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The Thing That Terrified Henry Zaga The Most On The New Mutants Set - Exclusive

Henry Zaga had an emotionally-charged experience playing Roberto da Costa, a.k.a. Sunspot, in The New Mutants. Of course, that's to be expected when you're portraying a troubled young superhero who is able to use solar power to exert his will. In an exclusive interview with Looper, he talked about the character's unique and complex personality traits, heightened by Sunspot being smack dab in his teenage years while figuring out how to maneuver those unnatural abilities that regular folks don't possess. 

With guidance from director Josh Boone, Zaga spent time processing da Costa's motivations and behaviors in order to offer an organic, compelling take on a character with a rich comic book history. A key part of this discovery phase was the realization that da Costa's humor, at times, was coming from a dark inner place, his occasional silliness serving to cover up his insecurities. Other times, he's just naturally funny, and that emotional balance was what really brought the character to life.

"I think he's like the class clown, in a way, and his ridiculousness is so funny," Zaga says. "We had a scene that is going to be in the extras [for the eventual home release] where he's tanning outside of this mental institution, and people are having a hard time coping with themselves and he's just outside tanning." Or, as the actor describes it with a laugh, "Roberto doing Roberto things."

Zaga's harrowing on-set moments started in his nose

One thing about the experience of shooting The New Mutants that was more eerie than funny was the institution itself. Rather than some Hollywood soundstage manufactured and decorated to inspire chills, the cast and crew found themselves in a very old and very real place: the Boston building formerly known as Medfield State Hospital, which had previously served as a shooting location for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Zaga credits the environment for being "one hundred percent" instrumental in helping him bring Sunspot to life. 

"How Roberto copes with traumatizing and scary things is by making jokes, so that is exactly what I did," the actor explains. "I was trying to have as much fun as I could. Every now and again, someone would comment on the smell, how it smelled like something dead, so I'd make jokes like, 'Oh, yes, something died here — we're in their space.' We had so many moments shooting this really awesome movie with great people and going, 'Oh my God, this is the Shutter Island hospital.'"

That smell, according to Zaga, was the worst part. "I was always thinking, 'Is this the wood board or is there a spirit in here?' It was a different sort of smell — it crept into your soul, in a way. That was the only element that terrified me."