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With X-Men: Dark Phoenix releasing next Thursday, we check in with the man behind the makeup
In Dark Phoenix, the X-Men face one of their gravest and most personal challenges to date. It’s the 1990s, and even as the team attempts to embrace a newfound heroic status and acceptance within society, their close bond is about to be shattered when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) merges with a strange, extraterrestrial force, one that boosts her already strong abilities to previously unknown levels. Years of repression are torn asunder as Jean begins to find herself and master her new powers, even as those around her start to wonder if she’ll be a threat to the world, and a mysterious alien with an agenda (Jessica Chastain) exerts an influence…
Nicholas Hoult, most recently seen in The Favourite and Tolkien, returns to the role of Hank McCoy, whose mutant power sees him transform into the hairy creature known as Beast. It’s a character he has played for three movies already, and in Dark Phoenix, Hank is settled into his role as a professor at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. But things are about to change for Hank and everyone he knows, as Jean’s power begins to grow.
Hoult talks about working with Simon Kinberg as a director, reuniting with his friends on set, and whether Hank’s style has changed with the times…
How was Simon Kinberg as the director?
He’s been very hands-on in terms of when he’s writing and when he’s producing. He understands storytelling and that’s the most important thing; he’s a great raconteur. To give him the reins, and for us to be able to work with him and see how he’s developed the characters was really wonderful to watch. We’ve made so many of these movies that there’s a rhythm and a pace to the set, the way things work.
His DP was new, and Mauro Fiore brought his energy to it, his new way of framing things. But on top of that, Simon was very much about getting into that emotional side, working scenes and giving you space to bring them to life.
Dark Phoenix moves the story on to the 1990s. Where do we find Hank?
At the beginning of the movie, we largely find Hank where we left him at the end of the last one. He still lives at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters; he’s still a professor there and he’s one of the more senior figures. I’d say he’s slightly more of an equal to Charles (James McAvoy) now. In the last movie, he’d just begun teaching, and the one before that, he was more his carer/enabler and a student before that.
Simon gave me this beautiful, emotional place to go with the character, to play elements of Hank and Beast that we haven’t seen before.
Does it feel like Charles’ ego is starting to grow at this point, with the success of the X-Men as heroes?
Yeah, they’re adored, they have fans, the president has a phone line directly to Charles’ office and he’s in communication with them. They’re his special, elite unit, the mutants who come and save the day. They’re celebrated for that when we first meet them, and through the events of the movie and Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix, that changes.
The wonderful thing about Dark Phoenix is it’s all rooted in very basic human emotions: betrayal, hurt, love, loss — all those things. And it’s watching these people with powers and abilities react and deal with those in these climates.
Is it more of a personal threat this time?
It’s about what happens when you try and protect people and hide things from them and take care of them. But then the truth emerges and it’s even more painful because of what happened and it unleashes things that you can’t even begin to understand or control. It’s very much about a family being broken apart.
Hank can always be a bit of a check and a balance on Charles. Can he say things to him others can’t?
Jennifer’s (Lawrence) Raven can be more combative against him; she’ll say the things that come from a very different place. Hank genuinely wants the best for him, and he’s cared for him for a long time.
But in this movie, it gets pushed too far and he starts to see elements of Charles’ personality he doesn’t agree with and the approach doesn’t work for him. Hank then takes a more extreme side of things.
Has Hank’s style changed at all?
Hank’s always had his own special style. He’s always looked older than his years, very much the professor look. But his style does slightly change in this one. I didn’t get too many ’90s nods though... he’s no fashionista!
The cast got back together again. Was it still fun? Still like a bunch of school kids?
No BB gun fights! We were very sensible this time, very focused after reading this script and seeing what the movie was about, I feel like people really got their game on and concentrated on what their characters were doing and the story. We still had fun, it was still great to catch up, but it wasn’t quite as chaotic as some of the other films!
We were so enthused by what Simon was pitching to us and his commitment to it. When that’s the environment that’s being created, that’s something that you want to be involved with.
How was Jessica Chastain as the new cast member?
To be honest, those parts of the movie my character isn’t as involved with, but we’ve been very fortunate in terms of the track record of having brilliant cast members. From Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman to having Oscar Isaac or Kevin Bacon, and now Jessica, these characters are built wonderfully and then brought to life by actors who add dimension.
To have her as one of the main threats of the movie and to have her bring her talent to it... We’re very lucky.
You’re back in the Beast makeup. Does it get easier?
It’s the same makeup from the last time. The team is faster and more talented than ever, and they’re exploring some new designs with it as well, in terms of the paint on top of the makeup, but it’s basically the same.
Did anyone pitch the CG/performance capture approach this time?
There probably is a version of making the character that way, but there’s something about the makeup and having the real, tactile character that’s nice. It’s this odd thing that when you see a movie from 10, 15 years ago, and CG that was great then, it doesn’t look so good now. I think that’s what we’d be seeing with this character — if he’d been CG through these movies, you’d look back to, say, First Class and think it looks completely different. The rate of that technological development and that side of graphics is that, yes, they could do it, but for me playing him, it’s great to have the real weight and movement of the makeup.
And for the other people on set, there’s already so much which is imagined that at least when I’m in a scene as Beast, they see me in the makeup and there’s something to react to.
Is there a scene you’re excited for people to see?
There were certainly scenes that I was excited to play, and therefore hopefully if they turn out the way I imagine, they’ll be exciting for people to see! But for me, it’s also one of those things where there’s a lot that we have to imagine on set, so to actually sit in a cinema and see the finished thing is a treat for us as well.
You’re not there every day, you don’t see everything going on and big chunks are green screen, so I’m intrigued to see how it all comes together. But if the scenes that I loved playing turn out as I hope, then they should be great.
Are you ever tempted to make flying noises at the controls of the X-Jet?
We did a little behind-the-scenes thing that I don’t know will ever be released, but we did a spoof thing that was “Learning to Fly with Beast”, a mockumentary. I hope they release it, because it was pretty funny.
What, for you, is the overriding theme of the movie this time?
It touches on the X-Men and how they differ from other superheroes and are treated by society. They’ve always got a much larger thing to say than what might first meet the eye.
This one goes into what people do to protect others that ultimately does them more harm than good. It deals with the family environment and how people process and deal with things and rally around each other.
And then on the other side you have this element of the X-Men being accepted at the beginning of the movie, they have fans and they are heroes, and how quickly that can change. You see it with everyone — the media seems to love building up a hero and then shooting them down as quickly as possible; we see these stories play out in front of our eyes and how it affects people’s lives.
The culmination of 20 years of X-Men movies, Dark Phoenix releases in the UAE on June 6.
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