While still in production on X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer hit upon the idea to tackle something the X-Men franchise had never done before with the next movie: a massive supervillain. The filmmaker was looking for a way to switch up the franchise once more, and he found his answer in the centuries-old mutant Apocalypse, who may or may not be the world’s very first mutant. X-Men: Apocalypse revolves around this mega-villain waking up in 1983 to a world in which mutants have been accepted by humans, where he is no longer seen as the “god” that he was in Ancient Egypt. As a result, he looks to put humanity back in line with an extinction-level event.
Oscar Isaac fills the role of Apocalypse in the film, but there’s been much chatter about the movie’s iteration of the comics character ever since the first photos were unveiled. So while I was on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse last summer along with a small group of reporters, we spoke with Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg extensively about bringing the character to life.
“He was our first choice. When we started talking about Apocalypse, it was back when we were making Days of Future Past and we started talking about who could actually play the part from the standpoint of who could hold the screen and even dominate the screen with Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, all the actors we have. We had a sense that he and Magneto would have an intense relationship, so it really needed to be somebody specifically with Michael who you felt like could go head to head with. Oscar is just this incredible talent, this incredibly intense, brooding—so he’s more inwardly intense—actor that we just thought could be strong onscreen as a leading man.”
The character is of Egyptian decent in the comics, and Kinberg added that they always intended to cast a non-white actor in the role:
“In terms of his ethnicity, we wanted it to be someone who wasn’t white so that was actually another part of the decision process, so that was a nice coincidence for us even though he’s not, as you say, Egyptian or Middle Eastern. But really it came from a place of who’s the best actor in the world to us who hasn’t already been in an X-Men movie (laughs), or some other superhero movie because we couldn’t cast somebody from Avengers.”
When it comes to the actual character of Apocalypse, Bryan Singer began with an interpretation that was Biblical in nature:
“The way I describe him the most, the best is he to me is the God of the Old Testament and all that comes with that. If there isn’t the order and the worship then I’ll open up the Earth and swallow you whole, and that was the God of the Old Testament. I started from there and when Oscar and I met we began discussing, since he isn’t really God, he’s the first mutant perhaps, but he’s not God necessarily, he’s imbued with certain unique powers. Some of them may or may not be from this Earth, we don’t know.”
Singer went on to say that the next ingredient in the Apocalypse pot was aspects of a cult leader, which fed into his Four Horsemen deal:
“Then we started looking at cults and the nature of cults, because cult leaders, true cult leaders, develop god complexes and he always traditionally had four horsemen so I thought a cult has traditionally four factions to it that interest me. It has a political faction, and I’d always felt Magneto could fill those shoes. It always has a military faction, so Archangel could fill those shoes as the guardian. There’s also youth faction, those that you’re trying to seduce and grow into your cult, the young whose minds are malleable, and lastly the sexual component because cult leaders tend to sexualize their position and have sex with half the people in their cult… I always thought there was a mixture of ancient religion and cultism combined in the character of Apocalypse.”
In terms of Apocalypse’s motivation and goals, Singer says it all has to do with a desire to bring about order to the world:
“When he came about, in my mind, men were savages, crushing each other with rocks, for a piece of meat, and he brought order to the world. And he believes with his heart that that order is the only thing that’s going to save humanity, and he will provide that order at any cost. The problem is with any civilization there’s always going to be discontent, there’s always going to be different ways of thinking, revolt, often rebellion and for a person who begins as a unifier and then grows in power… Things just never go right, so that civilization goes down and he starts a fresh one.”
Once Apocalypse wakes up in 1983, it’s a world he’s never seen before, and one in which his mutant powers don’t automatically command the same kind of respect and awe as they did in Ancient Egypt:
“To him it’s all just one giant interconnected, overly militarized screwed up civilization that worships false idols and is self destructive and needs to be refined and saved from itself. So in a way he’s just doing what he does, he’s done it before, he’s just doing it on a different scale, which means he needs different people with different powers…. He wants to make a massive global change. I don’t want to tell you what he’s going to do but it’s visually unique. He’s going to do something really bad to the Earth that’s going to cause a lot of people to not live and those that survive will be the strongest.”
So how does Apocalypse wield this kind of control? Well in the comics, the character has an inordinate amount of power, but that doesn’t translate well to a feature film—the movie would be over very quickly. The team had to find ways to limit the extent of Apocalypse’s powers so that the X-Men stand a chance of defeating him. However, his powers are still incredibly formidable as Singer explains:
“He has a number of different powers that he’s acquired over the years as he’s moved from body to body, accumulating these various abilities. One of them is to imbue other mutants and to heighten their powers and abilities beyond anything they ever imagined. Secondly, he can shield from psychic powers, he can form shields so that it makes it harder for a psychic like Xavier to tap in and get to them.”
Yes indeed, the character of Apocalypse switches from body to body, and Singer explains that his current iteration is the one we find him in at the beginning of the movie:
“He moves from body to body. Apocalypse himself is not a physical form, he’s an energy. What he does is he accumulates powers over the millennia by moving from body to body, and what’s wonderful is he thinks in the beginning of the film he’s found this great body. I don’t want to give away what the power of the body this mutant has but it’s a familiar one that you’ve seen a number of very famous mutants have. It kind of ends up being the wrong one because he gets stuck in it for a long time, but then suddenly he has this opportunity and that becomes his agenda. So it’s another interesting thing in the movie, the villain always has their agenda.”
Singer says that the character’s strongest power, though, is one of persuasion:
“These are some of the powers that we’re exploring and there’s some epic things that he does towards the end of the picture. I have to say in the end his greatest power is the power of persuasion. The ability to know what he needs and who he needs it out of and to get it from them as he does with the Horsemen, and as he has through civilization after civilization for tens of thousands of years.”
Given that the comics and cartoon iterations of Apocalypse are quite striking, Singer had a monumental challenge ahead of him in terms of visualizing the character. He explained that the decision to go practical came out of wanting to make Apocalypse as real as possible:
“Whenever I can go physical I try to. It gives the actors something to play with. What did Nicholson say when he played The Joker? Let the costume do the acting? There’s a lot more that goes into it than that but nonetheless it makes it real. It makes it real for the actor and it makes it real for the people who are playing against the actor than when they’re wearing a green suit with dots on it. Once the people at Legacy could prove it to me that they could pull it off, it was very complicated how to do that. It was just complicated. Once I saw a few key designs, surfaces, shieldings, panels, artistry, I was like ‘Okay that’s the guy, lets build it’. Let’s make it real. If the character is a strange size or something then maybe you have to do CG, although we do get into a little of that.”
While there will be touches of CG on top of the makeup, with someone as talented as Oscar Isaac inhabiting the role, it’s exciting that we’ll get to see a fully practical villain as opposed to some CG creature composed out of motion-capture. I think that sets the X-Men franchise apart from some of the other superhero series that rely on CG when dealing with characters of such power magnitudes, and I look forward to seeing how Singer visualizes the various aspects of Apocalypse’s power suite with what’s sure to be one grand finale.
For more of our X-Men: Apocalypse set visit coverage, peruse the links below:
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Over 75 Things to Know about the Epic Superhero Sequel
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: New Timeline Explained by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: How Did They Decide Which Mutants to Include?
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Michael Fassbender on Working with Oscar Isaac, Becoming a Horseman