After long last, Fox-Disney’s The New Mutants will be hitting theaters. It’s had a bumpy road to release but fans have been patient and loyal to Josh Boone’s film, which is being touted as the MCU’s first horror-action movie. The story follows a group of teenagers with dangerous mutant powers who are sent to a secret facility ostensibly to teach them to control their powers. But they soon find they’re being held and experimented on against their will and that something even worse than the cruel researchers is stalking them.
I spoke with Henry Zaga, who plays Roberto da Costa, a.k.a. Sunspot, a mutant from Brazil who has the ability to absorb and channel solar power. Along with The New Mutants, Zaga will soon be seen playing Nick Andros in CBS All Access’ adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, which Josh Boone also headed up. We talked about feeling comfortable while wearing a mocap onesie and pretending to have superpowers, the beauty and richness of deaf culture and ASL, and the absolutely serendipitous way he fell into being cast in The Stand.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Atom Tickets: First, congrats on the movie finally being released, even if many of us are still stuck inside. Have you gotten to go out or do anything?
Henry Zaga: I did! About three weeks ago, I was like, “Okay, guys, we have to plan a road trip, We’re getting out of LA, we’re renting an RV – let’s go!” So we did. We went to Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon. It was amazing. How about you? Where are you at?
I’m in LA, too, but I haven’t gone anywhere or done anything – alas.
HZ: Rent an RV! I’m telling you. It’s a game-changer.
It’s been so long – three years – since you guys filmed it. You were so young. I imagine looking at yourself on screen from back then is so odd. Is it weird? Do you think, ‘Oh, I would have done that differently?’
HZ: You know, I’m happy with it. I’m really proud of it. It’s fun because you get to watch things that you did back in the day and you get to watch it. I, for one, was adamant about putting Portuguese lines in Roberto’s dialogue and I forgot about that. When I watched it, I was like, ‘I spoke Portuguese in a Marvel movie! And I’m Brazilian and playing a Brazilian X-Man. I’d forgotten about it and it was awesome. So you have little surprises like that. It’s been three years, but also we’re maturer than we were to not have the expectations that we had before. But now the expectations are high again because everyone is so incredibly excited. But you just become more mature. You know yourself more, you’re excited about what’s next and what’s to come. If I ever played him again, then I could add different things to him. But I’m very proud of what we did.
I’ve interviewed people before for superhero roles, and something a few have said was that they had a hard time striking all the poses, feeling comfortable on set and not silly, without the CGI. Was there a level of self-consciousness you had to overcome without seeing the full special effects?
HZ: Yeah, I mean, I was really disappointed when Josh didn’t light me on fire.
Of course. You have to get into that method acting.
HZ: Yeah, just go full Shia. [laughing] But, you know, you just have to go back to your 10-year-old self and imagine and live in that imaginary world as truthfully as you can. I was wearing a crazy, ridiculous onesie with full-on dots everywhere and I had to “ignite.” Just nut up and pretend I was facing off against this massive villain. But it was really so much fun, to say the least – I mean, I’ve played a werewolf-chimera thing before in a TV show a long time ago and for that, I had to wear fake teeth and claws and all that stuff. It’s always been fun for me. Whenever I have an opportunity to play these characters, I find it very exciting because I can revert to childhood, really. Just use my imagination and go for it, you know?
I spoke with Blu Hunt and she said you’d all gotten to see the film together. What was it like getting to see the first cut of the movie all together back in January?
HZ: We actually saw it – wait, was it January? Oh, yeah, it was! It was awesome. It was so weird. We kept looking at each other like, “This is…beautiful.” It’s actually so warm and it has so much heart. The music and everyone’s connections to one another, how they come together as a group to overcome their own fears and go on a journey of self-discovery, was so rewarding. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about the horror aspect of it, but we haven’t addressed how much heart it has. It really hits home. It hits home, for me, being very different from Roberto myself but really understanding him, too. He’s just trying his best and kind of failing miserably but he’d come out on the other side stronger. And all these kids are, in their own way. It was great. I’m very excited for the fans to watch it because it’s the first X-Men movie to be fully teenage-inspired. All the characters are under 18, all the characters are going through growing pains. You can find yourself in at least one of our characters, so I think it will hit home for a lot of people.
I have to ask you about The Stand. You’re playing Nick Andros, who is deaf, and I imagine that’s a very challenging character to play.
HZ: Deaf culture is such a beautiful culture and I never could have done it without instructors and coaches who were deaf or hard of hearing, who really opened their hearts and their culture to me. Of course, it was a challenge, being a hearing person, but a very enriching one, because when you’re deaf or not hearing things, you pay attention to many other things that, when you’re hearing, you don’t. You either ignore them or you don’t even notice it. Deaf people, they really see everything on your face and they really take you in when you’re communicating, when you’re signing. You give your undivided attention, you’re reading signs. So it gave me tools that I’ll use for the rest of my life, as Henry, as a person. It’s such a beautiful language, too, it’s expressive and rich and complete. I loved ASL so much that it wasn’t a chore, it was fun.
Honestly, for me the biggest challenge in playing Nick was to lose weight. I couldn’t believe that I was Nick Andros until I lost all the weight, because he’s homeless. He’s a drifter. He doesn’t have a home, he doesn’t eat that much unless people give him food. So I had to look and feel hungry. That was my biggest challenge, for sure. I’ve never had to lose weight for a role. Much to the contrary, I’ve had to gain weight. You know, to get strong. [laughing]
Had you read the book or any Stephen King prior to being cast in The Stand?
HZ: Okay, so this is how destiny hit me: I was reading The Stand on the set of The New Mutants. Seriously. Josh was like, “Why are you reading The Stand?!” I was like, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “Well, you know, it’s why I became a writer. It’s my favorite book. It’s the project I’m doing next.” I perked up like, “What? Tell me more!” You know, just let me read it overnight and not sleep. [laughing] So he told me his backstory, you know, how his parents actually burned his copy of The Stand because they were very religious, so it made him write Stephen King. And Stephen King actually wrote him back and gave him a box of books. I was like, “Whaaat the heck, this is the best story of my life!”
So it made me even more curious about Stephen King’s work and about The Stand. You know, just wondering why did this book mean so much to a director I respected so much and how did it resonate with him? It was like magic. I was like, why am I reading this book in this moment, right now, on this set with this person who is so meaningful to me and who is actually making the adaptation of this?
And he didn’t even tell me anything about it, by the way. He didn’t even once say that he was envisioning me as Nick Andros in his mind. So I finished the book, and I was bummed because I was like, “Well, okay…there’s not really anyone for me to play…” So then a year later, he was like, “Okay, so, remember when you were reading The Stand? Are you ready to do it with me?” I was like, “What? What do you mean?” And then, like, “Oh, yeah, do you want to play Nick Andros?” So, yeah. It was serendipity at its best.
It’s incredible when the universe lines up like that. And I can relate, I have all my Stephen King books lined up over there.
HZ: Amazing! I have a bunch of The Stands here [motioning to shelf behind him]. I have my one that has all my notes, just there.
If you’ve not read it yet, the last thing I’ll say to you is tackle the Dark Tower series.
HZ: Oh, yes! Josh told me about them and he said don’t watch the movie but read all the books.
Agreed on that. It basically lays out King’s entire universe, it’s the lynchpin to everything.
HZ: That’s incredible. I’ll read it. I’m reading it.
The New Mutants is in theaters on Friday, August 28th.