And the size of it was something quite remarkable, but then just seeing all of the little details, the eyes, and the weapons they’ve got and everything. They’re really- yeah, the scenes with those are going to be pretty epic. My favorite moment was we had a big scene where they were unveiling the Sentinels and one person in the crowd James and heard, just as they were unveiled look at and go, “It’s not as impressive as Optimus Prime.” And that was it. We pissed ourselves laughing. We’re like, “Okay, alright.” I think they’re a sleek design and they’re really brilliant.
[Laughs] It’s never good enough for the commenters.
HOULT: You know what I mean? There’s always going to be someone on a message board somewhere. It was just great, the timing was, “Eh, it’s no Optimus Prime.” But I think they’re great. The Legacy boys on this, with my makeup and with Jen’s makeup and the Sentinels, have done really fantastic work.
X-Men: First Class is a tremendously well made film, obviously you guys must have heard it from everybody from critics and audiences so well received. As an actor was that a little more daunting to come back for this movie knowing like, “Shit we made a really good movie. We’ve got to raise the bar on this one”?
HOULT: I think there is an element of that where that film had a great sense of humor, and the era and the history to it, and every character had a great arc throughout it. So it was a really made film and Matthew Vaughn did a great job of bringing it all together. So there definitely- there’s that thing whereby you want live up to people’s expectations. I think with that film people weren’t really sure what to expect, but now obviously there is more expectation behind it. You kind of can’t worry about that too much. That was something at Comic-Con I suddenly realized the enormity of it all. You see how much it means to the fans and you’re suddenly like- oof, pressure. And then it’s like you can’t be on set panicking about that and thinking about that, otherwise it would just completely mess with your head. So you just kind of get here and focus on your character and the story and try to do your best on the day of.
I heard rumors, and it’s probably not true, that there was talk about doing a Warm Bodies sequel. Is there truth to that or is that not at all?
HOULT: I haven’t been approached about anything with it. I think there is potentially- Issac Marion the writer of the book has thought about writing some sort of sequel or prequel or something. We’re waiting to see. I don’t think there’s any plans for it at the moment.
For more X-Men: Days of Future Past set visit coverage, here’s a list of links:
- Producer Lauren Shuler Donner Talks the Darker Tone, Casting, the X-MEN Franchise, DEADPOOL, Sequels, and More on Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- 90 Things to Know about Bryan Singer’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST from Our Set Visit
- Hugh Jackman Talks Reuniting with Bryan Singer, Battling Sentinels, How Long He’ll Play Wolverine, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- James McAvoy Talks Hanging Out with the Cast, His Scene with Patrick Stewart, Professor X’s Hair, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- 5 New Images From X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Feature Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman and More
- Director Bryan Singer Talks Bringing Back the Original Cast, Sentinels, Shooting in 3D, Time Travel Mechanics, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- Writer/Producer Simon Kinberg Talks the Evolution of the Script, Time Travel, the X-MEN Franchise, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- 20 New Images from X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Featuring Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Director Bryan Singer