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The Washington Post

'Last Stand': 'X-Men' Looking for the Right Fit
- Michael O'Sullivan

Let's play "Stump the X-Men."

It's only a few seconds into a cozy chat with several cast members of "X-Men: The Last Stand" when it becomes clear that the quartet of twenty-something actors sharing a hotel couch across from a reporter have no idea that they've been packaged by the local publicist who set this meeting up as a sort of Pee Wee Justice League.

"The Junior X-Men? Is that what they're calling us?" asks Dania "Callisto" Ramirez, 26, turning up her nose disdainfully, as though someone had just carded her. Seated to her right, Shawn "Iceman" Ashmore, also 26, points out, somewhat bookishly, that there are "only two X-Men in this room."

Duly noted. That's because Ramirez's character, and that of 29-year-old Aaron "Pyro" Stanford, while mutants, can hardly be considered true members of the team of genetically altered superheroes who attend the school run by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Not since Callisto and Pyro went over to the dark side, as they do in this film, and started working for Magneto (Ian McKellen, playing the head bad guy in this third installment of the film franchise based on the popular Marvel comic book series).

"How about... 'The Nexxt Generation?' " asks Stanford, proposing a more dignified alternative to the PR-generated moniker for his crew of Not Ready for Prime Time Players. " 'The Nexxt Generation,' with two x's?"

"Don't quit your day job," cracks Anna "Rogue" Paquin. At 23, the actress is the youngest of the bunch, yet she's also the most experienced, having started in show biz at age 9, with an Oscar-winning performance in "The Piano."

It's precisely the freakish nature of early accolades, showered upon someone so young, Paquin says, that makes her relate all the more to Rogue, a power-absorbing mutant whose frustrating abilities mean that she can't touch her boyfriend (Ashmore) without killing him. In "The Last Stand," her character considers medical treatment that holds out the hope of permanently returning her to a quote-unquote normal lifestyle.

"I'm not going to lie," says Paquin, when asked about the difficulties of growing up in the glare of the global spotlight. "It was not the easiest thing to blend in with the crowd during a period of time where -- it's not like I wanted to be like everyone, but I just didn't want to be as noticeable."

"I think everybody feels that," says Stanford, adding that adolescence is universally a time during which "any deviation from the norm is not tolerated." That's only one of the reasons, he believes, the "X-Men" comics, first introduced in 1963 during the civil rights struggle, have proved so consistently popular. As for what's "normal," Stanford says there is no such thing. "Everyone's pretending there's a norm. I think the reason people are so vindictive and evil about it and mean and cruel about it when they're that age is because they're trying to hide the fact that they feel they're freaks."

But Ramirez doesn't like that word. "I wouldn't call them freaks," she says. "I think they're special." (Right. Special, like someone who, in Callisto's case, possesses superhuman speed and can sense other mutants and their abilities telepathically.) While the Dominican-born, New York-raised actress "can't relate to being young and being recognized" -- like Paquin -- "even when you're in school and you're a little bit smarter than everyone else, it's almost like you're looked down upon."

Unlike the others, each of whom has appeared in at least one of the earlier films, Ramirez's "Last Stand" character is a new addition to the "X-Men" lineup. Nevertheless, she makes up for lost time by getting more than her co-stars' share of action sequences, doing battle with Halle Berry's Storm during the film's climax. "I hurt both my wrists at one point," she says, recalling a particularly grueling bit of fight choreography in which she had to repeatedly hit the deck.

"I remember that you had to wear braces for a little while," says Stanford, noting that he and Ashmore had it relatively easy. "The great thing about Pyro or Iceman is that our power consists of hurling giant columns of imaginary fire or ice at somebody. Yeah, it requires a strong imagination. That's about it."

Of the four, Ashmore came into the project with perhaps the most prior "X"-pertise, having spent much of his youth immersed in the "X-Men" mythology. "I used to watch the [television] cartoon after school with my snack," he says, "and I still have a box of comics at home with a few 'X-Men' comics in there."

Paquin and Ramirez, on the other hand, consider themselves "new" fans, having discovered only the comic books in preparation for their roles. "Someone handed me a huge stack of exclusively Rogue comics," recalls Paquin, whose on-screen character manifests more psychological torment than acrobatic ability. "I thought, 'Jesus, there's so many.' "

All four say they'd jump at the chance to return in an "X-Men 4." Still, they profess astonishment when a reporter informs them that there's a secret teaser clip tacked on to the film -- that runs after the closing credits -- and that suggests, in tantalizingly vague terms, not just where such a sequel might head, but that it is inevitable.

"Oh, really?" says Paquin, leaning forward. "You're kidding me."

"You're kidding me," repeats Ashmore, who explains he walked out of a screening of the film after 45 seconds of end credits because "I already know everybody in the movie."

"And this is after the chess scene?" asks Stanford, referring to what only appears to be the film's last shot.

"Wow," whispers Ramirez.

Sounds like some Junior X-Men didn't do their homework.

"Congratulations," says Paquin. "You just surprised all four of us."

The Washington Post