New Mutants: Sacha Baron Cohen Almost Played Warlock
The creator of Borat came close to portraying the alien member of the New Mutants.
The New Mutants stars Anya Taylor-Joy (Magik), Maisie Williams (Wolfsbane), Charlie Heaton (Cannonball), Blu Hunt (Mirage) and Henry Zaga (Sunspot) in the X-Men spinoff about five young mutants who must face their pasts, harness their powers, and band together to escape from the sinister government facility in which they have been secretly stashed.
The movie, which was made by 20th Century Fox as part of its X-Men universe before the company was absorbed by Disney, was shot three years ago by director and co-writer Josh Boone. Along with his friend and writing partner Knate Lee, Boone was a massive fan of the New Mutants comics and pitched a trilogy of films based on the book created in 1982 by writer Chris Claremont and artist Bob McLeod.
For the first film, Boone and Lee came up with a plot that would have featured both the villainous Demon Bear monster and also introduced another well-known New Mutant member into the movie: Warlock. A member of the shape-shifting alien race the Technarchy, Warlock is a mechanical organism whose race “infects” other living beings and drains them of their life energy. But the compassionate Warlock instead becomes a member of the New Mutants (he joined the comics in August 1984).
“It was a bit of an E.T. story, like a first contact story,” says Boone about those early drafts of the script. “It kind of dovetailed with the Demon Bear story at the end. But this was wildly expensive. It was too expensive. It was double what they wanted to spend. So it’s like, once we took him out, the movie naturally became more of just a horror movie and a moody kind of teenage film with a bunch of amazing super heroics and an amazing battle kind of at the end.”
Warlock would have been an all-CG character, making him cost more than what Fox was willing to spend on The New Mutants — a similar situation to that faced by the very first X-Men movie 20 years ago when it came to including founding team member Beast. But Boone actually got as far as approaching Sacha Baron Cohen — creator and star of Borat and Who is America? — to voice the character and give the physical performance on set.
“I wanted him to be our Andy Serkis and give the physical performance and do the voices, and have him do all of the different voices that he would always do,” says Boone. “There’s a Web of Spiderman [comic book] that I love, I think it’s an annual, where Warlock’s in it, but he only speaks in phrases that are from TV shows. He always did stuff like that…we had drafts like that, but again, it became more of a horror movie and a chamber drama so we cut out the stuff that we couldn’t afford to do.”
Boone says he always envisioned his New Mutants trilogy as a set of horror films, and in the end, excising Warlock from the first one strengthened its ties to the genre. “The first one was going to be a rubber reality horror movie,” he says. “We figured out a way to put the Demon Bear story in a Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors setting.”
He adds, “Something that really made sense to us was all these kids had killed someone either intentionally or unintentionally, so putting them in a psychiatric hospital kind of felt like a way to stage it, to tell that story, while using Dani’s (Mirage’s) power to tell the backstories. That was always the idea. Warlock was sort of an expanded aspect of it that we removed, and it became the movie that it is, I guess is the best way to say it.”
It’s unlikely that Boone will ever get to realize his vision for Warlock or the rest of his original trilogy idea onscreen — the X-Men and all related properties are now under the Marvel Studios umbrella thanks to the Disney purchase, and the company is certain to reboot the mutant mythology to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We don’t know how Boone’s one foray into this world has turned out either since Disney has not screened The New Mutants for the press, but no one can say it wasn’t ambitious.
The New Mutants is out now.