Patrick Stewart interview: Logan, X-Men, Donald Trump

Again reprising his role as Charles Xavier in Logan, Sir Patrick Stewart talks to us about its making and the relevance of its themes...

Mild spoilers for Logan lie ahead (but nothing that’s not in the promos)

Violent and spectacularly bloody though Logan is, it’s also unusually introspective and melancholy for a superhero movie. There are plenty of chases and action scenes, but director and co-writer James Mangold creates space for quiet character moments – the kind of thing you might find in a classic western or road-trip movie, or maybe even a play like Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, which – as we’ll see shortly – has a close connection to one of Logan’s stars.

Perhaps this is why Logan arguably contains some of the best performances yet seen in an X-Men movie, whether it’s from Hugh Jackman, who returns to play Wolverine one final time, or newcomer Dafne Keen, who plays the 11-year-old mutant, Laura. But once again reprising his role as Charles Xavier, Sir Patrick Stewart lights up just about every scene he’s in; by turns surly and frail, terrifyingly powerful and disarmingly fragile, Stewart provides this sometimes chaotic film with a calm, humane centre.

When we recently met him in a London hotel, Sir Patrick was in a similarly thoughtful mood; dressed impeccably in a precisely-tailored suit, he answered each of our questions carefully and calmly, as though measuring the weight of every word.

Ad – content continues below

Patrick Stewart’s a brutally honest interviewee, too, particularly when a discussion about the X-Men franchise’s themes takes an unexpected turn into a more political arena. So here, then, is what the great actor has to say about Logan, X-Men, Donald Trump, and what Charles Xavier makes of Brexit…

Congratulations on the film. I found it moving in a way that superhero films generally aren’t.

Rarely are. Including X-Men, yeah.

Was it emotional for you making it?

There were moments during production, yeah. There’s a moment in the first scene when I very tenderly take Hugh’s face in my hand and then say, “What a disappointment you are.” Ha!

I was very lucky on this film – my first scene was my opening scene in the movie, my last night’s work was my last scene.

Ad – content continues below

So it was almost sequential then.

We went in sequence. It was fantastic. It never happens like that! But one of the reasons was because I had to be in rehearsal here in London. We are in London, aren’t we? [Laughs]

But on Friday night in Berlin, watching the movie with an audience for the first time, they were really enthusiastic. German fans are wild! It was the same with Star Trek. The movie’s very emotional. Beautifully done. 

Do you think there are parallels between this and [the Howard Pinter play] No Man’s Land?

Well, the most obvious parallel is that Charles and Hirst in No Man’s Land are having mental difficulties. Hirst is confused. Charles is confused. Hirst is deluded about what’s going on around him. Charles is never deluded, and Hirst also has a serious alcohol problem, which my research told me is always calamitous with dementia. Dementia and alcohol is a bad, bad combination. So yes, there were a lot of overlaps, and indeed, I wrapped the movie that night, went to New York, got on a plane to London and was in a rehearsal room the next day to start rehearsing on No Man’s Land!

There’s also the melancholy and black humour in both of them.

Ad – content continues below

In both, yeah. People are surprised at how much humour there is in Logan. Even in the middle of fairly uncomfortable scenes, like the early one Hugh and I have in the tank – but it’s funny at times, too.

It’s quite a salty version of your character, with his language and his frustration.

This, again, is typical of his condition. What’s that condition called, where people blurt things out…?

Oh, Tourette’s syndrome.

Tourette’s! Yes, that’s right. There’s an element of that. And it was fun.

What I appreciated as well is that, although it’s a violent film, it also depicts the caustic effects of violence on the characters. And also the healing effect of the family. I liked the contrast between those things.

Ad – content continues below

Well, what you’ve touched on is a very important issue that has been raised by some commentators, and that is the violence as it is related to Dafne [Keen, who plays Laura]. Because she commits a lot of it. Whether it’s appropriate that a child should be involved in action like that. But what you have to remember is, as the film progresses, this creature who’s been created as a killing machine – exclusively, nothing else – under the impact of her relationship with Charles and Logan, the hours and hours they spend together in that car, and most importantly, the dinner party scene.

It’s so important – it stands right in the middle of the movie and changes everything. We see her emotions coming into play, and the appeal that the family life has to her – affection, love, humour… music! She’d never heard music before. We see the transformation in her character, so I think that justifies the violence that surrounds her at the beginning of the movie. 

I agree. What this film does, and what science fiction does, is deal with those difficult themes in a palatable way. The way we [as a species] treat each other, the way we dehumanise each other.

Well, I’ve never actually been a fan of science fiction. I’ve never read comic books. I’ve never seen a Superman movie in my life. Although I might have done when I was a kid. They don’t interest me. It dismays a lot of people that I’m not interested in science fiction. So I came to it with no understanding of what the context was, but just embracing it as another interesting project.

But one of the reasons you took on the role of Xavier in the first place was because of the subtext in the X-Men story, wasn’t it?

Yes. These films have always been about something. Mutants are different, of course they are. They’re the Other. They’re apart. And as such, they attract prejudice, resentment, phobia, violence towards them. And so all the films contain that as a strong element. But in this film there are other [subtexts] now, many of which were just happenstance. They began writing this screenplay three or four years ago.

Ad – content continues below

Donald Trump was a guy running a chain of hotels, making himself obnoxious on a reality TV show. Not anymore! The primary objective of the principle characters in Logan – and that includes our three heroes, and the young people they encounter – is to get to a border, cross it, and be free. And safe.

As we speak, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are longing to do that – and probably, most of them won’t even make it. That means they’re likely to die or be tortured or suffer in some way. It’s an irony that I think could not have been seen when the film was being made, that the country that is dangerous to them is the United States, and the country that is safe is Canada – over the border. Now we suddenly find that we have a dangerous child in the White House…

I live for a lot of the time in the United States, I have a home there. A lot of people are very frightened. My wife couldn’t sleep after the results of the election, for a long time, because it upset her so much. She was so scared by the prospect of this man being in the White House. And as we see, day by day, all of our fears are being realised.

I was saying, to reassure her, for a long time, “Don’t worry. I don’t think he’ll make it past two years. Two years maximum, and he’ll be gone.”

The Republican party may have some loathsome policies, but they’re also smart people, and they’re politicians. The penny will drop and they’ll say, one day, “Time to go.” 

Just before I came in I read a professor saying that Trump could be impeached.

Ad – content continues below

Good news. Well, remember Maggie Thatcher. When the moment came, the Tories were brutal. [Draws finger across throat] It didn’t matter she’d been there for 13 years.

Very Shakespearean.

[Laughs] She was gone.

I’m thinking [Trump has] two months. The rate at which the disintegration is happening. It can’t just be allowed to go on for a year.

The interesting thing is, the similarity between Xavier and Picard is that they’re very dignified leaders. At the moment it feels as though we need a bit of dignity in our leadership.

Yeah. I agree, I agree. Pff… horrible.

Ad – content continues below

They’re also very optimistic characters. Do you retain a sense of optimism about the future?

Yes. I’m, by nature, optimistic. As far as the UK’s concerned, I’m struggling to hold on to that optimism. Brexit, leaving the European Union, with most of the predictions being bad. Most of the informed, intelligent predictions – not political party predictions, but those who are neutral, but understand the economy and international relations… I have children and grandchildren, and I’m scared for them.

It’s funny isn’t it, because the X-Men movies are about the fear of the Other, and that feels more relevant than ever.

That’s right.

What do you think Charles Xavier would say about the current situation?

I think he would be aghast at the break-up of the European Union. Because that’s what it means; if we’re leaving, it’s broken. I still can’t believe it’s happened, and that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporting it. And the bulk of the Labour party. I’ve never been closer to tearing up my [membership] card than I have in the past few weeks. But we’ll see.

Ad – content continues below

Sadly, I think I’ve run out of time.

I’m sorry it went down a rather gloomy route!

No, it’s been fascinating! Sir Patrick Stewart, thank you very much.

Logan is out in UK cinemas on the 1st of March.