18 Years Later, Marvel's Most Nuanced Superhero Is Becoming a "Hardcore Villain"

18 Years Later, Marvel's Most Nuanced Superhero Is Becoming a "Hardcore Villain"

In Deadpool & Wolverine, there will be at least one reunion between former members of the X-Men. Eighteen years after he appeared as John “Pyro” Allerdyce in X-Men: The Last Stand, Aaron Stanford returns to the world of mutants to face off against Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in what may be the biggest, most self-aware Marvel movie of all time.

Deadpool [& Wolverine] is very over the top,” Stanford tells Inverse. “It’s a satire. It’s a send-up. So you will see a different tone and a different side of Pyro for sure.”

Ahead of the biggest movie of summer 2024, we caught up with Aaron Stanford to chat all things Pyro, his heroic turn as James Cole in 12 Monkeys, his unexpected cameo in Star Trek: Picard, and how he plays such haunted dudes so well.

Pyro (Aaron Stanford) gets his flame on in X2, circa 2003.

20th Century Fox

While Deadpool & Wolverine is thought to be the movie that will relaunch the X-Men as full-fledged members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Stanford remembers a time, back in 2003, when the X-Men franchise pretty much was the entire superhero movie business.

“That was the birth of it,” he says. “X2 was the first comic book movie of its kind that really wanted to be something different. It wanted to be taken seriously and thought of as more than just a comic book film. I think it sort of set the bar for what came after.”

He’s not wrong, and the proof is in the fact that in bringing Deadpool into the MCU, studio chief Kevin Feige and the Marvel powers-that-be decided they needed the legacy of the X-Men, too. Pyro is just one of many X-Men cameos expected in the film, with recent trailers also confirming the return of Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth.

“Pyro is definitely like bad. He’s a hardcore villain in this.”

For Stanford, the experience of being back in that world led to an unexpected reunion with Hugh Jackman, whom he shared the screen with in both X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).

“We just sort of reminisced a little bit,” Stanford says of his latest work with Jackman. “When we did those movies back then, X2 and X3, they were very, very big movies. I think back then, it was a six-month shoot. It was very intense. Like summer camp. Those people become your family.”

Cole (Aaron Stanford) causes several paradoxes in 12 Monkeys.


Another family that Aaron Stanford has kept close ties with is his 12 Monkeys collaborators. From 2015 to 2018, across four time-bending seasons on the SyFy Channel, Stanford played James Cole, a role originated by Bruce Willis in the famous 1995 movie.

“He’s a classic, but his performance in 12 Monkeys [the movie], is easily one of the best, most understated performances that he's ever given,” Stanford says. “And it's so different from so many of the things that he has done. I'm honored to be able to follow in his footsteps in the role.”

Could Stanford take on another Bruce Willis role? “Oh sure, I’d love to give my spin on Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker. Walking on broken glass with a couple of submachine guns. Why not?”

“I’d love to give my spin on Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”

As the hero of 12 Monkeys (dubbed “Time Jesus” by Todd Stashwick’s Deacon) Stanford played Cole with a mixture of danger and vulnerability. Although 12 Monkeys begins in a dystopic future in which a plague has wiped out most of the population, Stanford attributes the show’s loyal following to the fact that, ultimately, it’s a very optimistic arc. And that feature, he credits to showrunner Terry Matalas.

“That’s Terry,” Stanford says. “Terry will be the first one to tell you that he's a softie. So you do delve into the depths, but ultimately it is a story of hope and redemption and love.”

When Terry Matalas accepted a Saturn Award earlier this year, Stanford and his 12 Monkeys co-star Amanda Schull were on hand to present it. And this August, Stanford, Schull, Matalas, and their fellow Monkeys will crash the Las Vegas Star Trek convention with a reunion on stage, including Emily Hampshire, Kirk Acevedo, and Todd Stashwick. The Star Trek connection to 12 Monkeys is clear enough: While Hampshire and Shcull haven’t been in Star Trek (yet), Stanford joined Stashwick and Acevedo in a guest role in Picard Season 3, playing Fergeni drug lord named Sneed.

Sneed (Aaron Stanford) has all the space drugs in Star Trek: Picard.


“Terry called me up and he was like, read this scene,” Stanford says. “It was supposed to be like Drexl from True Romance. It was a blast. And I got paid the ultimate compliment by Armin Shimmerman, who originated the Fergeni [in The Next Generation] and played Quark [in Deep Space Nine]. He complimented me in Picard! That was one of the most flattering things that’s ever happened to me.”

Sadly, because Sneed is decapitated by Worf (Michael Dorn), Stanford never got to be on set with Patrick Stewart and have a Professor X/Pyro reunion. But he says he’s ready to work with Matalas again at any time, either in Star Trek, or the new Marvel series Vision, on which which Matalas is the showrunner. “We talk all the time. I always love to work with him.”

“There is a lot in X2 that makes Pyro complex.”

But, what of Stanford’s future in the MCU? He was 26 when he debuted his take on the fire-wielding mutant known as Pyro in X2. Today, he’s 47 and says he’s just as in touch with Pyro’s darkness as ever before.

“My characters do tend to have a dose of pathos in them, and maybe that’s just because I have a healthy dose in myself,” Stanford reflects. “Back on X2, Pyro was some deep dive character work. In my opinion, I think X2 gives him a complete psychological profile. It’s little scenes — he’s looking at a photo of someone else’s happy family. The moment where he has a flash of jealousy about Iceman and Rogue. And of course, the scene between him and Magneto where he sort of sees this father figure that maybe he never had. I think there is a lot in X2 that makes Pyro complex.”

Pyro is back and badder than ever.

Marvel Studios/20th Century Fox/Disney

But Stanford points out that the complex tortured Pyro of X2 and The Last Stand isn’t exactly the same guy you’ll get in Deadpool & Wolverine. In fact, X-Men fans should be ready for Pyro to be devoid of any redeeming qualities.

“You’re going to see that it’s much closer to caricature,” Stanford explains. “That’s the nature of the beast. It’s a very different tone. For an actor, it’s great. You’re really allowed to go for it.”

Stanford can’t say if Pyro is the only big bad of Deadpool & Wolverine, but he wants to make it clear that he’s following in the footsteps of Magento in one way.

“Pyro is definitely like bad,” Stanford says. “He’s a hardcore villain in this.”

Deadpool & Wolverine hits theaters on July 26, 2024.