There might be some auditions where a black eye or some rake marks on the cheek helps an actor get the role. But after a while, Daniel Cudmore had to give up rugby to get roles in major films.
It proved to be a smart move for the former lock on the storied Capilano club of West Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, Cudmore is one of three rugby-playing brothers. Younger sibling Luke was an age-grade player for Canada, while older brother Jamie suited up for Canada's senior team and played in three Rugby World Cups as well as being a ferocious presence as a pro, most notably for Clermont-Auvergne in France.
Daniel was in the middle, a 6-foot-7 forward with power who eventually chose the screen over the field. A quiet tower of strength as a player, he now embraces a similar role in X-Men: Days of Future Past, opening May 23, as Colossus (aka Piotr Rasputin), the reluctant Russian mutant who can turn his body into iron, but fears the destruction his own strength can bring. Cudmore started in film as a stunt performer, and he sometimes flitted between acting roles and stunt roles.
"The film industry is an extremely hard industry," he said, not adding that it helps to be 6-foot-7, strong and handsome. “You take any work you can get and with the stunt work I was very happy to get it. I have always wanted to be an actor. I wanted to play complex characters, and in a perfect world you get to do a bit of everything. You work and work and work and you're ecstatic when you get jobs. I guess now it’s nice as an actor to be able to do some of my own stunts."
Cudmore made his debut as Colossus in X-Men 2 back in 2003, but the role was a quiet one. He reprised the role in 2006 in X-Men: The Last Stand, while appearing in a number of films and TV shows as both an actor and stunt performer. He was also part of the Twilight Saga films as Felix.
But this time around, in Days of Future Past, he gets to stretch his acting chops a bit more. Colossus is the alter ego of Piotr Rasputin, a Russian farm boy and descendent of Grigori Rasputin, the power-hungry monk who (we’re talking real history here) had a role in the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. He is reluctant to fight, to unleash his full power, and as a result often uses his iron body to protect others.
Anyone who has played lock on a rugby field can understand that world view.
"Anyone who has played a contact sport understands that rugby is a very emotion-filled sport,” Cudmore explained. "It's easy to fly off the handle, but you also play mind games. If you laugh it off you can make the other guy more mad and that takes him off his game. You can use that to your advantage. With Rasputin, he's afraid of how strong he is, but in this iteration, you're going to see that he has gotten to the last resort. He is losing friends left and right and whereas in the past you’ve seen him not want to go down the road of violence, here it’s the only option and it’s survival mode."
One can see the parallel to his older brother, Jamie (below), a fearsome player for Canada, who became well-known in French league play for the many confrontations with opposing players, and the yellow and red cards he accumulated. When the brothers get together, they don’t talk much about rugby, but Daniel says he sees a parallel between his Rasputin/Colossus character and his hard-nosed brother.
"I know they were in the playoffs and they lost," Daniel said. "I don't bring it up -- he lives it. We don't really talk about our careers; we just basically rip on each other most of the time. But Jamie -- he's matured and has Rasputin's attitude rubbed off on him? [laughs] I don't know, maybe. I think he just realized it’s a good idea to play more on the field and not be sent to the sideline."
That speaks to Daniel’s attitude as an actor, too. He wants to be there, and in his latest film, he's not only there, he is there among a host of pretty famous people, such as Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman (not a big rugby guy, who knew?), and Ian McKellen.
"I am just so proud that we got the whole team back for the film," he said. "It's tough when you have as many great characters as we have, but you have to play those characters and play them to a story that makes sense. I think this is the best X-Men yet. I have been working on my craft and learning, and I felt great about how this film worked out. I got to have some fun with it."