It's a double dose of mutant mayhem this week as the actors behind X-Men's most beloved good girl and Logan's most imposing enemy give up some behind-the-scenes secrets of the upcoming films X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Wolverine, along with their other tours of duty in other upcoming fantasy fare.
Ellen Page: Still in Phase with Kitty Pryde
Ellen Page has proven she can slip into a character as easily as the X-Men's beloved Kitty Pryde can walk through walls, and the actress says she's thrilled to get a second shot at embodying the down-to-earth mutant superheroine a second time as she suits up in X-gear for director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past. "It was a surprise," she admits. "I didn't really expect to be doing another X-Men movie."
Having previously played the character in the Singer-produced, Brett Ratner-directed third sequel X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, Page thought she'd only get one shot at playing the plucky, phase-powered and perpetually popular member of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, especially when the franchise went retro for the prequel X-Men: First Class in 2011. But then Singer, who'd helmed the first two X-Men installments, signed on to direct the latest – which takes inspiration from the comic book's fabled time-traveling 1981 storyline and promised to unite the various incarnations of the uncanny team – and gave her a call.
"I love the opportunity to be Kitty Pryde – I think Kitty Pryde's awesome," she says. "I loved First Class, and that whole new cast is incredible: you have James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer freakin' Lawrence, who's amazing! To have the old cast and the new cast together in this obviously epic, very ambitious film, and be a part of it again is fantastic."
While Kitty is central to the original comic book plot, Page is not telling how she'll fit into the film's storyline. But she's hoping to do even greater justice to the character she's grown to feel a lot of pride in – no pun intended.
"What I love about X Men is there's something so internally heartfelt about what a lot of these people are going through," she explains. "A lot of the internal dialogues that are going on with what these people are struggling with is actually really, really beautiful. And to be able to play a character like Kitty who's a very strong young woman who is just as much a part of it as her male counterparts are – that alone is a great opportunity."
Page just completed her end of production on Days of Future Past and will next be seen in The East, a thriller concocted by the indie screenwriting duo of director Zal Batmanglij and actress Brit Marling (Another Earth, The Sound of Her Voice). Page plays a member of an anarchist collective infiltrated by an increasingly compassionate corporate intelligence operative. "What I love about this is the ethical murkiness of it and the difficulty to find the protagonist and the antagonist," she says. "I'm always interested in those movies because I think that's what reality is: there's a lot more gray than there is black and white. Aside from all the political ideas thrust into the film, my character's story is profoundly personal."
She also got to take part in an entirely new frontier of acting in the increasingly hybrid worlds of video games and cinema with Quantic Dream's Playstation 3 effort Beyond: Two Souls, due in early October. "That was one of those things where when the opportunity first came up it was hard to even understand what that meant – I didn't play video games in 10 years and I didn't know what it even entailed," she says. "It was like, ‘Is it just my voice?'
The answer was No. For the psychological/spiritual thriller – in which players will guide Page's character through 15 years of own life and explore her connection to a mysterious, powerful entity – the actress made her first foray into motion capture and tackled a 2,000-page script. "Creating a 10-12-hour story for people, was actually one of most challenging experiences I've ever had," she says.
Hiroyuki Sanada: Getting His Kicks Out of Brawls with Wolverine and Neo
After starring in films in his native Japan for four decades, Hiroyuki Sanada set his sights on Hollywood and nabbed roles in a string of high-profile projects – including Rush Hour 3, Sunshine, Speed Racer and LOST – but it's his upcoming stint menacing Hugh Jackman's rampaging mutant hero in The Wolverine that may leave as permanent a mark on American audiences as his Yakuza kingpin Shingen Yashida leaves on healing factor-impaired Logan.
The X-Men spinoff's storyline derives inspiration from the landmark 1982 Marvel Comics miniseries by writer Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller, which introduced Shingen as the father of Wolverine's true love Mariko Yashida who also heads a Japanese criminal empire. Sanada says the film offers plenty of surprising tweaks on the seminal tale while also staying faithful to the spirit. "We created an original story, a good surprise for the audiences, he says. "It looks similar at the beginning but then completely different from the comics. When the project got started and I researched, I bought the comics, so for me it was a good surprise, too, when I read the script."
The 52-year-old actor remains impressed by just how much fun his big fight sequences with Jackman were. "He's a good dancer as well, it's so easy to for him to remember the choreography," he explains. "Sometimes on the set, the director James Mangold requested 10 or 15 more movings, and we created them immediately with the stunt coordinator – but [only] two or three times rehearsed, and go! It was so smooth – I was surprised. He was a great fighter."
Next up for Sanada is 47 Ronin, opposite another noted maestro of movie martial arts, Keanu Reeves. "The 47 is a traditional, most famous Japanese revenge story, but it's completely Hollywood style, fantasy – very far from the original story but the baseline is the same," he says. "Keanu respected Japanese culture so he learned a lot of things before we started shooting, including sword fighting and also the Japanese language, though we've shot all in English for samurai film. It's a bit challenging but Keanu he memorized all his dialogue in Japanese. Impressive! He said, ‘Learning language means learning culture, so it's to good effect for the movie.' He was amazing."