In X-Men: Apocalypse, we find our favourite group of mutants in 1983, dealing with more than just the fashions of the time. An ancient, powerful and extremely angry creature named Apocalypse has awakened after millennia spent slumbering, decided that our civilization is too corrupt to survive and must be destroyed so he can restore proper order…
Once more rallying the troops behind the camera is Bryan Singer, who worked on the story for the new film and returns to direct and produce after the huge smash hit that was 2014’s Days of Future Past. An experienced writer, director, and producer, he’s been responsible for films including The Usual Suspects and Superman Returns. He’s also the man who originally brought the X-Men to the big screen back in 2000, and has been overseeing the films featuring the younger versions of the characters since producing 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
We sat down with the man himself to talk about finding the reality in a godlike character, filming more than a month for a two-minute scene and how much fun it is to talk metaphysics with one of his cast.
What was the appeal of Apocalypse?
I was very fascinated by the notion of ancient mutant powers, and what a mutant would think he or she was if they were born 20 or 30 thousand years ago. And they would, of course, think they were a god, and would behave like that. They would be looked at and worshiped like a god. And then I started looking at what happens to gods over the years, various religions and I started thinking of the god of the Old Testament. Oscar Isaac and I were talking about cults, because cult leaders very often think they’re gods. That sort of gave me the justification for the Four Horsemen. Each one represents a division of the cult – Magneto (Michael Fassbender) would be the political division; Archangel (Ben Hardy), represents the military division; and the sexual component, because every cult has that, would be Psylocke (Olivia Munn); and then finally there’s the youth division, the new recruits that you want in your cult and that would be young Storm (Alexandra Shipp).
And so it evolved from there as this character who believed that it was his responsibility to build a society and to take away the savagery of Man. But if society ever defied him or became disillusioned by him, as the god of the Old Testament would do, he would be vengeful and he would open up the earth and wipe them out. It occurred to me that Apocalypse, over the millennia, had done this many times: the Babylonians, the Arcadians, the Sumerians, and he’d been called many gods over many lifetimes. And suddenly he wakes up in 1983 and he sees that the civilizations are no longer in individual parts of the world, like Egypt or China or wherever, the world is interconnected by television, by radio, the nations are interconnected by oil and power. There are false idols, where people worship money, and man now possesses nuclear weapons, which gives him a sense of godlike power, and this does not work for Apocalypse. So Apocalypse wants to put an end to it and start everything fresh again. He goes on a process of recruiting his Horsemen and reshaping the entire Earth in his image.
Apocalypse has been portrayed in the comics and in the animated series. How did you want to change him? Or did you? And how did you bring him to life?
I dabbled with the notion of making him a giant, and then I really felt he needed to relate to the characters initially. You will see him large in the movie as well, so there’ll be that satisfaction. But I also felt he needed to exert his powers of persuasion. And that’s why I went with someone who is a really fine actor and instead of just throwing him in a digital costume and animating him, I wanted to have him play the role with my other actors and make him real. There are some pretty spectacular things that occur, but it was important for me and the audience, I think, to feel a sense of realness, that he’s a real being, that he’s inhabiting a real body. That body can change, but at its heart, I didn’t want to lose the actor inside of CGI animation.
It’s not every director who has the chance to create fresh versions of characters he himself initially brought to the screen. How was it bringing in the new Storm, Cyclops, and the rest?
It’s a lot of fun because you don’t feel like you’re rebooting anything, you don’t feel like you’re re-casting anyone, you just feel like you’re creating a younger version. There’s still an older Magneto, who will always be Ian McKellen to me; there’s a younger one, there’s Michael Fassbender, who I helped cast in First Class. And then again it was round three with Jean and Scott. First Class, which I produced and wrote the story for, that to me was the wind-up to get us to the place where we would eventually get to meet young Jean, Storm, and Scott, and ultimately form the X-Men. We’ve seen the older X-Men already having existed a long time, but we’ve never seen them form. They almost form in First Class, but most of them are killed and now the world is different. The world has embraced mutants somewhat and so this movie goes about not just introducing new characters or having fun casting a version of Famke Janssen or Halle Berry, or James Marsden from the past, but also forming the team and explaining why there would be X-Men. Not just students who go to Xavier’s school, I understand that those are outcasts who want to belong in a place, especially a place as beautiful as that, but why X-Men? Why a fighting force of mutants? What’s the need for that? And this tells that story as well, which I got to do finally.
One of the characters you brought to life wonderfully before was Nightcrawler. Did you want to give the younger version that same soulfulness?
He’s a different kind of guy than the way Alan (Cumming) played him. Alan is the tougher version because he’s older. Kodi (Smit-McPhee) is so spiritual and so intelligent and so sensitive and so sweet a person that to then dress him up like the devil and cover him in scars and put him in the situation the movie puts him in, he inhabits the youthful innocence of the devilish face, for lack of a better expression. Imagine this most innocent character who is cursed with this extraordinary power and his strange physical appearance. With Kodi… Our first meeting I thought was going to be about 15 minutes, but it ended up being almost two hours long, and we talked more about metaphysics and history and quantum mechanics than we did about acting, so he’s got a great spirit. I call him the Prophet.
You’re bringing back Evan Peters as Quicksilver from Days of Future Past. How are you going to match his big scene from that film?
Well, I can tell you that we do have a sequence that is two minutes long, and it took us over a month and a half to shoot, and it uses some of the most complex cinematic technology that exists and some physical technology. We were shooting at 3,000 frames per second; using the new Phantom cameras in 3D; and using explosive algorithms and real detonations for this one part. Evan Peters ended up working at least 17 days on this one two-minute sequence, so oddly enough, Evan worked more days than anyone else in the entire scene. It’s a slightly different scene: it may not be as humorous as Days, or it might be a little bittersweet, but it definitely will be unique.
You’ve always focused on telling good stories with the core characters. What were the themes you wanted to hit with them this time?
I really wanted to reinforce the different ways that Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) view the world. Since the world became aware of mutants in 1973, Charles has lived in relative bliss. His school is thriving, he wants to turn it into a university, and he believes truly that things have changed. Raven/Mystique has seen a darker side of the world. She’s hidden away from her blue form, because since she saved the President at the end of the last movie, the ‘Blue Girl’, as they call her, has become a symbol of a world she does not believe exists. She does not believe that people will still embrace mutants; she’s seen the darker side of it. So she confronts Charles on it. He has no intent of forming a fighting force of any kind and it’s her that says, “you don’t understand… it’s not over yet. You can’t just teach these kids math and reading, you’re going to have to teach them to fight. Just because we’re not at war doesn’t mean we’re at peace.” They have polarizing views of where the world has come in the last 10 years and how that foments into the formation of the X-Men.
Erik is off in his own story initially; so what is he dealing with?
Yeah, he’s off the grid and has made a decision that he’s tired of fighting the fight and maybe what he was meant to do is live the life of his parents in Poland… work a steady job and stay out of people’s way. But circumstances intervene and bring him out again, and again, he becomes part of the problem.
The movies are also these big popcorn spectacles. And despite the size of Days of Future Past, this might be bigger…
Yes, in terms of scope and visuals, it’s a much bigger movie. Days was time travel, some robots, but mostly a lot of heists! Whereas this one is global destruction, godlike characters, stuff like that… a much bigger film. We never lose our heart, and the characters, we cling to those because they are very important. But it will definitely be a lot more spectacle this time around.
Apart from the Quicksilver scene, what was the most challenging thing to pull off this time?
Bringing Apocalypse to life as a character. We did something unique to create his voice. I wanted to stay true to him as a real person so he could interact with the others, but when it came to his voice, I did something different that I don’t believe has been done before. I re-voiced him – it’s still Oscar’s voice – but when I dubbed him during ADR, as well as a standard Sennheiser microphone, I also used a bass mic to his right cheek, and to his left cheek I used a bass drum mic, like a musician’s mic, so I could pull vocal tones from his voice that would not normally be heard by the human ear. I could use all of that to augment his voice, and that was a real challenge and really interesting to do physically, and not just mess around with the electronics and sound. Oscar always had to keep his head in the right spot, though, with three microphones at his face!
X-Men: Apocalypse is released in cinemas nationwide on Thursday 19th May in the UK.
Read ORWAV’s review here.