Los Angeles - Following the huge success of X-Men: Days Of Future Past in 2014, the 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, talks about the family dynamic, off-duty fun and accepting the passing of the “baldy torch”.
Where do we find the Professor’s headspace this time?
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 organization 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.
From the sounds of it, he does go through yet another dark experience....
Yeah, definitely. 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, to find the goodness and the heart in others. Not necessarily Apocalypse... But those around him, and that’s reason enough to carry on. Even though he’s had to deal with so many terrible things happening to him in his personal life, it’s nothing compared to what’s been happening to Erik! (Lensherr, played by Michael Fassbender) He’s had so many family members killed and executed. Whereas Charles has been put through torture himself, but in a weird way it’s harder to see those you love go through it.
And for you, it’s a nice acting challenge through these experiences. Is it still draining?
Yes and no. Because the more challenging it is to play something, weirdly, I think the easier it is. When it’s not challenging, you’re just wondering, ‘what do I do, then?’ So the more complex and the more emotional stuff there is to get your teeth into definitely makes it more exacting, but is easier intellectually and artistically to approach it.
You have some new recruits and new faces, such as Oscar. How was it 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.
You have your new team as well. 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.
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 face-timing, 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.
How was it?
I like 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.
Did it change how you played him at all?
He’s a different person by the end of the movie, and he also happens to be bald. But it’s not because he’s bald!
This is Bryan’s second time as director with you guys. He’s been involved from the start, but is it still different working with him after Days Of Future Past?
One of the strengths of X-Men is that we do know each other so well, and the actors are similar in that we’re all quite professional and we all worked really hard to make it as good as we can, and we don’t mess around too much when we’re on set. But we have support for each other, and Bryan is definitely part of that. He shows a lot of love for everybody. And also nobody knows the genre and these characters better than he does as a director, so we’re with the right guy.
Catch X-Men: Apocalypse in cinemas nationwide.