NEW YORK -- What's it like, playing a comic-book superhero? What's it like, being made into an action figure? What's it like, being covered in opaque blue makeup all day?
In short, what's it like, being an X-Man?
Just two days before their movie's big New York premiere, the heroes and villains of "X-Men" sat down with a roomful of journalists in a hotel overlooking Central Park to x-plain themselves and their comic-book universe:
Vive la difference
Being an X-Man is all about being different, and about being persecuted because of those differences. That's one of the reasons the comic book series has been so successful over the past 30 or so years: Alienation is a theme to which everyone can relate. Even actors.
"I felt different first of all being born in a family of two blond sisters with blue eyes, and me being the only brunette," offers Famke Janssen, who plays telepath Jean Grey, one of the film's mutant good guys. "Then, as I started growing and growing and growing, and it never seemed to stop and my girlfriends all got up to about my waist at age 12, I felt different then. And then I came to the United States, and I was the only Dutch person that I knew. So I could really identify with that. I think everybody can. ... We all feel different at times."
"Anytime your life gets exploited to the degree that mine has been, you feel like a freak," says Halle Berry, the film's weather-controlling Storm, who has been the butt of all sorts of jokes since allegedly walking away from an automobile accident earlier this year. "So I've felt very much like a freak in the last five or six months of my life."
Case of the blues
As Mystique, the shape-shifting evil mutant who can transform herself into pretty much anything, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos has possibly the most enviable superpower of all. .
But such enormous power comes at an enormous price. You think it's easy, turning one of the world's most beautiful models into a scaly, blue-skinned monster?
"It was an eight-hour makeup application every single day," says Romijn-Stamos. "It was over 120 prosthetics, and the rest was painted blue. Then I'd work 10 to 12 hours, and require two hours to take it off. And I never lost my blue cast, throughout the entire shoot. I had blue pores for months after we finished the movie. My love affair with blue is over."
Smack down those kids
If you're going to play a guy who growls a lot, has the strength of a few dozen men and is just generally nasty, it helps to have been a professional wrestler -- especially a bad-guy professional wrestler.
So it seems like Tyler Mane has spent the past 11 years rehearsing the part of Sabretooth, the serious muscle behind the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who function as the X-Men's evil counterparts.
Still, Mane had his doubts, wondering whether he had truly captured his character. He needn't have worried, however.
"There were some little kids on set one day and they saw me and they went running and screaming and crying," Mane recalls. "I think they're still screaming and crying to this day from what they saw. That kind of put my mind at ease."
Actors get paid good money to star in these big-budget, action blockbusters. But the real reward comes after the shooting is over and some toy company markets an action-figure based on your character. Being turned into a toy, now that's way cool. Unless, perhaps, you're Bruce Davison, whose character, U.S. Senator Robert Kelly, gets his comeuppance at the hand of the evil mutants.
"I'm sort of a squishy blob," Davison relates, "and it says [on the toy's box], 'If you squeeze mutating Sen. Kelly, you can feel him mutate.' My wife told me not to give it to my son, because it was pretty grotesque. The bottom half is sort of melted. But he got a hold of it and is now referring to me as Squishy Man."
The actors checked their superpowers at the door when they went home for the evening. But that didn't stop them from dreaming.
Berry said she'd enjoy being Storm for purely aesthetic reasons. "I would make it rain more in Southern California," she says. "It doesn't rain enough."
Patrick Stewart was asked if his character, wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, "could kick Captain Picard's butt." Picard, for those of you living in a culture-icon vacuum, was the character Stewart played on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
"He couldn't kick Captain Picard's butt," Stewart responded, "but he could certainly kick [the heck] out of Captain Kirk."