Photography by { John Russo

Written by { Bonnie Davidson

Styling by { William Gilchrist 

Grooming by { Tara Hickman

James McAvoy returns once again to play the role of Charles Xavier, creator of the X-Men and founder of Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. A scientific genius and paternal figure with a host of powers, including astral projection and mind control, he has the hardest time adapting to Jean’s surging powers.

What made you to return to yet another X-Men movie?

I think a combination of things. We all enjoy playing these characters. I know I do. I’ve always enjoyed being in these X-Men films. I love this company of actors. And the crew, people like Hutch, our producer; Simon, our writer and now director; Josh McLaglen, our 1st AD/producer. There’s a massive extended family that goes back nearly 10 years that you feel very loyal to. And it’s also the character that I feel loyal to, getting to take Charles forward and do something else with him as well. It just feels right. 

Where do we find Charles?

Formerly, he was a figurehead or a leader of a social movement. He’s now a leader of a political movement. He justifies what he’s doing because he can say that he’s being loyal to his principles, but I think he’s forgotten that those principles only exist to protect the people that he should be loyal to. That’s his family, that’s his kind, his species. I think he sees himself as the torchbearer, the friendly face of mutanity for humanity. He’s justified what his ego is making him do, becoming the center of attention. Charles is selfless. His vanity is very low. He’s very wise. His empathy rules him. His almost priestly nature is what defines him.  

Did you enjoy developing the character over the last decade?

Yeah, it’s been fun playing with Charles for this long, and I really enjoyed exploring that fallibility. I’ve gotten to do him in so many different modes and stages of his life and career. From First Class to Days of Future Past, he’s unrecognizable. And then even more different in Apocalypse. This one again, he’s slightly different, he’s more like he was in First Class, but with a huge platform; he’s a public figure. Getting to flex different muscles as an actor is cool. And it really doesn’t feel like I’ve been playing the same person. It feels like he’s been slightly different people each time. Partly it’s the fact that even though we’re only aging a year or two between each movie, each film has about 10 years between it, which means that you can take big leaps and show what has happened with them in the intervening narrative. Generally, in between each film, something vastly different is going on with each character. 

How was Simon as a first-time director?

By the time Simon took over and directed Dark Phoenix, he’d already been working with us as a writer/director/producer. He’d always been very collaborative about the screenplay. If we had
ideas to tweak things, lines or even just whole character arcs, he would sometimes completely re-design a character or let us flip lines in and out. Also, if he had an idea for a moment here or there, we were very comfortable with him giving us a bit of direction. It did feel extremely natural when he slid in to the director’s chair for this movie. His natural instinct was to pare down, rely on the acting. Still going to have spectacle, but to pare down some of the primary colors and make them more nuanced. To strip it all back, keep it real, go for the drama as well as the crash, bang, wallop. But definitely go for the emotional drama. We all realized that this was Simon’s first film as actual director, so we wanted to work as hard as we could. I think that gave us a renewed focus. Just to have someone new in the chair might do that anyway, but he’s part of the family, so we all wanted to bring it for him. 

How was it working with Jessica, the newest cast member? 

I think we had only one scene together, unfortunately. Actually, I had a couple scenes with her character, but she wasn’t always there; sometimes it was a special effect. One of the reasons she said she took the job was she was looking forward to hanging out and acting with me again, and then we barely crossed paths! I remember us being a little bit pissed off at the whole thing. But she’s an amazing actor. As much as she’s this very serious actor, she’s a lot of fun on set. She can do it and still have fun, which I really, really appreciate. Also, we’re a big family. We’ve been going a long time and we all get on really well. Somebody coming into that might not just slide in there, but she became part of the crew. 

Are you sorry you didn’t get to suit up, like the others?

I am, a bit. I’d like to wear a daft superhero suit. And this time around, they were quite sparse and practical, I thought. But I generally like to get suited and booted in the stuff. Even when it’s uncomfortable, it’s worth it. I’m slightly jealous. I do get my in-the-field look with a turtleneck, which I rather liked. 

Is Dark Phoenix the X-Men’s swan song?

Every single one we’ve done has felt like the last one we do. I’ve always gone, “If this is the last one, it’s been great.” We’ve got new owners for the franchise, and who knows what they’re going to do? But if this is the last one, it feels, narratively speaking, like a good end. It feels, at least the four films we’ve done over the last decade, like it ends up well and you’d be happy to walk away at this point. And I’m certainly happier to walk away at this point than I would have been at any other point.