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Henry Zaga Talks New Mutants - Exclusive Interview

After years of delays, The New Mutants finally made its way to theaters in 2020, giving the film's ensemble cast their long-overdue chance to show audiences their interpretations of some beloved Marvel characters. Henry Zaga loved tackling the part of Roberto da Costa — a.k.a. the mutant known as Sunspot — and found it valuable to wholeheartedly study the character's personality to understand what makes him tick. Zaga knows that the life of a teenager is comprised of many layers, and he wanted to make sure that his portrayal would showcase Sunspot's complex nature. 

Zaga has plenty of experience in this realm: Though the Brazilian actor is no longer in that age group, his acting career has found him portraying a variety of teen characters. MTV's Teen Wolf and a couple of young-adult hits on Netflix — 13 Reasons Why and Trinkets — are a few of the shows he has appeared since he broke through in 2015. In an exclusive interview, Looper talked with Zaga about getting to know Roberto da Costa, what he hopes The New Mutants gives fans, and more.

Why channeling Sunspot's darker sides was important to Zaga, but not easy

When you learned about Roberto da Costa / Sunspot, what were your first impressions?

It strikes you at first that he is a surface level of character, but when you get beyond that you see there's so much to Sunspot. Especially if you don't know his backstory, if you don't know his traumas, and, to me, that was the most interesting thing — he's not a jock just making jokes or whatever. He is a sensitive, broken guy who puts this on to cope with his traumas. So that was my first deeper impression of Sunspot and instantly I was like, "Sign me up. Where do I sign?" And Brazilian? And in the Marvel Universe? What?

So you were excited to explore the layers of the character. What was the most challenging about it while taking on this role?

I always have a hard time when there's a hardcore bully side to anyone. Acting like that doesn't come necessarily naturally to me. So for me, I needed to know why [he was like that]. Growing up, you meet a lot of people like him and there is a lot [about them] that you're not seeing. That was the story I was most excited to tell — the things that he wasn't saying when he was saying mean things.

So it was challenging, but also really rewarding. During those times, you can also see his heart the most and you can feel it, too. He's just saying these things because he actually just wants a hug.

Why Henry Zaga chose not to study another actor's previous portrayal of his Mutants character

In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Adan Canto played Sunspot. Did you study his performance at all?

I didn't go back to that role. I think everyone has an interpretation of their own and I really respect everyone's take on their characters, but I found it more rewarding referring to the comics and going to Josh (Boone, director), who's basically a comic encyclopedia.

Our story, our script, our movie tells a slightly different story from the comics and ultimately, we're telling that story. So I had to honor it. I also had to go back to a lot of experiences, like I said, of people that I knew growing up that had Roberto's traits.

What was your favorite part about playing da Costa?

There were so many fun moments with Roberto. I think he's like the class clown in a way and his ridiculousness is so funny. We have a scene that's going to be in the extras, where he is tanning outside of the mental institution and people are going through a really hard time coping with themselves and he's just outside tanning — Roberto doing Roberto things.

The New Mutants' movie set was a creepy old psychiatric hospital. Did that environment help you create your character?

Yeah. A hundred percent. Roberto copes with really traumatizing and scary things by making jokes. So, that's exactly what I did. I was trying to have as much fun as I could. And then every now and again someone was like, "Smells really bad. There's something dead here." And I would say, "Oh. something died here and we are in their space." [Laughs] It was a rollercoaster with heightened moments of shooting this really awesome movie with great people and going like, "Oh my God, this is the Shutter Island hospital!"

Did you, personally, have any creepy experiences?

The smell, always. I was like, "Is this the wood board or is there a spirit right here?" It was a different sort of smell, it crept into your soul, in a way. That was the only element that terrified me.

How Henry Zaga reacted to fans' excitement about the movie

At the virtual press conference, you mentioned the fans' excitement when the cast appeared at some conventions. You likened it to people seeing the Beatles back in the day. It sounded like you weren't expecting that kind of reaction.

[Laughs] I'm not someone that people know about. We have famous people on the cast, like Maisie Williams. So when I went on stage, I was like, "Oh. They're screaming because they love Roberto," and this is crazy. It's heartwarming and so weird. Also, Alice Braga was right next to me and she's a legend. And I thought, "Oh, it's for Alice."

If you had superpowers yourself, would you have Sunspot's powers?

I love Sunspot's powers, I really do. I think they're so badass and you become so strong. But I think it would be a hard life to live day-to-day. Imagine, you're kissing a girl and you just ignite. If he controls himself, maybe, but I always thought Mystique's powers were awesome, that you could just be whoever you wanted to be and change the world in that way. Be Ryan Gosling for a day and see what that's like. I'm kidding. Teleportation — that, right now, would be awesome.

During COVID-19, I think that's probably the superpower everyone wants.

Yeah. Take me to the beach. Take me to my home in Brazil.

What do you hope fans get from this movie?

These are five different people that are incredibly different from one another, but all have this parallel life as a superhero. Mutant powers are just that — powerful. It causes them to make mistakes — they each have a lot of growing pains and I think that the audience members will be able to relate to at least one of them. What they are going through, I think, is going to hit home for a lot of people.

The New Mutants is coming to Blu-ray and VOD on November 17.