McAvoy, Fassbender and Bacon Talk X-Men: First Class

Director Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class opens in North America tomorrow, but last week, attended the New York press conference with a good chunk of his cast. While we're not normally fans of the press conference format, this was a fun one, as the cast was not taking it too seriously. When they weren't cracking jokes, often at each other's expense, and January Jones wasn't being asked about her pregnancy, they did answer a couple of questions about the movie. We're going to focus on Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Kevin Bacon who play Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), Professor Charles Xavier and Sebastian Shaw, respectively.

The first question asked was whether Fassbender and McAvoy had looked towards their older peers Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart before taking on the roles of Erik and Charles.

"Obviously, Sir Ian McKellen had done such a great job and I was aware the fans of the X-Men comic books were very pleased with what he did," Fassbender responded. "Initially, I thought to myself, ‘Should I study a young Ian McKellen, study his voice and his physicality?' so I spoke to Matthew about it, I think it was in our first or second meeting, and he wasn't so keen on the idea. He wanted me to use my own voice and take it from there, so we just wiped the slate clean. I just really delved into the comic books. There was so much material there that I was spoiled in terms of biography and putting together a complicated well-rounded character."

"I felt in a lot of ways the same," McAvoy chimed in. "We talked for a brief couple minutes in rehearsal about mimicking the voices and all that kind of stuff, and we had a good laugh at that, but it didn't stay an option for too long. I've looked very closely at Sir Patrick's performance which I really enjoyed, but I felt just to validate making these movies, you have to make the characters different or otherwise, they're just the same performances with a sexy suit. I tried to take the key points of his character, not extremely. He's a good guy, so I couldn't make him a bad guy, but where he's sort of wise, I was unwise and where he's chaste, I was randy."

Someone at the press conference asked the actors about the presence and popularity of the X-Men comics in their respective countries and whether they knew about them as kids.

"I certainly didn't but since having gotten the job and speaking to various people, they're everywhere," Fassbender admitted. "The waiter's like ‘I'm an X-men fan, you better not mess it up.' I think the themes involved are so universal that there are mutants among us everywhere, so I think that I found was really surprising just to realize how widespread that audience was."

"I was aware of the cartoon. I was about 10, 11 or 12 years old and my friend and I used to watch the cartoon all the time, so I was aware of that but never the comics," McAvoy said. "Comics weren't really a big deal where I grew up."

Fassbender also talked about why he thought the franchise was so successful at the box office. "I think the whole concept of the X-Men is a mature idea. As opposed to superhero comics in general, there is a sort of alter ego that makes up for the geek inside. I think that idea of alienation is a universal thing, whether it be for religious beliefs, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. I think everybody experiences it somewhat on a smaller scale when you are going to secondary school and you want to be accepted. So I think it obviously touches on a nerve that people can relate to."

McAvoy talked about how the two of them built the chemistry between their characters. "We did get on very well, which is good. One of the things about the X-Men movies is that there is always 5,000 characters that you have to get to in 2 hours. It can be a real task. I think Matthew did a good job of telling everybody's story well. Part of that is that there is a rapport among everyone and that connection and that chemistry somehow translates on screen as well."

"And the support I think," Fassbender agreed. "It was tough. We were under pressure and there wasn't a lot of time to prepare things. We kind of did have to dive into things immediately. I have to say that I was really impressed by the younger cast who were coming into something that is so high profile. They are starting off with maybe not that many films under their belt, but they have a real sort of openness and a lack of an attitude or a security that can lead to bad behavior or what ever else. There was a superb talent at the base of it, but there was a real openness. I have to say that I was very impressed by that."

When asked about the grey area between having Magneto starting out as a killer and then turning into a hero, Fassbender commented, "I think personally as an audience member and as an actor, I much prefer to find the ambiguity and that grey area, and I think nowadays, especially in the big sort of commercial films, it's much too easy for the audience and they tend to get spoon-fed, so it's much more interesting for me if people leave the theater and they start asking themselves questions and they have to find their own moral compass about what these characters have been doing. In terms of the justification for what he does, I could see where the motivation was and where the motivation came from. I've always said that for me, Magneto or Erik is a Machiavellian character, the end justifies the means, and that really kind of sums him up best in one line."

Bacon had his own two cents on the idea of playing a villain in the movie. "I think it's also important to remember that a lot of people say to me, ‘So what's it like playing the villain, playing an evil guy, playing the bad guy.' I don't think that what I'm doing is bad, right, so if I'm really in the skin of the person, I don't think of myself as a bad guy. I think of myself as a good guy. Obviously, my perception of the world is one where humans are a threat to our survival, and that as Mike said, the end has to justify the means. The ways he goes about it and the misguided nature of it, and the power-hungry megalomaniacal aspect of him is there, but he's not thinking, ‘I'm going to do something evil now.'"

Fassbender mused a bit more about his character's motivations. "His actions are one thing, but his philosophy stands true. Everything he says comes to fruition. This idea of the human race. As we all know, history teaches us that we are an incredibly destructive race and the fact that whenever a fear element comes into something that is unknown or different we tend to destroy it. So all of those discussions that Charles and Erik have, in the end, the human beings prove Erik right.

"I think the other things we realized in the other X-Men movies is that quite often the forces of humanity are lead by Machiavellian humans also," McAvoy added. "In this movie, I feel like the humans decide to take out all of the mutants because they are scared. It is a very human reaction, which makes them less of a bad guy, but it also makes you go, 'Well, he is right because they aren't even trying to be bad guys and they are still going to wipe us out.' They are just reacting. It makes it more real I think."

When asked about their favorite scene to shoot, McAvoy said, "I enjoyed Cerebro, that thing that's always in the X-Men movies, it's kind of like the Death Star of the X-Men, and our version of Cerebro in this movie, whereas in the other movies, it's all very sleek and shiny and it looks like you got it at Ikea, this one it looks like it has lollipops sticking out of it. One of the good things about the film is that the design is kind of kitch."

"There's a naivety to it as well," Fassbender agreed.

"But I don't think we ever felt like we had to play it up that much," McAvoy added.

"I think that one of the things that Matthew screamed at me from the monitors one day was that I was going a little too ‘60s," Bacon admitted. "It's interesting because you kind of go, ‘What kind of direction is that? How do I handle that?' but in fact, he was right, and it made a lot of sense to me and I sort of got it. Like I said, I was starting to play some kind of idea rather than just sort of being there and living it."

Despite the hectic shoot, McAvoy was thrilled with how it turned out. "I phoned Michael within half an hour to just go, ‘Dude, you just have to just see it quick because you are going to be relieved. You're going to be able to go to the toilet again." We were worried because sometimes these things are a nightmare when you make it. It's well-documented that it was and there is no point in hiding it. It has turned out really good. We always thought that it could be really different and really brilliant or really bad and different."

Bacon was also impressed with the final film. "I was completely knocked out. I really was. Many people that I contacted said to me, "You know, I don't think I've ever heard you react to one of your movies like that." It was also super cool for me because there is so much that I am not in and that I wasn't really seeing or being shot in that I didn't know. I didn't know the relationships between all of these guys and I didn't see all of the sets that they were on. So a lot of this stuff I was seeing for the first time. Even though we had seen some of the mock ups of the effects, they are jaw dropping. They are so well done. Even scenes that we are in, we don't know how exactly that is going to pan out. For instance, I had no idea what my own power was going to look like. It was really great. I was thrilled."

And might we see Fassbender return as Magneto sometime in the future? "They never want to pass up a chance to make money, so if we make money on this one, I'm sure we will be back next summer," the actor laughed.

X-Men: First Class opens everywhere on June 3. You can read our exclusive interview with director Matthew Vaughn here.