The X Factor

The X Factor

Superheroes may only exist in the realm of fantasy, but the lives of the newest stars of the X-Men franchise aren't so dissimilar from those of the mutant misfits they play

Superheroes may only exist in the realm of fantasy, but the lives of the newest stars of the X-Men franchise aren't so dissimilar from those of the mutant misfits they play

Photography: Magnus Unar

Styling: Leslie Lessin

Text: Kevin McGarry

In each increasingly spectacular X-Men spectacular, the song remains the same: young mutants are sprinkled across all continents and mature as discontented diamonds in the rough. Found via psychic GPS, they are enlisted to join an ensemble earth-saving battle. Interpersonal and pyrotechnic havoc ensues.

Minus the laser-laced melees and telepathy, a similar story could describe the real-life teenagers swept into the pandemonium of portraying these heroes on-screen. From child roles, bit parts, or comparative obscurity, they suddenly find themselves in a class among megastars.

On set in a West Hollywood bungalow during a mid-September heat wave, I chatted with three of the stars of X-Men: Apocalypse, who, like their characters, are still reeling from being plucked from relative normalcy and dropped into a labyrinth of green screens and sound stages. What’s next is a complex of red carpets and international fame.

The two younger guys are no strangers to Hollywood. The exquisitely gangly Kodi Smit-McPhee, in the role of Nightcrawler, doesn’t fit the typical mold of a demonic brawler—though acting is in his blood. “I’m originally from Australia, where my dad is an actor, and I was eight when he asked me if I’d like to try it.” He went for it and it took off: to date his more memorable projects include Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Road. “I’ve grown into acting as my passion and I feel very grateful I’ve found it,” he says.

Playing a young Cyclops, the blue-suited lionheart whose gaze is a crimson weapon of mass destruction, Tye Sheridan’s big break came early, as the son of Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick’s 2011 filmThe Tree of Life. Now 19, Sheridan still toys with his down-home charm. His pedigree as an American action hero in the making raised in rural Texas by a beauty salon owner and UPS employee is almost too good to be true.

Ben Hardy, a blond and beefy Archangel, has a handful of years on his co-stars, and comes to X-Men from the insular world of British soap operas. His journey might be the most surreal. “It was 40 to 60 hours a week and it could get quite frustrating,” he explains, with an accented emphasis on “strate,” “getting sides the night before and not having much time to work on them.” But soap-opera actors are fairly accustomed to absorbing volumes of lines. What’s more foreign: “I was in a flight simulator at one point thinking, How did I get here?”

Details of the latest chapter’s story line are protected like nuclear codes, but the setting has been announced with fanfare: the 1980s, the flashy chapter of neoliberal history immediately preceding the boys’s birth decade. With antique John Hughes masterpieces seared into modern psyche, Smit-McPhee comments that the genre they brought to life seems “a bit of an homage to ’80s teen movies.”

“Personally,” drawls Sheridan, “I think Kodi and I were in similar places in our careers and our lives. I think it came to me at just the right time.” He goes on to recount a story fit for cinema that may suggest the opposite. “I remember I was driving to the audition, and I was borrowing my buddy’s car, and it was the most expensive car I’d ever driven, and I crashed it into the side of the 405.” Here, Smit-McPhee interjects with an intrigue I mistake for concern: “What kind of car?” Sheridan continues, “A 911. I know—I was really embarrassed.” Needless to say, though, by nonmutant powers he made it to the casting—and even snagged the part.

X-Men: Apocalypse is in theaters May 27.

KODI SMIT-MCPHEE WEARS JACKET IRO  T-SHIRT LOUIS VUITTON

BEN HARDY WEARS SWEATER IRO  T-SHIRT LOUIS VUITTON  JEANS CALVIN KLEIN JEANS

TYE SHERIDAN WEARS JACKET BLK DNM  JACKET (UNDERNEATH) CALVIN KLEIN  JEANS PAIGE DENIM

Credits: GROOMING KELSEY DEENIHAN (THE WALL GROUP)  PHOTO ASSISTANT MARIANO C. DE LA TORRE  STYLIST ASSISTANT JENNA REMY  GROOMING ASSISTANT JENNA NELSON  CATERING FOOD LAB

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