DAYS Of Future Past might be behind them, but dark days lie ahead for the various X-Men characters. It’s 1983, 10 years after the events in the last film, and for some life is more peaceful. In X-Men: Apocalypse, which opens in Philippine cinemas from 20th Century Fox on May 18, ahead of its US release, we find that the other mutants are still finding their way in the world and struggling with the reality of relations between humans and mutants. But everyone’s existence is upended when one of the earliest mutants—possibly the first—returns after millennia spent slumbering. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) surveys the world that humans have created and deems it less than acceptable. Recruiting fellow mutants as his “Horsemen”, Apocalypse sets out to tear civilization down and build something more suitable to his ancient eyes.
Michael Fassbender is once again playing the conflicted Erik Lensherr, the man also known as Magneto, in X-Men: Apocalypse. But he’s trying to forget his mutant past by embracing his human one, living quietly in Poland with his family. When tragedy strikes and Apocalypse comes to recruit him to his cause, Erik burns with vengeance, and sorrow and, unusually for him, agrees to become one of the god-like creature’s followers.
Fassbender, an Oscar-nominated actor who has been playing Magneto since 2011’s X-Men: First Class, has worked across various genres and won praise for his intelligent, emotional performances. He was most recently seen playing Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and embodied Apple creator Steve Jobs in the eponymous drama about the tech genius. He has films, such as The Light Between Oceans and Assassin’s Creed, on the way, and has also reunited with director Ridley Scott to shoot Alien: Covenant.
Fassbender discusses what he wanted to bring to Erik this time, working with some new costars, and how he handled having to learn some Polish.
How did Bryan (Singer, the director) and Simon (Kinberg, the writer) pitch this one to you?
Well, I didn’t really speak much to Bryan, to be honest, until I saw him in Montreal. But Simon and I were on a plane to Moscow for a screening of Days Of Future Past and we just started spit-balling some ideas around and I mentioned to Simon that the Magda story (Magneto’s wife in the comics) was always something that interested me with Erik, how he had lost this family, and maybe there was something to be addressed there. Maybe he’d left his powers behind and is not using them anymore. Yet, he’s working in a steel factory, and wouldn’t it be cool if he was doing things manually without his powers, kind of a hard-penance labor. What would it be like to see him with a family, having fallen in love and had a child? So that’s really where it started, and then Simon went off and wrote all this stuff, and it was great. That was it. I turned up and started to learn Polish.
From those early talks, what made it into the script? We find Erik in Poland with this family and he’s happy?
Yeah, absolutely happy. And doing a very honest job, clocking in at 9, clocking out at 5 and just providing for the family. A very simple cottage in the country. It’s the first time we see him content, and at ease, having some sort of harmony in his life. But it doesn’t last long, of course…it’s the X-Men after all! He kind of loses everything, so he really is back to square one, or even worse than that, because he’s invested in a family again after having lost his parents. The only other people he’s invested in since First Class have been Mystique and Charles Xavier, and again he’s having it all taken away from him. He’s at his lowest point, and when Apocalypse turns up, it’s almost like he’s crying out to God for an answer. Which is an idea I got from Oscar (Isaac). We kind of put it in the scene where he loses his family, it’s almost like he’s challenging God to show himself. And then in the next scene, Apocalypse turns up. So this idea of the mutants having a god or a forefather, I thought that was a pretty cool concept that we got to play with there. Apocalypse offers him the means to access a deeper power within himself, but he can only do it as part of this team with Apocalypse and the Horsemen, who want to use it as an opportunity to wipe out the human race for good and wreak ultimate revenge on them. So that’s pretty much his story this time.
How much Polish do we see you speaking? How hard was it to learn?
I’m excellent at Polish. I can sing in Polish, I can dance in Polish, I can cook Polish meals. No, I’m pretty bad! If a person is a native Polish speaker, they’d be appalled, but I tried my best. At the beginning they had pages of it and I said, “There’s no way I can get this in a week.” So we pared it down and I worked away at it as best I could. I’m always open to criticism. I welcome it. I’m sure there will be pronunciations all over the shop, but I gave it a good stab. I want to rack up the languages, because when Magneto finally returns to being Erik, he needs a job, and I figure he can go into languages and be an interpreter or something. For the UN! He can speak French already, German, now Polish…English.
But the minute he joins the UN, some terrible monster will attack the place and burn it down.
That’s right! We’ve got the next story! That’s the next one!
So here comes Apocalypse. What is it that he does to Erik’s powers?
Through his own power, Apocalypse can magnify others; everyone experiences that if they come into contact with it, even Professor Xavier. Charles says he’s never experienced such power before, but when Apocalypse accesses his power, he takes it to a whole new level. That’s what he does to Erik for sure, he accesses a deeper strength, and power than he would’ve had without it and will ever have again. So that’s enough for Erik to sign up and follow him, because it’s not really a natural thing, I think, for Magneto to follow. But he’s definitely astute enough to realize when he’s met his match and beyond, and that becomes very apparent very soon.
Was is it enjoyable working with Oscar?
It was a pleasure. We just hit it off immediately. I was a fan of his anyway, so I was really excited to hear he was coming on board. And then we had dinner the first night before we were filming the next day, and we just sat down and were working some thoughts we had for the scene and we were into it immediately. We probably had one too many drinks that night, he was feeling it in the makeup trailer the next morning as I arrived an hour and a half later than him. He’s fantastic; it’s the ideal scenario when you have somebody who is so talented like that and also a lot a fun.
Apocalypse is set in the 1980s. James McAvoy said Charles goes full Miami Vice. What is Magneto’s ’80s style?
I love what James does with Charles. It’s so against what you would normally think for the character. He’s fantastic, he really embraced the 1970s, now he’s got this lilac V-neck jumper, which I think he wears exceptionally well. Unfortunately, Erik is sort of out of the fashion loop, until the end of the movie when he’s the Tubbs, I suppose, to James’s Crockett. I’m wearing a turtleneck with a suit. I missed out on it, because Erik’s just a working man in Poland, so it’s very much Polish style—jeans and workman shirt. I always thought he’d have a Porsche in the 1980s, but no. He’s driving a Trabant, I think.
His personal style comes out more when he has the whole cape and helmet outfit on.
Exactly! I can’t be styling when the cloak comes off.
And you have the new recruits in the cast. How was it working with them, and introducing them to the team that’s already in place?
I know everybody says, “We all get on so great”, but it’s really true and I think the example was set by Hugh and the previous cast. When we came onboard, we didn’t get to meet any of them except Hugh, who came in on First Class, and he’s an amazing human being. I think it was really important for us to make sure that the new people coming in felt at home, and that they had space to do their thing, to find their characters and express them the right way. It comes from us in a way; James is fantastic and so is that whole group of people who go back to First Class all those years ago. It was really important for us to make the new guys as at ease and welcomed as we did when we came into the franchise.
And also, I think the fans are going to love it, to have Jen (Jennifer Lawrence) and a new injection of these next-generation characters. It was really sweet for me to see Kodi (Smit-McPhee), we did a Western called Slow West together, so it was good for me to see him show up as Nightcrawler.
He must’ve been thrilled to be an ‘X-Men’ character, but did he realize what the makeup would entail?
The novelty of that look wears off pretty quick when you have a pick up time at 3:30 in the morning! It’s good for the young, I’ll leave it to him!
You and the other cast members always seem to have fun on these sets. Was “Apocalypse” the same way?
I didn’t go out that much this time, I’ve got to say. I was actually captain sensible on this one, because I had to prep for Assassin’s Creed as well, so I didn’t get to have as much fun as they did. But it’s always a joy to be working with those guys anyway.
“Days Of Future Past” was pretty huge in terms of scope and scale; this feels like it’s on another level. Did it feel like it would be to you?
It astounds me each time, really, how Simon manages to do that with his writing. I’ve said it to him many times on set how incredible it is that he can balance all those character arcs and relationships. There are so many people in this one, and he finds time for all of them.
And then at the same time, you’ve got these huge set-piece action scenes and it’s all very delicately balanced, it’s very sophisticated the way he does that. And then of course Bryan brings his touch to it. It’s going to be bigger, it’s darker. The X-Men franchise is always more sophisticated because the conflicts around it are so adult and so real in a lot of ways that it has everything. And more! And I think bringing in Apocalypse, the mother—or father—of all mutants, I think the fans will appreciate that.
And they’ve been waiting for him for sure.
And to have Oscar playing that part is huge, him bringing his intelligence to that and his instinct is just incredible.
He gave me an insight into my character just chatting to him that first night. The whole God relationship and Erik being vulnerable and choosing a faith that is not a positive one, for lack of a better word, a very destructive one, I thought that was fun to play with. Erik’s very emotional. He’s very fragile.
He needs to go for some therapy, I think, maybe that’ll be in the next one. Therapy in the United Nation.