New Mutants director Josh Boone talks sequels, Demon Bear, and Stephen King's The Stand

(Image credit: Disney/Fox)

The New Mutants has been a very, very long time coming. The final instalment in the X-Men saga was never meant to be the final instalment in the X-Men saga. In fact, The New Mutants was meant to launch a trilogy that would eventually tie-in with the main X-Men movies, with Jon Hamm's Mister Sinister reportedly due to appear in one draft.

That all changed when a different executive took over Fox. The movie was soon made to be standalone, but still with the idea of bringing Antonio Banderas into the fold to play Sunspot's father Emmanuel da Costa in a sequel-setting post-credits scene. Yet, after the Fox-Disney merger, those plans changed again.

Now, finally, after years and years of waiting (remember we saw the first trailer back in 2017), The New Mutants finally arrives in cinemas. GamesRadar+ and Total Film Zoomed with Josh Boone to talk about the movie finally coming out, our discussion touching on the chances of a sequel, why he wanted to adapt the Demon Bear comics, and what's next for him. Here's our full Q&A, edited for clarity.

GR+: You told Total Film a while ago that this movie's a very unique studio movie. So I’m kind of wondering – in what sense do you think this movie is so different from what we’ve seen before?

Boone: I don’t even mean specifically from the horror elements – although those, I think, are part of it. It’s like, I just find that superhero movies generally star adults, and I don’t see many movies made for teenagers anymore. I like that we could make a movie that was really about kids of the age you actually read comics.

It was nice to bring the horror element in. Again, that wasn’t a calculated thing. There was no lightbulb that went off over my head. That was very organic from adapting the three issues of The New Mutants that we did – “The Demon Bear Saga”. It was already leaning so far in that direction, that that was just an organic part of the process. And the love story as well (between Maisie Williams' Wolfsbane and Blu Hunt's Mirage) – I think that’s unique. But, again, it wasn’t really calculated. It was an organic part of the process from the girls’ relationship in the comics, really.

I think those aspects make it unique, with it being a horror and having thriller elements, and dealing with powers more in a Stephen King Carrie/Firestarter way, than in an X-Men way, where power is a devastating thing for these kids, and a devastating thing in their lives. They’re dealing with past trauma from those powers.

(Image credit: Disney)

You've been working on a Stephen King adaptation, The Stand, which I want to talk about in a bit. He's obviously very influential here, too. What cinematic landmarks were you taking influence from? The trailers, because of the asylum, give One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibes.

Definitely that one. Knate [Lee], my co-writer, we grew up together. We’ve known each other since we were little kids. Our mums are best friends. So we read comic books growing up all the time, and there were a couple of movies that we really loved, even when we were kids, that my dad had on Beta, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack Nicholson was our favourite actor of all time.

We also thought of Girl, Interrupted. And the main one; the most influential movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which was about kids in a psychiatric facility who were trapped in there with Freddy. Once we thought about that, when we thought we could put the Demon Bear story into that sort of setting, then we would have something unique and different enough from the other X-Men movies that it would stand on its own.

I love how much you love the Demon Bear story. I was reading a recent interview with you where you said how you wanted Sacha Baron Cohen as Warlock.

He’s our Andy Serkis [laughs]. You know what I mean?

Because of the CGI, yeah.. But instead you went for the Demon Bear due to budget constraints. What’s the bigger lure of this phantom bear compared to Warlock?

Warlock was really, in the earliest drafts, always sort of a B-story. The Demon Bear storyline was always the A-storyline. So for the budget to work, we took out the B-storyline, and we could then afford to make the movie. So we figured we would save him for the second film, which was going to be sort of like an alien invasion movie set in Brazil.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

What is it about the Demon Bear where you’re like, “That’s the A-story. This is what we want to tell”?

Well, I remember vividly the ending of the comic, from reading it when I was a kid, where Dani was kind of in this between life-or-death state, where she was almost in this metaphysical realm, unconscious, while her friends were fighting something directly attached to her, and almost fighting her in some way.

I’d never seen anything like that that had multiple realities at the end of a conflict like that. And I was so blown away, ever since childhood, by Bill Sienkiewicz’s art. He read every draft of the script. He was there on set occasionally. I just did an audio commentary with him.

We were really trying to honour the look and aesthetic of what he did for that series in the 1980s, because, before he was really on it, it was more of a standard X-Men title. It had some interesting elements, but he really exploited those elements, and pushed the medium in a lot of ways in terms of what you could do on a page, and how artsy something could look compared to just a normal comic book.

So, I don’t know. We had so much good material to use and put into the movie. We just sort of took it all in, and filtered it through this idea that we had of them trapped in this place where they were too dangerous to be at the other school, and had all killed someone, basically, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s a great concept. I can’t wait to see it one day.

One day soon! I promise! [laughs]

Normally, at this stage, we’ve all seen it.

I know. I would like for everybody to be able to see it. I’m trying to get it so that everybody can see it. I wouldn’t be sitting here doing an interview about it – it’s my cut of the movie. We’re really proud of it. The cast is out here with me. We never had reshoots. We never had any pickups. Most movies get to do that. Most of them, 95% of them. The [Disney/Fox] merger just sort of stopped us in our tracks. Nobody knew that it was coming, and we were sort of making the movie to be the first in a franchise. None of us had any idea it was going to be bought by another studio or any of those things. So we just sort of rolled with the punches.

This is the last film in the X-Men series now. It feels like a big event. If you had known that from the beginning, I imagine this would have been a very different journey to go on.

The way that this was originally planned, it was going to come out before Dark Phoenix. Dark Phoenix was going to be two films. All these things – the merger changed all that stuff. Dark Phoenix was changed into one film.

For New Mutants, I just made sure that I took out this stuff that made it seem like we were setting up an X-Men franchise. It was a strange thing. Any time you’re working with a giant corporation and an IP this big, you sort of go with whatever is going to happen. You’ve got to go with it and make it work.

New Mutants

(Image credit: Fox/Disney)

Is there any realistic possibility that this film, if it does gangbusters at the box-office, that you can continue this story? Or is it one and done, and there’s no chance of that happening?

Well, Disney and Marvel, they own everything. The cast and us would certainly go and make another New Mutants movie in a second. But I don’t know what Marvel’s plans are, or what Disney’s plans are. I think right now, we just want to get this one out, so that everybody can see it [laughs].

The fanbase has been so incredibly strong. Over the past couple of years, I must have accumulated 150 pieces of fan artwork, that is some of the most incredible fan art I’ve ever seen. Everybody seems to be really pleased with the way the characters are portrayed in the footage that they’ve seen, so that makes me really happy.

Because we were sort of making it for ourselves as fans who wanted to see Illyana on screen, and see Rahne on screen, and Cannonball, and all that. So we just tried to please ourselves. And hopefully, by pleasing ourselves, we’ll please others.

There's a famous saying, "A film is never done, you just get to a place where you’re happy enough to stop working on it". With this, you’ve had so long with it in your mind, and tit's been a while since filming. Are you at a place where you’re happy enough to let New Mutants go? Or do you really think this is the finished deal?

This was a happy ending for me, just because of the year that I spent kind of in limbo, waiting to find out what was going to happen with the movie. Were we going to do any reshoots? What were we going to do?

And then getting to finish it, I got to go back in with Knate, and do the rest of the work that needed to be done, and get the sound done, and the visual effects done. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Fox really put everything they had into getting Dark Phoenix done, because it cost so much more than ours. It had so much more of an acclaimed, tastemaker cast than ours. So it’s their obligation to that movie was just a lot more than their obligation to ours.

So I’m lucky that Disney saw fit to let us finish it and get it done. It’s also not a standard or typical X-Men movie in the way that these other X-Men movies are. It has a lot more in common with John Hughes movies and character-driven teen films in a lot of ways, which makes it nerve-wracking for them, probably, at that level too, because it’s got a romance in it; it’s kind of different from what any X-Men movie has ever done.

So it has all these elements that might not have made it seem an obvious thing that was going to be Dark Phoenix level. But I always thought it was the more interesting choice, and the one people were more interested to see, because it was different.

You have done so many interviews to promote this film. Is there something that you haven’t discussed about The New Mutants that you’ve been wanting to talk about?

I don’t think so. I’ve sort of answered them all, I think. We’ve promoted the movie a couple of times, it’s just a long haul. I’m happy to answer any questions anybody has. I don’t really know what else to say at this point, other than to just answer people’s questions [laughs].

I am truly happy the movie’s coming out, and we got to finish the cut. I got to show it to the cast. They were thrilled. I mean, that was sort of the best stuff , just getting to see the work done, and knowing we could get it to the fans now, and get it to people who want to go back to the movies and see a good movie.

The opening, which we've seen, features a quote and puts the attention on the main character's Native American heritage. Was exploring that background something you wanted to do from the beginning?

We probably auditioned 300 girls with some connection to a reservation, or who lived on a reservation. And we did the same with Henry [Zaga]’s character [Sunspot].

I looked at 300 Brazilian actors, and picked the very best actors for the part that touched my heart the most, and got the studio the most excited, and who seemed the most like the characters, in terms of personality, and what I needed from them for the roles.

So they were able to bring a lot of authenticity to it, just by being who they were. We were really trying to honour the Native American elements from the comic, the legend of the Demon Bear, and all that stuff.

But yeah, she’s in a reservation at the beginning. There’s obviously a cataclysm that happens there that’s related to the Demon Bear, which she’s not really conscious of or aware of, at this point, with what’s going on.

I just thought it’d be really cool to open the movie with a girl waking up in bed in the middle of the night, and everything’s coming down around her. It just seemed like a fun way to start it, and to give you a real blast of something before you settle into the character-y vibes that will come in the institute.

(Image credit: Marvel)

After this, we’re going to hopefully see your adaptation of The Stand.

That will air later this year. I directed the first and the last episode, and developed it for years, and kind of brought the cast to it and everything. I think it’s going to be amazing. We have the most incredible showrunners who are working on it, who dealt with a lot of the other stuff. I kind of dealt with a movie’s worth of material, the first one and the last one.

And King wrote the last one. So I really, really wanted that one to be as good as it could possibly be. He wrote a new story for us that’s sort of like a coda to The Stand. It’s a story that he had wanted to tell for many, many years, and I was lucky enough to get him to write it for us. So I’m excited that people will get to see that.

IYou have a long history with Stephen King.

In my first movie, which I wrote, Stephen King’s in it. He has a cameo in the film. Some of his books are shown off on shelves. I was always able to work the things that I liked into the other movies that I made. But I had a relationship with him that developed over time, and I worked on some of his stuff, and The Stand was the one I carried the longest and pushed up the mountain to get it done. It was a beast to do. It took years to get it from Warner Bros, to see how it could be done as limited edition television.

The timing of this and the timing of The Stand, they’re just obviously a little weird. The kids in the movie are quarantined and can’t leave the hospital that they’re trapped in. In The Stand, we have the pandemic, so it’s just eerie things.

I’m seeing a through-line: all these projects took years and years to come to fruition.

Yes. But I’d also say, the things that take the longest to come to fruition are the things that you have to do with a corporation. There are just so many hands involved, and so much more money at stake. These things always take longer – the more money you need, the longer it takes.

That’s kind of why they took that long in general. Most people have probably got a similar experience – minus the delays on The New Mutants because of the merger [laughs].

I’ve only got one more question, so I’m going to ask – this is now coming out; The Stand is coming out later; what’s next for you? What’s exciting for you in your future, post-this?

This will tell you, again, how long things take. When we were shooting The New Mutants, I started working on, with Knate, we started working on an adaptation of Bob Mehr’s New York Times bestseller Troubled Boys, about the band The Replacements.

So Nat Wolff is going to play Paul Westerberg. Nat’s been in just about everything I’ve done. He was in The Stand. He starred in my first movie. He was in The Fault in Our Stars. He’s one of the best actors on the planet. Owen Teague, who is in The Stand, is going to play Tommy Stinson in it – really in the second half of it, because in the first half, Tommy Stinson is like a 12-year-old.

They were a band who had like a 12 or 13-year-old bass player through a lot of their early years. So, yeah, we’ve been working on that for years, and that’s really exciting. We’ve got all the scripts done for that, so I’m literally casting that right now. I’m going to go make that. And then I have a couple of other books under option that I’m sort of working on for after that.

I’m looking forward to seeing hopefully some of it very soon.

Yeah! You’ll see two things this year, and then, you know, I don’t know!

The New Mutants is in cinemas August 28 in the United States, and September 4 in the UK (with previews starting August 29). 

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.