Plunged into an electrifying world of fame and success from an early age, Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) both readily identified with how it might feel to be a super-powered teen struggling to gain control over mysterious emerging new talents.
However, they had zero control over the three-year journey it would take between shooting their film, The New Mutants, and seeing its ultimate release at a cinema near you.
A Young Adult loose end from the X-Men franchise, the first teaser trailer was dropped back in October 2017 shortly after the film was shot on location in Boston, announcing April 2018 as its release date.
Caught up in the midst of Disney’s acquisition of Fox and a lacklustre response to 2019’s Dark Phoenix, followed by a global pandemic, when STACK chats over Zoom with the cast and director Josh Boone, it’s impossible to ignore their jubilation at finally reaching the end run.
“I think there was a lot of uncertainty with this film and when it was going to get released. And to know that there was an audience still willing to wait as long as it took. And even through this pandemic, they’ve been so supportive. I can’t wait for people to finally see it,” says Williams, 23, sporting a platinum blonde bob very different from Arya Stark’s brunette locks or, indeed, the unruly mop sported by her New Mutant alter ego, Rahne Sinclair.
Based on the 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel from superhero team Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod, the story focuses around four young mutants, Rahne Sinclair (Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Heaton) and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), who are being held in an isolated hospital for psychiatric monitoring. Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alicia Braga) believes the teenagers are a danger both to themselves and to society as a whole, struggling to teach them how to rein in their mutant abilities.
When newcomer Danielle “Dani” Moonstar (Blu Hunt) joins the other young patients, strange occurrences begin to take place and the patients are plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks. Forming an alliance, these young mutants must try to make it out alive…
Given Boone’s success in the YA field, directing 2014’s romantic teen drama The Fault in Our Stars, the film is more teen angst than horror or super-heroics.
“I think, any opportunity to go back to teenage-dom is not necessarily the most fun experience, but you definitely learn a lot about yourself afterwards,” says Taylor-Joy, whose character has created an imaginary dragon companion named Lockheed, personified as a sock puppet in the real world.
“It’s interesting because I think we all came into this knowing that whilst we were making a superhero movie, we weren’t really making a superhero movie. We were making a film about people who were having a tough time understanding themselves and figuring out their place in the world. And so, to make it a bit more cinematic, we added powers.
“But, I do think any teenager that’s going through the growing pains; trying to understand where you fit in, you’re no longer a child, but like, what is this weird adult world? I think they’ll definitely connect with it. And then we have powers, which is really cool.”
“But it’s still a horror film,” insists Boone, “It’s just one that is more in the vein of a horror novel, so it’s more character-driven but with that added horror aspect as well.”
If anything, the director views The New Mutants’ delayed release as a blessing. “That’s why the universe made this movie wait. It was because they knew they needed to wait for a time when nobody could leave their houses, because I mean we went and made this about the kids trapped inside an institution.
“And then Henry and I went and made a show about a pandemic,” he says, referring to the upcoming Stephen King series adaptation The Stand, also featuring Zaga. “I think we need to stop making things that could happen in real life.”
Taylor-Joy agrees. “I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but it kind of makes perfect sense now. I feel like the movie’s supposed to come out now. I think people will see it in a very different way.”
Filmed on location in the abandoned Medfield State Hospital in Massachusetts, the state’s first asylum, its setting added to a general air of unease on set.
“There was something really creepy about the smell of the place that just got into your soul before you thought about it. It was spooky,” Zaga recalls. “I remember in the attic that we shot in on the first day, we were told that somebody had hung themselves there.”
“But I think filming there really helped to get the feel of the reality of it, like having actual walls and actual energy for a film like this. And filming at night was kind of scary. I wouldn’t walk by myself. There was no way,” he adds.
Boone agrees, “There were several crew members who had weird experiences there, had to be walked to their car at night because they were scared to walk there by themselves after they’d been in the buildings all day. People definitely had weird encounters.”
If the set was spooky, then the cast – all staying together at the same hotel for three months – certainly had fun bonding, all of them giggling as they recall Heaton, 26, taking them for a late-night spin right after getting his US driving license.
“And I am British, so I’m not used to driving on the right hand side of the road, and I’d never driven at night before because you do all your lessons in the day. But I had decided to take everyone to the cinema and try out my driving. And I was driving at night, and the lights in the car aren’t on and I couldn’t see anything…”
If there’s more to this story, then the cast isn’t telling.
With The New Mutants featuring Dani and Rahne’s budding romance, it’s a rare LGBTQ-inclusive superhero moment.
“I’d done a couple of screen tests before, but this was the first I had to kiss a stranger in the screen test,” says Williams, whose character also goes by the nickname Wolfsbane, a nod to her ability to shapeshift into a wolf.
“I think I knew I got the part as soon as we kissed. It was real,” says Hunt, who admittedly was a Game of Thrones fan.
“The whole relationship between our characters and then us as friends on set was really amazing and it really got me through making the movie. Probably my favorite part of Dani, honestly, is her relationship with Rahne,” she adds.
Boone gives a shout-out to the fans that have patiently waited for the film’s release. “They’re my favourite fans because they actually don’t complain. They just do really cool artwork of the characters. There’s probably 100-plus pieces of artwork that fans have done that I’d still like to figure out a way to do a book; to get permission from everybody and do a book.”
If he hopes adults will gather to see the film, then he admits it’s best viewed by a younger crowd. “It was really made for teenagers who are outsiders; people who feel out of place and who are going through a tough time in general.
“I always say, I make couch movies, which are like, when I was a teenager and I was really depressed, I’d have a certain movie I’d pop on and go lay on the couch. It made me feel better, so these kind of movies will hopefully be your friend.”
• The New Mutants opens in participating Australian cinemas September 3, 2020 (excluding VIC)