Philly fans — and even non-fans — of X-Men will have extra incentive to stand in line for the next iteration of the long-running franchise, Days of Future Past, when it opens on May 23rd. It stars Philly-bred actor Evan Jonigkeit as the quick-tongued, sure-footed Toad. He’s reprising the role played by Ray Park in the original X-Men trilogy.
I had a chance to catch up with the burgeoning star, who, full disclosure, I attended Neshaminy High School with back in the day. He opened up about his local beginnings with Mauckingbird Theatre Company, chumming around with Jennifer Lawrence on the set of X-Men, and what it was like having Kathleen Turner see him in his birthday suit on Broadway.
Ticket: Congratulations on getting cast in X-Men. How does it feel to be part of such a blockbuster film series?
Evan Jonigkeit: It feels amazing. It's crazy. I'm definitely feeling a lot of things right now. Excited and anxious to see the film. I just hope to bring justice to my version of the character for all the fans out there.
T: What was the audition process like?
EJ: It actually wasn't as bad as you might think. I did a videotaped audition for [Director Brian Singer]. I read a few lines, and there were also some camera shots. Next thing you know, I had my agent calling me to say I got the part.
T: It must have felt great to get that phone call.
EJ: It was incredible. Of course, I called my parents first. They were so excited. The one thought that really popped into my head was the fact that Brian Singer picked me to be part of something so huge. I really appreciate the fact that X-Men is such a big part of people's lives. I just think of all of the devoted fans who go to the Comic-Con conventions just for this franchise. That's really something.
T: Now, let's get to your character, Toad. You are a handsome guy, but your character, well, not so much. What was the process like getting uglified for the role?
EJ: It was quite a process. It was actually a lot of fun. They began by sculpting several molds of my head. The mold would be the first thing I would put on in the morning. From there, they would fit in all of the other prosthetic pieces. It took about three-and-a-half hours in the makeup chair.
T: You must've become pretty close with the makeup artists.
EJ: Oh yeah, we became super tight. There were four guys and one girl. They really knew their stuff. There were two different teams that worked on each of the characters in the movie. It was amazing how they brought each of them to life. You couldn't ask for better.
T: Were there any tough days on set for you wearing the costume?
EJ: It wasn't so bad, but I do remember one day when we were shooting in Montreal, and it was 95 degrees. I had to stay in character for 12 hours, and I was sweating my ass off. Like really bad. The sweat had gone all underneath my prosthetics. At the end of the day, it looked like I jumped into a swimming pool. But, you know you just have to grin and bear it, because you know it will all be worth it in the end.
T: Besides getting all made up, was there any certain workout regimen you had to follow?
EJ: It wasn't anything too crazy. Doing the motions of the character was a bit hard on my knees, so my trick was to do a lot of squats. [laughs] I definitely mastered my squats while shooting this movie.
T: What's the energy like on set while shooting such a big-budget movie?
EJ: The energy is nuts, man. There are so many people on set — maybe like 50 at all times. There are people yelling all kinds of stage directions. It's a lot different than being involved in a smaller production where there's just you, another actor and a few other people. Doing a movie this big is really quite a rush.
T: I bet it was surreal working side by side with Jennifer Lawrence?
EJ: It really was. Jen's super cool. She's a pro and very down to earth. We got a chance to hang out quite a bit, actually. You know, she is just a very humble girl who got lucky in landing some great roles. Her career path has been very inspiring to me.
T: Any co-stars you've kept in touch with after filming wrapped?
EJ: Honestly, when you wrap up, everyone kinds of goes their separate ways. There are a few that I still stay in touch with. Josh Helman, who plays William Stryker in the movie, is a close friend of mine. He actually lives four streets over from me In New York. I had him and his girlfriend over for dinner the other night.
T: I want to take a few to rewind back to your career beginnings. How did you know that acting is what you wanted to do?
EJ: Actually, it's something I didn't decide until much later in my life. I was in my second year at Temple. I met a guy named Bill Roudebush, who asked me if I wanted a small role in one his Tennesee Williams productions in Cape Cod. I took a chance, did it, and loved it. At night, I would perform in shows, and during the day I would get to lounge on a hammock in beautiful Cape Cod. I thought, I can get used to this! I really just took it from there.
T: You went on to do a lot of work in Philly with Mauckingbird Theatre Company. What was your favorite part about that time in your life?
EJ: Wow, there are so many great memories. I would say that my favorite part about that time was the people that I would meet. ... I miss doing those Philly shows, because you really get close with the actors in the production. It would be sad when a play would close, because you do become such a big part of each others lives, and you don't get to see them every day anymore.
T: You recently starred in High on Broadway alongside Kathleen Turner, who saw you in your birthday suit on stage. That must have been quite an experience.
EJ: Oh yeah, it was incredible. Kathleen was such a lovely leading lady to work with. She was so kind to me. She taught me a lot of tricks of the trade. It really blew my mind, because I never would have expected to learn the things about the business like I did. As far as being naked on stage, I really just looked at it like I was wearing another costume. Really just another day at the office. [laughs]
T: What's next for you?
EJ: I've been working on some writing. I also have some more film opportunities on the horizon. For right now, though, I've been doing a bit of traveling and really just anticipating the movie coming out.
T: One last thing before we go, how are things with your girlfriend Zosia [Mamet]?
EJ: Ah, she's great. She's back on the grind filming Girls. She's doing very well.
T: Ready to put a ring on it?
EJ: [laughs] No comment.
See Jonigkeit in X-Men: Days of Future Past when it opens in Philadelphia on May 23rd.