Actor found out he would be reprising his role from Twitter
Ian McKellen had no idea he had officially been hired to reprise his role as "X-Men" character Magneto in a new installment of the movie franchise until producer Bryan Singer announced the casting news via Twitter.
Singer, who directed the original "X-Men" in 2000 and "X2," took to the social networking website last week and revealed to fans that McKellen and Patrick Stewart would join "X-Men: First Class" stars Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in his new 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
He tweeted, "Thrilled to announce @ianmckellen118 & @SirPatStew are joining the cast of #XMEN #DaysOfFuturePast."
However, McKellen admits he was taken by surprise by the declaration, because he and Singer had only previously engaged in brief talks about making another "X-Men" sequel.
During an appearance on "Live! With Kelly and Michael" on Monday he explained, "I mean they talked to me about it and I said, 'Wouldn't it be fun if it happened,' and I didn't hear any more, and then suddenly Bryan Singer tweets his friends and says, 'I'm gonna make 'X-Men' with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen,' so that's how I learned that I got the job!"
Fassbender played a younger version of McKellen's good-guy-gone-bad Magneto in 2011's "X-Men: First Class," while McAvoy portrayed Stewart's wheelchair-bound Professor X in his youth.
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We talk with star Katharine Isabelle about feminist horror
Of course, Isabelle did the very same thing 13 years ago in "Ginger Snaps," in which she and Emily Perkins played sisters and high school outsiders whose lives are changed forever when Isabelle's Ginger is bitten by a werewolf. Smart, funny and a subversion of the usual clichéd portrayal of women in horror, "Ginger Snaps" has become a cult favorite since its release, while Isabelle has amassed a solid array of film and TV credits that include a recent stint on Syfy's American version of "Being Human." But she shines like a scalpel in "American Mary," and took some time out to chat with us via phone about that movie and more.
MSN Movies: What drew you to this story and to this character?
Katharine Isabelle: Well, I was sent the script and I was just going to sort of briefly scan through it, and I ended up reading the whole 180 pages on my BlackBerry, which, I guess, is my first clue that this was an intriguing film. It was intriguing to me, anyway. And then I had to send it to a couple of people and just get it checked to make sure I wasn't completely insane, because I really loved it. I really loved the character Mary because, I mean, she's so unique as far as the women in film and it's actually where movies go. I like the fact that she has no real redeeming qualities and yet you still really like her at the end of the day. She's interesting, she's smart, she's funny and she's a bit of a weirdo.
And then when I met the twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, we became instant best friends and that was it for me. It took another nine months or so to actually get the movie made, but I knew I wanted in right away. I never know really why. I liked it and thought maybe there are other weird people out there who would like it.
Did you say 180 pages?
Yeah, there's a lot of black on the page. They write in this manner that is so descriptive that it really colors your imagination when you're reading it. They talk about the music and the shots and everything, yeah.
How did you find the way to make Mary likable, or at least someone that the audience wants to stay engaged with?
I think we all have our days and moments where we're not particularly likable and outgoing, and I think tapping into that probably isn't all that hard. I don't really know what we did. I really just didn't want to let down the girls or let down the character of Mary that I loved so much, and they were very, very supportive and encouraging and generous with the character ... the character of Mary is based quite a lot on (Sylvia). So I just kind of followed her around and observed what she did, and used my instincts to try to portray a character that was so interesting to me.
Mary, like Ginger, is besieged by men yet ends up becoming a much-empowered character. What has it meant to you to play these kinds of really powerful female characters in a genre that is very clearly not known for them?
I'm pleased as punch to have that. As a woman in film -- and I've been doing this for 26 years -- you want to portray to other women in the world a strong character, and the fact that it's in a genre such as horror ... I think it gives relief to myself and to other women to see characters who don't put up with the bulls---, who don't acquiesce, who don't smile and make nice-nice and are still likable. And are strong.
Is there something different about a film like this being directed by a woman or, in this case, two women?
I think so. I mean, I don't know when you watch a movie whether it should matter -- whether you should know who directed it, you know, gender-wise. I think that can definitely put a spin on what you think of the filmmaker's intention or vision. I think that as women, as the twins are, they have a deeper understanding of what it's like to be objectified and marginalized than maybe if a guy had directed the movie. And the comfort level, you know, for me on set was more so than it probably would have been if there was a guy directing.
What was it like to work with two directors on a purely technical level? Did they divide up their duties?
They're a very cohesive team and they both know exactly what they want at the end of the day. So if you have any questions, as long as you can find one of them, your question's going to be answered correctly and unanimously. Sylvia's the why and Jen is the how. Sylvia's the more emotional, creative one and Jen is the one who's like, "Listen, this is how we're gonna get this s--- done today."
I read that they actually wrote the part with you in mind. Were you aware of that when you read the script, or did they tell you afterwards?
I did not know until I met them afterwards. That's always a scary thing to do, write a script for somebody that you don't know, because I could be totally not what their preconceived notions of me might have been. That's scary. We could have totally not gotten along and whatever. But thankfully we were meant to be together forever and they're never allowed to do anything without me ever again.
How comfortable are you with the makeup and gore effects at this point?
It's great if it doesn't have to be on me. I'm very comfortable with it happening to other people. There are people who love getting prosthetics done. I don't particularly enjoy it, but the blood is always fun, and then you just really need a bath after or a hot shower. It gets sticky and awful. But I was happy that for the most part I was the one with really high heels and not six hours of prosthetics on the face.
What was your interaction with the body modification culture, and what insight did you get into them?
We had Russ Foxx and Elwood Reid from the Church of Body Modification come on and mentor us and help us and really support us. I mean, the reason they were into supporting this film is we treat this culture with respect. We don't point fingers and "freak show" them. That's something that they're quite used to. They would come to me with everything I needed to know, all the procedures I needed to know, all of the before-and-after pictures I needed to see and Russ would explain everything to me, show me a few things that I needed to know. In that way I was exposed to the body modification world in a knowledgeable, respectful fashion instead of just sort of going to the Internet finding weird, creepy stuff.
I've actually seen "Ginger Snaps" on cable now twice in the past week. After 13 years, what are your thoughts on that film and how it has endured?
We didn't know when we were making it what we were doing. Emily and I auditioned for it, we thought it was really cool, but when you're making a teenage werewolf movie about menstruation in the woods in Canada in 1999, before werewolves and vampires and all that were so popular, we were like, "This could be really good, hopefully, or it could be really bad and people will never work again." We didn't know. Fortunately, it turned out really well, but it went to film festivals and some critics liked it and then that was kind of that.
It was about two years later that I realized it had gained this little cult following and was a popular movie. To this day I still get, like, 12-year-olds -- people who weren't even born when we made that movie -- coming up to me and talking about it. It's endured this long, I think, because it was, again, so unique. It was a strong female character who didn't put up with, you know -- we would all like to kick ass like that. But instead we have to smile and act pretty and be nice to people we don't necessarily want to be nice to all the time. It was smart and it was funny, it was interesting, it was original. And I think that's why "American Mary" is getting the same reaction now.
I just finished a movie in Toronto called "Torment" and am going back for some stuff on "Being Human," and continuing my life as the homeless, traveling gypsy filmmaker. The great adventure that is the unknown.
Plus, 'Lifeforce' and 'The Howling' arrive on Blu-ray
It's also required viewing for students of sci-fi cinema. Luckily, Criterion has made it a real pleasure to look at after years of dull, aged video transfers. Large swaths of the movie look amazingly pristine. The image makes it easier to appreciate some of the striking compositions and camerawork that Menzies pulled off, adding to its intermittent power. "Things to Come" may be deeply flawed as storytelling, but admirable for its scope and aspirations. The disc comes with an excellent commentary from film historian David Kalat, plus new features on the designs, special effects and score (which was the first movie soundtrack ever released on vinyl).
In 1976, British author Colin Wilson published "The Space Vampires," in which an Earth spaceship discovers and accidentally lets loose three humanoid beings from a derelict alien craft who proceed to drain the energy from all humans they come in contact with. Cannon Films, known for low-budget genre fare, ponied up $25 million and hired director Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," "Poltergeist") to make the book into sci-fi/horror blockbuster.
The result, "Lifeforce," is one of those classic bad movies that is fun to watch under certain conditions (and perhaps with certain beverages as accompaniment). It's even better to look at now since Scream Factory has given the film its long-awaited Blu-ray debut, releasing both the international 116-minute cut and the U.S. 101-minute cut on one disc. The longer cut (which also restores Henry Mancini's full score) does help with plot points rendered confusing or incoherent in the U.S. version. It's a better movie as a result.
It is still, however, absolutely nuts, starting with the discovery of a gigantic alien vessel hidden in Halley's Comet and ending with a plague of zombies overrunning a devastated London in what often plays like a mashup of every British sci-fi movie ever made and then some. Some of the ideas are audacious (like the concept that the aliens are the actual basis of vampire mythology), while the special effects range from unusual to ludicrous and long chunks of the movie consist of men standing around in offices until some new bizarre horror erupts.
The retrospective interviews are fun, while Hooper provides a number of great memories in his hosted commentary track (he seems to have really enjoyed making the movie despite its reputation). He also personally oversaw its restoration for Blu-ray, making this the most color-saturated and striking version ever issued. "Lifeforce" is a hoot, compulsively watchable despite its many problems, and a must for fans of Hooper and '80s sci-fi.
Anyone who watched "The Howling" in a movie theater when it was released in April 1981 vividly recalls the movie's "holy crap" moment, a centerpiece transformation of serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo, who later played the holographic doctor on "Star Trek: Voyager") into a werewolf. Lycanthropes had not featured much on the big screen for decades before this (except for Paul Naschy's Spanish horror films, which were difficult to see in the U.S.), but the groundbreaking makeup effects by Rob Bottin (who next worked on John Carpenter's "The Thing") brought this classic monster back in a big way and ushered in a new era of creature creations -- as did the equally pioneering "An American Werewolf in London," released just four months later.
"The Howling," directed by Joe Dante ("Gremlins") and written by John Sayles, was based on a straightforward horror novel by Gary Brandner. Little remains of Brandner's book in Dante and Sayles' more satirical take, which sends up the media, psychotherapy, New Age communes and the horror genre itself while still delivering the gruesome, macabre fun. Dee Wallace ("E.T.") plays Karen, a news anchor traumatized by an encounter with Eddie. Her therapist (Patrick Macnee) suggests that she and her husband (the late Christopher Stone, Wallace's real-life spouse) head to his secluded beach retreat, the Colony -- which is in fact a front for a den of werewolves.
"The Howling" has been released on Blu-ray abroad but not here until now, and the new disc offers up a sharper and more colorful transfer than the previous DVD editions (although it's still a little "soft" in that '80s way). The remixed digital surround sound is also fun, especially during the transformation sequences. The disc is packed with bonus features, including the 48-minute "Unleashing the Beast" documentary; separate interviews with executive producer Steven Lane, editor Mark Goldblatt and others; a look at the film's locations; a vintage featurette from the time of production; deleted scenes; an older commentary with Dante, Wallace, Stone and Picardo, and a new one with the now-80-year-old Brandner.
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Kudos must also go to Marlon Brando -- as kooky as the man was, his Jor-El gives the movie gravitas and majesty in those wonderful early scenes on Krypton -- and Gene Hackman, who may not be the Lex Luthor we all know and despise in the comics, but who laid down the template for the large-scale villains we enjoy today. Margot Kidder's spunky, liberated Lois Lane, Glenn Ford's moving Pa Kent, Jackie Cooper's grizzled Perry White -- the casting is spot-on throughout. The action and spectacle may not benefit from today's CG wizardry, but they do carry a pride of craftsmanship that a lot of today's generic blockbusters miss. "Superman" feels like it's made with love and respect -- which befits this most good-natured of superheroes.
That said, "Superman II" is still exciting and fun, and the centerpiece battle between Superman, Gen. Zod (Terence Stamp) and his underlings Non (Jack O'Halloran) and Ursa (Sarah Douglas) is genuinely thrilling when viewed through the context of knowing it was shot more than 30 years ago. That fight, by the way, foreshadows the return of Zod and a similar clash in "Man of Steel," although the new movie escalates things to a new and even disturbing level of mayhem. Because of the way it was shot and edited, "Superman II" feels choppy and occasionally sloppy, but it's still a worthy sequel to its masterful predecessor.
Is Donner's version better? It's hard to tell because it is still incomplete in some ways, but we would venture to say that the cut that exists now holds the promise of greatness (there's also a rare 146-minute edit of the film floating around out there). It restores crucial Brando footage that the producers and Lester did not use (for key scenes in the Fortress of Solitude in which the stored memories of Jor-El speak to his son) and transfers the "time travel" ending of the first movie to this one. There's less of Lester's slapstick approach apparent -- a welcome development completely tossed out the window by the next film in the series.
The debate over "Superman Returns" rages to this day: A cautiously positive initial reaction gave way to often harsh post-mortems, which in turn have begun recently to be pushed aside by more generous reappraisals. Despite some strong setpieces (like the shuttle rescue), the movie never generates much excitement and Superman is a largely passive character. Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is forgettable and the "son of Superman" storyline a waste of time. In the end, it's a movie that feels like it was made by a fan -- who had nothing to say about his favorite superhero.
Once Zod (Michael Shannon as the best and most complex Superman villain yet) shows up to find Kal-El and establish a new Krypton on Earth, the conflict becomes clear and focused and the epic nature of the story really kicks in. Yes, the last hour is exhausting and the sheer amount of destruction leveled on Metropolis is unsettling since there is almost no reference made to what must be horrific amounts of human casualties (something Superman would do everything he could to prevent). But this is also comic book superhero action on a level only previously found on the page, and at least gives a real feel for the power of these alien beings.
Henry Cavill is solid, strong and manly, as well as kind and ultimately endearing, but he doesn't quite match up to Reeve in the charisma department. Yet this movie sets him up well for future adventures. Amy Adams is terrific as Lois Lane, although the chemistry between her and Cavill needs work. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are dignified and moving as Clark's two fathers, Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. There are many great things about "Man of Steel," and we were often riveted, but it just misses being a great movie. It's no "Superman" -- perhaps no film will ever be -- but it's a stronger, more accomplished relaunch for our hero than anyone thought it could be.
Across the Universe is a weekly 5-part column written by Don Kaye. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye.