With director Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class opening this weekend, I recently attended a press conference in New York City with January Jones, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Zoë Kravitz, Lucas Till and Rose Byrne. While some press conferences are filled with awful questions and boring answers, the cast was in great spirits and I found the almost thirty minute conversation quite interesting. They talked about why they wanted to be in the film, how they prepared to play their characters, what it was like to go back to the 60’s, the costumes, what they first thought when they found out they’d been cast, their reaction to seeing the finished film for the first time, what have the fans been telling them, and so much more. You can either read the transcript or listen to the audio after the jump.
And if you missed my thoughts on X-Men: First Class, here’s part of my mini-review:
“If you were nervous the latest chapter in the X-Men franchise might disappoint, I’m happy to report it’s a huge home-run. Everything from the great script to the awesome performances by the entire cast (with special mention to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) makes this X-Men film my favorite in the franchise. Also, the film is loaded with incredible action and a ton of Easter Eggs for the fans. Even the sets and costumes are great. Trust me, as soon as the movie is over, you’re going to wish the next chapter was coming out next week.”
As usual, I’m offering the interview two ways: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. X-Men: First Class opens this weekend and it’s definitely recommended.
Question: To start off, Michael and James, can you talk about taking these roles that were created previously, what your preparation was, whether you talked to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, etcetera.
Michael 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. There’s so much material there, and I was spoiled in terms of biography and putting together a complicated, well-rounded character.
James McAvoy: I felt a lot of ways the same. 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.
Were there any particular scenes in the movie in terms of going back to the 60s that you really enjoyed, and if you could go back to the 60s what would you have wanted to do. And for anyone who’s a comic aficionado, are there any in particular that you’re a fan of?
McAvoy: You’re a fan of the comic books, aren’t you Lucas?
Lucas Till: I wasn’t listening to the question. (There’s a lot of laughter, chatter and repeating the question here) 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?
Were there any scenes specific to the 60s that you really enjoyed? You looked great in the white cap, January.
January Jones: Are you referring to the ere, the costumes? I enjoyed being a mutant. I never felt like I was in the 60s so much, and I think that’s something we were trying not to– you feel it in a stylized way but you weren’t overly conscious of it, at least the parts I was in. I had fun with the costumes and the sets and the vibe. I noticed it a lot in Zoe’s character, you incorporated it into your dialogue.
Zoe Kravitz: Like daddy-o. And you [gesturing to McAvoy] say groovy.
McAvoy: I say groovy twice. We did punch it in that scene.
Jones: That probably felt the most 60s.
Kevin Bacon: On the submarine, where there’s the little tiny black and white television you know. My pad is obviously going to be state of the art, and my sound system is like great vinyl–
Jones: And your lady.
Bacon: And my lady is state of the art. Until I trade her in for a younger model. [gestures to Kravitz] And my television is state of the art and it’s about this big [gestures about a foot]. I thought that was really fun. To me it was a big playground.
McAvoy: Cerebro,that things that’s always in the X-Men movies, it’s kind of like the Death Star of the X-Men. Our version of Cerebro, in this movie. In the other movie’s it’s very sleek and shiny, looks like you go to Ikea, this one it looks like it’s got lollipop sticking out of it. One of the good things about the film is the design is kind of kitsch. I don’t think we ever felt that we had to play it that much. it was all around us.
Bacon: Matthew, one of the things that he screamed at me from the monitor one day, that I was going a little too 60s. And it’s interesting, because you kind of go– what kind of direction is that? How do I handle that? in fact, he was right. And it made a lot of sense to me. I got it. I don’t know, like I said I was starting to play some kind of idea rather than just being there and living it.
Hopefully you won’t playing William Shatner while you were doing it.
McAvoy: You know what? It makes sense. Shatner, Shaw. Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen– the triumvirate!
There’s a gray area between good and bad throughout the movie. How does that gray area come to play with your characters, Kevin and Michael, to justify everything they do?
Fassbender: As an audience member and as an actor I much prefer to find ambiguity in that gray area. 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: I think it’s also important to remember– people ask what’s it like playing the villain, playing the bad guy. Most people, I don’t think that what I’m doing is bad. 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. Obviousl, 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 awe 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!
Who has the coolest mutant power?
McAvoy: Vomit acid? That’s pretty cool.
Fassbender: Caleb’s is pretty good, to represent him.
McAvoy: Caleb is like a rock star for humanity. We never really picked up on that did we.
Fassbender: Later to become a themed metal, spandex. Glam rock.
January, you were going to say something?
Jones: Yeah, I loved my character the best I think.
Rose Byrne: Oh, when I got the gig. I was nervous! It was so last minute, and it had all begun, but I was very excited to work with the cast.
Fassbender: Which member of the cast were you most excited to work with? If you had to choose..
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 I was “Who fell out?”
Fassbender: It was Brian Dennehy.
McAvoy: I think it was Bryan Brown!
Kravitz: I was fucking excited.
Till: I guess in a few words, “Holy shit!” Awesome. That was actually my reaction.
For Rose, while you were filming, did you ever suffer from power envy? Or was it a blessing in disguise that you didn’t have to go through the powers and special effects.
Byrne: At the time it was good, because I didn’t have to go to makeup. I would be like, “Oh, I had to come in at 6,” and Nicholas Hoult would be like, “I got here at 2 o’clock in the morning.” You win! I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m sure I’ll have mutant envy.
McAvoy: Your character does have the mutant power of immaculate hair at all times.
For both January and Zoe, in addition to mutant powers, you both kind of use your sexuality as a weapon.
Kravitz: No we don’t.
Misread, misread on the screening. So I’d love to know if it was the direction, if you did research on the character, if it’s something that comes naturally.
Jones: My sexuality comes easily to me. I thought for the character it’s a huge part of Emma Frost’s character. Maybe unlike some of the younger characters that are developing or honing their powers, I’ve had time to perfect that, so I use that to my advantage. I think Emma’s vanity plays a huge part of her powers, just her makeup. The way she looks is very important to her.
Kravitz: I did research on the Wonderbra.
Can you talk about why you think this particular franchise is so successful at the box office? How much was that a factor when you signed on to the film?
Jones: I think it’s the fans.
Fassbender: Yeah. I think the whole concept of the X-Men is a mature idea. As opposed to superhero comics in general, there is a sort of alter ego that makes up for the geek inside. I think that idea of alienation is a universal thing. Whether it be for religious beliefs, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. I think everybody experiences it somewhat on a smaller school when you are going to secondary school and you want to be accepted. So I think it obviously touches on a nerve that people can relate to.
This question is for January Jones. Congratulations on all of your success on Mad Men and on the news that you are going to be a first time mom. How has this experience been going for you?
Jones: I feel great. I haven’t had any weird physical side effects or anything. I feel pretty lucky.
Have you experienced any interesting or fun food cravings?
Jones: Everyone asks that, but I haven’t yet. It’s a bummer. I wish I had something weird to tell you, but I don’t.
Fassbender: Like Little Magneto or Magneto Jr. Little Xavier or Little Banshee.
McAvoy: or Riptide.
Fassbender: Riptide needs his nappy changed. [laughter]
McAvoy: Riptide just ripped a new one.
What kind of mom do you hope to be?
Jones: A good one.
It seems obvious from just being up here that you have a great rapport. Was that an instant connection or did you fall into that?
McAvoy: I fell into Michael on the first day. It just happened. We didn’t mean it. One thing lead to another.
Fassbender: Kevin and I exchanging helmets. We were rubbing helmets a lot and getting to know one another on a very intimate level.
McAvoy: That bond was broken and suddenly he is not calling me any more. He is doing Prometheus. Whatever, man. We shared something.
Bacon: Come over later and polish my helmet. [laughter]
McAvoy: I’ll spit polish it. The answer to that question is that we did get on very well, which is good. One of the things about the X-Men movies is that there is always 5,000 characters that you have to get to in 2 hours. It can be a real task. I think Matthew did a good job of telling everybody’s story well. Part of that is that there is a rapport among everyone and that connection and that chemistry somehow translates on screen as well.
Fassbender: And the support I think. That was the one thing. Everybody sort of came. It was tough. We were under pressure and there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare things. WE kind of did have to dive into things immediately. I have to say that I was really impressed by the younger cast who were coming into something that is so high profile. They are starting off with maybe not that many films under their belt, but they have a real sort of openness and a lack of an attitude or a security that can lead to bad behavior or what ever else. There was a superb talent at the base of it, but there was a real openness. I have to say that I was very impressed by that.
This is for Michael. There is a lot of James Bond stuff going on in this movie. Would you be interested in taking over Daniel Craig after his tenure with Bond is over?
Fassbender: I don’t know. I don’t like to plan anything ever because it never seems to work. I’m just really…let’s just get this film out and see how this one does. I’m sort of in the middle of doing another one. You know, Dan is doing a great job We will see what happens. I’m very flattered that people made that leap, but I don’t know. We will see.
This film left me in a very different place than the other 3 X-Men films. As the credits were rolling I thought to myself, “Well, Magneto really has a point there.”
Fassbender: Yeah. I agree with you, man. His 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.
McAvoy: I think the other things we realized in the other X-Men movies is that quite often the forces of humanity are lead by Machiavellian humans also. In this movie, I feel like the humans decide to take out all of the mutants because they are scared. It is a very human reaction, which makes them less of a bad guy, but it also makes you go, “Well, he is right because they aren’t even trying to be bad guys and they are still going to wipe us out.” They are just reacting. It makes it more real I think.
We’ve heard about the long extended shoot and how quickly everything came together. Sometimes when movies have these things happen, the final turn out is not a good film. This film is fantastic. Can you talk about your reactions after your first time seeing it?
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. [laughter]
Does anyone else have any thoughts on the first time they saw it?
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. I didn’t know the relationships between all of these guys and I didn’t see all of the sets that they were on. So a lot of this stuff I was seeing for the first time. 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.
Kravitz: It was fancier. Honestly, it wasn’t that different just because everyone was so cool. I feel like if I was here with a bunch of Hollywood assholes it would have been intimidating and an awful experience. If everyone is there to make a good film, everyone is down to earth, and everyone is there for the right reasons – the scale doesn’t really matter I think.
How popular are the X-Men comics in Europe and England where you guys grew up? Was it something that you knew as kids?
Fassbender: I didn’t. I certainly didn’t. Since getting the job and speaking with various people, they are everywhere. The waiter is like, “I’m a X-Men fan. You better not mess it up.” or whatever. That is what I was sort of saying earlier. 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.
McAvoy: I was aware of the cartoon. I don’t know if it was the same incarnation of the cartoon, but I was about 10-12 years old and my friend and I used to watch the cartoon all the time. So I was aware of that, but never of the comics. Comics weren’t really a big deal where I grew up.
Are you guys signed up to come back again now that people seem to love this movie?
Fassbender: They never want to pass up a chance to make money. So if we make money on this one, I’m sure we will be back next summer! [laughter]
Bacon: I’m signed up, but if you’ve seen the movie it doesn’t look good to me. [laughter]
Fassbender: I remember the one thing that I saw on a blog was that one of the fans said that the poster looked like a Sear’s catalog, which I thought was pretty funny. [laughter]
Bacon: I will tell you that 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.