Oscar Isaac talks playing X-MEN's Apocalypse; finding the humanity in the villain

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OscarIsaac_Apocalypse

If Oscar Isaac isn’t careful, he just might become a geek culture icon. The talented actor spent years working the indie scene too much critical praise in movies like Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, but now he’s really jumped into the pop culture spotlight playing an X-Wing pilot in the new Star Wars as well as tackling the titular villainous role in Bryan Singer’s upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.

This latter bit is especially intriguing seeing as how Isaac doesn’t exactly cut as physically intimidating a figure as the Apocalypse we know from the comics, although he does have the acting chops to pull off just about anything. And it appears that he’s going to need those talents, because as Isaac revealed in a recent interview with IGN, this version of Apocalypse is going to be slightly different to what we know.

“Just as Bryan’s done with the other films, I think he seeks to find something a little more interesting than the archetypal aspects of the characters, which work really well in print, but for a film I think you want to see a bit more of the — for lack of a better word — humanity in [Apocalypse]; because ultimately this is a story about humans.”

“It’s just different symbols for different things that we feel. So with this character I am incredibly interested in the challenge of finding someone that’s psychologically interesting and compelling, and actually the spiritual aspects of the character… For me, that’s what I’m interested in, in any character that I do. It’s a meditation on ‘What’s their engine? What’s their spirit?’ Whether that’s about Llewyn Davis or Apocalypse, there’s an aspect of ‘What is it that makes them run? What’s their spirit like?’ That’s what I’m interested in finding out about that character.”

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I’ve never been one to clamour for verbatim adaptations, especially when it comes to comics book movies, and I’m especially happy that Singer and co are not going that direction here, because honestly Apocalypse is a horrible character. Now before you reach for those pitchforks and torches, hear me out: Apocalypse has been at the centre of some of the X-Men’s greatest comic book adventures – some of my all-time favourite comics – but he is nothing more than a walking plot device. His entire “survival of the fittest” schtick is extremely shallow and thanks to his near-omnipotence, can essentially do whatever the particular writer at the time wants him to do. Yes, he’s an utter badass with an odd taste for pipes and capes, but he’s never really been more than that.

Isaac also recognized this lack of depth and nuance to the character:

“In the early conversations we talked a lot about that [Apocalypse’s distinct point of view and agenda]. Of course, you read the comic book, and [Apocalypse is] not so shaded with gray — except his face. [Laughs] That’s the only thing gray about him.”

For those of you not familiar with Apocalypse, he’s essentially the very first mutant, an ancient Egyptian named En Sabbah Nur who used his power to rule like a god and throughout the centuries has tried to hasten the ascendancy of mutants to the top of the genetic food chain, as he considers them to be superior to humans. One of his favourite methods of doing this, is through his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (I guess, he’s a fan of Bible stories). These Horsemen are essentially just various lieutenants, hand-picked by Apocalypse to represent War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. The roles have gone to many people, but the most memorable person to occupy that last slot, Death, was none other than winged X-Man, Angel, who was transformed by Apocalypse into the metal-winged, death-dealing Archangel.

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We’ve already seen Angel in the movies as he was played by a young Ben Foster in the much reviled X3: The Last Stand, however seeing as X-Men: Apocalypse is set in the 1980’s it’s almost impossible that the character would be involved in the movie as he would still be an infant at the time, if he was even born at all yet. But that hasn’t stopped Isaac from wanting to see the now much more famous Foster reprising the role again.

“He’s a great actor. I don’t really know how they’re going to put all that together or exactly what characters, or how that’s going to work. But I know Angel and Archangel in particular were some of my favorite characters in that storyline. That was such a cool and dark storyline. I think that would be a cool thing to see on film.”

Even with X-Men: Days of Future Past going all wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey and essentially erasing the events of X3, it will still require some serious scripting gymnastics to pull off Foster’s return as Angel. However, Apocalypse is practically immortal so there’s definitely nothing stopping Singer and friends from bringing him back for a future movie set in the present, where Foster can definitely put on the wings again.

“I did like that a lot… There are so many different comics, so many different storylines — particularly with Age of Apocalypse, how there’s this alternate universe. So I like that there’s a malleability to what the stories can be.”

That’s all good and well, but I just don’t want them to try too hard to pull it off though, potentially doing something silly with the narrative just because Angel played such a big part in Apocalypse’s comic book story. This more relaxed relationship with the source material is something that Isaac also agrees with:

“Ultimately, it’s about making something compelling and interesting to watch. I think being faithful to certain characters from the comics is very important, but it’s a different medium. I think, ultimately, you want to make a great movie. That’s the most important part, and then finding, if not the exact details, the soul of the characters, of the stories, of what the whole thing was. Those aspects, even if you’re moving certain things around and maybe not being true to this particular storyline and adding this new thing, I think those are much more important. The experience of it will be much more compelling in the end.”

X-Men: Apocalypse, which sees the return of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, opens internationally on May 27, 2016.

Last Updated: December 10, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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