Exclusive Interview: James McAvoy Talks ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’
Following the huge success of X-Men: Days Of Future Past in 2014, the mutant heroes are back to face their biggest threat yet. In X-Men: Apocalypse, an ancient, incredibly powerful mutant once worshipped as a god awakens in 1983. Disgusted with what he sees of the current world, he decides our civilisation must be torn down before a new one can be built. This doesn’t exactly make life easier for Professor Charles Xavier, who has finally got his school for gifted youngsters up and running and is trying to teach the next generation of mutants how to live in peace with the rest of humanity. James McAvoy, the man behind the prof, sat down with BLUNT to chat about the X-men family dynamic, off-duty fun and accepting the passing of the “baldy torch”.
You’re back for a stint as Professor Charles Xavier. Where do we find your character’s headspace this time around?
He’s quite chilled out, really, at least at the beginning of the film. He’s got himself sorted out, but he isn’t yet the leader that he’ll become. He’s just a teacher, and that’s how he sees the rest of his life; just being an educator. He’s not concerned about the rest of the world, he’s just trying to change it one kid at a time, really. I suppose the arc for his particular character – within the many arcs of the film – is how he goes from that into being a leader of what is essentially a paramilitary organisation with an army of super humans in a basement! And somebody who is willing to fight, and potentially kill, by the end of the movie. He literally gets drawn into the mind of Apocalypse [Oscar Isaac] and all the darkness that is hidden in there. But Charles’ power goes beyond his telepathic ability. I think his power is that he has huge empathy for others and he uses that power to find hope. He can still do that amongst all the darkness, find the goodness and the heart in others, and that’s reason enough to carry on.
How did director Bryan Singer pitch this one to you?
What Bryan and Simon Kinberg spoke to us about initially was that it’s about family, really. It’s a big old crash bang wallop, and it’s a big superhero movie with potential armageddon (or apocalypse), but for us, it’s about a disparate and unconventional family having to put aside their differences and come together for the greater good of not just the world, but themselves as well. That’s the thing I like about X-Men: you’re doing these characters who’ve been living and working – some of them having sex – loving and hating each other, trying to kill each other, then trying to save each other and that’s families, you know? That’s the thing I’ve held on to all the way through, we’re not just a bunch of X-Men. Charles wants to be with his friends, with Raven [Jennifer Lawrence], with Erik. That’s partly why he’s building a school and he wants that family that he never really had and he wants to be the father. He’s got that slight… he’s a good man, but he’s got a little bit of a god complex as well. He wants to be at the head of the table. It’s a good thing, but it’s his flaw as well.
The film welcomes some new recruits and new faces, such as Oscar Isaac. How did you find working with him?
We were lucky in that we’ve got a really tight bunch. In the last movie, Hugh [Jackman] came in and Peter Dinklage, and it was like they’d always been there. And in this movie, we had Oscar, and he was great. He’s an awesome dude and a true professional. So he just fit right in, dead easy. When you’ve got somebody that good coming in for one movie, it gives everyone a shake up and they raise their game again. We’re lucky, really – the calibre of actors we’ve had in X-Men has always been really high and long may that continue! If they’re as good as Oscar Isaac, we’ll be laughing.
“I went full bald! Shaved my own head. Luckily Patrick [Stewart] was available for FaceTiming, so he was present digitally for the passing of the baldy torch.”
Did you have to become the father figure to the new X-Men? Or was it just lots of crazy nights out?
We have a good time in Montreal, we definitely do, but I would never presume to be able to teach anybody anything or to set an example. You set an example by the way you carry yourself and the way you work. Outside of that, you’re just trying to get home without getting too drunk…
On Days Of Future Past, you talked about fun times behind the scenes, including BB gun fights. Was there anything like that this time?
We had BB guns again; we had beanbag targeting games; we had a punching game, which didn’t get quite as out of hand in the previous film; and then there was a slapping game that was around for a brief time before that got a bit too dangerous! It was the usual X-Men fooling around.
Apocalypse is set in the 1980s, so does Charles go through a New Romantics phase? What style does he get into this time?
Charles looks like he’s been watching a lot of Miami Vice this time, and he’s definitely trying to rock a Don Johnson kind of look. And I’m really glad we went for it because it’s one of the joys of being able to deal with these different decades, getting to explore the music and the fashion and the culture of the time.
We now get to see Charles in his most iconic look. So how was the famous baldness achieved?
I went full bald! Shaved my own head. Luckily Patrick [Stewart] was available for FaceTiming, so he was present digitally for the passing of the baldy torch. But it was cool to do it for real, we had some re-shoots where I had to have a bald cap for one scene and that was it. If I didn’t have to grow my hair back for my next movie, I’d stay bald. After 36 years of having hair, it’s nice to change your look completely.
How are Charles and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank this time? You two were a good duo before.
We’re like an odd couple rattling around in this mansion, supporting each other. I’d quite like to see a film like The Odd Couple just about Hank and Charles, to be honest with you, bitching about who makes the sandwiches for the kids and who washes all the dirty underwear. There’s an implication that we’ve come to rely on each other a great deal in the last decade.
So if Charles fancies himself the father figure, does that make Hank the mum?
No! I think Hank is the elder brother. Don’t tell Nick that!
This is the third film together. Do you guys know where the story goes from here? Will you come back if asked?
Simon [Kinberg] has told us a lot about his various ideas for where the story could go, and some of them sound really interesting to me, so if they came back and asked me to be in another one, I’d take a look at the script and see if it was a part I wanted to play. But yeah, potentially it’s something I would love to do, because I love playing Charles, and Simon keeps writing interesting things for me to do. So if that continues, I’m in.
Buy X-Men: Apocalypse now on iTunes.
Available on 3D, Blu-ray & DVD from September 28.