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Director Bryan Singer promises that "X-Men: Days of Future Past," the fifth film in the Marvel mutant movie series, will be on the "biggest scale yet." And that certainly seemed to be the case when Yahoo visited the expansive Montreal set last year.
At an enormous studio complex, Singer and his team recreated the White House lawn for a key scene, and star Hugh Jackman, who returns as Wolverine for the seventh time, teased that "the stakes are at their greatest" for the mutants in this movie. "It's the greatest threat the X-Men have ever face, and this is as dangerous as it gets for all of them."
In a dystopian future, Professor X and Magneto (franchise veterans Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen), and their mutant allies are united in internment under the rule of enormous robots known as Sentinels. Hatching a plan to prevent this future from occurring, they send Wolverine back in time to try and stop the chain reaction of events that caused the fall of mutantkind.
It's here that the film ties Singer and Brett Ratner's original X-Men trilogy together with Matthew Vaughn's prequel "X-Men: First Class," as Wolverine travels back to the 1970s to find the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to try and persuade him to stop something that hasn't happened yet. To do so, they'll have to recruit antagonist Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as well as Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
"You find Charles at a very low point," says McAvoy. "In a way, 'First Class' wasn't just an origin story [for the X-Men], but it was an origin story for Magneto. This is an origin story for Charles. He's in a mess."
"We're combining these two X-Men worlds," says Jackman. "And where do you begin? Wolverine underwent a massive change by meeting Professor X [in the first film]. He was wandering around with a lot of unanswered questions and anger and that guy really helped him grow. So now Wolverine sends his mind back to his younger body to find young Xavier in a slightly more vulnerable, difficult place. I can play a role for him that he later plays for me."
Singer calls the film an "inbetweenquel", taking place in between First Class and the first X-Men movie. It's based on a popular miniseries in the comics from 1980, in which the mutants of the dystopian future (set, coincidentally, in 2013) send Kitty Pryde back to stop the same fate. "Fans like to see the new characters, but they also like to be anchored in the familiar," Singer says. "So the 'Days of Future Past' framework was a really great jumping off point."
For Singer, the coming together of these two casts reminds him of his days directing his Oscar-winning breakout "The Usual Suspects." He said the films are similar "both structurally and in the way I shot it. I shot the future elements first, so it was like shooting a little movie first, with one cast, and then shooting another." Other returning cast members from the future timeline include Halle Berry (Storm), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and Anna Paquin (Rogue). "All the actors I've worked with in the past came, and then they left and a whole new group arrived."
One key part of the new group is a character new to the X-Men movies: Quicksilver. Played by Evan Peters, Singer reveals he's worked out a high-tech solution involving shooting at 3600 frames a second to capture this mutant's ability to move at superhuman speeds.
In all, the cast adds up to some 26 main characters. But Singer seems to be taking it in his stride, pointing to differences between the two groups of actors. "The older cast are a little more set in their ways, while the younger cast are having a party," he laughed. "Every day they dance and play music in the make-up trailer, and then they come here and it's a non-stop party. But when the camera rolls, they're on it."
The threat to mutant-kind in this film comes from an unlikely source: diminutive military scientist Bolivar Trask, played by series newcomer Peter Dinklage. The actor is used to big ensembles, playing Tyrion Lannister in the ever-popular series Game of Thrones. "It's a thrill to be part of a team that knows exactly what they're doing," he says, adding that they've all been welcoming of the newbies. "Whenever we have anybody new come onto 'Game of Thrones' we greet them with similarly open arms, and get renewed by their presence. And then we kill them off very quickly – hopefully that doesn't happen here!"
Dinklage wouldn't tell us much about his role. "Actually I play Wolverine," he joked. "We have Hugh Jackman around for show." But we do know that he is the creator of the Sentinels, and clearly a very political maneuverer. "He takes issue with mutants," says Dinklage. "The world's a complicated place. It's around the time of Watergate, and Richard Nixon is a character in the film. Trask sees humanity threatened and he has the ability to protect it."
The '70s style has had mixed reviews from the cast. Nicholas Hoult tells Yahoo that he was initially wary of the large collars and bellbottoms he had to wear. "But I've really started to embrace it," he laughs. Michael Fassbender, though, isn't a fan. "Michael hates it," reveals McAvoy. "But I love it. I feel as though I'm back in 'The Last King of Scotland' again. I've been listening to a lot of psychedelic sitar music, and plenty of 70s funk."
Having the old cast around has been great, he says. "This one feels a lot more X-Men-y, by nature of having those guys in it, and the director of the first two. This is a coming together of two different approaches to the same universe."
"And it's not just an 'X-Men' sequel," adds Singer, as our day on set comes to a close. "It's a science fiction movie and a time travel story. I've never done that before. It's been challenging and kind of fun, and I think I've cracked it."
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" hits theaters on May 23.