I’m super sensitive about questions like that because I don’t exactly know what I’m allowed to say.
Lana Condor remembers the first time she stepped foot on the set of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse. “I’d never been on a set before,” she gushes. “I didn’t even know I had a trailer, so that was already shocking to me.” An acting student with a dance background, Condor was plucked from obscurity with zero credits to her name, the last minute addition to the film’s ever-growing cast to play the much beloved X-Man Jubilation Lee, aka Jubilee. Condor has stories to tell.
We’ve certainly caught glimpses of Jubilee before in X-Men movies past, but they proved worthless and blink-and-you-miss-it shams to the great ire of her greatest champions. Jubilee was played by actress Katrina Florence in X-Men (2000), while Kea Wong assumed Florence’s mantle for X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Jubilee was always on the periphery, if you can call it that, so Condor should have plenty of room to make the character her own in Apocalypse, the sequel to 2014′s Days of Future Past and the ninth installment in the X-Men franchise.
X-Men: Apocalypse will also star Jennifer Lawrence (in her claimed final installment), Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Evan Peters, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Hoult, plus newcomers Olivia Munn, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Oscar Isaac as its titular villain. The rumor mill has it that Hugh Jackman will also feature as a cameo in the film.
Could you start off by giving me a rundown of your personal history?
I was born in Vietnam. I was adopted at four months old. My parents are from Chicago. They went to China first and then to Vietnam, and adopted me and my brother who’s not my biological brother. From there, we moved to Chicago and I lived there for about six years. Then we moved to Washington State and lived on an island, which was weird—we farmed and fished and all that. [Laughs] Then I moved to New York and I lived there for about four years, and that’s where I was dancing a lot. I’ve always been a performer but in dance, I haven’t always acted. My dad suggested that I try an acting class, so I did that at the New York Film Academy for a summer. I think the first acting class was in my freshman year. Then we moved to L.A.—all due to my dad’s job—and I started my sophomore year. I got a commercial agent, but I was never really going out for commercials at all. In L.A. even if you have a commercial agent, they have so many other clients. But I did anyway because, you know, YOLO. [Laughs] Then I went to this acting class that I’m still in now and that’s where everything started developing because at that acting class, I met my former manager and through her I met my agent. I think X-Men was the third audition out of the box, which I got. It was crazy because I went from having nothing to this crazy reality. It’s X-Men! I was a fan, a normal student. I mean, I went to the midnight premiere of X-Men: Days of Future Past last year. Anyways, I’ve moved around quite a bit. I can adapt to anything.
So your parents were always very supportive of your involvement in the arts.
Oh my god, yeah. They always put me in dance classes. When I was younger… Well, when you’re a kid, it’s: “I don’t wanna do it!” They were always like, “Come on, you can do it!” and pushed me through. So they’ve always been super supportive of me performing in general. I did sports and all that stuff but at the end of the day, I liked the stage. Actually, before X-Men even happened, I was thinking about deferring from college for a year just to see what might happen if I went out on auditions. My parents are so pro-education and everything but they were like, “You’re young and you have so much time left. If you want to take a year off to try and pursue something you think you can do, totally do it, and college will always be there.” I’m very, very lucky for that.
When you caught the acting bug freshman year, did you put dance on the back burner?
I was trying to figure out what I wanted between the two. Originally, I picked dance. At first, the acting class was very basic and dance seemed to have so much more to it. But when I came to L.A., I started doing theater and had a change of heart. That’s when I put dance on the back burner.
I’m not an actor, but acting is obviously a sum of its parts, movement being one of them. I’ve noticed that a surprising number of actors out there have a dance background.
I think that’s so true because dance helps with your physicality so much. I’ve seen a lot of actors who are super stiff and don’t know how to be in their own skin, and other actors who take movement classes or even dance classes to remedy that. Also, for example, super basic: The Nutcracker. Everyone has a character and it’s basically a play without words. You learn to emote with your body. I definitely think dance was such a godsend to me, just to become an actor.
It sounds like a solid foundation to build upon, for sure.
Totally! Also, I’ve never been scared of auditioning because in dance everyone’s always watching you and critiquing you. In the audition room, it’s the same exact thing. I’m very lucky that I grew up with that. I don’t have to be nervous about it.
How was X-Men presented to you? How is it that you scored an audition in the first place?
I auditioned for X-Men in early February. I just went in for pre-reads. I think my agents just submitted me because I happened to fit the ethnicity and the “look” they were going for. That night, the casting office called me to ask if I’d be willing to cut my hair. I was like, “Of course! I will shave it!!” [Laughs] In the comic books, Jubilee had short hair. Then I got a call back the next day and went in again, and went in one more time after that with the same audition sides from the pre-reads. Then I waited two months. Then one day, they called me and said they sent my tape to Bryan Singer—he was in Montreal so I never even met him—and I was cast the next day. [Bryan and I] actually talked about this later on. He told me I was the first person he ever cast off of tape, so that was pretty cool.
You were basically bouncing off the walls when you got that call.
Oh my god.
What kind of confidentiality agreement do you have to sign for something this big?
Fox is pretty strict about our social media because the Marvel fandom is so committed and loyal. Any little thing can be dissected and made into something that it’s not. But only when we were working. I mean, they don’t tell us much, which I think is smart. [Laughs] The less we know, the less we can mess up by accidentally saying something. But they are pretty strict I would say.
Bryan Singer is tactful with his own social media, dropping little hints here and there.
There’s such a structure to it. When the actors were up there shooting, they would give us outlines about how to use our social media. I got so nervous because I didn’t want to mess up. I wanted to fly under the radar and not do anything. One of the co-producers became such a good buddy of mine. For any photo I wanted to post, I would send it to him first, even if it was nothing. “Hey, is this cool?” He’d be like, “Yes, Lana…” [Laughs] I was so hypersensitive about it.
What has been the most commonly asked question directed at you about Jubilee?
I guess how and why I use my powers, and if I’ll use my powers in the film. I actually had this conversation with Bryan as well. I mean, they’ve tried to bring in Jubilee as a character before in the franchise, but she never really made the cut. It just never really happened. Now they’re like, “We finally have the money, the fanbase and all that stuff to bring you in as a character.” She’s had little cameos, but she has never ever used her powers—nothing. So I definitely get a lot of questions like, “Will she use her powers? Will she say something in the movie??” [Laughs]
Are you going to contribute anything here?
You know?? [Laughs] And I’m super sensitive about questions like that because I don’t exactly know what I’m allowed to say. But yes, she does use her powers. It’s just that I can’t say why or anything because, you know, that’s the movie. I get those questions all the time.
So how prominently are you featured in the movie?
Okay—there are like the 17 of us in the ensemble, right? Six of those are the new, younger mutants, which includes Jubilee. I stick together with Jean, Scott, and Nightcrawler. Almost all of my scenes are with them. They’re such a prominent part of the film because we’re watching them grow up and learn how to develop their powers and use them. I can say that Jubilee is in it throughout the entire film. Hopefully. Unless they cut me. [Laughs] I would also say that if there were to be another film, I would hope that Jubilee would get an even bigger character arc.
How familiar were you with the X-Men universe going into this?
I told you I went to the midnight screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but since I do not lie, I was more into The Avengers. Iron Man was my thing. With X-Men, I wasn’t an avid fan where I had to go see every movie as it came out right away, so I wasn’t all that familiar with it. However, that being said, when I found out I was cast in it and also leading up to it during the auditions, I went complete psycho: I bought like 200 comic books, watched all the cartoons on Netflix and all the movies back-to-back twice. I became a more knowledgeable fan of the franchise once I was cast. But I was obsessed with The Avengers first.
Did it take long to find the right look for Jubilee? If you compare the set photos to the comic books and animated series, it’s pretty spot on.
The costume designer was amazing. When I first started going to the wardrobe fittings, she laid out these full entire lookbooks. They wanted to make Jubilee look exactly like the comics and the cartoons. They wanted it to feel like Jubilee jumped off the page so much. And I thought they were going to cut my hair, but they just cut my bangs and kinda teased it up. The yellow jacket: We tried so many different ones, before finally deciding to make it from scratch. I really wanted to keep it! It was made to fit me perfectly but, I know, it’s Jubilee’s jacket. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
I can’t even fathom what it must’ve been like for you to step onto set for the first time.
The whole entire time: “Is this real? I’m dreaming.” Me, Sophie [Turner], Tye [Sheridan], and Kodi [Smit-McPhee] were all working the first day. They rented out half a huge mall in Montreal for the shoot, so half of it was the X-Men set and the other half was a regular, functioning mall. I walked in and there were hundreds of extras milling around, and it was transformed into the ’80s. I was like, “Oh my god! This is my first day of work?” I remember being really serious that day, too, and Bryan was like, “Yo! Laugh! This is fun!” I would sit outside my trailer sometimes and Jennifer [Lawrence] would walk by me, as Mystique in her blue, like, “What’s up, Lana?” It’s crazy because she’s in blue, Kodi’s in blue, and Nic’s [Hoult] in blue. Not only are these actors I totally look up to, but it’s also them in their characters, just having lunch with you. It was crazy.
Could you contextualize that mall scene for me without getting into trouble?
I guess I can say that the whole scene is establishing the four of our relationships. That’s the foundation of who we’re gonna be to each other for the rest of the film.
So what are you working on now?
There were a couple options that I had to pass on for different reasons, so I’m just trying to get employed again like everybody else. I guess I hope to be able to do something in the near future that’s comedic. I understand why, but I usually only get submitted for dramas or something where I would have to be super intense. I love that because I am, but I also think I’m funny. “Just give me a chance! Let me be funny for you!” It’s such a grey area because X-Men comes out in May, so I have this stretch of time to audition, to work and meet people. So it is a little stressful. I just did this huge film and want to keep working and keep learning, but—
You’re in the in-between.
Exactly. Anyone who’s close to me knows that’s my biggest obsession right now—to work again.