X-Men’s Michael Fassbender prepares for his last stand

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Michael Fassbender has played Magneto in 'X-Men' since 2011's 'First Class.' He is pictured here in 2014's 'Days of Future Past.' (Supplied)
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Sophie Turner plays Jean Grey in 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix.' (Supplied)
Updated 24 June 2019

X-Men’s Michael Fassbender prepares for his last stand

  • As ‘Dark Phoenix’ sees the ‘X-Men’ movie saga come to an end, the series’ bad guy talks to Arab News
  • "Magneto is more at peace, and he only leaves this haven out of loyalty. It’s like an old Western, he’s got to go on his mission."

DUBAI: It has always been the villain of the “X-Men” film series that has been its emotional heart. In the opening moments of “X-Men” (2000), a young boy is wrenched away from his parents at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. As he reaches for his family, he starts to bend the metal around him — it is his love, and his pain, that affects the world around him. That young boy grows up to be Magneto — first played on screen by Sir Ian McKellen, then by Michael Fassbender for the last four films of the series.

“Dark Phoenix,” the latest, may also be the last. Though the X-Men will likely be seen onscreen again, 20th Century Fox, the company that has produced the films, is now owned by Disney, who will incorporate the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though nothing has been announced, it’s been suggested that a reboot of the franchise is to come, dropping most of the actors and storylines of the last 20 years.

Fassbender doesn’t know the fate of the series, but if this is the end, he’s made peace with it.

“I have no idea! It’s not my issue to deal with. I’ll leave it in the hands of people who’ve got it,” he tells Arab News. “I’m not spending much time thinking about it, I’ve had a great journey on these four films, I’m happy. If something comes up that looks interesting, I’m always willing to read and take a look, but I’m perfectly happy.”

If “Dark Phoenix” is the last in the series, then at least the creative team was able to right one major wrong. Many fans feel the much-maligned third film in the series, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), botched one of the key storylines from X-Men’s comic book roots — the Dark Phoenix Saga, in which one of the lead characters — Jean Grey — becomes one of the most powerful creatures in the universe, only for absolute power to corrupt her absolutely.

Fassbender, and the film’s writer/director, Simon Kinberg, agreed with them, and wanted to make the story more focused on the women of the saga, staying true to both X-Men’s history and the current social climate.

“I think the seed of talking about female characters and power was there from the beginning,” says Fassbender. “Simon had unfinished business after “The Last Stand,” and you could tell from “Apocalypse” (2016) that he was putting this story in place, setting it up. So, the germ of that was there, and the timing — as it happens — just seems to be in sync with what’s going on in the real world. But Simon’s always been of that mindset; equality across the board for female and male characters.”

Big-budget superhero movies are still often green-screen fare, requiring actors in extravagant costumes to battle invisible monsters on a soundstage for months on end. But the process has at least evolved, so that less is left to the actor’s imagination.

“When I started doing effects movies, you had to imagine what they were going to put in later. There was some storyboarding stuff, but now they’ve got pre-visualization stuff that they show you on a laptop, to see what it’s going to look like and the geographical elements. Of course, you know it’s going to be a lot more fantastical when the team has spent some time on it,” says Fassbender. “I enjoy the technical challenges; it’s another thing that needs to be learned, and it’s something that is fun to explore. It’s not only being in time with the actors. It’s also being in time with the stunt team, if you’re on wires, it’s the riggers… everybody is communicating in the same rhythm. It’s like a dance, and I enjoy that.”

While Magneto is traditionally a villain, Fassbender has always played him as more of a tortured antihero, often falling on the side of good, but just as often straying from it. In “Dark Phoenix,” as well as its predecessor, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the character has often fallen on the side of good, up against much greater and more powerful evils. In “Dark Phoenix,” it’s Sophie Turner, who plays the Phoenix herself, who gets to let loose as the big bad.

“I was a little bit jealous, to be honest. ‘What? Somebody else is causing trouble?’ Although ‘Apocalypse’ already stole that from me, so I was getting used to it!” says Fassbender.

There was a plus side to not being in full-on villain mode, however: He got to spend most of this film in a turtleneck and jeans, rather than Magneto’s hefty armor.

“I’m not wearing any Magneto costumes. The helmet is there, but everything is pared down to be a character exploration. I certainly was very thankful that it was an easy in-and-out for me, especially if you look at what Nicholas [Hoult] goes through each day as Beast! Compared to him, I definitely got an easier route,” he says.

Following the events of the last film, Fassbender explains, Magneto is now the leader of Genosha, an island nation where mutants such as himself can live without persecution, in harmony, and without fear of attack from humans who are threatened by their powers — the central struggle of the series.

“It’s his struggles through the series — certainly when I was playing it — culminating in this physical place,” says Fassbender. “Since his family has been ripped away from him, from what happened to him as a child and then, of course, with his wife and child later, well, that sense of death is always with him. But this is a mature Erik; he’s more at peace, and he only leaves this haven out of loyalty. It’s like an old Western, he’s got to go on his mission.

“He’s finally become the cult leader that was always alive in him!” he continues, with a laugh.

How Fassbender approached his performance depended on his mood that day, he explains, but playing a tortured character who has dealt with so much trauma throughout his life was, at times, emotionally difficult.

“There are times where I’ll go away and find a corner where I can just be by myself if I need to be in more of a meditative state,” he says. “We’re all at ease with one another; we all know each other very well and it’s whatever each of us needs to do. There’s always a respect there about whatever the other person’s process is and if anyone is ever struggling on camera, or in a moment, we’re all there for each other 100 percent and we want everyone to be the best on these sets.”

Have you heard the one about the Muslims making a splash on the UK comedy scene?

Updated 8 min 10 sec ago

Have you heard the one about the Muslims making a splash on the UK comedy scene?

  • New breed of comedians use their Arab origins to fuel culture-clash comedy routines and smash stereotypes
  • Super Muslim Comedy Tour visited 11 British cities to raise money to help impoverished children in crisis-hit countries

LONDON: Thanks to stars such as Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Britain has long been a hotbed of comedy talent.
Lately, a new crop of Arab Muslim stand-up comedians have taken to the stage across the country, representing the UK’s ethnic diversity and offering a fresh alternative on the comedy scene.
Fatiha El-Ghorri, Omar Hamdi and Esther Manito were among seven Muslim comedians that toured 11 British cities as part of the Super Muslim Comedy Tour. This charity event is organized by Penny Appeal, an international humanitarian organization that works to provide poverty relief in crisis-hit countries worldwide.
In their acts, the three performers challenge the stigmas and stereotypes associated with how the British public views Muslims and Arabs, and vice versa, using their own experiences and backgrounds as inspiration for their humor.
British-Moroccan comedian El-Ghorri, for example, uses comedy to break down the barriers that she has come up against as a Muslim and as a woman.
“I think in the West in general we have a perception of Muslim women as being weak and oppressed, especially with Muslim women that wear the hijab,” she said after a performance at Porchester Hall in Bayswater, London. “It’s difficult for women in general but it’s more difficult for a woman that looks so different, as I do, because people don’t want to take a chance on you.”

British-Moroccan comedian Fatiha El-Ghorri is challenging the stigmas that not only come with being a Muslim, but also a Muslim woman. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

The comedy industry has long had a problem with female comics because promoters worry that audiences will not connect with their material, she said. At most of the events she has performed at she was the only woman on the bill, she added, and wearing a hijab makes it even harder to find a platform.
“So I like to challenge that and the perceptions people have of us as Muslims,” she said. “And also, within the Muslim community you have tribes: you have the Pakistani Muslims, the Arab Muslims, and we have traditions and cultures different to each other.”
Stepping onto the stage to the sound of a song by rapper Jay-Z, 38-year-old El-Ghorri kept the audience in stitches from the beginning to the end of her routine, as she merged eastern and western words and trends to come up with hybrid terms such as “Minder” (Muslim Tinder) and Mipster (Muslim hipster).
Despite the challenges and obstacles she has faced, she has no intention to give up her dream career.
“I’m not going to stop,” she said. “This is what I want to do and I’m gonna be here and I’m gonna do it. If one club won’t take me, another club will.”
The Super Muslim Comedy Tour, which is in its fifth year, kicked off in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Nov. 6 before heading south, stopping off in major cities before concluding in London on Nov. 17. Arab News caught up with the performers in the capital on the penultimate night of the tour.
Welsh-Egyptian comedian Omar Hamdi said one of the interesting things about stand up is that it takes him to places he would normally never go.
“This tour started in Aberdeen, which is like the northeast corner of Scotland — it’s practically Norway,” he said, adding that the “vibe there was different” to what he experienced in Bayswater, for example, a posh area in central London. “Even a distance of a few miles makes such a difference in the energy of the audience and what they’re into,” he explained.
This is the third time the 29-year-old has been part of the Super Muslim tour.

This is the third year Welsh-Egyptian comedian Omar Hamdi has joined Penny Appeal’s Super Muslim Comedy Tour. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“Every year it’s different but it’s always fun,” he said. “I think because it’s been going a few years it’s become a bit of a brand. People come along more excited about the show, they have more expectations and it just gets bigger and better.
“The interesting thing is that wherever you go, people are there to laugh but they’re also there to support an amazing charity.”
Hamdi has also performed at Dubai Opera and the Royal Albert Hall in London. He is a presenter on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) Award-winning BBC Wales consumer-affairs show “X-Ray,” and has a comedy special, “Omar Hamdi: British Dream,” on Amazon Prime in the UK.
During his routine on the Super Muslim tour, Hamdi, who was born in Cardiff, jokes about how his parents ended up living in Wales, which is not the most obvious destination for Egyptian immigrants.
Esther Manito, meanwhile, was born and raised in Essex, east of London.
“There were absolutely no ethnic minority groups around, let alone Arab ethnic minority groups,” she said. With a Lebanese father and a mother from Newcastle, in the northeast of England, her parents’ cultural differences, in particular their very different ways of speaking, provide a rich source of inspiration for her comedy.
“My style of comedy is very much observational,” said Manito. “It’s about family life, family dynamics and identity, and growing up with dual heritage, so all of that comes into play when I’m doing stand-up. My surroundings have given me so much comedy material.”

The Super Muslim Comedy Tour was held at Porchester Hall in Bayswater, London, after touring 10 other cities across the UK. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

Kae Kurd, from south London, is the host of the show. The 29 year-old, who hosts a YouTube show called “Kurd Your Enthusiasm,” was six months old when his parents moved to the UK in 1990. They were part of the resistance that fought against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
He said the response from audiences has been very positive throughout the tour, even if it occasionally takes a little time for them to warm up.
“Sometimes, I think people are nervous to laugh because they’ve probably never been to a comedy show before, so they don’t understand that they can laugh out loud,” he said. “But it’s been fun and everybody’s really enjoyed it.”
The proceeds from this year’s tour will help the Forgotten Children campaign, which aims to get young people in places such as Lebanon, Senegal, Pakistan and Bangladesh off the streets and into safer environments.
Sisters Ripa and Nazifa Hannan, from Hackney said it was the first time they attended a Muslim comedy show.
Ripa, 34, particularly liked El-Ghorri set and was able to relate to all her jokes, especially as they are from the same are in London.

British-Moroccan comedian Fatiha El-Ghorri (C) with fans Ripa Hannan (L) and her sister Nazifa (R). (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“You know when women can kind of relate to another woman especially when, we come from Hackney too, so we got every single joke of hers and so it resonates for us,” she said.
Nazifa, 27, said they often attend comedy shows but tend to see acts like Trevor Noah or Russell Howard.
“This is the first Muslim comedy show and it was fantastic, hilarious and the fact they spoke (for a) very good cause,” she added.