'The New Mutants' star Anya Taylor-Joy on starring in a 'gritty, real-life superhero story'

The actress tells us how she came to star in the final instalment of the blockbuster franchise

Maisie Williams as Rahne Sinclair, Henry Zaga as Roberto da Costa, Blu Hunt as Danielle Moonstar, Charlie Heaton as Sam Guthrie and Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana Rasputin in 20th Century Studios’ THE NEW MUTANTS. Photo by Claire Folger. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

It's been a long and troubled journey to the big screen for The New Mutants, the latest, and probably final, instalment of 20th Century Studios' X-Men franchise. And for once in these challenging times, it's not the fault of the coronavirus – at least not entirely.

The film was initially supposed to hit screens in April 2018, but after extensive reshoots, uncertainty stemming from Disney's takeover of the parent studio and, finally, the now-ubiquitous delays due to Covid-19, it is landing in cinemas about two-and-a-half years late.

While I'm a fan of the superhero genre, I have seen movies where I don't feel for the characters, so I had a bit of trepidation being in a superhero film

The film's star, Anya Taylor-Joy, plays Illyana Rasputin, one of a team of teen mutants who are new to the screen, though well-represented in Marvel comic lore. Although the star of The Witch and Peaky Blinders is as in the dark as the rest of us about where the X-Men may be headed now Disney is free to bring the former 20th Century Fox property into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, she's happy to be bringing something a little different to the franchise.

Rather than a bombastic superhero yarn, the film offers a psychological study of the teens under observation in a remote hospital, and is marketed as "Marvel's first horror film". It's a direction Taylor-Joy approves of. "I have been acting on mostly independent features where the most important thing is the character, and while I'm a fan of the superhero genre, I have seen movies where I don't feel for the characters, so I had a bit of trepidation being in a superhero film," she tells The National.

Director and co-writer Josh Boone had written the part with Taylor-Joy specifically in mind, however. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. "I went to have lunch with him and before I even sat down, he was like, 'I am directing this movie, it's going to be part of the X-Men franchise, and there is a character that I have written for you and I don't want you to audition, I just want to know if you will do it,'" she recalls.

The actress responded cheekily, by pointing out to her would-be director that they hadn't even got their water yet, but by the end of lunch she was convinced. “He addressed every single one of my worries. I was like, 'yeah, I am completely in. This feels like a gritty, real-life superhero story.'”

That grittiness means that rather than being used to save the world, the characters' superpowers are distinctly underplayed in comparison to more traditional, effects-laden Marvel outings. Indeed, far from being something to celebrate, the mutants' abilities come from dark secrets from their past that they are hiding, and are the very reason they find themselves locked up in a spooky hospital and tormented by a supernatural foe.

Taylor-Joy's fellow inmates include Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams, Stranger Things' Charlie Heaton, 13 Reasons Why's Henry Zaga and Another Life's Blu Hunt, whose character Dani's arrival in the hospital upsets the established group dynamic and sets off a nightmarish chain of events for our fledgling heroes. But here's one more, uncredited, character whose presence is crucial to the film's creepy tone – the former psychiatric hospital in which it is filmed.

Taylor-Joy recalls an occasion on which the cast returned to an attic in Boston's abandoned Medfield State Hospital for a photo call, a few weeks after they had first shot there: "That was the first time I noticed there were scribbles and scratches on the walls from 1910," she says. "This one guy wrote something about his girlfriend who hung herself there, and I was like, 'I am glad I didn't notice that on our first day of shooting.' I really believe in the essence of places serving a movie and being an extra character."

The film may rely on its human and inanimate characters for much of its momentum, but ultimately it's still a Marvel film. As such, action fans can be assured they will see their fair share of fighting and effects amid all the drama and atmosphere-building, and Illyana is key to some of the film's biggest set pieces. Her alter-ego, Magik, is a powerful sorceress with powers of teleportation. She smites her enemies with the mighty Soulsword, and even has a pet dragon to keep her company.

Taylor-Joy admits this was all rather new and exciting to her. "I used to be a ballet dancer, but I had never fought before, and learning to be a fighter was fascinating for me," she says. "I have loved the action so much, and it's interesting what happens when they yell 'action' and you are in character. Anya is scared of heights; Illyana doesn't care about heights, so I am not scared when I am up there as her because I am so focused. I forget the wires and forget everything and just do it."

Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana Rasputin in 20th Century Studios’ THE NEW MUTANTS. Photo by Claire Folger. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

With early trepidation about appearing in a superhero movie a distant memory, Taylor-Joy seems acutely aware that the intimate character film she was tempted to join is about to become something much bigger. "We realised that we are going to be on a lot of billboards, and that is so not what we have shot," she says. "Once you start doing press for it, it's like 'wow, we are part of the Marvel Universe and it's big.'  We are all excited, and we have a great team. That is all you can really hope for."

That and a box office smash, presumably. We'll find out about that when the film is finally released in the UAE this weekend.

The New Mutants is in UAE cinemas from today