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''X-Men'''s stars explain their paranormal pasts

The cast of the summer’s high stakes blockbuster talk about growing up as freaks and geeks

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Rebecca Romijn, X-Men
Neal Israelson

With Fox’s $75 million adaptation of the comic book ”The X-Men” now in theaters, the fiscal health of the studio — which has been damaged by a series of high-profile flops (”Titan A.E.,” ”The Beach”) — and, indeed, the entire future of this potential franchise depend on the film’s ability to lure more than just comic book junkies. True, the movie should gross at least $40 million in its opening weekend because of the legion of longtime readers, says Robert Backsbaum, President of Reel Source. ”But for it to do huge business [throughout the summer],” he says, ”it’s going to have to cross over into the date crowd and older audiences.”

Director Bryan Singer (”The Usual Suspects”), who was brought in to give the film some emotional heft, isn’t worried about its mainstream appeal: ”The backbone of the ‘X-Men’ universe has always been the sense of outcasts searching for a place to belong. And that theme is a very universal one. I think everybody — every adolescent, everyone in their professional life — feels that way at one point or another.” Turns out this includes the movie’s diverse cast, too: stage vets (Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart), former teen dream (James Marsden), professional wrestler (Tyler Mane), and actor/spokesmodels (Revlon’s Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

Yes, that’s right — even a superbabe like Romijn-Stamos, who plays the villainous blue-toned shape-shifter Mystique, once felt like a superfreak. ”I was much taller and skinnier than all of my friends,” says Romijn-Stamos, 27, of her teenage years, ”and I was really uncomfortable in my skin. I didn’t want anything below my neck to even exist.” Costar Famke Janssen (heroic telepath Jean Grey) had a similar inner-body experience. ”I felt different being born into a family of two blond sisters with blue eyes and me being the only brunet,” says the 35 year old Holland native. ”Then, as I started growing and growing and growing, and my girlfriends only got up to my waist by age 12, I felt VERY different.”

And while those two had to cope with being supersize, Janssen’s on-screen beau James Marsden (the X-Men leader, Cyclops) was a small fry in a corn-fed world. ”Puberty was definitely awkward for me,” explains the 26 year old. ”I grew up in Oklahoma, and I think I weighed a whopping 85 pounds in 8th grade. And in Oklahoma if you don’t play sports they basically throw you in the trash.”

Even Anna Paquin — whose Oscar win for ”The Piano” at age 11 should have assured her a lunchtime spot at the cool kids’ table — says she had plenty of awkward experiences to draw from in playing Rogue, the youngest of the X-Men. But unlike her costars, Paquin, now 17, isn’t quite ready to reveal all of them. ”I was probably the most shy and quiet seven year old on the face of the planet,” she does say. ”So I used a lot of that for playing Rogue, the ultimate outsider. Then there’s the whole adolescent thing, which I’m really not out of far enough to really talk about yet. Catch up with me in about 10 years’ time and I can tell you how stupid I felt.” We can hardly wait.