Fans following along with the lengthy development – leaked script included – and official marketing materials for the Deadpool movie should be familiar with “Francis” or has he very much prefers to be known as, Ajax. Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones, The Transporter Refueled) plays Ajax in the upcoming X-Men spinoff and serves as the primary antagonist of the feature.
Ajax is a messed up guy who does messed up things and loves every bit of it. And he can’t feel any pain. Ajax may be the main villain but he’s not the top dog behind the scenes in Deadpool. He serves another important character from Marvel Comics named Doctor Killebrew who only has a small part in the feature but who helps connect the origin of Deadpool to the nasty Weapon X Project where Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine got his metal skeleton and claws.
On the set of Deadpool in May 2015 we sat down with Skrein to talk about his role in these nasty experiments and his relationship with Deadpool, and for half the interview he seemingly remained in character when discussing Ajax’s thoughts on mutation.
Tell us a bit about your character.
Ed Skrein: My character’s name is Ajax. He’s the antagonist in the story. It’s a story of revenge from both sides, from Deadpool and Ajax. Ajax is a very fun character to play. He’s quite lighthearted in his approach to a lot of things. And I think he enjoys a lot of the things he’s doing. So in terms of the shoot, I’m having a lot of fun doing the scenes.
Can you tell us a bit about his motivations, his antagonism with Deadpool?
Ed Skrein: What’s interesting about Ajax is he’s had all of his nerve endings removed. So he can’t feel anything. He can’t feel pain. But that also, I think, has affected him psychologically as well. His motivations with Deadpool… I think Deadpool’s motivations towards Ajax are a lot stronger and full of a lot more visceral feelings than Ajax towards Deadpool. Chaos and violence is just what Ajax does. It’s just a game. It’s sort of just one big fun game. Win or lose, he feels nothing. So, yes, there is revenge, but it’s not as strong a motivator as Deadpool.
Ajax has history with Deadpool?
Ed Skrein: You see the history throughout the movie. So we go through different time zones. Actually, today we’re filming the first time they ever meet. We show a lot of what happens there. Then there’s a big time lapse and then we show the second half. So it’s kind of in two segments, two halves, like football, or soccer.
How has it been working with director Tim Miller?
Ed Skrein: Tim is brilliant. Tim has a very similar character to myself and very similar work ethic. He doesn’t mince his words. He is very direct, which I like. He is very clear in his directions, which I like. He’s had a very strong vision from the beginning, which is great. He’s got such a warped sense of humor that fits so well with this script and project.
You talked about your character having no nerve endings. Does he have any mutant powers?
Ed Skrein: He’s strong and agile to the limits of human capacity. They allude to some sort of healing factors, minor healing factors. In terms of his fighting, he’s about as strong and fast as it gets.
He’s responsible for scarring Wade?
Ed Skrein: Yes.
Why does he do that?
Ed Skrein: I think in Ajax’s eyes he’s improving him. All of Ajax’s victims are actually people that were going to die anyway and that he helps him to stay alive and to improve himself through mutation. Sometimes that mutation goes extremely well, sometimes it doesn’t. And to turn him into a mutant, really to subject him to extreme stress. So the disfiguration was just part of the process of making him better, of improving him, of helping him. In fact, I don’t think we’re enemies. I think Ajax is…you know, he should thank Ajax.
Talk about the other characters Ajax aligns himself with. Angel Dust (Gina Carano) I guess is one of them?
Ed Skrein: Yeah, Angel Dust is a very interesting character. They have a very close relationship, a rather ambiguous relationship. You can’t quite tell if it’s teacher/pupil, brother/sister, or lovers. It’s very ambiguous. We’re very close, very affective, very functional. She’s the muscle. We think about it as she’s the Joe Pesci to my De Niro, because if she could, she would smash and break and she’d commit horrendous violence. But, for me there’s no need for any violence that isn’t going to give us again. I think she has more sport in it.
So, a lot of the time I think Ajax is probably trying to mold her and make her into a more sophisticated mutant rather than the hothead that she perhaps is.
Then we’ve got Dr. Killebrew, which is the guy behind the guy, the mastermind behind the workshop. He’s an ominous figure that we just allude to a lot. He does feature.
And then we have plenty of henchmen that are all welcome to die, and most of them do.
And they work for you?
Ed Skrein: Mm-hmm, the workshop, the organization, which I suppose is like a military trauma center on the frontlines, although it’s in a suburban setting, which I suppose makes it even more creepy.
Is Ajax brought into that as a scientist?
Ed Skrein: I think he enjoys picking the wings off flies, or he would have when he was younger, and he’s graduated to this now. There’s a wonderful quote that Tim told me, which is: “First you have it done toy you, then you do it to others, and then you order others to do it.” I’ve now come to that third stage. Angel Dust is probably in the second stage, but hopefully she’ll graduate one day and take the reins.
Next Page: What Does Ajax Think About the X-Men?
Will this *pointing at concept art of Deadpool teasing Ajax about his name “Francis”* be in the movie and will it be like in the comics that Wade Wilson annoys him?
Ed Skrein: Yes.
Can you tell us something about it?
Ed Skrein: Our relationship is very much motivating by his baiting and goading of Ajax. The way he…I said that Ajax is very sort of placid and relaxed in a lot of his approach. But he oversteps the marker by finding out that my name is Francis, and I’ve obviously changed my name to something a little cooler and more masculine, to Ajax. That’s what he thinks, anyway.
So, that’s where the annoyance comes in. and that does motivate a lot of our relationship. In fact, when I was reading the script that was one of the most exciting things, was the relationship between me and Deadpool; that he’s not just a 2D boring villain. Every chance we get, we are really trying not to be the villain. As I say, I’m a good guy just trying to help people that are sick.
But he oversteps that. People come into the workshop and they very often start off brash and loud. But we quieten them down very quickly. Wade Wilson is another matter entirely. He’s probably unlike anything that we’ve come across before. And, yes, that annoys Ajax.
What are Ajax’s thoughts…I’m assuming he’s aware of the other X-Men and…?
Ed Skrein: Yes.
Not a fan?
Ed Skrein: Well, I think there are many ways to do it. There’s many ways to make music. You have boy bands, commercial boy bands, and you also have people in the underground that stay true to their beliefs and are pure about their beliefs. I think that Ajax is certainly happy to be in the underground. He looks at the X-Men as this One Direction of the mutant world. You know, they do what they are doing, but they are slightly different from his approach, I think.
Does Ajax consider himself a hero in his own way?
Ed Skrein: I don’t think a hero, necessarily. I think maybe a savior. I think there’s a God complex with this man, certainly.
How did you come across the role and how did you react when you heard that you had gotten it?
Ed Skrein: Well, I’m a huge, huge comic book fan and have been since I was a kid, and I’ve still got all of my comics from back in the day. I’ve always wanted to… loved the idea of being involved in this world. So when it came through, I was very excited.
Yeah, I did a self-tape because I was working on another movie at the time. I taped it with a friend of mine and sent it off and then did another audition in London. It was actually quite straightforward. I Skyped with Tim. Loved his philosophy and take on it, his vision for it, and jumped on board and have not regretted it for a second.
It’s a very fun shoot, actually. The fun sort of spills out from the script. It’s definitely the funniest script I’ve ever read. And the fun spills out into every day with Tim and all of the guys, the crew…We’re having a lot of fun and we’re messing around a lot and trying a lot of things. Some work, some don’t. But we’re just playing games every day. It’s an absolute dream.
How do you feel as a comic book fan about this movie, and how often do you have creative conversations about the direction this is being taken?
Ed Skrein: I think because Tim, Ryan, and pretty much everyone understands the characters so well, since the beginning we’ve kind of all just been on the right direction anyway. I don’t think anyone’s ever felt worried that we were stepping off the path; people would pull out very quickly. And it’s very important to us to do this properly.
That’s why I’m so pleased. When I read the script for the first time, I was just like, “Wow. Someone is really doing this? Like, we’re really doing Deadpool properly, faithfully to him.” Even just in terms of cinema, in terms of studio productions, there’s a…we’re pushing a lot of boundaries on this. I’m certainly ready for it as a fan. I believe that the world is ready for it. Every person I speak to in comic book shops and stuff like that, they are so hyped about it. I don’t tell them I’m working on the movie, but I love going in there and having a talk with them about it.
When it comes to the third act, we see this large set piece in the shipyard, I think it’s referred to as…
Ed Skrein: Scrapyard, yes.
Is this Ajax’s headquarters? What is this to Ajax?
Ed Skrein: The scrapyard is where… it’s the trap that I’ve laid for Deadpool with Vanessa being the bait. So, after I am released from prison and he ambushes me and gets the better of me, I go about evening things out. We sat the scrapyard up with Vanessa there as the bait and all hell breaks loose.
We have phenomenal coordination’s, set pieces that we’ve got for the scrapyard. It’s going to be absolutely epic.
Does Ajax experiment on Vanessa?
Ed Skrein: No. Well, not in the same way. But I do get my hands on her. She’s in my possession. And anybody that’s in Ajax’s possession will probably get messed with a little bit.
As a fan of the books yourself, outside of Ajax, what are you most excited about seeing from the other characters, maybe in the other X-Men films that are coming out?
Ed Skrein: I must say that I can’t wait to see all of the scenes that Ryan has filmed without me, because the way he is playing this Deadpool is just ridiculous. He’s been so funny and free with it and he’s really owning it. It’s a joy to watch, actually.
So there’s sections of the movie that I wasn’t a part of that I cannot wait to see. Actually, I’d say probably the thing I’m most excited about is Colossus. I cannot wait to see how we do Colossus. I also think we’re doing him properly. He’s the same size that he is in the comics. I think that’s going to be fantastic, especially because the mood of the film is so dark. In its tone, you have this big shiny warrior. I think he’s going to be amazing.
But to be honest, I’m excited about almost every movie that’s coming out of the Marvel roster for the next three or four years. I saw The Avengers the other day. That was great fun. And Ant-Man looks like it’s going to be great fun. You know, just seeing how everything evolves.
I know there’s so much interesting stuff happening in the comics at the moment that is going to be so interesting watch that translate onto screens in a decade’s time or whenever we get around to, you know, the possibilities of The Falcon taking over from Captain America, Spiderman 2099, and even the notion of Age of Apocalypse. That was my favorite time in comics. And that was really when I was really into comics, my early teens. So Age of Apocalypse could be brilliant. It’s a very exciting time as a fan.
As a fan as well, looking at these pictures I see an immediate connection or nod to The Avengers. Is that what’s going on with this Helicarrier-looking set piece? Is this leading to something like that? Or is that just a Deadpool nod?
Ed Skrein: In what sense?
That vehicle we’re seeing or these big set pieces.
Ed Skrein: Oh, right. It is a different vehicle. Yeah, this one doesn’t fly and Nick Fury is not in the back of it. That would have been fun. Who knows about the future?
I think we’ve tried to streamline in into the Marvel universe as such but also keep our independence. I think so far we’ve done that pretty well.
It sounds like your character is challenging both on the psychological side and on the physical side to portray. How did you prepare for it?
Ed Skrein: Physically by just putting in a lot of hard work. I trained for four weeks in London with a martial arts expert called Bob Breen, who’s fantastic. We worked on Filipino knife and stick fighting a lot of the time, English boxing, amongst other things. And then I came out here three weeks before the shoot and started working with the stunt team and a personal trainer. So we were training twice a day out here as well.
And then since the shoot started, I’ve just carried on as such. So it’s been three months of training now; just over three months of training now. So, I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m relaxed and excited about going into the fight sequences, which the scrapyard we start on Saturday. So, yeah, we’re all ready for it. What’s wonderful is because we started so early, we can go into it as relaxed as you can go into it, exactly the same as a sport event or competition. You train. You do the preparation before. And then on the day you can just sort of relax and do your best.
In terms of the character, I’ve been doing a lot of research on serial killers, especially the serial killers that don’t seem like serial killers—those strange people in prison that you look at and say, “You shouldn’t be in prison. You don’t like you should be in prison. You don’t talk like you should be in prison.” And then you find out they murdered 18 people and then went back and had lunch. And this absence of empathy and lack of responsibility that’s missing from their mentalities.
And then in terms of movie references, there’s Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, Roy Batty, his character, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. Harold Shipman was a big serial killer in Britain that I’ve drawn from quite a lot.
But I did so much work on that at the beginning. It’s very similar to the physical work. I spent so much time working on that that I got to the point where I was like, “OK. Just let all that go,” and now we’re just living it and having fun with it, and playing with it, and finding the right tone, and trying to make it as realistic, fun, and un-cliched as possible. So, challenging but an absolute joy.
Deadpool has a very iconic costume. So does Colossus and his allies, like Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Does Ajax wear gear or a costume or have weapons?
Ed Skrein: He’s very much nondescript military wear. I think the ideas of running around in Lycra, running around in tights is very much something that Ajax will leave to the superheroes and all the people that think they are superheroes. What we run is a profitable business and organization, a very effective organization. We control our little world inside this workshop. We’re all about function over fashion. So, certainly in this movie he’s very nondescript.
Thanks for your time!
Thank you guys. An absolute pleasure.
Tim Miller directs the film from a screenplay by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. It is produced by Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Ryan Reynolds, starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, and Leslie Uggams.
Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, DEADPOOL tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.
Deadpool opens in theaters February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit on October 7, 2016; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; Fantastic Four 2 on June 9, 2017; and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.