On Wednesday 22nd May, members of the Dark Phoenix cast, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, James McEvoy and Sophie Turner, along with director Simon Kinberg, gathered in London’s Picturehouse Central for a Q&A and discussion about the upcoming film. [Contains mild spoilers]
Why Dark Phoenix?
“The movies about family, it’s a franchise about family, it’s a comic about the family you build and choose and we have been family off screen for now, for me, 15 years of my life.” Director Kinberg explained “The Dark Phoenix story for me as a kid, the reason it resonated is because it surprised me, I was used to heroes being heroic and villains being villainous and bad…it was the first time that I’d read or seen something that to me expressed that we all have darkness in us, that we all have the capacity for doing villainous, evil, hurtful acts, and that it is up to us to try and control those thing and our darker impulses.”
“This is a movie where, and it’s the reason why it feels very much like a culmination of this cycle of X-Men story telling, they started as strangers and they became family members, they became friends, and this movie challenges that family and tears that family apart and the trauma that they go through ultimately brings them back together”
Where does the film pick up after X-Men: Apocalypse?
There are 9 years between this movie and Apocalypse, so through the first act you get a sense that the team have been working together and developing their skills and strengths.
“They’ve been going out on missions, and they’ve become, not just known but embraced.” Kinberg explains of where the X-Men team are are the start of the film. “They’re no longer hidden in the shadows, they’re not outcasts anymore, they’ve been embraced by society and relied upon by society.”
What inspired their character arcs in Dark Phoenix?
Fassbender, who is returning for his fourth outing as Erik, otherwise known as Magneto, became inspired by cult leaders, explaining he wanted robes, beads and flip flops for Erik – very un-Magneto!
Our Dark Phoenix herself, Sophie Turner, who plays Jean Grey in her second X-Men movie, studied a lot of mental disorders, focussing on those suffering with PTSD, split personality and schizophrenia, bringing all of this conflict and internal war to the role of Jean, something Kinberg supported.
“The notion of losing control is troubling and terrifying for me and I could relate to the trauma that Jean is going through in the comic and that’s what I’ve tried to portray in the movie.”
Chastain, who is new to the franchise and plays the mysterious Smith, a new character to the franchise and seperate to the comic books, based her character on a combination of Tilda Swinton and the T1000 from Terminator 2. McEvoy and Fassbender both echoed this, saying they had definitely spotted Swinton like elements in her performance.
What can we expect in Dark Phoenix that is different to previous outings?
The cast were definitely not shy about discussing where there had been previous failings in the franchise, with the whole group laughing at the handling of the storyline in Last Stand, and Winberg said he had been sowing the seeds of re-doing the infamous arc back since Days of Future Past – which came as a surprise to the rest of the cast, especially Turner who said she had no idea during the characters reintroduction in Apocalypse.
McEvoy also spoke out about Xavier’s various roles within the franchise and his dislike of the teacher role in Apocalypse. This has been moved away from in Dark Phoenix, with Charles taking on a politician role – something Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven was less than happy about in clips shown during the event.
“We’re taking bigger and bigger risks, and for what? Please, tell me it’s not you ego? Being on the cover of magazines, getting a medal from the president, you like it, don’t you?”
Kinberg, who wrote the script not only for Dark Phoenix, but also Last Stand, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, gave some insight in to what he really wanted to show this time around, such as the team going to space.
“There’s a lot of things we haven’t been able to do in previous X-Men movies…as much as I wanted to be true to the Dark Phoenix story and make sure I was telling the best possible version of that, also on the side of that I had a checklist of things we’d never been able to do in X-Men movies.”
“The other thing it checks off is seeing the X-Men work as a team, I loved seeing in the comics and in the cartoons the action sequences, seeing them work as a team and as the guys were saying, and I think so too, so much of X-Men is about family, family that you choose, family that comes together and that is expressed not just in drama but in action and we haven’t had a lot of teamwork action in these movies.”
How were the big stunt pieces created?
“There’s a lot of drama in this movie and it’s a more grounded…I wanted as much as possible for the action to be real, and in the sequence set in Genosha, both the choppers are real, even the chopper in the air that Jean and Magneto are fighting over, we built a rig, two huge crane arms with a cable in between them that could hold a 4000 pound chopper with 15 men in it, and we had it on remote control and it was swinging back and forth as you see in the sequence, somewhat stable-y.”
For the sequence in the third act, the team has Magneto summon up a subway car, which was even more dangerous than it sounds.
“When it comes crashing in behind him, we built a rig with an amazing practical effects team… the subway car could move and we had explosives around the building that would explode when the subway car came crashing through and it was supposed to stop around 6 feet short of Michael. It stopped 6 inches short of Michael… As you’ll see [the set] comes crashing down around Michael, and only Michael Fassbender, who you know, races cars and swims with sharks, didn’t flinch or blink when a subway car came crashing within 6 inches of the back of his head.”
There were 3 10 minute clips shown at the event.
- The X-Men team travelling to space to save the Apollo crew and Jean’s accident, followed by the immediate aftermath and a first look at Chastain’s mysterious Smith.
- Jean travelling to Genosha for sanctuary after what looks like a bloody fight, but trouble ensues when the military come after her, and Erik realises they may not be on the same time.
- Charles and Erik face off one more time, Charles trying to reach Jean before she is beyond redemption, Erik out to avenge the loss of his friend. Can either of them reach Jean, or has Smith’s influence pushed her too far?
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released on the 5th June in the UK and the 7th June in the US.