Posted by director James Mangold on Twitter, the first look at Merchant’s character in the threequel shows the actor pale-eyed, unhealthy-looking and with bleached eyelashes and eyebrows.
To many comic-book fans it was instantly clear who he was meant to be playing – tracking mutant and outcast Caliban, who first appeared in X-Men comics in 1981.
Merchant later posted another image of himself on Instagram, which seemed to further confirm the casting by dressing the character in Caliban’s outfit from his first appearance (which you can glimpse in the panels above).
A post shared by Stephen Merchant (@stephenmerchant) on
Now, if it is Caliban that Merchant is playing (it’s not been confirmed by the studio) then it’s an interesting choice, with the character having a long and torrid history over four decades of comic-book appearances.
In his first couple of appearances he was explained as a simple-minded mutant (who spoke in the third person) with physical disfigurements, who also had the ability to track other mutants within a 25-mile radius.
Later however, the kind-hearted Caliban was recruited by ancient mutant Apocalypse (played in the most recent X-Men movie by Oscar Isaac), granting him super-strength, intelligence and more ferocious tendencies in return for his servitude. Since then, Caliban has wavered between the sides of good and evil, though his tracking abilities have made him prized by mutants and mutant-hunting humans alike.
Caliban after his powers were enhanced by Apocalypse
Anyway, based on the pictures it seems clear that Merchant would be playing the earlier version of Caliban, who is presumably either enlisted by Wolverine to track down someone or used to try and track down Wolverine. It probably isn’t a massive role in the finished film – but it does come with complications, because Merchant isn’t the first Caliban we’ve seen on screen.
In fact just last year Tómas Lemarquis played the character in blockbuster X-Men: Apocalypse as a kind of black marketeer, still with the tracking abilities and habit of referring to himself in the third person but higher intelligence, so it’s unclear whether Merchant is playing an older version of his portrayal (as Logan is set at some point in the future, while X-Men: Apocalypse took place in the 80s).
Still, whatever the truth, one thing is for sure – Stephen Merchant knows how to get the most out of a shaved head, and we should all salute him for that pragmatism. Who knew he had such bald ambition?