Simon Kinberg interview: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

James talks to X-Men: Days Of Future Past writer/producer about sequels, adaptations, and new characters...

Warning: this interview contains some minor spoilers for X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

Simon Kinberg is a writer-producer on X-Men: Days Of Future Past who has been with the X-Men films since writing 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. We sat down with him following a screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past to get his thoughts on adapting the storyline, the hardships of continuity, and where he sees the X-Men franchise going in the future.

Now, obviously the original Days of Future Past story is a classic, but it’s also just one of many popular X-Men storylines. How did you decide it was the one to do next, and once you knew that, how did you set about adapting it?

It’s interesting. It wasn’t our first instinct as a sequel to First Class. Matthew Vaughan and I started talking about sequels to First Class when it came out, and originally it was going to be a straight sequel, maybe adapting something, maybe doing an original storylines. We spent months looking around until someone at the studio had just watched Godfather Part II and they said “Why don’t you use the old crew to do bookends, just put them at the start and the end as a kind of emotional touchstone” and I was like “Holy shit… why don’t we just do Days Of Future Past!?”

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That and Dark Phoenix were my two favourite storylines from the comics. I never thought of doing it because it seemed too ambitious just from a casting POV. And, to be honest, I was a little bit daunted by time travel. As a writer, it’s the scariest sub-genre of science fiction. The paradoxes, the complexities, it’s a nightmare. But once that got in my head and I started talking about it with Matthew, both of us were like “well this is it.” You don’t just make a sequel to continue the story, you make one to take the characters you love and put them into something that feels fresh and different. And that did.

So it was just a moment of “okay, let’s just jump in and we’ll assume that somehow they can get all the actors into the same room at the same time.” It was a wild assumption that somehow managed to come to be.

And then we started talking about how do you make DOFP into a movie? The first question was, as you probably know, where we diverged from the books was who gets sent back in time? We wanted it to be a consciousness going into a younger body like the comics, rather than a Terminator-style body that gets sent back, and if we tried to follow the original and use Kitty, we had a problem because Ellen is 25 years old and she’d be -20 in the First Class era. So immediately, we had a problem to crack. Wolverine was not the first character we thought of. We talked about Bishop, and Cable, but then we had a conversation where we were like “well, we have a character who doesn’t age, looks the same, happens to be the most beloved in the film franchise… so why NOT Wolverine?”

And even before we’d made that decision, I knew this was going to be a movie about Charles Xavier… about a broken, hopeless man beginning to become the Professor Xavier we know. So once we thought of the Wolverine thing, I realised that the story then could be that the guy who was mentored by Professor Xavier goes back in time and kind of mentors him. And that was such a rich idea, kind of ironic and head-turning that I realised we had to do it.

And once we made those decisions – that it was Charles’s story emotionally, and Wolverine’s the one who gets sent back, that they have to stop Raven – then the next big question was “are they going back to physically stop her, like take her down as you would a normal villain in a movie, or are you going there to stop her from ever killing again, to save her philosophically and emotionally.”

Ah, you’ve actually pre-empted my next question there, which was going to be “How do you keep the story relatable when you’re dealing with such huge sci-fi concepts?”. What I think I saw was that the film wasn’t just them trying to prevent this dark future from occurring, it was really about them trying to stop Mystique from going down the dark path which happens to set off that chain of events, and kind of save her.

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Yes, totally, that’s 100% what we were going for! You can say I said that, because that was exactly what we were trying to do. And you know as a fan, this franchise is character-driven. It had to be about going back to the past, not just to save the future, but to save someone we care about. Again, it’s one of those things that feels cleverly designed, but it’s only because all of the characterisation that preceded this movie somehow conspired towards that narrative. She’s the fulcrum between Charles and Erik, she’s the one whose morality is up for grabs. And so that’s how we dramatised that.

And so given that you had six previous films before you, did you feel beholden to their events, or did it make it easier to have those threads and constraints that had already been developed?

It made it easier for me, because I like having definitions. I like knowing where the walls are when I start working. And then finding ways to subvert them. That’s what I feel we did in this movie. We acknowledge what came before, and the continuity that precedes and follows us, but we do things to subvert the history and what will follow.

That’s interesting, because when we came out of the screening earlier today, some people were saying they felt like the end of the film kind of concluded the older version of the franchise and was explicitly passing the torch to First Class era to be the main strand from this point on. Did you feel like you were writing the last hurrah for the original versions of the characters?

Well, not really. When I wrote X3 I thought I was writing the last hurrah from those characters, so things can change either way. But when you talk to Patrick and Ian, they’re always very game for more. I know that X-Men: Apocalypse will be primarily about the younger cast, but given what we’ve seen of comic book movies over the last few years, that nothing is impossible – and this movie is as good evidence of that as any – I can see the X-Men movies going in lots of different directions. I can see stand-alones, spin-offs, sequels to the originals, reboots, whatever the best story is. It can be told. If someone came to us with a story about Ian and Patrick and it was as compelling as anything else being told, then we’d take it seriously. At the end of this movie, everybody – as far as you can tell – is alive. So that’s better than the end of X3.

And one last quick question – there were loads of new characters in the film and as a fan I enjoyed seeing Blink, and Bishop, and all those guys. So what I want to know how you went about choosing them, and which would you say was your favourite to bring to life?

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Of the new characters, I’d say Quicksilver. I really enjoyed his character, and what Bryan did with him visually was spectacular. And Evan Peters is great, he did something really interesting with the character. I’d loved to have seen more of him. And then of those other characters, I love Bishop and I love Omar Sy as an actor but we just had no time to give him a story. In truth, those characters were constructed as sort of soldiers. In any other movie they’d have been guys with uniforms on. But because it’s an X-Men movie, they’re mutants, so I wanted to make them specific to the books. So you end up with characters who we as the comic audience recognise and maybe have deeper histories with, while the movie audience can get their first glimpse of these people.

And then maybe they come back in another film?

Yes, there’s a chance of that happening, absolutely. We have options on all those actors for a reason. But you never know who is or is coming back until it’s being written. This time around Havok is back but Banshee’s not, and I wouldn’t have known that at the end of shooting First Class. When it comes to anyone we’ve shown on film, the door is always open. So yeah, you could see them again.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past is out now.

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