X-Men movies are big deals. After 16 years and nine feature films, the franchise is one of the top ten highest-grossing of all time. These films are more than just major studio productions, they’re cultural touchstones. After all, with a film history stretching back to 2000, a television history going back to 1992 and a publication history dating back to 1963, plenty of people have grown up with one or more iterations of Marvel’s mutants.
With its sprawling cast, global stakes and a story stretching thousands of years, 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” was no exception. The film not only brought one of the franchise’s most popular villains to life for the very first time on screen, it also re-introduced characters — Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler — back into the fold as major players. There was a lot going on in the massive movie, both on and off screen.
CBR learned many of those production secrets during a recent visit to the Parkwood Estate outside Toronto, which had been transformed into the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Whether discussing the secret romance of Magneto or the totally retro ’80s mall, members of “Apocalypse’s” cast and crew were eager to share. Here are 10 things we learned while hanging out at the X-Mansion.
10. No One Is More ’80s Than Jubilee
In addition to being a superhero movie packed with blue mutants, “X-Men: Apocalypse” was also a period piece charged with bringing the cast into the ’80s. Makeup department head Rita Ciccozzi was tasked with recreating ’80s looks, which she remembered from her own past all to well.
“I grew up in the ’80s, so some of it I wanted to leave behind,” said Ciccozzi with a laugh. “It was great. ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ was ’70s, this was ’80s, so it was a nice progression. Aside from Jubilee, because she was very ’80s, I actually tried to keep them more neutral, like the main cast. Because ’80s can be ‘whoah,’ so I didn’t really want to take the audience out of the moment watching the movie.”
As Ciccozzi said, the energetic and trendy Jubilee gave the film’s stylists plenty to work with. “[Key makeup artist] Rosalina Da Silva did Jubilee, and she did a great job. Jubilee had really ’80s hair; and the wardrobe, those shoulder pads on that jacket — [costume designer] Louise Mingenbach and [hair stylist] Félix [Larivière] did a great job. Rosalina gave her lots of color. [Jubilee] had really lollipop candy color makeup.”
9. Hugh Wears It Well
The makeup department did more than just give mutants mall makeovers. They also had to make their characters gritty and ready for action — that’s exactly what they did with Hugh Jackman. Ciccozzi, whose previous makeup credits include “X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” welcomed the chance to work with Wolverine again. “It’s always great working with Hugh, he’s just so great,” said Ciccozzi.
A scene wherein a totally feral Logan breaks out of his Weapon X captivity posed a unique challenge for Ciccozzi. “We shot [Wolverine’s Weapon X sequence] in January/February of this year . I think we had four days to shoot that. So Hugh came without his chops, because he didn’t have time to grow anything, so for that sequence I laid all that hair on. Then he had a partial or full wig for the length. He had a lot of action and I was a bit worried because it was all hand-laid and he had to have that helmet on and all the wires coming down and the prosthetics. Hugh wears everything well. There are actors that don’t wear things well. You hand lay something and it’s falling off by lunch. It’s just their chemical makeup sometimes. But Hugh wears everything well. It was great, he was doing flips through the air and fighting guards and everything was staying on.”
8. A Family Matter
Appearing in a blockbuster film, specifically one as beloved and well-known as the X-Men series, gives its actors a certain amount of bragging and boasting rights. For Carolina Bartczak, who played Erik Lehnsherr’s wife Magda, landing the part proved to be an even more personal success.
“My family is all Polish,” said Bartczak, who played the Polish Magda in scenes set in Poland (although they were shot in Montreal). “It was so cool, it was so great. I was talking to my mom saying, ‘Finally mom, all those years you sent me to Polish school finally paid off!'”
Her scenes in “X-Men: Apocalypse” allowed her to show off her Polish skills as well as her Polish accent, although it proved to be surprisingly difficult. “What’s funny is I’m pretty good at picking up accents, but I had a really hard time with the Polish one because it’s so familiar to me that I don’t hear the accent. My parents speak with a very Polish accent but I don’t hear it. So I had to work with a linguist and accent coach to make sure that I was hitting it right.”
7. What Is “Akkaba”?
In the grand tradition of superhero films, the casting process for “X-Men: Apocalypse” was a closely guarded secret. Many actors, like Bartczak, had no idea what film they were auditioning for or what specific role.
“I actually didn’t know what I was auditioning for, because it was so hush-hush,” said Bartczak. “And then my agent said to me, ‘There’s this movie called ‘Akkaba’ shooting in Montreal and I was like, ‘What?’ I Googled it and then I did a little bit of research and I had a feeling it was X-Men.” As a made-up word used exclusively by Marvel’s X-Men comics, “Akkaba” was a dead giveaway for both the franchise and the film’s subject matter (Akkaba is the name of the clan that worships the film’s villain, Apocalypse). The props set up in Parkwood Estate even came in crates with “AKKABA” on the side (see above).
Even though she didn’t know what role she was auditioning for, Bartczak went in prepared. “They were looking for an Eastern European character, so then I thought I’ll do more than that. I did a straight audition and then I did an audition with an accent and then did the whole thing in Polish. I wanted them to know I could switch from any of the options if they needed me to.”
It was a while before Bartczak found out she’d be sharing her scenes with one of the film’s major characters. “I thought I’d gotten one line in a movie, and then I found out it was Michael Fassbender who I was going to be working with, which I was so excited for and I completely panicked about moments later. I honestly thought I had one line in the movie, so I didn’t know until I got the script that there was a nice little arc for my character.”
6. Montreal Doubled For Egypt
Movie magic works wonders and goes a long way towards transforming green screens into elaborate locales. And yep, that’s exactly what happened for the film’s opening sequence; instead of traveling all the way to Egypt to recreate the ancient society, they kept the production local and used Montreal.
“Ancient Egypt was huge,” said Ciccozzi of the opening sequence. “They just kept pushing it and pushing it, because there was so much to do. And of course we had to find 400 bronzed people in Montreal in the summer, and that was really difficult. Crewing it, the logistics of that, was a bit of a nightmare. It was Montreal’s busy time, too, so we needed a crew to pull from and I needed, I think, 48 people.” Ciccozzi even said that one member of the makeup department had to keep a “treasure map” on hand just to keep the locations and schedules of all the extras’ makeup crew members straight during the gigantic shoot.
5. Hardy’s Hard Angel Makeup
Apocalypse’s Horsemen also proposed a unique challenge to Ciccozzi, as they had to bring the makeup motifs used in the Ancient Egypt scenes into the radical 1980s. Of all of Apocalypse’s followers, Ciccozzi said that it was Ben Hardy’s Angel that proposed the biggest challenge.
In the comics, the Apocalypse-created Archangel has blue skin and magenta accent lines circling his face, which continue throughout his body’s musculature. That’s not what Hardy wore in the film, but the character’s facial tattoos did harken back to the original Walt Simonson design
“With Ben, that was another difficult design because I had what I wanted to do on his head, but he was in England,” said Ciccozzi. “I was in Montreal and I was having all the tattoo designs made in LA, so I had to work on a 3D scan of his head. So I went to the art department and sat down with their ZBrush specialist and mocked out where it went around his eyes; it had to be perfect around the eyes and brows. So that was all tested and made in 3D image. Then when Ben got there, it fit perfectly. Like, we were just so lucky. And he wore it well!”
4. Yup, It Was A Real Mall
The most talked-about deleted scene from “X-Men: Apocalypse” sees four teens — Nightcrawler, Jubilee, Jean Grey and Cyclops — ditching Xavier’s and having fun at the mall. That montage required a lot of work, not only from the actors (who had to hear “Safety Dance” on a loop for hours on end), but for the set decorators that transformed an actual mall into a totally ’80s temple.
“Okay, so it was a real mall, it wasn’t in the studio or wherever,” said Lana Condor, who played Jubilee. “Half of it, they turned into an ’80s mall and the other half was a still-functioning mall where people were going to get their clothes and stuff. So that was kind of funny to see — it was like time travel! That was our first day that we were working all together, so we all got to meet each other and hang out. It genuinely felt like we were hanging out as youngsters would in the ’80s at a mall. But it was awesome. It was huge, massive and crazy.”
3. Look For The Secret Glance
Acting is more than just what’s seen on the page and what’s on the screen. In order to bring their characters to life, actors sometimes come up with elaborate inner lives and backstories — things that inform how their character behaves. When tasked with conveying nearly a decade-long romance in just a few short scenes, Carolina Bartczak said she worked with Michael Fassbender to bring a real sense of intimacy between Magda and Magneto.
“A couple that’s been together a week is different from a couple that’s been together for seven or eight years,” said Bartczak. “And the way couples communicate, they start being able to communicate just through looking at each other. There’s the one moment where Michael’s debating whether or not to give himself up, and there was a moment where he turned and instinctively I gave him permission to give himself up, as if that was maybe something we had talked about years ago. As soon as we did that take, Bryan [Singer] came over and said, ‘I just saw you two being married for ten years.'”
2. Magneto & Magda In Love
In addition to coming up with shorthand communication techniques, Bartczak also came up with a real backstory for Magda — one that was directly inspired, and kinda necessitated, by one of Erik’s lines.
Bartczak explained, saying, “Erik has one line that says, ‘I told you who I was the first night we met.’ And then I’m thinking, ‘What girl would go out with this man? A second date?’ The guy’s like, by the way, ‘I’m wanted by the American government, don’t worry about it.’ I had to think through what that process would have looked like and I talked to Michael about this. The only thing that I could logically come up with was that she probably found him in a vulnerable state, maybe he was injured and she’s taking care of him. I always wanted to be a vet, so she was a vet in my mind. She kind of mended him back to health.”
1. Wolverine & Jubilee Have Met
In the comics, Wolverine and Jubilee are a dynamic duo. Seriously — Jubilee’s original red and green color scheme was chosen to echo that of famous sidekick Robin. The pair have teamed up on numerous occasions in comics and cartoons, but they’ve yet to stand side-by-side on film. And while that hasn’t happened yet, the actors that play those characters have met.
“I met Hugh Jackman at Comic-Con, he introduced the [X-Men] panel,” said Lana Condor, who played Jubilee. “And I fell in love! [Laughs] No, he’s super tall and super strong, smells amazing, has an accent. I was like, ‘You can talk to me all day!’ But yeah, he’s really cool. That would be amazing if they did Jubilee and Wolverine.”
The odds of seeing Condor and Jackman co-lead a film are pretty slim, though. Jackman’s made it pretty clear that the third solo Wolverine coming out next year will be his last as the clawed Canadian. But who knows — maybe an impassioned plea from Condor could change his mind?
“I need this!” said Condor with a laugh. “But the fans definitely [need to see Wolverine and Jubilee team-up], oh god yeah. That would be amazing.”
“X-Men: Apocalypse” arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD on October 4th.
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