X-Men: First Class set visit 0
It’s coming to the end of a long day at Pinewood Studios. As one of the few magazines in the world granted access to the secretive set of X-Men: First Class, Fotogramas has spent the last nine hours absorbing every facet of the production of this summer’s most anticipated prequel. So forgive us if we aren’t watching the monitor all that closely.
When we’re frightened out of our skin by the sound of submachine gun fire, falling debris and shattered glass, we realise why the space around our tiny TV screen was suddenly overrun with crew. Director Matthew Vaughn is finally ready to shoot the big action sequence of the day. And we’ve lost our prime spot to catch the next take.
This is the world of X-Men: First Class, which is moving so fast it’ll be ready for release just six months after our visit. We get to watch two of the highly complex takes once we nudge our way back in front of the screen, before the crew call wrap for the day and Vaughn sidles over for a chat.
Given that he dropped out of directing X-Men: The Last Stand on the eve of the shoot citing time constraints, we’re instantly curious as to why he said yes to an even tighter schedule. “I knew this would be the hardest thing to pull off, and I’d be given every reason to fail,” he smiles. “And I like that sort of challenge!”
Such is Vaughn’s trademark swagger: this is a director who’s at his calmest when a storm is raging around him. He’s a man who built his own empire making indie movies on a studio scale. Last year’s Kick-Ass was produced against all the odds, without any studio involvement, and offered more bang for its buck than movies with budgets north of $100m.
But whilst there’s much more money to play with on the X-Men set, there’s also plenty more to spend it on – on top of the superhero stunts and explosive action, X-Men: First Class takes us back to the 60s, and sets its story against the Cuban Missile Crisis. “I wanted to do the James Bond meets X-Men version,” says Vaughn. “A classic 60s political thriller. I just loved taking the notion of the Cuban Missile Crisis and having a mutant trying to cause World War Three, because what we’re saying is that radiation caused mutancy.”
The setting also plays into the classic Civil Rights Movement analogy that has always been at the core of the X-Men series. We witness the coming together and tearing apart of the X-Men’s greatest foes: Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr. Like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, their goals are the same, and this initially brings them together. But as we learnt from the first three X-Men films, it’s soon clear that their approaches are radically different.
“You’re meeting these characters at an early point, where they’re still developing and finding out who they are,” explains James McAvoy, who has the unenviable task of stepping into Sir Patrick Stewart’s shoes as the young Xavier. “You’re seeing some of the events in their equal rights struggle that help shape them.”
McAvoy describes Patrick Stewart’s Xavier as, “a monk. He’s a selfless, egoless and almost sexless force for the betterment of humanity.” As we meet Xavier in this film, though, he’s full of the arrogance of youth. “We don’t go too far with it, but he’s definitely got an ego and a sex drive at this point. He’s a sex pest. A little bit of a cad.”
Michael Fassbender plays the young Magneto, a role originated by Sir Ian McKellen. “Erik is very much a Machiavellian character,” he says. “For him, the ends justify the means. I don’t really think in terms of good and evil. There’s sense to what he’s saying.”
Whilst his disregard for human lives and constant antagonism define the character in the McKellen-era movies, we see Fassbender’s Magneto tattered and torn by his experience in the concentration camps of World War Two. He’s the more mature of the two, resolute in his desire to take revenge on his oppressors. “He’s on a quest to get Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon,” explains Fassbender. “Shaw has kept him in these concentration camps, and he’s trying to unleash this power in Magneto.”
As the villainous head of the Hellfire Club, Shaw is this film’s big bad, a megalomaniacal businessmen bent on that most classic of supervillian pursuits: world domination. With an army including January Jones as the luscious Emma Frost, Jason Flemyng’s red devil Azazel and Spanish star Alex Gonzalez’s dangerous Riptide, Shaw manipulates global politics to gain control over the emerging world of mutants.
But Xavier has a powerful new tool in Cerebro, a device familiar to fans of the X-Men series, which allows Charles to maximise his powers and seek out mutants living in hiding all over the world. With it, Xavier and Magneto are able to assemble an army: the first class of Xavier’s school for mutants.
Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence play young versions of Beast and Mystique – both of whom appeared in the early X-Men films – but First Class promises to introduce us to a whole roster of new mutants. Its cast of hot young things includes Lucas Till as Cyclops’s brother Havok, Zoe Kravitz as winged acid-spitter Angel Salvador and Twilight’s Edi Gathegi as Darwin, who can manipulate his body to “evolve” to meet any environmental challenge.
On set, the young mutants have formed a tight unit. Pinning them down for interviews proves challenging as they joke with one another. If the schedule is piling on the pressure in some departments, the young cast members don’t seem phased by it, and can usually be found in between takes playing Call of Duty on James McAvoy’s X-Box. As actors who grew up with superhero movies on the big screen, their enthusiasm is palpable.
Hoult has to undergo four hours of make-up to become the blue, furry Beast familiar to comic book fans. “When I’m in the Beast costume,” he laughs, “and I’m boiling hot, and hungry and dehydrated, and we’ve been sitting in it for eleven hours, someone will say, ‘Nick, it’s alright, you’re going to be an action figure.’ At that point you have to go, ‘Yeah, actually, that is very cool!’”
Texan 21-year-old Caleb Landry Jones brings one of the more popular mutants to the big screen for the first time. He’s Banshee, whose supersonic scream isn’t to be messed with. He sums up the mood of the young cast. “To be on a movie with such magnitude as this one is just absolutely amazing,” he says. “I’m playing a superhero, which I’ve always wanted to do. Don’t look like Spider-Man, don’t look like Batman, so it’s fantastic that there’s one I do look like, kind of.”
If the young cast have time to enjoy themselves, it seems like Vaughn will have to wait until his film hits cinemas to smell the roses. He hasn’t had a chance to do that in a long time. “I went to the premiere of Kick-Ass, got a phone call that Fox wanted to meet, and then they offered me this,” he says. “I’d been planning to take the whole summer off!”
We do the maths – from that initial meeting, Vaughn will have less than a year to turn around one of this summer’s biggest movies. “The lack of time is the only aspect of this movie that does freak me out,” he admits. “But as I said, I love a challenge…”