Exclusive Interview – Olivia Munn (Psylocke) of X-Men: Apocalypse
Set a decade after the events of X-Men: Days Of Future past, Apocalypse finds the mutants in 1983 finding their own rhythms. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has his school for gifted youngsters up and running, and has some promising new students he’s guiding as they figure out their lives. Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is living a quiet family life in Poland, while Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is eschewing her mutant side, worried that humanity still doesn’t completely accept them. Their world is thrown into chaos when an incredibly powerful, ancient mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) awakens and decides that the world has taken a turn for the worse. His solution? Destroy civilization and create it again in his own image. Can our heroes stop a creature who is, for all intents and purposes, a god?
One of Apocalypse’s “Four Horsemen” is the skilled and lethal Betsy Braddock, also known as Psylocke (Olivia Munn), a troubled young woman with enormous powers of her own who has always searched for guidance. She’ll prove to be a formidable opponent for the X-Men.
Munn, who has appeared on TV series including G4’s Attack Of The Show, The Daily Show, The Newsroom and films such as Iron Man 2, Magic Mike and Ride Along 2, is a self-professed X-Men fan and brought her knowledge to bear on the character. She also talks about the fun of working on the film and her extensive training regime.
How did you come to the role?
It was a little different for me. Simon Kinberg had wanted me to be in another Marvel movie, and had approached me about that, but it wasn’t a role that I connected to. Simon and I were in communication at that point, and so a few weeks after I turned down that role, they offered me the role of Psylocke. The character was added into the movie at the last minute; they had three Horsemen and Apocalypse, and they decided that they should bring on another Horseman, and it should be a female. So they looked at different characters and settled on Psylocke. They were, I guess, going through images of her online and serendipitously, fans had created pictures of me as the character. Bryan and Simon were fans of The Newsroom, so that made them think, “oh yeah, let’s offer this to Olivia.”
You have strong genre bona fides. What did you know of Psylocke?
It’s funny – Simon has talked about this recently – but when he told me that they’d offered me the role, I told him I loved Psylocke. So I asked which place in her life they were starting in on. She was a twin, and then her entire family was killed. Then she becomes a bad guy, but only because she starts trying to follow different leaders and everybody tries to manipulate her, much like they did with Wolverine, because she has such coveted powers. So she’s manipulated a lot and is a bad guy, but then becomes a good guy when she joins the X-Men. So I said, “which part of Psylocke’s life are you bringing in this movie?” And Simon said, “She was a twin? I’m going to do some research…. I think you may know Psylocke a bit more than me!” When I got the part, I spoke with Bryan Singer and he was so sweet to be so open to my excitement about her and what I wanted to do with the role. I felt it was really important, as this is an introduction to Psylocke, that a specific fight scene was the most important part to me. I considered it like my monologue: she can say so much if it’s done in a way that really showed how strong and skilled she is. And he was down with that.
How was the training to tackle the physical side?
I started during shooting. I shot for a few weeks before I really upped my training regime. At first I was just doing a couple of hours a day, but then I realized that I really wanted to be able to do the fight scenes. So then my training went from a few times a week to about seven hours every single day for three months.
So what for you was the toughest thing about the training schedule?
I had such great trainers, including this woman Renae Moneymaker – she’s one of the top stuntwomen, and is actually Jennifer Lawrence’s stunt double too. I started working with her from the beginning and she was teaching me all the wirework and the basics of sword. Then I started working with these martial arts experts from Montreal, at a gym called Dax Gym, a husband a wife duo. He was proficient in swordplay, and I started doing Taekwondo with his wife, and because I was working with people who were so skilled, I had asked for permission to go more often.
The real challenge was learning the skills. Working out with a regular trainer can sometimes be difficult for me, because if the intention is to look like you’re ready for bikini season or whatever, I immediately want to stop and sit down. That isn’t me. Sure, who doesn’t want to look their best at all times, but for some reason, I always just react, like, “eh, it’s fine. It’s enough. I’m not a model.” But working with this team, the goal wasn’t to look good in the suit, it was to learn how to do a 360 degree spinning round kick. Can I stay on this table, harnessed into a wire? Jump, flip, land on a dime holding two swords and not face plant into the camera? And that made it really fun, because it felt like little games, little obstacles. I did hurt myself, though! At one point I pulled both hamstrings, I gave myself multiple whiplash. And just learning sword? I have a picture where I have bruises from my ankle all the way up my right thigh, because I was trying to learn the sword in my room, with a sword – not sharp, but it was a real one – and so I would keep hitting myself over and over. But it never bothered me, because it felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing.
How was it working with the harness?
Thankfully, they have this amazing team who customizes the harness to you and your body specifically. It had to go under my suit, and that was already like a second skin. So the harness had to be super thin, and that makes it difficult because if you don’t have padding where you need to, the harness can really dig in. After some trial and error, they got it so that it really wasn’t as painful. They have a whole routine of, as soon as you’re not up in the air, and have time, they unbuckle things so it’s not super heavy.
How was it working with Oscar Isaac?
Oscar is like family to me now. There are some people you meet and you feel that way immediately. We bonded very quickly. It’s funny, because he was taking so long for his make-up and prosthetics that he would get in way before everybody else, and then by the time you see him, you’re on set. A lot of us would hang out, but Oscar would fly back home on the weekends to New York. So during the week, we’d shoot all day, and after a month I only knew my friend Oscar as Apocalypse. He looked like him all the time! The first time I saw him as Oscar was about a month into shooting and he was walking to the trailers after we were done, and he had taken all the make-up off. He asked if we were going to dinner. I had to stop and say, “this is so weird, because you sound like my friend Oscar, but you don’t look like him at all!”
Talking of downtime, did you get involved in any of the behind-the-scenes games they play?
Those guys! It is a completely different thing. The way they play games… Games might not be the word. It’s psychological warfare. They have this slapping game that takes everything, and it must be because people from across the pond play rugby! It’s fascinating to watch. I’m glad that I’m not one of the guys, because if you’re one of the guys and you’re not playing, you don’t look so cool. But as one of the girls, I could just sit back and watch it. It’s no joke, those games leave marks and bruises and in the middle of shooting too! I was there the day, I won’t say exactly, but it got very dangerous. Everybody gasped, because it was as though you were playing around the house and you broke mom’s favorite vase. But in this situation, somebody broke an actor. Everybody got quiet, and then we got the scolding from the producers and that’s when the game stopped.
Bryan is the man behind the X-Men on screen. How was it working with him?
I was so happy to find out during my first conversation with Bryan on the phone how collaborative he was, and how thoughtful he is about the characters in the world. And when I say collaborative, he’ll have an idea and you can come to him with your thoughts and you work on it together to come up with something. For me, it was important to get the fight scenes right, and I really wanted to talk to him about what I was learning. A lot of times in these movies, when you’re a superhero, your weapons and your powers can kill someone with one blow. So you have to be careful not to be done in two seconds! Sometimes it ends up being more of an acrobatic dance around and doesn’t feel like a fight. For Psylocke I wanted it to be every physical, which is why I learned to do as much as I could. And Bryan was so supportive. When they brought me on, because they brought Psylocke on so late, they hadn’t anticipated me loving the character so much and wanting the costume to be identical to the comic books and wanting to do all the fighting. My stunt double, Julia, a dancer from the Ukraine who was very sweet, super athletic and talented, had never done stunts or martial arts before. But when I talked with Bryan and told him how important it was to me, he was completely on board and gave me the support to work hard and learn and create and make something that was worthy of Psylocke. At least I hope it is!
Buy X-Men Apocalypse Now on Digital. Available on 3D, Blu-ray & DVD September 28