The New Mutants: ‘I kept reading all these articles and none of it was true’

After four years, and rumours of creative tensions, Josh Boone’s film is finally here

Nearly here: The New Mutants

Nearly here: The New Mutants

 

Not so very long ago, superhero movies didn’t dominate the cinematic landscape. Before The Punisher was a hit show for Netflix, the Marvel character spawned a poorly reviewed 2003 film and an unpopular 2008 reboot. Before Daredevil was a hit show for the same streaming giant, he was the hero of an unlovely 2003 film starring Ben Affleck.

And now we arrive at an interesting juncture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For the moment the vast machinery of various superhero franchises has ground to a halt.

Black Widow, the opening gambit for the MCU’s Phase Four, was due to hit cinemas last May but is now postponed until October. The film will be the first post-Iron Man title and will herald a series of lesser-known Marvel properties, including The Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (both 2021).

We never set out to shoot an R-rated movie. We agreed with Fox to make a very hard PG-13 movie because I would have been really disappointed if I was a kid of the same age as the kids in a movie

Netflix’s much-admired Marvel shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher and a crossover Defenders – were all axed by early 2019. Disney Plus, which might have hosted character reboots, has no immediate plans to revive these properties.

There’s another conundrum for genre fans. Whither the X-Men? Eight years before Robert Downey jnr set the tone for 23 MCU feature films, Bryan Singer’s 2000 film established a multibillion-dollar franchise, a brand that spawned films as diverse as the snarky Deadpool and the neo-western Logan.   

Like those movies, The New Mutants began as an R-rated horror. Or so went the initial reports. Last June, responding to one fan’s message – and various conspiracy theories alleging studio interference – in an Instagram post, New Mutants director and co-writer Josh Boone wrote: “The movie has always been and will always be PG-13. There was never a plan for an R-rated movie.” Well, save for one draft. 

“We did write different versions of the script when we were in development,” he tells me. “But we never set out to shoot an R-rated movie. We agreed with Fox to make a very hard PG-13 movie because I would have been really disappointed if I was a kid of the same age as the kids in a movie. I wanted other teenagers to be able to enjoy the love story between Maisie [Williams] and Blu [Hunt]. That’s the emotional spine of the movie.”

Josh Boon scored a global hit with The Fault in Our Stars (2014) and has just wrapped on a miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand. Photograph: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Josh Boone. Photograph: Michael Kovac/Getty

Boone, who scored a global hit with The Fault in Our Stars (2014) and has just wrapped on a miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand, initially pitched The New Mutants in 2015. He and his lifelong friend and collaborator Knate Lee conceived a trilogy based on Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants comics. 

The X-Men producer Simon Kinberg officially snapped up the project in May 2015. Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, Emma) and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) were cast as Illyana Rasputin / Magik and Wolfsbane respectively in 2016. They were soon joined by Henry Zaga (Teen Wolf) as Sunspot, Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) as Cannonball, and Blu Hunt (The Originals) as Mirage.

In November 2017, the film’s antagonist was confirmed as fan-favourite Demon Bear, a giant, soul-corrupting bear who draws his strength and power from negative human emotion.  

Before her departure, former Fox chairman and chief executive Stacey Snider described the film as a Breakfast Club detention crossed with a Cuckoo’s Nest institution. 

“There’s a sprinkling of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and [A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:] Dream Warriors,” says Boone. “It’s a movie that has some darker or horrific stuff. But it has levity. I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon and Buffy. I put Buffy in everything I do. Buffy had one of the first really well-developed gay relationships ever seen on television. Television is leaps and bounds ahead of movies in that way. The film has always been the Demon Bear story. It’s about kids who were too dangerous to go to Prof X’s school because they either kill intentionally or unintentionally. They find themselves in a secure hospital.”

That location is the spooky and partially demolished Medfield State Hospital, previously used for Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island in 2010 and Richard Kelly’s The Box in 2009. Cast and crew members reported discombobulating and unexplained incidents.

“I didn’t experience anything,” says Boone. “But we definitely had people on our crew who had strange things happen to them. I got the behind-the-scenes crew to go interview everyone who had weird stuff happen to them. I’ll try and get it on the Blu-ray. There was one woman in particular – a grip – on the crew who had to be walked to her car every single night because she had something so scary happen to her. She was on a ladder putting a light up. There was nobody else around. And she felt and heard whispering in her ear. She never got back on the ladder. I went up there. I was hoping to feel something. I wanted there to be the ghost and to prove that there is life beyond.”  

Elsewhere there were more material problems developing. Principal photography wrapped in September 2016;  the first trailer dropped one month later. The New Mutants was initially slated for an April 2018 release date. Three months before that date, it was knocked on by 10 months to February of 2019.

The movie literally stopped because everything stopped. People at the studio started to get laid off

Rumours of creative tensions had been circulating for some time. There was speculation at one stage that Jon Hamm and Antonio Banderas were attached. Then they weren’t. James McAvoy, who portrayed Prof X in several previous X-Men films and Alexandra Shipp, who played Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse, were expected to feature. But they didn’t.

“Well, we had a lot of those conversations before we started,” says Boone. “We went through multiple drafts. One of them featured Prof X and Storm. She was very much a figurehead taking care of these kids. But you know that was a process that took about a year and a half. And we ended up with our version. We had to change a lot of things for our budget. There is a great New Mutant character called Warlock who was a big part of most of our drafts but he would have doubled what they wanted to spend.”   

The speculation around New Mutants continued. Cast members started to sound frustrated. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Maisie Williams remarked: “Who knows when the f**k that’s gonna come out.” There were more rumours of studio interference and reshoots. Veteran X-Men producer Simon Kinberg even discussed reshoots in an interview. Boone, however, insists they never happened.   

“There were no reshoots,” he says. “We didn’t even get a chance to do pickups. I was reading the exact same articles as you were. And I’m like: ‘Wait, is this happening? Should I call my agent?’ I mean, if Fox hadn’t been involved in the merger maybe the reshoots would’ve happened. But they didn’t. I kept reading all these articles and none of it was true. But it’s the sort of stuff that causes anxiety.”

In March, 2019 Disney acquired 20th Century Fox. A second release date for August 2019 was missed and Boone and the rest of the New Mutant team had no idea if the film would ever see the light of day.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as an easy movie to make,” says the director. “They all have their own unique set of problems. It was supposed to come out in 2018 but the merger happened with Fox and Disney that put a big snafu for a lot of movies that were just finishing at the time. The movie literally stopped because everything stopped. People at the studio started to get laid off. I went off and started working on The Stand as hard as I could. I had no idea what we were going to do or what was going to happen to the movie. We were in limbo because we couldn’t guess what Marvel wanted to do when they got all of their intellectual property back from Fox.”

Last month, the Comic-Con At Home panel for New Mutants confirmed a theatrical release date for August 28th, 2020. This an interesting development when placed alongside the recent decision to stream the live-action version of Mulan on Disney Plus next month. Contractual obligations may pertain, but The New Mutants cinema outing suggests that hard PG-13, as Boone describes it, will simply not fit into the Disney Plus platform. Either way, Boone is delighted to have a fourth (and hopefully final) release date.

“They gave the movie back to me and we were able to finish it,” he says. “And I was really happy. It wasn’t what I expected because of all the political stuff surrounding the merger. It would’ve been hard to get this movie out to people any quicker in the circumstances. And I’m really glad people will finally get to see it.”

The New Mutants is released on Friday, August 28th

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