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Mutant is the new gay; even with the departure of gay director Bryan Singer for Superman Returns, the X-Men series continues to flex its queer metaphorical muscle.

Ian McKellen remembers with a wry chuckle the first time director Bryan Singer pitched him the role of Magneto, the lead villain in the 2000 comic book movie X-Men. "I think he expected that I was going to consider it a not posh-enough job," the legendary Shakespearean actor and gay activist recalls, "so he had to set its moral purpose." Singer, who is also gay, argued that the X-Men--a persecuted minority of powerful mutants struggling to coexist with human society--were perfect stand-ins for the current struggles of LGBT people. "I thought he was right," says McKellen. "It's not just a fantasy story. It's a parable."

And how. In truth, the X-Men work as surrogates for just about any minority--sexual, racial, religious--but Singer drove his point even further in the 2003 sequel with a scene in which a young mutant "comes out" to his parents. His mother's response: "Have you ever tried not being a mutant?"

This conceit proved so powerful that even after Singer left the movie franchise to make this year's Superman Returns, 20th Century Fox asked the screenwriters of the newest entry in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand, to use a plot taken from recent X-Men comic books with a great deal of resonance for gay Americans: A pharmaceutical company creates a "cure" for mutations, launching both the benevolent X-Men and the militant disciples of Magneto into action. (Trivia note: The author of the comics that launched this story line was Buffy the Vampire Slayer guru and gay-friendly geek Joss Whedon.)

Screenwriters Zak Penn (Elektra) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) both say the most intriguing aspect of the concept was that, as Penn puts it, "the arguments for the cure end up being just as interesting as the arguments against it." They found a perfect means to tell the story in the character of Rogue (Anna Paquin), a mutant whose very touch is deadly. She would quite understandably be attracted to a cure that would finally allow her to physically connect with those she loves.

"We did have meetings," explains Kinberg, "where we would have conversations that were simply about 'What is the political resonance of this choice in this scene? What are we saying philosophically or politically if Rogue takes the cure [or] if Rogue doesn't take the cure?' I've never been [working on a film] where I'm like 'OK, what is this going to be telling a 12-year-old who may be feeling different?'" In fact, the dilemma proved to be so divisive among those involved in the production that they actually shot both versions, Rogue injecting the cure and Rogue rejecting it; which one made the cut is, of course, a state secret.

One factor that appears to be a non-issue was that though the principal architects of the second X-Men film--Singer and screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty--were all gay, Penn, Kinberg, and director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) are all straight. Ratner is indeed such a notorious ladies' man that when asked about the switch, McKellen decides to have a spot of fun:

"Is Brett Ratner straight? No! Boy, that's news to me. Well, that would explain the girls, wouldn't it?" He laughs. "Oh, dear, darling Brett. Brett comes in as someone who does not want to do his own version of X-Men. He thinks ... everything has been so well-laid by two hugely popular films done by the same director that he would like to just continue that. So it doesn't matter whether the top person is gay or straight. He's a total man of the world, Brett; he knows what's going on."

It's abundantly clear what Magneto thinks of a cure for his mutation, but given all the angst that often surrounds being gay and coming out, would McKellen have ever been tempted by, say, someone offering him a pill to make him straight? McKellen lets out a low chortle. "No. I've never had any problem with being gay," he says. "I've had problems with talking about it to other people, but I've always been able to survive within the closet of the British theater, which is a pretty wide closet. More than a pill, what I wanted was a textbook." He sighs.

"No person ever seemed to be an appropriate person to ask the questions of. To read a book about it all and realize that you're not alone is very important, as is telling stories in public like X-Men."

Vary also writes for Entertainment Weekly and Variety.
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Article Details
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Author:Vary, Adam B.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 23, 2006
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