Past and Future Meet in New ‘X-Men’ Film
(top to bottom) Ian McKellan as Magneto and Patrick Stewart as Xavier, reunite in X-Men: Days of Future Past. ©Marvel/20th Century Fox. CR: Alan Markfield.

(top to bottom) Ian McKellan as Magneto and Patrick Stewart as Xavier, reunite in X-Men: Days of Future Past. ©Marvel/20th Century Fox. CR: Alan Markfield.

Front Row Features

NEW YORK— In “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” veteran actor Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “The Last King of Scotland”) reprise their roles as Professor Charles Xavier. Stewart, 73, plays the wheelchair-bound telepathic leader and founder of a group of mutant superheroes called “X-Men,” while McAvoy plays the same character as young man, coming into his own.

McAvoy, 35, previously played young Xavier in 2011’s “X-Men” prequel “X-Men: First Class.” Getting in tune with the character meant studying Stewart’s performance in previous “X-Men” films as well as his other film and TV performances.

In “Days of Future Past,” the two actors are in their respective time periods for most of the sci-fi actioner but they also get to perform a scene together, as the plot moves backwards and forwards in the X-Men universe and they deal with a new round of dangerous villains threatening both mutants and mankind. Stewart and McAvoy recently spoke about working together, being part of the Marvel franchise, and how this film, darker in tone from previous installments, takes audiences on a whole new journey into the past as well as the future.

Q: How was it playing the same character in the scene you have together?

Stewart: It was, in a sense, a no-brainer. If it had been a set where we could have opened the windows, poured cocktails and had a cigarette, it would have been a very different scene. I’m not quite sure how it came about that we were nose to nose like that, but I can’t think of any other way of making the scene work because you’re looking into the eyes of yourself. It was James’ first day of work on the movie and it was my last day on the movie. My bags were packed and I was ready to get out of Dodge. I don’t recall rehearsing it. We knew the lines and they rolled the camera. It was 40 minutes of work, as far as I can recall. (He pauses.) I should have said we worked on it for weeks, just the two of us, (director) Bryan Singer and the crew. But it actually wasn’t like that at all.

McAvoy: I’ve been a fan of Patrick’s for years. I watched him for seven years on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and in “Dune.” So getting to come and do my version of a character that he’s been in charge of for 14 years at his face was quite nerve-wracking. But then, you’ve got two choices: you get nervous and let it overcome you or you get excited at the fact that it might fail, strangely. But it was good.

Q: Patrick, did you learn something from your younger character?

Stewart: It made me want to go back and shoot all the other (“X-Men”) movies again now that I know exactly where I came from and what I was. I could get so much more of James McAvoy into that performance!

Q: James, what did you learn from Patrick? Did you discuss the character?

McAvoy: We didn’t talk about it at all. But I’ve been watching (Patrick) for years. I was 10 or 11 when I watched “Dune.” I knew his characteristics quite well. The key thing was I’ve watched the empathy that pours out of him in the previous movies. I hoped in “First Class” to emulate that because the prime characteristic of the Professor is to reach out and care and touch.

Q: This is a pretty dark and heavy film. How was it to do that?

McAvoy: You’re seven movies in, so you’ve got to stretch the characters in order to give the audience something new. On top of that, there’s no point in going back with “First Class,” even though this crosses back to a previous time period, the point of going back is to show how different people are, so the audience can be there for the key turning points when somebody goes through the crucible and somebody is galvanized and formed and becomes who they will be. You hang around for the worst moments, because whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What’s interesting in this movie is that lots of people do get killed; they don’t get made stronger, but they do so in aid of saving the future and somehow altering the past. That’s kind of dark and amazing.

Stewart: For the maturer Charles, this movie from the very first shot has found him in a situation unlike any before. Whenever we’ve seen the good professor, he has always had options. Those options have included negotiation, persuasion, diplomacy or some resolution that will not be violent. Right from the beginning of this movie—thanks to (screenwriter) Simon Kinberg— there is no other option, because our enemy is not available to rational conversation or to be reasoned with. The professor has had to make the decision that we have to destroy something in order to survive. It toughened up Xavier quite a lot, from my point of view, and I enjoyed that.

Q: When the heavier moments came around, did you let them linger on set or did you try and break from it for your sanity?

McAvoy: There’s a lot of levity on the set. We have a lot of nice people. One of the beautiful things about a company like this is that we’re privileged to have so many of the highest actors today… Highest actors today?… Yeah, we have really tall actors like Hugh Jackman and Nicholas Hoult. They’re really tall! We have multi-awarding winning, at the top of their game, the biggest people on the planet, and yet the egos were never present. We had people who work hard for each other and quite often, when you’re doing the heavy stuff, it’s nice to have cast mates who know when you’ve got to be pulled out of it. We were all there for each other during moments like that.

Q: How do you like doing the wirework in this and flying about?

Stewart: All actors have a Peter Pan in them somewhere—some actors have got a Tinker Bell. (He chuckles.) I did a significant amount of flying in this but unfortunately not all of it made it into the final cut. But my chair and I were flown from one end of the stage to the other. We started out at about 12-14 feet up and then gradually descended. I love to fly. I thought it was fabulous.

Q: Will this be the last we will see of young Xavier and Magneto in the “X-Men” movies?

McAvoy: We hope not! Let’s see how the box office works out on this.

Stewart: It must have been considered, because where we leave James’s character in the story, we are waiting to see the transition, the reformation of this character happen. That’s a movie I’d pay money to see.