Hugh Jackman was an unknown when he was cast to play Wolverine in the original movie adaptation of the X-Men. The film became a huge hit and launched Jackman into the upper echelons of stardom. He's played Wolverine three additional times since then, the latest in a solo adventure opening this Friday. He served as one of the film's producers as well as its star, and purportedly hand-picked Gavin Hood to direct it. Hood had made a name for himself with 2005's Tsotsi--shot in his native South Africa and recounting the redemption of a young slum-dweller who finds himself in possession of a kidnapped baby. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and brought Hood to the attention of Hollywood. He and his leading man spoke to Mania at the press day for Wolverine: discussing the challenges and rewards of bringing the character to life in his own project.
Question: Hugh, how protective do you feel about this movie as opposed to the other three X-Men films? This really is you front and center.
Hugh Jackman: There's no less effort or desire in me whenever I take a role. Obviously, this movie has a different dimension, since I was a producer. Yesterday, I was asking everybody what I thought of the movie and I found myself nervous. In that way, it feels more personal to me. It's more my baby. I asked all the actors and Gavin to come on board, so obviously I'm more attached to it. That's the difference.
Q: What were the challenges of honoring what had come before with this series while still adding something unique to the overall vision?
Gavin Hood: Coming into a franchise that's done as well as this one has, it's a little intimidating on some level. I think I was lucky that this was a prequel and not a sequel, because if you've never seen any of the other X-Men movies, you can still go along to this one and enjoy it. At the same time… I don't think a director ever consciously says, "I want to do something stylistically different." We don't really know how to do something other than the way it comes to us. It seemed to me that there was an opportunity here to do two things--to deliver the expected spectacle, action, energy and all that wonderful stuff; but also to do something really character driven. To work with very human emotions in what is otherwise a great big mythic comic book story.
What I wanted to be sure we did--and Hugh very much wanted this too--was to make sure people really attached themselves to the characters. It's very easy to get caught up in the visual effects and the action, and let that overwhelm you. The most important thing for me, at the end of the day, is when I've got a long lens on an actor's close-up. That's when I'm most focused, because if you don't crack that moment behind the eyes, all the effects in the world aren't going to save you. I'm proud of the performances of all our actors, because I really think we got that.
HJ: In particular, I'd point out Lynn Collins, who plays Silverfox. We needed to find a person who Wolverine could be in love with, but who also could be in love with him. I don't want to belittle anyone else in the cast--I'm so proud of them all--but I do want to say what an amazing job she did.
GH: I'll second that. Lynn probably had the hardest role in this movie. It's the one that's so easy to screw up. Well done Lynn and well done Hugh for saying so.
Q: Was there a big push and pull between the character development and the action?
HJ: Comic book fans love Wolverine--and all the X-Men characters--for more than the action. I think that's what set it apart from many other comic books. In the case of Wolverine, when he appeared it was almost revolutionary. He was the first anti-hero; it wasn't just good guys and bad guys, but an internal battle of good and bad going on within the character. That's why people relate to him. Yeah, he's cool and he's got claws, and the other characters can do amazing things with swords and cards, but each one of them has a personal battle going on.
The first priority for this movie is for it to be fun. I want people to come and have a great time. I want them to be entertained, to see it on a big screen with their friends and just have a ball. But we also have an opportunity to make them think a little bit, make them feel and take them on a journey through these characters.
Q: Did you need to reinterpret him for this new movie? Was there something different about him that you needed to find?
HJ: Everything felt new to me. It took me a little while to get over the fact that Halle Berry wasn't on set! Yes, I'm playing the same character, but we're filling in the first one hundred years of his life that hadn't been explored onscreen, and indeed had been unknown to him. It was a chance not only to reveal that but… you know, we didn't want that shot right at the beginning of the movie where people go "Yeah! It's Wolverine! He's so cool!" I wanted to see him evolve. You see him at the very beginning as a little kid, very unlike how you'd imagine Wolverine as a young boy. A wonderful young actor [Troy Sivan] played him. To watch him evolve was fantastic.
Part of the reason I wanted someone like Gav is because Gav is an amazing actor's director. He gets straight to the heart of it. He won't take any BS and he won't take anything less than your best, most committed work all the time. Gavin has that ability--and yes, this was my fourth time putting the claws on--to make it feel fresh, newer, deeper, and hopefully more honest.
Q: Do you ever get input from the fans?
HJ: As my fellow cast members are about to find out, every third day or so for the rest of their lives, they're going to hear a critique of how they played the part, what they should have done differently, and what they could do next time if they ever get a shot at it. I knew exactly what fans wanted--and I'm not just talking comic book fans, I'm talking fans of the movies. It's fair to say that by X-Men 3, Wolverine had gone a little soft. I kind of agree with them there. I think what fans love about Wolverine is his uncompromising approach to life. He is who he is, and he's not always a nice guy. He's got edge. He's an anti-hero. And yet there's also a vulnerability in there. There's conflict and battles going on in there. With Gav and the other actors, I had a chance to explore that more. I wanted the film to feel different, and Gav and I talked a lot about that. The aesthetic of it. The tone of it. It's a little darker, a little rawer, a little tougher… and hopefully, maybe a little more human. Because that's what's always appealed to me about the comic book.
[Smiles.] And no more black leather suits.
Q: Was there a certain satisfaction to finally show the completed version to an audience? What kind of reactions have you gotten to the film so far?
GH: The reaction seems to be positive, and absolutely it's satisfying. It was a huge shock for all of us when someone stole the movie. It would be like me reaching out to you guys in the press and grabbing all your notebooks right now and publishing whatever you've written. We'll just shove it out there and see what people think of your work. Every piece of work is molded and shaped until you feel ready to offer it to the public, knowing that you will be judged on that piece of work. So I'm thrilled that it's finally out there in the form that we wanted it to be seen, on the big screen. And thanks to everyone who waited and came to see it on the big screen.
Q: What was the best memory of working on the set?
GH: For me, it was trying to direct Hugh when he was underwater and couldn't listen to a single word I said. Hugh's submerged in this tank and he goes through a range of emotions, to put it bluntly. He enters the tank fairly nervous, but calm, he sees spinning needles coming down to enter his body, he goes through a period of escalation as his heart rate goes crazy, he kind of dies, and then he snaps out of the tank popping the claws the way you've all seen in the trailer. But he couldn't hear a thing I was saying, and he can't just do it by himself because the cameras are moving and he needs to respond with precise timing. So we developed a very advanced technique for this particular scene: I rolled up my sleeve, stuck my hand in the tank, held on to his big toe, and explained to him that I would grab a particular toe whenever he needed to change to the next emotional state. By the time I got down to the baby toe, he would come roaring out of the tank. And then he screwed it up! It was toe two and he thought it was toe five and came roaring out of the tank!
HJ: [Laughs.] That shot of me coming out of the tank is actually my response to the two dislocated toes on my right foot.