Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, is a mutant superhero and member of the X-Men, but even on her own she features enough regal authority and presence to be every bit as commanding as her weather-bending superpowers. There is a reason she’s been worshipped as a goddess before in comics, and it is one of the aspects Alexandra Shipp is keen to return to the character in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Indeed, Ms. Shipp, who previously starred in Straight Outta Compton, is taking over the role of one of the most popular mutant characters at an intriguing point in the X-Men franchise. Neither quite sequel or prequel, X-Men: Apocalypse picks up with Storm at the beginning of her journey as a Kenyan-born street urchin living in the slums of Cairo when she is seduced by the villainous Apocalypse (played by Oscar Isaac) to become his first of Four Horsemen. Now an antagonist, Shipp’s traditional heroine finds herself in a very different place than how the character appeared in the original three X-Men movies, and as played by Halle Berry.
During our phone interview, Shipp chatted about exactly that, and how she views her Storm as something akin to Mary Magdalene while in the presence of Apocalypse, as well as her multiple auditions for the role, her desire to see Storm get a pageboy haircut like in the ‘90s comics, and just how that “Beast Mode” video with the X-Men cast came about. We also discuss whether we might just see her Storm in Josh Boone’s The New Mutants too.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a pretty sprawling mutant epic. How did you come about joining a movie of this size and making the jump into such a blockbuster?
Alexandra Shipp: It was pretty much like any other audition, because they had a secret name. So, I didn’t know in the beginning what it was specifically for. I mean don’t get me wrong, I had an inkling—it was an untitled Bryan Singer project, and there was so much buzz for a few months about who they were going to cast and all this jazz. So, I kind of had an inkling, but you never know, right?
And I auditioned for it and then about a month later, I got a chance to go back and audition for them, and then two or three months later I was able to test for it. I didn’t think I was going to get it. [Laughs]
One thing I really do like in this movie is that you incorporated Storm’s Kenyan accent from the comics. Was that your decision? Did you go into the second audition or test with that?
I didn’t do it in the audition because I wasn’t too sure what vision Bryan and Simon had for Storm when it came down to her accent, but the minute I was told that was what they wanted, I jumped right on it. It’s just something that I really wanted to do a good job at, because I’m representing a group of people and I want to do it in the most accurate way that I possibly can. So, on top of it, you have people [in the movie] speaking German and French, and Polish. It was just really cool to kind of join that little squad.
In this movie, Storm is in a very different place than we have seen in previous films. At the beginning of the story, she is fiercely independent yet winds up joining Apocalypse’s rock band of destruction. Could you talk about how you approached your character’s transformation and was it more an independent choice or a form of mind control?
Well for me, I wanted Storm to want to go with Apocalypse. I don’t think you can make Storm do anything. I mean, granted there is a little hypnotism, and I think that comes with any person of power who has that kind of opinion. But for me, I wanted Storm to be seen as a leader and I do think you see her as a leader in the beginning. She’s such a natural born leader, a natural born matriarch. She takes care of people since she has her little band of thieves that she takes care of and that she loves, and that she is trying to teach them, basically.
And then Apocalypse comes along, and I think he’s the first person in a very long time to offer to do that for her, and I think that that resonates so much her. So yes, there’s a bit of hypnotism, but at the same time, it doesn’t take that much because this girl hasn’t been taken care of in a long time, and Apocalypse is like, “Let me take care of you, let me show the type of weather goddess [you are], let me show you that you are in fact a goddess, and that you should be treated and seen as such.” And I think any woman would gravitate towards that. [Laughs]
Bryan previously talked about how he viewed each Horseman as one of the key components of real-life cults. In Storm’s case, he viewed her as a part of the youth generation and youth recruitment in these groups. Were you able to talk with him about that?
Not necessarily. When I was talking to Bryan about Storm, it was mostly about her strength and her power, and where that comes from. For me, it was like, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of the comics,” and Storm has black hair in the beginning. I was like, “Was that a choice? What was the thought process behind that?” And he was like, “I wanted to show that big moment where Ororo becomes Storm.” Where we really see her have that transformation and that moment that gives the fans the feels.
It made total sense to me the minute he explained it. I was like, “Of course, yes that’s what we need!” Me as a Storm fan, I want to see her become Storm.
So much of this film is about family, and Storm finding a temporary one with the Horsemen and Apocalypse. Did you work with Oscar and Michael, and the others to develop a specific rapport or shorthand on and off-set?
I did work with Oscar, because Storm is his first Horseman, and the majority of my scenes were with him. So I was like, “Hi, do you want to run lines? Do you want to dive into this?” [Laughs] And he was like, “Yeah, sure!” And he was so open to it and is such a phenomenal actor that for me, it was just about going back and forth with him. But it was really cool to kind of go back and forth, and talk about why Storm is doing what she’s doing and why she loves Apocalypse in such a simple way.
It reminded me of Mary Magdalene where she loves him. She’s not in love, but she doesn’t know how to love him, you know? Oh, I had so many ideas, and he was really open to hear me out on all of them.
This is also a very physical movie that requires what appeared to be a lot of special effects, as well as green screen. Did you develop your own personal techniques and body language for Storm as she is displaying her powers in this environment?
Yeah, totally. You know for me that was a whole other piece of the pie when it came to the portrayal of Storm. Not only am I thinking of her voice and her language, and the way that she’s standing, but I’m thinking about the way she’s flying, the way that she’s summoning the elements. And I was drawing from where Halle [Berry] was coming from for her Storm, and how she was very poised and collected, and in control. I wanted my Storm to be completely out of control. I wanted to show how Halle got there; I wanted to create that arc for the fans.
In addition to the older movies, I understand you did your own research into the X-Men comics universe. Were there any Storm-centric stories that really stuck out to you or that you thought would be interesting to revisit in the future?
You know, what’s interesting is one that I just read and I was super in love with was when Storm died. I think that is [Uncanny X-Men #227] if I’m not mistaken. It was such an interesting kind of viewpoint of her losing her powers, and Jean had just passed away, so she’s at a complete loss for love and life. And it’s just so beautiful to see her at her lowest, and yet still so strong. I just love that whole plotline.
Each of these recent X-Men movies have enjoyed time jumping to a different period, and Simon [Kinberg] has said recently that the next one will probably be set in the 1990s. What from that period would you like to see incorporated in both the films and your character?
I need Storm to just be so grunge, it’s ridiculous. I need a grunge Storm, plaid, dirty hair, I’m hoping a bowl cut of some sort.
Yeah, I was going to say what about the mohawk? Do you want that to stay or a new look then?
I like the mohawk, but I like the idea of it being a completely different haircut every time. Plus, ‘90s Storm, I don’t know if you remember ‘90s Storm had that bowl cut, pageboy haircut, and I am so obsessed with it.
There have been reports that Storm could appear in The New Mutants film being helmed by Josh Boone, as well as a seventh X-Men movie. Would you at all be interested in working with Boone and seeing Storm’s role to transition to one of mentorship?
Yeah, totally. I’d love to to see Storm in many different situations, and I would be so open to reprising the role in something like that. It just makes so much sense for me to do it.
On the definite future of X-Men films, we saw you and most of the new cast, including Tye [Sheridan], Sophie [Turner], and Kodi [Smit-McPhee], in that great little viral “Beast Mode” video. Was that part of you developing a camaraderie with the other teammates?
Oh yeah, we’re all really good friends and we all super love and support each other, and I’m just fortunate to work with people who are actually really cool, who I actually really like.
Could you talk about how that “Beast Mode” video developed?
The “Beast Mode” idea was definitely Nick’s, Nicholas Hoult’s idea. You know, he’s such a funny guy and he’s always doing something. So, he either has a BB gun on him, or we are making silly Dubmash videos.
I know that Bryan and Simon have dropped several hints in the past about the Shi’Ar Empire and doing something more with Phoenix. Have you and your cast mates talked about taking this party into space?
I mean, I would love that. It just hasn’t gone through up the process. If the script is there, and it has a lot of great people involved in it, I would be elated.
Has Simon talked to you about where he would like to see your character go in future movies?
Not yet, but there’s always time.
Thank you for speaking with me today, this has been a pleasure.
Thank you, so much.