X-MEN - Q&A with PATRICK STEWART, HUGH JACKMAN AND IAN McKELLEN
Movie Interviews by Toby White
Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto), a long-haired Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and, joining us half-way through, Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier)
Sir Ian, you say you liked the character you portrayed because of the complexity of him, can you elaborate on that to start us of?
IAN McKELLEN: I worked with Brian Singer on Apt Pupil and his next project was X-MEN. He asked me to be involved and I said that I didn't know anything about the comics and he explained them to me. But he explained the story in terms of the argument that goes on between Professor Xavier and Magneto over whether, as a mutant, you integrate into society or, in Magneto's view, you take society on and say "No, I'm not going to integrate, I'm superior and we are the future." Well, that's an argument that goes on in any civil rights movement and I've heard it in the gay rights movement. It was on those grounds that I was persuaded to...
HUGH JACKMAN: Put on a skintight suit?
IAN McKELLEN: I was disappointed that I wasn't allowed to look like Magneto in the comics because, of course, it's very alluring that outfit. But I have a secret; underneath the suit he's actually wearing lycra. [Laughter] It's just you don't get to see it. I tried to persuade Brian to show Magneto off duty, getting into shape and I also wanted to have the sex scene that Hugh has with Mystique because wouldn't it be fun to start with Magneto in bed with Wolverine [laughter] and then Alan Cumming and then in bed with Brian Cox and it turns out to be Rebecca Romijn-Stamos... that's a trick that maybe we can use in another.
HUGH JACKMAN: I'll do the real story that Ian was a little upset that all the X-Men in black costumes had an updated costume for X-MEN 2, including an enhanced cup made up of sixteen pairs of socks [laughter] and potentially our new mutant power was down there and Ian was getting very jealous.
IAN McKELLEN: I mean can you imagine what it's like for a gay man being with this one [indicates Hugh Jackman] and Jimmy Marsden, two of the most glamorous men on the screen, and I only get to stand next to naked women and Halle Berry and all that I don't even turn a hair [laughter].
Hugh, can you tell everyone why you've suddenly got long locks?
HUGH JACKMAN: It's a little fantasy of my wife's [laughter]. It's not far from the truth, actually. She's an actress and she did a television series called FALCON CREST back in the 80s, and there was an actor in that called Lorenzo Lamas and she had a small crush on Lorenzo and the moment I had extensions put in for this film VAN HELSING, she was like, "Lorenzo, come to bed!" [laughter] And that's okay, I'll be called Lorenzo from time to time. But it's for this film, VAN HELSING, set in the 1890s, loosely based on Bram Stoker's Van Helsing character from DRACULA who hunts a variety of monsters.
There's a scene in the film when you're in the altogether that emitted a few gasps from the female members of the audience. I imagine it wasn't an entirely pleasant scene to do...
HUGH JACKMAN: Yeah, it was kind of intense. On page it was one eighth of a page, which we ended up shooting for about a day. The bit in tunnel, which you're referring to, when I'm naked is one small part of it [Sir Ian laughs]. Yeah, where's the CGI budget when you really need it! [Laughter] But anyway, I came out in a G-string and flip-flops and I jokingly yelled to Lee, the Assistant Director, "Lee, this is a disgrace I want a closed set!" and he said, "I'm very sorry, Mr Jackman, when we're ready to go everyone will be gone", so we got to the end of first take and I ran through the tunnel and as I ran round the corner Lee had gathered about 30 women from the set, including Jimmy Marsden's mum, all waving five dollar notes in their hands [laughter]. Imagine the dilemma of having claws and trying to cover myself... [Laughter]
PATRICK STEWART [entering from the back of the room]: You'd take your clothes off at the drop of a hat!
COMPERE: Ladies and gentlemen, we're now joined by Patrick Stewart.
Patrick, you refer to this film being " a giant leap forward", can you elaborate?
PATRICK STEWART: I think what I must have meant was that it was a leap forward from the first film which I always thought was a very expensive extended trailer which simply introduces the world of the X-Men, their powers, the conflicts - I know because I had a lot of the exposition to say in the film - and what is such a triumph about this film is that it sweeps into the story and we don't have a lot of complicated background work.
A question for Sir Ian and Patrick, how did you find the move from doing classical roles into a movie like this?
IAN McKELLEN: I don't feel there is any difference. It's a job and the only rule I make about it is whether the script is any good. On stage I've done a whole variety of things, I don't think of myself as a classical actor, I try and be protean. It doesn't seem odd to me that I should be in a movie based on a comic, if the script is good and the intention of the script is good then I'm there.
PATRICK STEWART: I endorse everything that Sir Ian has said. I think the two of us were fortunate when we started that we played a multitude of roles. When I was nineteen I played a role created by a man called Ernest Thessinger who was 86 when he played the part and so I made myself up to look 86...and the next week I was playing a juvenile. So your question presumes something that has never been an issue for us.
Was there a degree of reverence from the youngsters in the cast and, Hugh, I'll include you in the youngsters if I may?
HUGH JACKMAN: Thank you. Well, when I started, there were five seminal things I saw. One was called 'The Master Builder', which is a play that Patrick is about to do, which I was mesmerised by. This is all when I was acting as a hobby. Another one was a series of tapes by John Barton about playing Shakespeare and I remember Patrick Stewart's version of 'The Merchant of Venice' and there was a video by this man [indicates Sir Ian] and Judi Dench doing the Scottish play which was the most mesmerising thing I'd ever seen...Michael Gambon in THE SINGING DETECTIVE. They're the things that crystalised for me why I wanted to become an actor and I always had a dream to be in the National Theatre than to go to Hollywood and I was probably more nervous of working with these guys than I was of the Hollywood machine.
IAN McKELLEN: Just to return the compliment, when I first saw Hugh in OKLAHOMA! I thought he was a song and dance man at the National Theatre. Then he turned out to be a proper actor! [Laughter] You're impressed with everybody, I am when you get a cast like this. The thing is you're all allowed to get on and be equals. I'm always very flattered if I'm allowed to hang out with the youngsters.
Comics have a reputation for being geeky, do you think the X-Men have de-geekified comics?
PATRICK STEWART: Well, the popular notion of comic books is the likes of Superman or X-Men but there are, of course, some very serious, very literary comics and the fact is that although we have futuristic characters in a fantasy setting, the fundamentals of X-Men are extremely serious. They're dealing with social and cultural and political issues that are burning today. Issues of tolerance, fear of the unknown, the status of the outsider, things that are echoed in every scene we play in this movie.
IAN McKELLEN: I think it's not as pure as a translation of a comic into a movie because, of course, there was an animated TV show so what Hollywood is doing is not making movies from comics but from the TV versions of the comics.
HUGH JACKMAN: I'd never read comics as a kid and when I was slipped the comics under the door of my trailer - because Brian didn't want us to read them, he was frightened we'd turn up with these two-dimensional characters - I was amazed at how helpful the images were. They were so economical how they could capture an emotional or action sequence in, say, three images. I have to say I used them as inspiration for some of the fighting stances of Wolverine. I have a lot of respect for the art.