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‘X’ marks the spot
Most of original cast mates return for sci-fi epic

by Lawrence Ferber
If you were able to take a drug to change your sexual orientation, would you take it? Or would you choose to retain your individuality regardless of societal acceptance? And would you try and stop others from taking the “cure” or let them decide for themselves?
“X-Men: The Last Stand,” the third entry in the series, offers a poignant metaphor of this scenario. When a cure for mutation is invented, some mutants decry it while others line up to take it — and yet others want to destroy the scientists responsible. This sets off a war between the mutants themselves.

Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart and openly gay actor Ian McKellan are back again as mutant rivals in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.”
In one corner are Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and other X-Men. In the other are the bitter Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood of Mutants including Pyro (Aaron Stanford), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) and the resurrected psychic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whose destructive new powers have turned her into the Dark Phoenix. Phoenix can destroy anything in her path, including her former X-Men teammates…and loves.

“Maybe overall, this one is the biggest of the three movies,” Janssen opines. “The most glossy, Hollywood, and hopefully most successful.”

Gathered in Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel for a full day of press and media, the film’s talent (barring McKellen who, sadly, was out of town) and director Brett Ratner were game to discuss the films’ queer analogies, singing and dancing mutants, and what may come next.

Hugh Jackman recreates his role as the muscled Wolverine in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’

But, back to that poignant queer metaphor thing: In the “X-Men” comic book/movie mythology, people are born with distinctive mutations that kick in at puberty. These mutations can range from an ability to walk through walls; wings; shape-shifting; control over the weather; awesome psychic powers and much more. Bryan Singer, the openly gay director of the first two “X-Men” films, was keenly aware of mutants — regarded by society as outsiders, hated and persecuted by government — being a metaphor for LGBT individuals. In “X2,” the character Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) came out to his parents as a mutant during one memorable scene (his saddened mother asked if he tried not being a mutant.).

Singer bowed out of “X3” due to his commitment to “Superman Returns.” But new director Ratner (“Red Dragon”), determined to be consistent with the style Singer established, was also aware of this metaphor and what the impact might be if a “cure” for gay and lesbian sexuality developed in the real world. “‘X3’ has a lot of points where the gay community will go ‘Wow, what if they offered a cure?’” Ratner remarks. “Yeah, every single character in this movie is gonna have an opinion of it. If you ask them would you take the cure, [some might say] ‘Well maybe when I was 12 years old I would.’ Or the person grows up and says ‘This is who I am and I’m proud of who I am.’ But I’m not just going to narrow it down to the gay community. Blacks, any minority. It’s a very contemporary, relatable subject matter and it’s really about a choice. Do you choose to retain your uniqueness or conform? And what are the implications of that?”

“I think the metaphor transcends your sexual [orientation], too,” agrees Marsden. “I think the metaphor is great with the ‘X-Men’ — it could be your skin color or where you come from or religion. So Brett realizes the theme of these films and deals with that.”

One “X2” cast member who definitely appreciated the queer metaphor was out actor Alan Cumming, who played the blue-skinned Nightcrawler. While Cumming didn’t return for “X3,” Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”) joined the cast as Beast, a blue, furry genius who serves as the U.S. Government’s Secretary of Mutant Affairs. “Alan appeared on ‘Frasier’ just as ‘X2’ opened,” Grammer recalls. “He said [the makeup process to turn him blue was] hell. Hell. And I said, ‘Oh, I wanna try that out.’ But it’s not bad getting into it — just hard staying in it for a long time. Not the most freeing or conducive to getting yourself going. You have to attend the makeup as well as attend to the character.”

Grammer was occasionally distracted from his makeup’s constraints by Hugh Jackman, who regularly led the cast in song and dance breaks. “We all mince around and sing!” Grammer smiles. “We shook a lot of our bodies in the silliness of the late hours. Sang a lot of songs.”

Jackman, who will soon step back into the role of gay Australian singer-songwriter legend Peter Allen for a Sydney engagement of “The Boy From Oz,” engineered a bit of on-camera dancing during a climactic action scene. Wolverine and his allies form a defensive line to stop Magneto’s Brotherhood, and “in one take I said ‘Stay together and what ever you do…don’t-stop-dancing!’” Jackman laughs. “They played ‘I’m Too Sexy,’ so I start dancing and there’s a close-up of Kelsey and he had no idea I was going to do this and he’s all serious and starts doing [a little dance]! And you’ll never see this footage because it would so undermine this franchise.”

With his accelerated healing factor, indestructible adamantium skeleton and retractable claws, Wolverine entails one of the X-Men’s most beloved, enduring characters. He certainly plays a large role in “X3,” leading the team against Magneto, the Brotherhood, and the now evil Jean Grey — who was previously his unrequited love.

“Wolverine has to take on more responsibility,” Jackman notes, “He’s obviously hurting from the whole thing with Jean, and with this movie it goes to a whole new level. I love that. How far would you go for the woman you love, even if in his case it’s unrequited love.”

Another character that went from X-friend to X-foe since “X2” is Pyro, the fire-controlling youth played by Aaron Stanford. Since joining Magneto at the end of “X2,” did he learn to become more, er, flaming? After all, his hair is a lot more blonde and fabulously styled in “X3.”

“That’s a loaded question,” Stanford responds, amused. “I think yes. But you know what the hair was? That was an attempt to be a little more true to the comic. The actual Pyro character had hair coiffed up in this flame. It looked like a giant candle flame and I said, ‘Well I certainly don’t want to do that.’ But I thought I’d move it a little bit closer and at least have a flame-ish effect to the hair. How’s that?”

The orange up-do might make Pyro (Aaron Stanford) a little less menacing, but Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) still looks like he’s about to melt from the burn-out.

Storm’s snow-white coiffure has certainly received a lot of fan feedback (mostly ridicule) since the first film. And while she finally donned a great-looking white-and-grey wig in “X3,” Halle Berry was most concerned with garnering more substantial material to work with. In fact, she threatened to walk away from the role. “Well, that’s what I threatened, but I really wasn’t going to do that,” Berry admits. “And this is all I ever wanted. Not really more screen time, because I know it’s an ensemble, but if Storm spoke for five minutes I wanted it to be five minutes that meant something. Five minutes of character development, five minutes of point of view or back-story, history. Not just ‘Go get the plane,’ or ‘Come on, kids, let’s go!’ To mean something after three movies!”
She got what she wanted — Storm is one of the most opinionated, vocal characters when it comes to the cure issue, takes a stronger leadership role, gets to fly and, at one point, literally spins like a tornado. Or does Storm twirl? “She spins,” Berry assures. One wirework stunt saw her complete 24 revolutions within 3 seconds. “If I were twirling I wouldn’t have vomited! I was spinning!”

While the “X-Men” film trilogy does seem to come to an end with “X3,” there are spin-offs already being prepped. Jackman is developing and will star in a Wolverine feature, while a prequel about young Magneto is also in the works. McKellen has expressed an interest in playing this younger version of his character thanks to a groundbreaking de-aging effects process that allowed him and Stewart to appear 25 years younger during a scene at the start of “X3.”

Since a bevy of additional characters from the numerous “X-Men” comic series make cameo appearances in “X3” — including the openly gay Phat (from “X-Statix”), who can transform from waif to superchub in a moment — the spin-off possibilities are endless.
Patrick Stewart for one would like another opportunity to hit full throttle in his X-wheelchair again.

“Only a few times have I said give me full throttle on this,” he admits. “It’s kept tuned way down most of the time, it’s very powerful. You can’t actually do wheelies, but you can spin so fast that it becomes this sort of blur. My only disappointment about the wheelchair is there was this scene in the first movie where Hugh and I were walking down a corridor and had to turn into an elevator. The elevator door was only about half an inch on either side of the chair, just wide enough to go through. And I finally did one shot where, without breaking, I turned through the door, went inside, then spun it around so before the door closed I was facing the camera. They cut the scene out!”

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