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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The New Mutants’ cast and director talk the film’s “strange” journey and its Breakfast Club comparisons

When it comes to delayed movie releases, Tenet has nothing on The New Mutants. While the Christopher Nolan action-thriller waits out COVID-19 so it can (safely) pack theater houses again, the Marvel Comics adaptation has most recently laid claim to August 28, 2020, as its tentative theatrical debut—a full two years and four months after its original release date. As pointed out at the top of today’s Comic-Con@Home panel, that date comes with an official “fingers crossed” caveat and a tacit admission from the cast that it’s all still a bit up in the air. In fact, aside from some glimpses of new footage (including the film’s frenetic first three minutes), The New Mutants panel was mostly meant to thank all of the fans-in-waiting for their continued enthusiasm and seemingly endless patience. Mergers and pandemics be damned, they’ll get their movie one day!

Earlier this week, The A.V. Club was given the opportunity to chat with The New Mutants writer/director Josh Boone and some of his cast about their film’s long, strange journey. Boone, as well as Blu Hunt (who plays Dani Moonstar), Charlie Heaton (Sam Guthrie), Henry Zaga (Roberto de Costa), and Alice Braga (Dr. Cecilia Reyes) were all in good spirits as they shared how it has felt to have their project on ice for so long. We also dove into the film’s parallels with another teens-in-trouble classic, discussed the spookiness of their on-location production, and revealed the one scene that made all their jaws drop. Excerpts of that discussion are in the video above, with the full transcript below.

The A.V. Club: It’s fair to say that we’re living in a pretty different world than we were when The New Mutants was originally planned to hit theaters. Do you see the film differently now?

Josh Boone: What’s funny is this would be a very pandemic-safe set, like a good set for a COVID shoot because there’s so few characters in it. You could probably go make this now without too many problems. But, you know, it has been a long road—we’re so excited for people to finally get to see it. There was kind of a year window when the merger happened where there was nothing done with the movie, and it was really great to be able to go back and finish it. Once it was all settled, Disney kind of let me come back and finish everything. So I was just grateful to be able to do that.

Henry Zaga: It’s pretty strange. I mean, we were expecting this movie to come out I think like six months after we wrapped? So I think we hold it—at least, I can speak for myself—I hold it even more dear because it’s been that expectation and that level of surprise, and the stakes are quite high now. We’ve seen the movie and we love it. So the excitement is still strong for me.

AVC: Jumping off Josh’s point about the “pandemic-safe set,” this does, indeed, feel like a rather contained story—there are even some hints of The Breakfast Club here with its cast of characters. Knowing that John Hughes was one of the film’s many influences, I’m curious: Who’s the brain in this bunch? Who’s the athlete? The basket case, the princess, and the criminal?

Charlie Heaton: You know, I don’t know exactly if there’s an exact translation from The Breakfast Club.

Blu Hunt: There all basket cases. They’re all [Ally Sheedy’s character, Allison].

JB: Anya [Taylor-Joy] was definitely Judd Nelson [Laughs].

HZ: I’m certainly Molly Ringwald then [Laughs].

JB: Of course! Yeah, there’s not that many direct correlations, but it was more inspired by the idea of… [Hughes] did such beautiful stories about friendship and about young people sort of coming together and relating to each other. And it was trying to capture a little bit of that, a little bit of that Stephen King, feeling, a little bit of Joss Whedon—all of that stuff that I like that felt like a good match for this material.

AVC: Blu, considering your take that they’re all “basket cases,” where does your character, Danielle fit into all of this? It seems she may be the audience surrogate at the beginning.

BH: I think Danielle… Danielle! I’ve never called her that [Laughs].

JB: She’s Dani, we call her Dani [Laughs].

BH: But, yeah, Dani doesn’t really fit in at all at first—I don’t think she fits in for quite some time. But then when she does, she really does. She becomes very much the instigator, in this search of truth, you know? She’s the one that’s like, “well, why are we all here?” But at first she doesn’t want to be there, and she doesn’t really like anybody except for maybe Rahne [played by Maisie Williams]. Well, she doesn’t “dislike” anyone—I imagine she’s kind of a floater, you know, she doesn’t really fit in anywhere. But she definitely finds her family and these people.

AVC: So, maybe The Breakfast Club analogy doesn’t completely hold up, but Dr. Cecilia Reyes certainly appears to be the Vice Principal Vernon of the group, correct?

JB: Of course! She is the authority figure.

Alice Braga: Totally [Laughs.]. I call them my “babies,” actually. What Blu was saying makes me think of what Josh and Knate Lee, the co-writer, did with the script—I mean, I’m an X-Men fan, New Mutants fan, and always have been because of what the Mutants represent, in a way. It a lot about its metaphor of acceptance and [what it means to feel] different. In The New Mutants’ world, we have an opportunity to see the younger version of that. What Blu was saying about Dani—it’s a lot of that—you’re still trying to figure out who you are. It’s the age that you’re finding out about life, and I think each one of these characters go through that.

I mean, not my character [Laughs.]. My character is a completely different age and I’m in charge of these kids—they’re driving me nuts! But, it was good to see from up close, to see them creating that. I think, for the fans, it’s really nice because you get a whole range of characters to connect with. Like Blu was saying, [Dani] doesn’t fit, but it’s not that she doesn’t because she doesn’t want to—she’s trying to [find her place]. I just think it’s the core of the film: The soul of these five characters.

JB: I mean, it really is about these broken kids who have to, together, make each other whole again; I guess that’s the best way to look at it. Even Dr. Reyes, I would say, is a huge part of them becoming whole—wink, wink.

AVC: How much can we say about that? In the context of this movie, where does Dr. Reyes—a character from the X-Men comics—fall on the spectrum of friend or foe?  

JB: She’s both, and she serves both purposes in the story when she needs to. You’ve got to remember, she’s also their doctor. So she has to relate to all of them differently. And that gives Alice kind of a harder role to play because it’s more what they need her to be than who she actually is inside.even who she actually is inside. You know what I mean, Alice?

AB: Yeah, totally. It’s hard to talk about her without revealing much [Laughs.].

AVC: As you mentioned, the superhero genre—and the X-Men in particular—has long been a great metaphor for growing up, for coming of age, and horror movies can to be that too. Speaking to the horror element of The New Mutants, Josh, you’ve mentioned that filming on location at the Medfield State Hospital provided…

AB: Weird stuff!

AVC: Right! So, what can you share about that?

JB: I mean, it’s one of the things that I think makes this really different from other comic book movies; we shot in real locations. It just doesn’t feel like those movies—it feels much more like a location-based, ’90s horror movie or something. But we went to a pretty terrifying place: A 150-year old mental institution that had been closed for probably 50 years. It was really, truly haunted. We had a bunch of crew people who had weird experiences there. I would always go rush to where it had happened and be like, “God, tell me if there’s life after death!” And then nothing would happen—I’d be so bummed that I missed it. Like, “Don’t go, that’s where the scary thing happened!” “I’m going, I hope to find out!”

But some people did have some creepy experiences happen to them. I didn’t personally, unfortunately, but the place just had kind of an aura about it. The best story I could probably tell you is: The groundskeeper gave us a tour of the facilities. And he was like, “See that a basketball court over there? You know, they built that for this little kid named Timmy who stayed here.” I was like, “Oh, that’s really sweet!” And he said, “Yeah, he killed his parents with a knife.” So yeah, there was a lot of stories about terrible things that had happened there. And it just added to the feeling of it all.

AB: I wouldn’t walk by myself at night. No way!

HZ: It’s kind of funny to think of that place as haunted, because I think, at least to me, I was so heightened by the experience of a playing that character. And I think Roberto takes his fear as a form of humor. So I didn’t really feel the creepiness of the hospital so much as I would’ve like to, but I’m just like the class clown onset, I guess that’s situation. But, definitely scary—it smells like it’s been abandoned for a few years.

AB: It was very helpful, I think, for all of us, right? I mean, as actors, because you’re not in a studio. I think you feel that vibe as an actor. It gives a different texture to it.

JB: Definitely. I’ll obviously point out we had one of the greatest DPs on the planet, Peter Deming, who shot Mulholland Drive, and shot the last season of Twin Peaks, and shot the Scream movies from the ’90s, which I’m a huge fan of. So he elevated this, photographically, in so many ways, and it doesn’t look like a comic book film. It looked very much more like a film from the ’80s or ’90s.

AVC: And, on that note, there are a lot of practical effects.

JB: Oh yeah, sure. I mean, there are a bunch of visual effects on a big battle at the end of the movie, but it has a lot more to it than that, I guess I would say.

AVC: Two of the cast members not with us today—Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy—audiences will certainly be aware of, thanks to Game Of Thrones and then Anya’s work in The Witch and Split, for example. But how will their performances surprise us here?

BH: Well, I think people are used to seeing Maisie be a very—obviously on Game Of Thrones—a really, really strong character who has never had a struggle with exerting her power. But in this, you really see this really shy—like deeply, debilitatingly shy—girl with a lot of inner conflict. But there are shy parts of Maisie even, so I think, in a way, she got to show a different part of herself, and some are going to be really surprised by how well she can also play someone very soft, very small. Until she’s not small at all.

JB: Yeah, and then she says that she’s going to be so strong at the end. And you know, there’s a precedent for Anya—like that was the character that was sort of already a superhero. Like, she’s already done so much more than the other kids that are trapped there with her. And she can escape with ease to a place that she made up—it’s in her mind that she’s sort of the queen. It sort of gave her a different way to kind of act above everybody, which informs a lot of the interpersonal relationships in the movie, sort of her her overconfidence.

AB: And Anya is a really strong actress in that sense, which I think really translates to the character because she’s really specific. I mean, with her work, you can see that characteristic. One of my favorite moments was when I was on set visiting—I wasn’t even in the scene—when she said, “I’m magic.” [Screams with excitement.] Everyone was like, “yeah!”

HZ: I geeked out at that too! I was like [Mouth agape].

JB: For Knate and I, that was like a rule: That was the only way we were going to put a character name in; it had to be in an ironic way. It’s too early—they’re not even a team yet. So it had to be way more like a wink. Nobody’s really called Cannonball, or Sunspot, or any of that. They’re still people with identities.

AVC: Identities, right—like Dani, and not Danielle.

BH: [Laughs]. Well, her name is technically Danielle.

JB: Right, we just didn’t call her that—you’re fine. Nobody’s even got to see the movie, how would they know?