‘New Mutants’ hits virtual Comic-Con. Does that mean it’s finally ready for theaters?

Maisie Williams, left, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy in “The New

Maisie Williams, left, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy in "The New Mutants." <span class="copyright">(20th Century Fox)</span>
Maisie Williams, left, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy in “The New Mutants.” (20th Century Fox)

In the attic of a creepy psychiatric hospital, looking at rafters from which patients possibly hanged themselves, five young actors participated in the “lie detector scene,” their first real interaction for the Marvel comics-inspired movie “The New Mutants.”

“It was the perfect scene to start with because all of the kids were together. Everybody got a chance to get in character and do their thing,” says “New Mutants” director Josh Boone.

Led by an emotional performance from first-time actor Blu Hunt (as Danielle Moonstar/Mirage), the group — Maisie Williams (Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane), Anya Taylor-Joy (Illyana Rasputin/Magik), Charlie Heaton (Sam Guthrie/Cannonball) and Henry Zaga (Roberto da Costa/Sunspot) — bonded early. It was a moment of pure joy for the director and group of actors who soon would have to endure a frustrating years-long path toward their movie’s release.

“The New Mutants,” a sort-of next-up X-Men teen hero comic book from the ’80s, is difficult to classify. Part horror, part mental-health and coming-of-age drama, part teen romance, Boone mentions “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Nightmare on Elm Street 3” and “Girl, Interrupted” as inspirations for his take.

However it’s defined, the adaptation remains scheduled to hit screens on Aug. 28 (its fifth official release date) through Disney’s 20th Century Studios — despite theaters currently being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 already forced one of the date changes for the film, which was originally due out in April 2018. But today, the cast and director presented expanded footage during a [email protected] virtual panel.

“It’s a bummer ’cause I’ve always wanted to go and bring a movie there,” Boone said about the lost opportunity to attend an actual San Diego Comic-Con. “[But] virtual’s going to have to do, and nobody should really feel bad about that during this time. I feel lucky that we have a movie to release.”

We caught up with Boone and Hunt ahead of the panel to discuss their “New Mutants” experience and the film’s perilous journey to the screen (which — so far — has included release date changes, reshoot rumors, the Fox-Disney merger and a pandemic).

Have you been able to keep in touch with the (other) actors since the shoot wrapped back in September 2017?

Josh Boone: Oh sure. I cast Henry [Zaga] in “The Stand.” Yeah, I’ve seen these guys multiple times because we’ve promoted the movie multiple times. We had a good time making it. Got a lot of friends.

Blu Hunt: Before promotion started, me and Maisie [Williams] kept in touch a lot. I went to London for her birthday party — and I’d never left America before! Exciting, and it’s fun to make a friend overseas. Me and Henry see each other a lot in L.A. and we all talk about the movie, like, “What is going on?”

How have you navigated the postproduction roller coaster — rumors of reshoots, release dates changing yearly — this movie has presented?

Boone: [I’m] just happy to come out on the other end. We’re getting to release the movie that we wanted. My cut of the movie. I got to finish it and do everything that needs to be done to it. It means I’m really happy, but the process was unusually frustrating. There was also rumors and things online that weren’t true.

When the [Disney-Fox] merger happened, there was basically a year where nothing was going on and we weren’t sure if [finishing the movie] was going to happen. It was after that year that Disney asked me to come back and finish it. Then it was done except for the visual effects. I mean, we had a year of not seeing it. But we’ve never done reshoots or pickups and the normal stuff you’d get to do. Because of the merger, we just didn’t get to. It’s still the same story that we always intended to tell.

Hunt: It was definitely a frustrating experience. I went into it thinking it was, as they say, my big break. The first movie I’d ever done, then I left and it was supposed to come out within six months. And it got pushed and pushed, and then the merger. Then the quarantine happening. … It was definitely a strange experience for an actor just coming in and this being my first project. I feel like I’ve had an experience that no other actor has ever had.

In a lot of ways, I’m really grateful for it. With the movie taking as long as it did to come out, I got three years to grow up and figure out what I wanted for myself as an actress and as a creative and as a person. I think if it had just come out, it would’ve been completely overwhelming.

Talk about the casting of Blu as Danielle Moonstar, a First Nation actress for a First Nation character.

Boone: I knew as soon as I met Blu. We had a couple hundred tapes, and only three came in to read with Maisie. Once she was with Maisie, their chemistry was great.

Hunt: It kind of was the perfect role. When I went in for the first audition, I really didn’t think that I would get it. I couldn’t imagine that I would get it. The casting process was really long since they did a nationwide search for Dani. I felt really honored to take on this role that was so important to so many people. I love Dani now. I think that whatever I act in in the future, Dani will always feel so close to me.

Blu, you mentioned that you’d gone to London to see Maisie for her birthday. The relationship between Dani and Rahne, at least in the comics, was a special one.

Hunt: Our relationship in the movie is definitely strong.

Boone: It’s sort of the spine of the movie. Without giving away too much, it’s very much about them and how their relationship blooms over the course of the movie. The jumping-off point was certainly their telepathic relationship in the comics.

Since that’s going to be there, what is the biggest deviation from the comics?

The image of Professor Charles Xavier guides the "New Mutants" team of Danielle Moonstar (Mirage), front left, Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane), Roberto da Costa (Sunspot), Samuel Guthrie (Cannonball) and Xi'an Coy Manh (Karma). <span class="copyright">(Marvel Comics)</span>
The image of Professor Charles Xavier guides the “New Mutants” team of Danielle Moonstar (Mirage), front left, Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane), Roberto da Costa (Sunspot), Samuel Guthrie (Cannonball) and Xi’an Coy Manh (Karma). (Marvel Comics)

Boone: The biggest deviation is really the setting. We took these characters and their problems and their story and put them in a hospital that they couldn’t get out of. That was sort what we added to it, with a few little tweaks here and there to fit the tone of our movie. We shot everything on location. It’s not like a typical comic book movie. It doesn’t look like a typical comic book movie. It’s more like a ’90s throwback horror movie with superheroes in it.

Hunt: I think one thing that deviates with Dani is that at the end of the Demon Bear [storyline in the comics] she kind of commits suicide — in an abstract way. I liked that [storyline] for Dani because that is a really serious issue that many indigenous First Nation youth have to deal with, and I think that would’ve been an important thing for Dani’s character and an important culmination of the trauma that she’d gone through. That is something young people do go through — when the feelings get so bad that it becomes [an almost physical manifestation]. But Dani is pretty much right from the pages.

With such a different tone, would this have connected in any way to Fox’s X-Men universe? And do you have thoughts on the future of X-Men?

Boone: Well, you could never really have put these characters into those movies. It’s way too different tonally and aesthetically and everything — if Wolverine showed up it would be weird. It’s certainly part of the X-Men universe and there’s discussion about the X-Men in it. But again, we’re in that weird place where we were supposed to come out before “Dark Phoenix.” Then the merger happened and they put everything they had into finishing “Dark Phoenix” — and with how much it cost and everything else, [we] did kind of get pushed to the wayside.

[“New Mutants”] had a love story in it, it’s kind of different than most comic book movies. It’s got weird stuff, horror stuff. … I kind of like it as a final interesting original thing [from the Fox series of X-Men films]. And however it plays out in the future, I’ll certainly be first in line to see what Marvel [Studios] does with X-Men. But the ball is sort in their court now. If fans like the movie, I’m sure they’ll talk about future ones.

With the current pandemic situation, things are still in flux for theaters, so how would you feel if the movie had to go to Disney+, Hulu or some other streaming outlet?

Boone: Stuff is changing every day because of COVID, so it’s hard to know that. I’d be happy with it being available for everyone to see in whatever way we can do that. I’ve been told that it’s going to be a theatrical release, which we would love. I don’t even know which streaming service it would go to. It’s all muddy because of the merger still, with preexisting streaming deals that could’ve been made [by Fox] before the merger and all that.

And how about the release date?

Boone: I mean, I see everybody moving like “Tenet,” so I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. When they tell me it’s going to come out is when it’ll come out. It’s all based on when it’s safe to go back to the movies and when the markets are open and everything else. The intention is to get it out for the fans. They’ve stood by us for years. It’s just a matter of when they’ll get to see any movies that are coming out right now.

This time, we’re in the same boat as everyone else. Last time, we were at the mercy of a corporate merger that had nothing to do with us really at all.

What have you been doing during the pandemic?

Boone: I was lucky I wrapped up making “The Stand” [for CBS All Access] before the pandemic happened and I had a bunch of writing. So I finished writing the next movie we’re going to make, which we really started making during “New Mutants.” A movie from Bob Mehr’s book “Trouble Boys” about the band the Replacements.

Hunt: I spent most of my quarantine reading and watching movies. I’m pretty introverted. But then I went to dozens of protests in L.A. It’s something really important to me. So solitude shifted into giant groups. I took up surfing and got a haircut, so I look like Patrick Swayze now.

Boone: Looking like Patrick Swayze is a good thing!

Hunt: All my friends keep saying it, and I had never seen “Point Break.”

Boone: Wait … so please tell me you watched it, and what did you think?

Hunt: I have never had a better viewing experience of a movie. I was laughing. I was crying. I was screaming.

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