"X-Men: Days of Future Past" reunites many of the same cast members who appeared in the franchise's previous installments (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page), but at the New York press conference for the film it was series newcomer Peter Dinklage who became the shining star.
The Emmy-winning "Game of Thrones" actor joins the cast as Bolivar Trask, the military scientist who's responsible for the Sentinels, oversized robots designed to detect and kill mutants. Fancy that: The only new addition to the "X-Men" roundtable -- a man who plays the film's chief antagonist, at that -- is the star who attracted the biggest laughs and offered the most poignant anecdotes during May 10's 30-minute Q&A session.
"I jump at the chance to do these little indie movies," Dinklage joked. "Sometimes they can shine more than the big ones, given the right script and working with the right actors." ("Days of Future Past" was reportedly 20th Century Fox's second most-expensive movie ever, behind "Avatar," which was made for $237 million and cost an additional $150 million to market. The "Days of Future Past" production budget alone is expected to have topped $200 million.)
Sitting alongside Dinklage at the press conference were Stewart, Jackman, Page, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. The anecdote that had the crowd rolling the most came during the cast's discussion of Richard Nixon, who's part of the movie's 1970s flashbacks. Played by Mark Carmacho, Nixon is what stands between Trask and the Sentinels becoming government-approved mutant bulldozers. Of course, with a historical figure as idiosyncratic as Nixon, movies have to be cautious not to make the president into a caricature. Dinklage praised Carmacho and the "X-Men" makeup team for not veering into cartoonish territory, especially since his family has something of a personal connection to Nixon.
"My mother was an elementary-school teacher for 35 years, and she taught at the Nixon School in New Jersey. I was raised a very liberal Democrat, and she was protesting Nixon while he was in office. We have a picture of my mother and President Nixon shaking hands, much to her ..." At this point, Dinklage trailed off and can do nothing but grimace to punctuate his thought. "But we put it up on the mantle and rubbed it in her face for a little while there."
Dinklage plays the definitive villain of "Days of Future Past," but the actor takes umbrage with that label being slapped on his characters. "'Game of What'?" he asked when the Q&A's moderator posed a question about the actor becoming the "go-to" bad guy in both TV and film, thanks to Trask and "Game of Thrones" favorite Tyrion Lannister. Even the "X-Men" brute's intentions are multi-dimensional.
"I wanted to argue with him about what he said: 'two villains.' This guy, sure, but not so much the other guy," he said, with "the other guy" referring to Tyrion. "I’ve said that before, even regarding [Trask], and it was more a highfalutin actor thing of not judging your character or seeing him as a villain -- 'I go back to the text.' Having not been asked for the next 'X-Men' movie yet, I go back to the text. [Trask] really believes he’s doing the right thing. He wants to save humankind worldwide, and at the same time, in the time of war -- the Vietnam War, one of the worst wars in our recent history ... well, I guess they're all really bad wars -- he thinks this is an opportunity to bring the world together. But he’s also a capitalist, and I think if you’re going to tack on 'villain' or 'evil' to someone, those are the guys that I don’t trust: war profiteers. And he sure has his big 'T' on all these cargo containers with the Sentinels in them, and that’s ego, war profiteering. That’s where true villainy for me lays. The guy screaming at a tree in Central Park, he's crazy -- I get that, being a New Yorker. But the guys down on Wall Street in the suits bleeding people of their life -- that's villainy to me."
OTHER ODDS AND ENDS FROM THE "X-MEN" CAST
"Days of Future Past" marks the second "X-Men" installment in which McAvoy and Fassbender play the younger Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Jackman says their scenes together are the movie's most striking sequences.
"In terms of intensity, I remember very clearly sitting at the back of that private plane watching these two guys go at it," Jackman said of a scene the three actors share. "And I say this absolutely sincerely that I was never sure it would be possible to fill the shoes of [Ian McKellen, the original Magneto] and [Patrick Stewart, the original Professor X] and what they did in 'X-Men,' but when I saw 'First Class,' I realized these guys did it with such aplomb and confidence. Not only did they feel like younger versions of the characters, or the more inexperienced versions of those characters, but they also had made it their own. It’s an incredible thing, what you guys did. Like [Ian and Patrick] anchored the film in 'X1,' I think these guys anchor the film in this."
There's an uncanniness about the elder Professor X sharing a scene with his younger self. But, for the actors, filming that moment was a get-in-and-get-out affair.
"It was, in a sense, a no-brainer how that was staged," Stewart said. "If it had been in a set where we could have gotten to pour cocktails, open the window, have a cigarette -- a very different kind of scene -- and I’m not quite sure how it came about that we were nose to nose like that, but I can’t now think of any other possible way of making the scene work because you are looking into the eyes of yourself. It was James’ first day of work on the movie, and it was my last day of work on the movie. My bags were packed. I was ready to get out of dodge. I don’t recall rehearsing it. We knew the lines, and they rolled the camera. It was, I don’t know, 40 minutes’ work, as far as I can recall. I shouldn’t have said all that. I should have said we worked on it for weeks."
Of the many "X-Men" cast members likely to secure a place on People's Most Beautiful list, one stands out above the rest: Omar Sy, who makes his debut in the franchise as Bishop.
"On all the films that I’ve been on -- and if I look around here, I’m sure that all of us have been on films with big movie stars -- I have never seen females on a set react to an actor more than with Omar," Jackman said. "When I walked into the makeup trailer just as he was leaving, literally three women collapsed."
Jackman stopped at this point, noticing McAvoy gesturing to himself as though Jackman had mixed up the details of the story. "Although James was leaving at the same time, so it’s hard to say."
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" opens in wide release on May 23.