Hugh Jackman’s turn in Les Miserables last year cemented his status as one of the biggest film stars in the world. But it’s X-Men’s angry anti-hero Wolverine that has been the backbone of his career for a decade. He talks to Cahir O'Doherty about The Wolverine, the latest (and greatest) X-Men movie yet.
Hugh Jackman, 44, saunters into the Lotus Room suite of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Columbus Circle in New York dressed in a white Tom Ford shirt and black pants, looking every bit the movie star he is.
Celebrities are almost always shorter when you meet them, but Jackman is a rare exception. He’s what they call in Ireland a big lad, but in real life he turns out to be approachable and disarmingly friendly too. That’s unusual in the world of spoiled celebrities cluttering up the home page of TMZ.
In person Jackman turns out to be courteous, kind and funny. If you were expecting a gruff, monosyllabic Mel Gibson clone that laughingly resembles the character he plays on screen, think again.
Jackman can actually laugh at himself it turns out, and he enjoys a bit of banter. That lively Australian accent conveys the basic decency of the man. You could see yourself having a pint with him, which is the Irish way of saying he’s a decent skin.
Jackman is currently conducting a whistle-stop world tour to promote his latest solo X-Men film, The Wolverine. Stops have already taken him to London and Seoul, South Korea, but last week it was New York’s turn.
It probably helps that The Wolverine is, for my money, the best superhero action adventure film released since the classic era of Indiana Jones.
The film looks amazing, it’s never less than thrilling, and it’s propelled along not just by big action sequences and explosions but crucially also by character and the chemistry between the principal stars.
Set mostly in Japan, The Wolverine literally opens with a bang and the pace never flags until the final frame. Director James Mangold (famous for award winning Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) has crafted the best X-Men film I’ve ever seen, turning it into a kind of modern western (and at the same time a samurai epic) that sweeps you up from the first frame.
When the film opens Wolverine has become a disillusioned loner, a man who no longer trusts himself to be the hero that the world wants. He doesn’t believe in his super powers and he is certain he can’t be around others.
That means he has literally taken for the hills like a old soldier that has seen too much bloodshed and no longer wants to be a force for good or ill.
“You’re absolutely right that it’s like a western in places,” Jackman tells the Irish Voice. “In fact when James pitched it to me in the beginning he said tonally, I’m thinking of (the Clint Eastwood movie) The Outlaw Josey Wales. Immediately I knew we were making something different.”
The Wolverine opens in Japan in 1945 with the atom bomb about to fall on the city of Nagasaki at the end of World War II. It’s a terrifyingly vivid sequence, a reminder of the unspeakable destructive power of nuclear weapons. Fans will remember that Wolverine is immortal, but even superheroes will find this level of destruction and horror hard to deal with.
As a prisoner of war, Wolverine is given the opportunity to save someone’s life before the bomb drops, and that debt is repaid in an unexpected way decades later when the story reaches the present day.
“We didn’t worry about ratings, we didn’t worry about anything, or goal was to bring Wolverine to life,” says Jackman. His faith in story telling above every other consideration is the reason why the film succeeds.
“I originally got the part of Wolverine in 1999, and weirdly I’m enjoying playing the role now more than ever,” Jackman confesses. The early morning shoot gave him a foretaste of what it might be like to live that long. “Wolverine is somewhere between the ages of 150 and 300 in this film and some of the four o’clock mornings when I’d arrive on set I felt about 300 years old,” he laughs.
Jackman admits his take on the character has changed, and he brings this new awareness to the role.
“Maybe just being a little older my take has changed. As you can see by the title of the film we are focusing on his character and his journey. It’s a more intimate and interior story,” he says.
“We’re not wall to wall mutants and lasers flying all around. Having someone like James on board has made it a true drama. We get to see the human side, the vulnerabilities of Wolverine. All of these things have made it more challenging and more fun to play.”
It’s Jackman’s sixth turn in the role, and that may explain why it’s also his best performance ever. He has mined the character for its true potential and unleashed it in this go around. Fans of the series will want to cheer when they see it, I predict.
“As you change as a person you change as an actor and you change in your interpretation of a role,” says Jackman. “There’s something that stays essentially the same though, you’re looking to get inside the character. Even if they have ridiculous hair and a mutton chop beard.”
The Wolverine simply works on its own merits. You would enjoy it even if you’d never seen a previous X-Men film. It’s a great fish out of water story that takes Wolverine to Japan, a country that is completely foreign to him, where he doesn’t know anyone’s motivations, and he’s completely unhinged.
“He’s a natural outsider and the customs and history and traditions of Japan is the opposite of him,” says Jackman. “It’s the perfect place to out that character. That’s what it makes it a bit of a western film too. The western and the samurai film have a great deal in common as we’ve seen over the years.”
Ten minutes into The Wolverine you can expect to find yourself enjoying a big action adventure film in a way that you haven’t since the days of Indiana Jones. It’s because the film’s inspired director James Mangold consistently makes inspired choices.
“When you have 12 mutants and two hours each character gets 12 minutes if that,” says Mangold, explaining why this is a solo action hero flick.
“I think you need a story that has openings where people can reveal what’s inside them. The western is a beautiful example of action and character. It’s not about horses and guns; it’s about the people underneath. That’s what we were after.”
To get at the rage that drives Wolverine on, Jackman reveals that he called to mind his experiences of being bullied by his older brother and the internal anger it created. Jackman’s brother used to scoff at his career choice, and Jackman has carried that anger with him to this day.
“I was bullied by my big brother,” he says. “Playing Wolverine makes me think how I used to fight with him. He used to call me poofter and sissy for being interested in dancing. And by the time he said here was nothing wrong with that, I was too old. I was 18 by then. The rage I felt then, I can use to play Wolverine.”
Watch him take flight on July 26 and prepare to be dazzled.
Check out the trailer here: