In the opening lyrics to the theme song from the “Frasier” television show, Kelsey Grammer sings:
Hey baby, I hear the blues a-callin’,
Tossed salad and scrambled eggs.
While I don’t know about the salad or eggs, it appears Grammer has decided to answer the blues call, because he appears both blue and fuzzy as the character of Beast in the upcoming “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
CBR News (along with other journalists) had the opportunity to visit the set of this film in Vancouver, Canada in December of 2005. In addition to chatting with several members of the production, we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to talk with Grammer about the role.
As we interviewed the actor, he was in the makeup trailer being “transformed” into Beast by several makeup artists. His head and face were painted blue, but none of the various hair pieces had been attached yet, so he was a “hairless” Beast at this point. He kind of looked like a cross between an orc from the “Lord of the Rings” film and a Smurf. We began our chat by discussing the makeup process…
How long does it take you to get into makeup and costume?
It’s not so bad. It’s about two and a half hours, maybe three hours, total, before we’re ready to shoot.
How long does it take to get everything off?
About forty-five minutes. Again, it’s not so bad. We’re the first on deck and the last to leave – that’s our distinction in this film.
What is it like to wear prosthetics for this film? Is this your first time with this experience?
Well actually, just recently I did another film where I wore prosthetics. Not quite as complex as these, but I did some age makeup and a different nose, so that prepared me for this – which was pretty extraordinary. When I got fitted the first time, I thought, “Oh Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”
You’re not really buried in makeup here; we see a lot of your face…
I think my persona is evident underneath the mask, even though it’s fully-realized. Certainly, I’m not trying to disguise my voice in any way. So some of what people assume about me, Kelsey Grammer, is evident in Hank McCoy, or Beast: a kind of innate intelligence and a well-spoken way of communicating. [Laughs]
Did you get a body scan?
Oh, we did all the scanning stuff. Most likely I’m going to be an action figure. I’m a little worried about, you know, my lack of merchandising contract on this film. [Grins]
What type of process is this?
Oh, well, you guys [looks to the makeup people] can probably answer that better than I can.
MAKEUP: It’s a five-piece prosthetic that’s glued on his face. We’ve got everything glued on [at the moment], so now we’re into the painting phase. And then come the hair pieces, which are behind you guys. There’s six hairpieces: the wig, brows, mutton-chops, and chin. And he’s got a bodysuit, gloves, the whole bit.
KELSEY GRAMMER: Yes, I have evening gloves as well as kick-around, work gloves. [Chuckles]
Have your kids seen you in the makeup yet?
Yes, my daughter [who’s four] has seen me in the makeup. She calls me “Blue Guy.” I actually had her come up with me the first week or two when we were shooting and let her watch it unfold and take place, so she didn’t get too disconcerted by it. She was a little scared at first, but then realized that the old comic genius was still inside there. [Laughs] She just now giggles about the whole idea.
Because you’re wearing so much makeup, do you have to act “bigger?”
You have to kind of “warm up the mask” a bit, as it were. You need to do a couple of stretches and move the mouth around, and the eyes, and actually check in the mirror a little bit – do a little homework in terms of what kind of expression is possible within the constraints of the mask. It’s pretty expressive. Of course, the eyes are still my eyes, and that’s 80% of your communication anyway. And the eyes are working overtime.
You have the big feet too, in this one?
I’ve got some big feet, and hopefully you’ll never see ’em. [Laughs]
How does it feel coming into a film where most of the actors have done this twice before?
They were very warm and welcoming and…most of them know who I am, so they weren’t, “Oh, who’s this guy?” They may even be “Frasier” fans! But they were very, very open to the idea. There may have been reluctance at first, who knows? I don’t know how many people thought, “Oh no, Frasier as Beast, oh my…” But they rapidly put that behind them on the first viewing (in makeup).
What was it like when the rest of the cast got to see you as Beast for the first time?
I think they were speechless. It’s pretty successful makeup. I mean, you can still see that it’s me in there. I look kind of like I did when I was about twenty-five, actually. I had that much hair then. [Smiles]
How did the part come up for you?
Actually, the previous director, the one who was originally going to do the film – Matthew [Vaughn] is his name – he was insistent that I play the part, so I guess he just knew something that other people didn’t. But I don’t know all the reasons why he was asked to step aside and why they brought Brett on, but I’m enjoying working with Brett and I think he’s going to deliver a good movie.
Did Matthew Vaughn give his reasons why he wanted you so badly?
I don’t know. I think it might have just been a certainty. Like a lightning rod kind of thing where he thought, “This is the only guy for the job.”
When you were first offered this role, what was your initial reaction? This is a little different from your normal roles…
Yeah. I thought, “Cool. Great.” As an actor, you just hope that in your lifetime you’ll create several memorable characters. So, I had a shot at one, which I did for twenty years. [Laughs] And here’s another one, which is probably pretty memorable, too.
Was your first introduction to these characters through the films?
Yeah. I wasn’t familiar with them (from the comics). Although I have some friends who are familiar with them, and this guy here [indicates makeup person] is a true expert on everything.
Beast is a very athletic character. Have you been doing a lot of action scenes?
Not a ton. There’s another guy that dresses up like me and jumps around. But, I’ve always been a fairly athletic guy myself, so it’s not hard to buy that I’m capable of rending people in half. [Laughs]
Have you had to do any fight training for this?
No, no, not past the old street life that I put behind me. [Laughs]
Is it difficult to stay warm out there?
No, not in the suit I have. So actually, it’s a blessing in that way. There’s another body suit and pants that I put on to make me more shapely. [Grins]
The picture of you in makeup and costume seems like it’s a combination of previous Beast “looks” from the comics, as well as the newer costume from the more recent issues. Which look are they most trying to emulate?
Well, they tried to actually make this [the costume in the picture] an older, vintage X-Men suit, from Hank’s time when he was younger and not into politics yet. So there’s a distinct difference between this and what the guys are wearing now. So I think they’ve upgraded the X-Men suits for this one. They’re a little sexier and leatherier.
Was Beast a member of the X-Men before?
Yes, he pre-dates almost everybody. He was one of their first students of Magneto – Eric [Lensherr, Magneto’s real name] – and Xavier. He goes way back. As does Jean, I guess – Jean was recruited early on.
Tell us about the character as you see him.
Well, Hank McCoy has integrated into the political world quite successfully. In his desire to be of service to his fellow mutants and to mankind, I think he’s found a path for himself. In the context of the film, it might not necessarily be where he’s meant to be forever. Then again, it might be. [Smiles]
I can’t divulge too much, but he’s doing his best to do the world some good in whatever capacity he can find. And that’s what I like about him. That’s Hank and Beast. Beast, of course – his powers as Beast, throughout most of the movie, are at least on the back-burner. He’s doing his best not to have to resort to violence or to enter into any kind of a physical confrontation, because he believes that diplomacy is probably the best way to way to work until things come to a head. And of course there is only one answer, and that’s to stand shoulder to shoulder with his comrades and fight against a clear danger.
One of the central conflicts in the film revolves around the notion of a cure for mutants – a cure that would take away their powers and make them “normal.” How does Beast feel about this cure?
He has mixed emotions about it because Beast has had a lifetime of being extraordinarily different, visually, as well as knowing that he’s a mutant. And some of those powers are admirable and beneficial – and he has extraordinary intellect and great strength – but it might be tough for him to get a girlfriend. And so maybe that desire to be loved is something that he’s had to shelve since blue became his primary hue. [Laughs] So to answer your question a little more accurately, he is drawn to the idea of being normal again, and of course, whatever that entails is part of his dilemma in this piece.
In playing Beast – a mutant – what acting tools do you use to understand someone who’s covered in blue fur? And how do you try to make him relatable to audiences?
Actors always use everything about their own lives – it’s just an automatic thing. A sense of loss, of pain, of success, joy…all those things feed into whatever the part is and give it its authenticity. So I guess I’m making liberal use of my past, but nothing so specific as to think, “Oh, you know, I’m such an outcast” or “Oh, I’m unhappy.”
Somebody told me in an interview a while ago that Bryan Singer said that the movie was all about being gay, but I think it minimizes the story – to isolate it to one uniqueness. I think it’s about everybody being unique, and there are different manifestations of that for each character.
Is this the first time you’ve jumped into a role where the character had an established fan base and high expectations from fans?
Yeah, and you can’t live up to those, can you? [Laughs] You just have to put it out there with your soul and your heart, and hopefully people will respond. I’m used to doing that. It’s great to be able to play another a role, a role that is obviously so full and fully-realized before you get to it. It’s almost like playing a famous person, like playing Orson Welles or Winston Churchill; it brings that kind of associated power with it. So that’s kind of fun, and hopefully people will be pleased.
The associate producer said that your character is so good in this movie that you could have your own movie after this. You’re not even done with this, but would you be interested in reprising this?
Well, I made a deal to do another one if they want, but that may be a blessing or it may be a curse! [Laughs] We’ll see what happens. That’s flattering words, it’s nice to hear.
Do you approach something like this with a big element of fun?
Well, I think these films take themselves very seriously. I think there’s some room within the context of the character of Beast – historically in the comic strip as well as in my history as an actor – that may give us a little comic relief, but it would be unwise to say that he isn’t a departure from my usual work. He’s a serious person to be dealt with in a serious way in this film.
Okay. Then what Shakespearian character would you most liken Beast to?
Actually, in history, I think he’s most like Frederick Douglas. He kind of resembles him when he gets fully done up. And he’s a pioneer of mutant rights. As for Shakespearian characters…well, he’s a cross between several. He’s very wise, so he’s a bit like Jaques from “As You Like It,” or Panderus in “Troilus And Cressida,” because he understands the evils of society. And he’s also a bit like Henry V, because he likes to rally round a cause.
Have you related to the character on that level?
I think these characters are Shakespearian. These films are that big. They have big heart, and that’s one reason I was really drawn to it. It’s not just about the special effects and the looks, it’s about the love between these characters and what they’re willing to sacrifice to preserve that love, and that’s terrific.
Would you say your character is kind of a reverse, mirror-image of Wolverine? How do those two characters interact in this movie?
They interact as a team, of sorts. Maybe reluctantly, but there’s great respect. They certainly know of one another. The rest is for you to enjoy as it unfolds in the film.
We heard you had your first scene with Magneto yesterday. Ian said he was pleased with it.
Well, I was pleased with it, too. It’s a little bit odd to jump into the middle of what is basically the climax of a film the first time you meet somebody. I think we’ve met online, at the Golden Globes once or twice, and exchanged kudos to one another. He’s a terrific actor. I mean, it was a very simple routine to do, physically, for each of us, but it’s a very high point in the film. I know we’re going to be shooting some more coverage of it. I think it went well.
We were told there are a lot of mutants fighting a lot of mutants in this film…
That’s a safe assumption.
Are there any particular mutants that you “take on” in this film?
Well, I deal with Magneto and I deal with a character called Callisto. Storm and Wolverine and I do a little bit of work together, and some of the new kids are helpful. That’s about it. Hank’s presence, of course, is a little bit of a sleight of hand thing. It’s a bit of a misleader at first, because you don’t really assume…I mean, people that are fans of the comic will know that he probably can fight pretty well, but in this manifestation of his character, he’s sworn off that, basically. He’s more of an advisor – a senior diplomat, basically. So, his physical prowess should, I think, surprise and delight the audience.
Beast is known for his intellectual persona. Is that still a large part of his character in the film?
Well, I think that might have been one of the things that attracted them to me as an actor. I mean, people just make an assumption about my intelligence, which is pretty much underestimated most of the time. [Laughs]
We’re not gilding a lily in this case. I mean, he speaks well and he speaks, basically, in my voice. He speaks as an educated man would. Is it to the point of being absurd? I’ve read a couple of the comics and I went, “Well, that’s a little over-the-top.” I do not think he’s over-the-top in terms of his vocabulary. However, I’m willing to explore it if the right moment presents itself.
Do you get the chance to be comedic in the film?
The film really isn’t, you know, funny. My character has lighter moments by virtue of my ability to probably be ironic. I think that may be as high comedy as we’re going to get – a bit of irony. He’s a cheerful fellow, and certainly fun in battle. So I’ve think we’ve got a little room in there to actually have a bit of comic relief – just within the context of the big fight.
What’s your reaction, looking in the mirror right now?
Well, this is sort of the in-between Teletubby and Beast manifestation. There is a Teletubby that comes out when the makeup comes off, which is really scary. [Laughs] It’s fun to be able to put on a mask and play something.
CBR’s coverage of the “X-Men: The Last Stand” set visit is co-produced with help from our friends at Comics2Film.com.
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