The future is not a happy place for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men comrades in their huge new adventure, Days of Future Past. With the world devastated by war, and mutants in particular facing extinction, Xavier and his long-time friend/occasional enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen) hatch a plan to send Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to his younger self in the 1970s.
While there, he must convince the First Class era versions of Xavier and Magneto to put aside their vast differences and bitter rivalry to work together and stop the dark, dangerous future from coming to pass. But it won't be an easy job, as Charles Xavier in 1973 is in a dark place himself - and it might take meeting his future self to knock him out of a deep depression...
Stewart returns to the role of Charles Xavier he originated in 2000's X-Men, reuniting with director Bryan Singer and his castmates. He talks about the ease of working with old friends, acting opposite James McAvoy as the younger Xavier and his director's Twitter fascination...
Was it easy to slip back into the character of Charles Xavier?
I would say that it's not too challenging picking up the X-Men reins again and stepping into the shoes of Charles Xavier. This time, it's been a little different because the background to our story is such that the X-Men find themselves not at the start of difficult situations, but almost at the climax of them - a time when not just mutants, but all of society is threatened with extinction by these machines, the Sentinels. The drama and intensity really never let up for us in this film; in the past, we've had lighter moments and sometimes even scenes of quite conventional action. But not in this one, because the external threat is so present and so demanding that everything is at a high level of tension.
Hugh and Ian McKellen have described working with the classic X-Men cast again as a school reunion. Did you see it that way?
Well, of course they would describe it that way, because they're both very childish people! I, on the other hand, am much more mature and grown up than either Hugh or Sir Ian, and I would say it was much more like a regimental-style reunion than something like a school reunion. Old battle-scarred colleagues coming together to down a few glasses of brandy.
Hugh said he saw you and Ian walking arm in arm to set working on lines for your upcoming plays...
Yes, I think at times Bryan, our wonderful director, was irritated to find Ian and myself with our heads in Harold Pinter scripts rather than the film's script! But because Ian and I had many long, complex scenes together in the plays, it was a perfect opportunity, some two months before we started rehearsals, to get some of the lines down. It was very valuable. But people would come across us running lines and would say, 'What's that? I don't recognize those from Days of Future Past...'
Have you noticed any changes in Bryan's directorial style in the years since you last worked with him? Has his style matured?
Bryan was already a very mature filmmaker when we started working on the first X-Men movie. I think one of the ways he has changed is that Bryan has now become much more sensitive and intimate to an actor's way of working and preparation, and has absorbed that into his directing style and technique. That's something I was very much aware of when we were filming Days of Future Past.
James McAvoy said he was a little intimidated filming the scene with you as the two Xaviers. How did you find it?
It was challenging because of the nature of the scene that James and I had to play. It was my last day of work on the movie and his first. So I was in quite a different place and James had to pretty much start cold. But we both found the scene very interesting, and it presented an acting challenge as to how we would respond to being face to face with our younger or older self. I found that challenge fascinating and I wish we'd had more time on-screen together, because I've admired him for many years but never before had an opportunity to work with him until he shot that one scene.
Bryan's films have always carried deeper themes than just the action. What do you think he's trying to say with Days of Future Past?
You must understand that I haven't seen the film yet, and the scenes that I shot only represent probably one-sixth or one-eighth of the content of the film. I've read the script, of course, but many things change and grow and develop between the words on the page and the images on a film. I certainly know that, as with the previous two X-Men films Bryan made, that the issues of prejudice and hostility towards those who are different in any way will be very strongly present in this film, because that was always an important theme. That's still present, to a degree, in Days of Future Past.
Did the film scale feel bigger to you, even given your limited involvement?
It did, yes. For me, certainly, because in the earlier movies, I spent a large portion of each film in Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, so I was in a fairly conventional world, except when we were flying around in the X-Jet. That is not the case at all here. We are a long way from the mansion and in an environment that is strange and, at times, very, very hostile. The first set that we worked on was the monastery location, in which the surviving X-Men regroup to create a plan which might help them to survive against the Sentinels, and this was on one of the largest soundstages I have ever been on, and the set filled the entire stage. So large was it that they could set up a wire and fly me in my chair from one end of the studio to the other about eight feet off the ground, which was great fun and made for quite a spectacular entrance for me! I enjoyed that. I had one or two visitors come on the set and they were astonished at the scale of what they saw. There was never any doubt that it was a big movie, and of course the subject and the themes are big themes also: we're looking at the end of civilization as we know it.
You were apparently a dab hand at maneuvering the wheelchair for the scene at the end of The Wolverine. Can we expect more daredevil skills from Professor X here?
No! For the simple reason that the chair you'll see me in is no longer on wheels but is a hover chair. One of the three chairs that were made for the film actually hovered; it had a pressure system built into it, which could lift the chair and me off the ground - but only an inch or two. And I had no control over it - I was being manipulated all the time. So no I didn't have a chance to get to do my fancy driving from the past. And, of course, it meant that Bryan, who loved racing around in my wheelchair, couldn't. The chairs I had for the second and third movies were extremely high-powered, and had a moderator switch so you could set the speed it could go. We had a lot of fun during breaks, particularly in the shiny corridor outside the Cerebro set, with Bryan in the chair and the moderator set to maximum speed, racing around as though it were a Formula One track!