The process of releasing Marvel’s The New Mutants was overly frustrating for those who were waiting for the film to open in theaters. Hampered by multiple delays, it was almost as if the X-Men spinoff would never see the light of day. Contrary to popular belief, the film wasn’t pushed back due to reshoots. Disney’s acquisition of Fox and the Coronavirus pandemic prevented The New Mutants from hitting theaters. However, it is now one of the first films available on the big screen after theaters closed its doors for the past seven months.
Ironically, The New Mutants mirrors our current quarantine way of life, where superpowered teenagers are imprisoned in a psychiatric ward located in a remote forest. But when they discover that there is an evil attached to the strange presence, they take it upon themselves to break out and be free.
The real-life abandoned psychiatric ward, which has quite a history that is both terrifying and tragic, left quite an impression on the cast and crew. So much so that some were afraid to go out by themselves because they believed the place was haunted. Not only that, but it was a place that hit the senses. “I think there was something really creepy about the smell that just got into your soul before you thought about it,” Henry Zaga said. Still, he had no problem with it because he had a “blast” filming there.
Alice Braga thought filming in an actual psychiatric ward instead of a set with blue screens helped her understand the unsettling setting. “I think filming there really helped to get the feel of the reality of it,” she said. “Like having actual walls and actual energy for a film like this. It felt kind of like, in a way, like we were doing an independent film, sometimes.”
But Braga does admit to being scared when it came to filming at night. “Filming at night was kind of scary,” she said. “I wouldn’t walk by myself. There was no way.”
Even the crew talked to Boone about the weird experiences they had during production.
The groundskeeper who worked there for years would tell the cast “awful stories” and how none should “walk alone at night around the ward.”
While the horror elements put a refreshing twist on the superhero genre, The New Mutants also uses its teenage mutants discovering newfound abilities as a metaphor for young growing pains.
“I think any opportunity to go back to teenagedom is not necessarily the most fun experience, but you definitely learn a lot about yourself afterward.” Anya Taylor-Joy said. “It’s interesting because I think we all came into this knowing that while we were making a superhero movie, we weren’t really making a superhero movie. We were making a film about people who were having a tough time understanding themselves and figuring out their place in the world.”
While we’ve seen coming of age stories being told on screen before, the addition of mutant superpowers made it more cinematic This way, the target audience can relate to the characters and still have a lot of fun watching the film. “It was really made for teenagers who are outsiders, people who feel out of place and are going through a tough time in general,” Boone said. “I sort of always say, I make couch movies. When I was a teenager, and I was really depressed, I’d have a certain movie I’d pop on and go lay on the couch. It made me feel better.”
And just like any coming of age stories, there are rites of passage to adulthood. One of them is learning how to drive, which happened to Charlie Heaton. While the British actor just got his driver’s license at the time of production, he still could not drive on the right side. “I’d never driven at night before, you know,” Heaton said. “You do all your lessons in the day. We were driving back. I had decided to take everyone to the cinema and try out my driving.”
The irony of it all is that they all went out to see Baby Driver.
Another part of teenagers growing up and building an identity comes from the relationships they have. And in The New Mutants, the film will have an LGBTQ+ relationship between Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) and Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt). The audition and screen testing process may have been strange initially due to their not knowing each other, but as soon as they kissed. “It really got me through making the movie, like, our friendship and character relationship was really important to me,” Hunt said. “It was, like, probably my favorite part of Dani, and her relationship with Rahne.”
Sure, the superhero aspect may be one of the most exciting parts, but Boone believes that its Dani and Rahne’s relationship is the heart of the film. “Just seeing these two girls under that dome looking up, I think, is really cool to see people do in a movie,” he said. “I’m excited about that stuff just as much as the action and the Marvel stuff.”
And the actors learned a lot about themselves during this unusually long period between production and release. But it was only after filming ending that Hunt discovered how she was similar to Dani. “I was like, oh my God, me and Dani are really the same person,” she said. “Which is kind of weird, because I think usually you feel like you get to play a character. So, I think it was very strange for me to play someone that was so much like me. That wasn’t really something I realized until a lot of time passed.”
So, the thought of playing the role again is something that interests Hunt. “It would be really fun to play her again as an adult, you know,” she said. “Like, maybe her powers aren’t all negative and bad. Maybe she can, like, you know, make some dreams come true and not just nightmares. So, that would be cool.”
Williams agreed. Though they were all younger when they filmed The New Mutants, they all went through major changes. She admitted to feeling unattractive and uncomfortable wearing the tattered clothing and wigs during the production. But after dropping her ego and taking a serious look back, she has a better understanding of the character. “She isn’t just born with, like, every ounce of confidence,” she said. It was like something I was really fighting at the time, but looking back, I’m like, wow, you’re really, like, uncomfortable.
And Braga sees how the teenage audience will connect to the characters. “When you read the script or when you see the story, you can see how many teenagers are gonna connect with each one of them in different ways,” she said. “Maybe someone is going to connect more to Maisie’s character. Someone is going to connect more with Charlie’s character or Anya’s. In a brilliant way, talks a lot about young people and-and going through their lives, being mutant or not. And the X-Men has that metaphor of talking about being accepted.”
Braga added, “I think the movie’s really cool because it talks on the subject in a great way that is entertaining and all that. But it goes deep into these kids, young adults that are figuring out life and going through these feelings, and like Maisie just said, understanding their body and their role in the world. I think it’s nice to have, you know, an action film and-and, you know, entertaining film but that deals with these kinds of situations in a nice way.”
Zaga said he could relate to Williams’s sentiment about discomfort and discovering an identity during a confusing point in one’s life. “I relate to this discomfort that Maisie was talking about too. I think all of our characters have some physical discomfort, coming either from our powers or just from, you know, growing pains,” he said.
While the relatable growing pains aspect grounds the film’s story, much of the cinematic moments will come through in the form of a demon bear. In the Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants arc, the demon bear haunts the dreams of Dani Moonstar, claiming he had killed her parents and would eventually come and kill her. This bear would continue to haunt Dani’s dreams until the New Mutants banded together to defeat it.
“I wrote this with my very best friend in the world,” Boone said. “We’ve known each other since we were little babies. Our moms are best friends. And we grew up in the 1980’s reading Marvel Comics, and I still vividly remember to this day seeing the covers of the New Mutants comics that Bill started working on these demon bear ones. Cause they did not look like any comic book covers I’d ever seen before. They were painted, they were impressionistic, they were, had a more slippery surreal look than typical comic books do. I’d just never seen anything like that before.”
The demon bear art left quite the impression on Boone as it “really captured” his “imagination.”
And as with all comic book film adaptations, there will be some changes from the comics that won’t make it to the screen. For Boone, it was the latter. “The comic only goes so far. It was certainly incredibly helpful to us aesthetically and in terms of choosing shots and making it look a certain way,” he said. “The comics were cool because they didn’t wear costumes in them for a lot of Bill’s run, which we were inspired by that as well.”
Boone added, “Yeah, I’d say they’re very much like the characters in the comics, but I’d say we had to make sense of the very convoluted Marvel history that a lot of these characters had and their entanglements with other books and everything else.”
“We made Lockheed much more tied to her directly in terms of her backstory and everything,” Boone said. “Because the way she gains this dragon in the comic is, you know, this dragon came from space. Then Kitty Pride got it. And, eventually, it became Illyana’s.”
Avoiding that convolution from page to screen would be incredibly difficult. And as a result, some of the characters had to be dropped. “You know, it’s why we chose not to focus on a character like Magma, ’cause it’s like she comes from, like, an ancient Roman world that still exists in the Amazon somewhere now,” Boone said. “And it was like, yeah, I’m not gonna do that.”