Set in the Sixties, X-Men: First Class tells the story of how the world first became aware of the Mutants, how future enemies Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), known to comic book and movie fans as Professor X and Magneto, became friends.
Of course, there is always a villain in the piece, and Erik and Charles must lead an epic battle against Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a powerful mutant who can absorb energy and re-channel it into superhuman strength. His agenda, to stop at nothing to start a war and, if he succeeds, wipe out Mankind.
Shaw’s right-hand mutant and romantic interest is Emma Frost (January Jones), long celebrated at the sexiest woman in comic book lore.
Kevin Bacon and January Jones spoke with the press in New York City about their roles and the iconic world of the X-Men.
Can you tell us a little about Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost?
Kevin Bacon Shaw is an extremely powerful man and essentially a sociopath. But he sincerely believes that he is trying to create a better world, without humans, run and populated entirely by mutants. Conventional morality does not apply to Shaw. In is mind he believes that mutants and humans will never be able to live together, so it is survival of the fittest, and Shaw is determined to protect the mutant race. He is driven by his firm belief that he thinks he is the right leader for the new world.
A lot of people say to me, so what’s it like playing a villain? I don’t think that what I’m doing is bad. So if I’m really in the skin of the person, I don’t think of myself as a bad guy, I think of myself as a good guy. Obviously my perception of the world is one where the humans are a threat to our survival, and the end is going to justify the means. The ways he goes about it and the misguided nature of it and the power hungry megalomaniacal aspect of him is there, but he’s not thinking, ‘I’m going to do something evil now.’
January Jones Emma is technically a villain, but I think her motives are genuine and from the heart. She thinks she is doing what is best for her race and will do whatever it takes to keep mutants alive and from a stronger species.
You use your sexuality as a weapon in the movie with your character, was that part of the research you did on the character or did that come naturally when you were in a position of power?
January Jones My sexuality comes very easily to me. I thought it was a huge part of Emma Frost’s character because maybe unlike some of the younger characters that are just developing or honing their powers, she’s had time to perfect that so I use that to my advantage. I think Emma’s vanity plays a huge part of her make up. The way she looks is very important to her.
Can you talk about Emma’s costumes in this?
January Jones In the comics, Emma’s clothing seems like it’s painted on, but Sammy [Sheldon, the costume designer] has done an amazing job making the costumes true to character but also something I can move around in. We wanted to give Emma a period ‘coolness,’ and at various times she wears a bikini, a funky cape, a cat suit, crystal underwear, and thigh-length boots that attach to her clothing.
This has a unique James Bond style to it.
January Jones Because [it’s set during] the historical setting of the Cuban missile crisis, that [took place in] 1962, we got to add that Sixties vibe twist into it, which added a lot, but it’s still being true to the comic books. That was something we did and were careful about and I think that’s why you feel it has sort of a Bond vibe. I don’t think we were conscious of that ever.
Kevin Bacon I wasn’t conscious of it. I was very conscious of the detail to the set design. Matthew Vaughn [the movie’s director] is very hands-on in terms of everything we had from a design standpoint, furniture and sets. He also has an amazing team of people that worked really hard on all that stuff. It’s not really what you do, you don’t go and play a set, you play a part, but it is helpful when you walk into the Hellfire Club and it looks like that, or you walk onto our submarine and it just gave us a feeling [of the Sixties].
January Jones Definitely. It was very impressive, the sets were amazing.
It’s easy to pinpoint Shaw’s less noble qualities, what were some of the things you latched onto that you saw as being interesting about the character?
Kevin Bacon First off, he’s a self-made man and that he is incredibly confident. Even at the end of the movie when things aren’t really going his way, he just goes, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got it covered.’ And I think that’s something I had to latch on to. In my first conversation with Matt, he said, ‘This is the type of guy who can read people really well and can adjust his way of relating to those people, depending upon what it is he wants from them.’ In a way that’s become kind of a metaphor for his power, if I’m with you I can absorb your energy and use it against you.
Do you have a special affinity for stories set in the 1960s, or is this just a coincidence that this and Mad Men are two iconic projects you did?
January Jones It’s very much a coincidence. The two movies I did before this were both set in modern times. This just happened to be that way and the only reason it didn’t bother me was because the characters are so vastly different, so it was something I hadn’t done before. And it is funny … they both have men in the titles as well!