On Set Interview: Hugh Jackman Pitches Us His Vision Of The Wolverine

DF-19261rv2Late last year, I travelled down to Australia and visited the set of The Wolverine. During my trip, I spoke to most of the film’s key cast and crew, and I’ve been sharing reports here under the WSR tag.

Today, I’m going to share what Hugh Jackman told me. Here are some of his comments on The Wolverine, on Logan, on studying the young Mike Tyson, taking advice from The Rock and changing the film’s storyline from the comics.

The script that Christopher McQuarrie originally delivered was fantastic, and that’s why Darren Aronofsky first came on board. But for personal reasons Aronofsky couldn’t continue, and that obviously caused delay. Then there were delays with my schedule, there were delays here and there. But there was never a doubt that the movie was going to be made, so I never had that worry. Fox were committed to it.

And it was worth the wait. I’ve waited 12 years for this Japanese saga, this samurai story. From the very first week I had on X-Men, I was reading this comic, and Lauren Shuler Donner and I were saying, “Oh one day, you never know, hopefully we’ll get to this story.” Maybe in the past we’ve had time where we’ve had late changes of director but have also been backed into a release date so we’ve had to push. It was nice to know that we started this film with something really solid and we weren’t going to start shooting until it was a 100% right.

I’ve always found it fascinating and, I’ll admit, slightly frustrating that we’ve never delivered what I would say is the core of the character. In this story you get to see the ultimate Wolverine. You get to see who he really is. You definitely see him at his most vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, and we’ve had the preparation time, so we were really in great shape to deliver that.

In the X-Men movies, there are all these characters, many character arcs and the real difficulty with that comes in needing to serve so many different story lines in one,  keeping the overall world of X-Men in play. So it’s a very difficult task, although Brian Singer did a brilliant job in starting that and also setting a tone that didn’t exist before. There was no Christopher Nolan Batman back then, comic book movies were as cold as ice. A comic book movie where you cared about the characters didn’t exist. So give Singer a lot of credit for what he created there.

wolverine japanese teaser posterI’m really pleased that the fans have seemingly embraced me in the part and I love playing the part. I never thought my run would last this long, particularly for a guy who can’t age. Obviously there is a shelf life to playing this role.

I think, for whatever reason there were a number of things working against us at the time X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but we all put our heart and soul into it. Honestly, when I watched it, I said “I still don’t feel like we’ve delivered who my vision of this character is,” and I think it’s the fans’ vision as well. So I’m really thrilled we got another shot at it.

There’s a number of things at play here. One is that human-animal war that’s going on within Logan, which, hopefully on a far smaller scale, we can identify as something we all have on a day-to-day basis. It’s the chaos-control theory. The claws are an embodiment of the animalistic side to him. They come out, generally, with rage, and Wolverine’s a character who is at war with himself and with that rage as much as anything. In a way, you could say his greatest enemy is himself.

In this movie, he starts at his lowest point. In the beginning, he’s without purpose, he’s without a reason, and through the samurai story and through being in this foreign land, he’s forced to embrace who he is… or not. I won’t give it away.

Wolverine hasn’t got the most spectacular powers of all the X-Men. He can’t fly, he can’t jump, no laserbeams. He’s got a healing ability which is fantastic and of course, these claws. I think his greatest weapon is who he is inside, regardless of the powers.

If you took away all their powers, I’m pretty sure, of all the X-Men, Wolverine’s the one you don’t want to piss off. He’s the one you want on your side, and definitely not against you because he just won’t stop until he’s dead, or you’re dead. You’d be dead first, usually.

I definitely know that internal rage. I think one of the things I always loved about the comics was this idea that, this character, when he goes into what they call “Berserker Rage”, when he goes berserk, that white blind rage which he has, i makes him incredibly powerful. But it’s also a great flaw. It’s almost like he loses consciousness of what he’s doing. And during that, he can do great damage as well.

The Wolverine (Wolverine and Yukio)I can remember feeling like that vividly, at times. Usually, and luckily, that took place for me on a rugby field where it was somehow sanctioned, all this violence. 

I would say this film’s got a generally darker overtone to it. You see him at a much lower ebb. Jim [director James Mangold] and I were very adamant that any kind of quipping, or one liners should never come at the expense of what’s really going on for him in an emotional sense. But usually that’s true in life: the ones who are more deeply, internally in pain are often, on the surface, be more sardonic and can quip and make one liners.

 The trick is really getting the line right, so it doesn’t become hammy. I find myself ad-libbing a lot, and I’m sure 90% of the ad-lbs end up on the cutting room floor. Then again, in X-Men 1 most of the funny lines were ad-libbed. So sometimes they work.

One of the great things about having the preparation time is that we started about 18 months before filming, when I first thought we were going to gear up and go. I changed my training for this. Over the years I’ve got smarter with it. Unfortunately I realised I needed to train a little harder to get what I wanted for this film – a leaner, more animalistic look. And I wanted to be as big as I possibly could be, which is hard for me because I’m quite skinny, so I started eating six or seven meals a day from January, and training about three hours a day.

I rang Dwayne [Johnson] for help. I saw him between The Tooth Fairy and Fast and Furious 6, and he’d put on 25 pounds, which, in muscle, is a lot. It really is hard to put on that amount of muscle, and he did it in six months. He  sent me this entire diet, 6000 calories a day, and said “this is what you do,” and so I basically followed that.

I don’t want to implicitly just say “He becomes a martial artist” or “He becomes a samurai.” What happens is that Wolverine is a warrior by nature, a man whose weapons and strength are not pretty, more instinctive, a little more brutal. I think I’ve told you guys before I used to watch a lot of Mike Tyson videos, looking at him as an early boxer. That’s what I tried to model Logan on. And what happens in this story, following the comic book arc, is that he realises, actually, being a warrior doesn’t always work for him and that, somehow the calmer, more efficient, more disciplined approach of the samurai is more effective.

And so, in a painful way, he learns many lessons, and adapts. That’s one thing I think is good about Wolverine: he can adapt. And so we do see him adapting, I’m not going to say he’s going to finish a triple black-belt, but you do see him adjust his style. I’ve been learning the new fighting style a lot for this, which is great.

The WolverineI would say the overtones in this movie probably expands a little more from the idea of discrimination of minorities, more to discussion of life and death and more elemental questions of “What’s our purpose? Why do live? Who are we?” and that kind of thing. That’s sort of the battle Wolverine is struggling with.

We just did a scene where he’s questioned about “his kind,” and it bristles lots, so that still obviously is there, the differences between mutants and everybody else is very much part of the X-Men lore, and I think people really attach to it and just relate to it so much, particularly teenagers. But this film’s themes are even more epic, even bigger than that.

There are reasons we’ve had to change the story from the comics which I don’t want to give away, but there are more similarities than differences. For the purpose of story and film, and for less of a rambling arc, it has been changed. Fans will definitely be excited by the handling of the comic, fans and will definitely see the many similarities.

The moment the studio decided to call it The Wolverine I was thrilled. Rather than saying Wolverine 2, we’re saying this is a stand alone, different movie. This is set at a different time, it’s a fair way after X-Men Origins, we’re in a different location. And Jim Mangold’s a terrific director who has brought a visual style that is different from all the other X-Men movies. I think it’s going to feel very fresh.

Thanks again to Hugh Jackman for taking the time to talk to me, and for letting me try on the claws – which is something I went into detail about in a recent issue of Bleeding Cool Magazine, but in short, involves holding your wrist just so to maintain the illusion of the blades extending beyond the wrist.

It was a pretty geeky time, I can tell you.

The Wolverine will be released on July 25th. More from the set reports between now and then.