. . . and gayer, too! ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’
by Lawrence Ferber
The new X-Men film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, goes to some pretty dark places, with some iconic comic book/movie heroes meeting gruesome ends within the first bombastic 10 minutes alone. How does one prepare for the dark tone of these sorts of scenes?
“Well, James McAvoy, the other day, claimed he heard Hugh Jackman warming up in his trailer singing Les Mis,” Patrick Stewart shares, amused. “I believe it, too. If I had a voice like Hugh Jackman, I would warm up . . . but definitely not Les Mis. I would find other things to sing. My musical education ended with Buddy Holly.”
I’m spending quality time with returning cast members Ellen Page and Patrick Stewart in Manhattan’s Ritz-Carlton, prior to a press conference about the film and its making. We’re alone, in a suite, and the pair of actors sits on a couch together.
The actress, who came out publicly this past February and is the subject of The Hollywood Reporter’s revealing May 16 cover story, plays Kitty Pryde, whose mutant power allows her to move through walls. Stewart plays Professor Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, the world’s most powerful psychic and founder of the X-Men. Ian McKellen, who plays Magneto, controller of all things metal and Xavier’s longtime frenemy—and one of Stewart’s real-life BFFs—isn’t here today, however. He is the subject of our conversation at the moment, though.
McKellen and Stewart famously posed and tweeted playfully queer photos together all over NYC (with the hashtag gogodididonyc) during their appearance in Broadway’s Waiting for Godot this past winter. Page admits that when she saw an image of the men holding hands, romantically strolling down Coney Island’s promenade, “I re-tweeted it saying ‘Date already!’” she laughs.
“We’ve known one another so long,” Stewart, who married wife Sunny Ozell last year, elaborates, “and have been so intimate onstage as actors. I think we’re entirely qualified to hold hands. We took what I think are some beautiful pictures down by Stonewall Inn and with the [Christopher Street] gay pride statues. Actually, my congratulations to Ellen (when she came out) immediately produced a response from The Guardian newspaper outing me! They retracted it about 25 minutes later, but in those 25 minutes, I got some of the nicest e-mails and texts I’ve ever had in my life.”
Director Bryan Singer’s return to X-Men (the movie franchise he started) teams up the original trilogy’s cast members with their younger incarnations from First Class (director Matthew Vaughan’s 2011 prequel): James McAvoy (Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), and Jennifer Lawrence (the shape-shifting Mystique).
X-Men: Days of Future Past begins with a dystopian future in which mutants and their human sympathizers have been hunted to the brink of extinction by the Sentinel robots created by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). In a last-ditch effort to survive, Xavier sends Wolverine’s consciousness back to the 1970s, where he might prevent the Sentinels from ever being built. Once there, he has trouble enlisting a bitter young Charles, duplicitous Magneto, and a Mystique dead-set on a vengeful agenda.
“In the first X-Men, Charles was a mentor for Wolverine, and the opposite happens in this movie,” Jackman noted during our conference. “And Wolverine, going back to the ’70s—its perfect. I don’t think he wanted to leave the ’70s! The hair, the muttonchops, the clothes! I think the moment that Tears for Fears, Flock of Seagulls, and Wham! came around, Wolverine was like, ‘I’m out!’”
Boasting grand-effects set pieces, fight scenes, dark twists, and hysterical bits of humor—particularly during a delicious caper sequence in which arrogant young mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who can travel at light speed, helps break Magneto out from beneath the Pentagon—this X-Men ups the game considerably.
Like the previous films and comic book series from which the X-Men sprung, there’s an analogy to be found between mutants and LGBTs. In X2, there was a memorable scene in which Iceman, played by Shawn Ashmore, came out as mutant to his family. His mother asked, “Have you tried not being a mutant?”
“It’s been present since the very first film,” Stewart acknowledges, “and that content has given a lot of substance. The questions of prejudice and discrimination, because some creatures on our planet are different. However, in this story, mutantkind and humankind in the present day are connected, because they’re facing a threat far greater than any before. A Sentinel cannot be reasoned with. You can’t rationalize what the Sentinels want. You can’t sit down and have a cup of coffee to talk it over. But those parallels have always been there, and we’ve always talked about and been aware of them.”
Of course, one can also draw a parallel between mutants who “come out” and LGBTs who do the same, putting a face to what some people fear and hate. Page’s life has changed profoundly for the better since she came out as lesbian at the HRC’s “Time to Thrive” LGBT youth conference in Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day. Julianne Moore has signed on to play her girlfriend in the upcoming Freeheld, a dramatization of the Oscar-winning 2007 documentary about a dying New Jersey policewoman who desperately fought to assign survivor benefits to her partner.
However, Page says she isn’t aware of a closeted Hollywood sisterhood per se. “I don’t know any,” she insists. “I don’t know any other person in my life that had something like that going on—a secret little club or something. I [came out] because I was ready to do it in my life. I would never judge someone for whatever choice they want to make, nor do I believe in outing people unless they’re right-wing politicians taking away our rights and saying horrible things.”
Bryan Singer has already given away the factthat another X-Men film is in the works, this time starring villain Apocalypse—be sure to stay through the credits for atease—so it looks like thisteam will reunite again. Maybe Stewart and McKellen can tweet photos ofthemselves holding handsin Cerebro when they do.
“We have become a company,” Stewart nods. “Even though there are gaps between movies, we are an ensemble, and it’s been a collaboration all the way along the line. When the camera stops rolling and the director says cut, we always have plenty to say to one another. The conversations on set are entertaining and lively. There are some jobs you get to do where it feels like the very best dinner party.”
Freelance contributor Lawrence Ferber is co-writer of the award-winning 2010 gay rom-com, BearCity, and author of its 2013 novelization.