Set in 1983, 10 years after the events of 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse tracks the resurrection of the world’s first mutant, the ominously named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient being who is so enormously powerful that he basically cannot be killed. In the comics, Apocalypse employs four horsemen to do his bidding, and — as revealed in the X-Men: Apocalypse panel at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend — in the movie, those horsemen include a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy), the mutably villainous Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and a brand-new character to the film franchise, Psylocke (Olivia Munn).
Before their panel at Comic-Con, BuzzFeed News sat down with Isaac, Fassbender, and Munn to talk about managing the massive fan expectations that come with taking on such an enormous storyline — and the importance of making sure their characters translate onto the screen as recognizable people, and not over-the-top gods.
Olivia, just before Comic-Con, you posted a video to Instagram of you practicing your swordplay for Apocalypse with your boyfriend Aaron Rodgers in the background…
Michael Fassbender: (To Munn) Are you promoting yourself on Instagram separately? Aaron — I don't think he's in the movie.
Olivia Munn: Well, I hashtagged Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac. Hashtag, my two dads.
MF: No, that's OK. I'll start doing that too.
OM: Yeah, I didn't know how to do sword work before…
Oscar Isaac: She really didn't.
OM: All the guys just kind of knew how to use a sword in some way, and then they threw me into training because of the obvious. I had to do, like, six hours of training every day.
OI: And now it's insane.
MF: I want to see this! I haven't seen it. (To Munn) Do you feel empowered?
OM: Yeah. That's the thing. I was saying to my boyfriend, that it's interesting — [usually], you're training to look a certain way. But this time, I've just been training so much that it's just about becoming capable. And the coolest thing is seeing my body change and how I feel so empowered because the goal is just get good at this. It has nothing to do with what I look like. If something happened to us right now, you guys, I'd break off this chair leg…
MF: I love that! We're so safe in here!
OM: …and I would turn it into a sword.
OI: We're totally protected.
MF: We just need a broom or something. (laughs)
OM: "Wait! Burglars! I just need…"
MF: "I just need a broom! Fuck! If I had a broom…"
OM: “Sorry, guys. Can't help you here.”
So, you all are playing characters that have been portrayed in comic books and other media for decades. And the fans of them often have very strong opinions about how those characters should be represented — that's part of what Comic-Con is all about. How do you navigate those expectations?
MF: Ignore it. Basically, what can you do with it? Do you know what I mean?
OI: Other than making you self-conscious about what you're doing.
OI: For me, I'm a huge fan. I was a huge fan, particularly of Apocalypse, since I was a kid. So I feel like since I'm getting the shot to do it, then I can just follow my own discretion because of that. And sometimes, what's fun to do is play against what people would expect, or what people would want you to do, because it is a different medium. To a certain extent, we are embodying certain things that are kind of mythical. If you look at Apocalypse, if you actually were to do or speak in the way that it seems like he should, it would probably be laughable. It doesn't work, I don't think, in this medium.
OM: Is that why you're doing a Jamaican accent? (Laughter)
OI: Yeah! You go against what's expected!
OM: I mean, that's completely against what's expected.
Michael, you had another actor, Ian McKellan, who played the older version of the character before you.
MF: Yeah. I ignore him too. Until I had to fucking pay attention to him in the last one, because he was going to be in it with me.
OM: He actually ignores everyone on set.
MF: It's one of my characteristics. I ignore things.
OI: He doesn't even know we're shooting.
MF: I just don't like to face up to reality or anything. No, no, to answer your question properly, I commit to it. Obviously, I respect that people are very passionate about it. [Comic-Con] is a prime example. People, they save up their money all year to come here, from Australia, Asia, wherever. But everything's in the script. And I did reference some stuff from the comic books, definitely at the beginning when I was introduced to this world, because I was not a comic book fan. I did take lots of images of Magneto and have them around my trailer, just to get an idea about how I would commit to that once I'm in the cape and the full outfit.
OI: The spirit of it.
MF: Yeah, exactly. And with Ian McKellan, you know, I was a big fan of his work. He's a legend. But when we did First Class, [director] Matthew [Vaughn] was saying to me, “I don't want you to do his accent. I want you to do your own accent.” So we did that. But in the second one, Ian McKellan was going to be in it, so then I went off and studied Ian McKellan's accent. And then, this one, I've just decided to do a kind of hybrid of both of them. (laughs) So you could say, my delivery of Magneto is pretty inconsistent.
Olivia, how do you feel about fan expectations, especially considering you used to cover Comic-Con when you worked on Attack of the Show?
OM: I think people put this weird thing on the fanbase of what they want. Like, the fans want…
MF: …to be surprised as well.
OM: Yeah. They're like, Look, we want to see this character come to life. He has these powers. Just respect the storyline. But they want to see what Michael Fassbender or Oscar Isaac — what you're going to bring to it. The fans aren't going, like, All right, my little puppets! Dance dance dance!
OI: Some of them are. Some of them are!
FM: I think it's exactly as you said. There are certain things that are cool, number one, and should be respected. And then the other thing is I think they want to be sort of surprised and sort of provoked. You know, even if some of them come out and they go, "I hate it when he did that." And the other goes, "I liked that!" It causes a discussion. They leave the movie theater, and the conversation continues.
Oscar, given how massive and extreme Apocalypse looks in the comics, how radically different is your appearance in the movie from how you look now?
OM: Very similar.
OI: It's pretty close if I had been drowned. He's blue, and it's a full prosthetic getup. It's pretty different. Although, I think some of my face comes through. But if it's terrible, I'll just deny I was in it!
MF: "That's not me!"
OI: "That's not fucking me! I'm suing them right now for using my name.”
OM: I was telling him, we spend so much time with him in character, and when we cut, we just hang out and talk. So I think of Oscar as Apocalypse. So when I first saw him [without the makeup], it threw me off a little bit.
OI: You were grossed out.
OM: I was grossed out! I was like, I don't want to see that face!
OI: "Who is this guy that keeps talking to me?"
On the other side of the fandom coin, in your own personal lives, do you have people who are themselves comic book fans?
OM: My family, you know, we're Asian, and we've got to fulfill all Asian [stereotypes]. Like, we're really good at math, my brother's a master physicist, my sister's a lawyer, and we love comic books. And so, getting ready for this, I would just talk with my sister and my brother about Psylocke. Oscar and I talked a lot about it too, and that's where Bryan [Singer, Apocalypse director] was so open about hearing about how I really felt about the character. She was drawn in a very sexual way. I mean, Psylocke is [an] extremely, sexually dressed character. But, she's always had…
MF: She's promiscuous. Let's face it.
OM: No! That's what…
MF: (Laughs) She likes to have a good time.
MF: I'm not saying that's a bad thing.
OM: She has a sword. She doesn't need anyone else. She has her own sword!
OM: She always had substantive plot lines. I was able to tell [Bryan], “Psylocke went to university and had a great family. She has this really sexual outfit on, but she was always a badass.”
OI: They're like Greek statues, you know? The idea of comic books, it's definitely magnified and overdone to a certain extent, but it's the human form, and it's kind of celebrated, whether it's masculine or female. But they tend to be kind of…
MF: Greek-type gods, yeah.
OM: So when I wanted to talk to Bryan about making sure that even though she dresses in a very provocative suit…
MF: She's not easy. (laughs)
OM: That she's not easy. You make her strong and smart and a badass, and give her all those qualities that she has. So [with] my sister, we would talk it out.
MF: You know, the guys, we're in tights, too.
OI: I'm starving myself right now for my loincloth scene. So I know how it feels.
OM: You guys aren't lubed up every day by two middle-aged women, are you?
OI: I get some lube.
MF: "I get some lube!"
OM: Well, I'm sorry!
MF: (Laughs. To Munn) Only when he found out that you had it.
OM: He was like, "Olivia's getting lubed?!"
OI: "I'm talking to my agent."
MF: "Why am I getting dry-docked every time?!"
OI: Getting dry-docked! (laughs) Powdered. I get powdered.
OM: Like a baby.
MF: Different strokes for different folks.
OM: I want to be powdered. You just sit with your legs [up]?
OI: (Nods) And they just go… (Mimes patting powder onto his leg) pat pat pat pat.
OM: And they roll you into Apocalypse.