TORONTO - It's March 1 and the cast of X-Men has long vacated, except for Hugh Jackman, who is still hard at work. Replacing Dougray Scott - who couldn't play Wolverine because of commitments to Mission: Impossible 2 - Jackman joined the cast of X-Men as its most important character, weeks after the movie began production.
Last to get there, last to leave. And on this day, Jackman, with his entire body drawn up like a grid, is strapped to a table and dunked in water several times for the flashbacks where Wolverine gets his adamantium. One final test for his tired body.
But all the work paid off. Jackman's gritty-yet-sensitive performance as the mutant known as Logan earned strong reviews, and X-Men has made him a star.
The movie did pretty well, too. X-Men has just edged over $157 million. With the X-Men DVD coming out on Nov. 21, The Continuum is presenting - in its entirety for the first time - this on-set interview with Jackman.
The Continuum: How has the X-Men experience been for you?
Jackman: It's been great. In terms of my first American movie, it's really exceeded all of my expectations. I think, just generally, the film, for everyone, has been so fantastic. It's been very challenging, a lot of fun, fantastic cast, brilliant crew. It's been real satisfying.
I'm tired. It's been the most exhausting work I've ever done in many
ways with the intensity of the role, in every way, both emotionally and
physically. The last month or so has brutal in a way, but in a way Wolverine
would appreciate. Brutal is good.
The Continuum: What's your take on Wolverine?
Jackman: My take on Logan is that he's a very restless character. It's sort of very easy to say that he's kind of angry, but I think really what it is is that he has no peace in any way. There's no peace about him. So he's searching for so many things. This is kind of on a deep level. He's searching for a history; he's searching for a past. They are things I don't think anyone can really relate to. The guy's got no memory beyond from what we've decided is 15 years ago. And no one knows how long he's been around prior to that.
He's a loner by nature, very independent. So he likes to think that he can do it on his own, and he does think that, and probably foolishly sometimes thinks he can do it better on his own. That makes it even harder for him in a way to cope with everything that's happened to him. He's a very impulsive person, rash, acts before he thinks sometimes and also confident, very confident in himself.
In terms of being a mutant and being grouped in with the mutants, he's very wary of Professor Xavier and his whole clan because he innately sees something very dangerous about any kind of organization, which is, you know, a probably very wise thing. It makes him kind of cynical about it and very wary, and ultimately, to Professor Xavier, very loyal because he goes through.
Everybody, with Logan, has to earn his respect, and it's pretty hard. And when they have earned it, it's for life. By the end of this movie, he's got a lot of respect for a lot of them, but none more than Professor Xavier. And he was probably the most skeptical of him, everything he stands for, the authority figure. An authority figure is the antithesis to what Logan would respect. But he grows to realize he's a man of honor and believe in what he's doing. If we do more movies, you'll still see them in fights and arguing and this and that, probably until the day they die.
He's confident about himself, but he's got a sense of humor. He enjoys, and this is probably why it's good to have an Australian in the role, bringing people down to what he thinks is an acceptable level. No one is too tall. No one's beyond a little bit of ribbing. As we say in Australia, if they're knocking you, that's a sign of affection. I think Wolverine's got a little bit of that in him.
The Continuum: Was it harder coming in late to the production?
Jackman: Harder in some ways. Being one of the main characters, I think as an actor, you like being there in from the beginning so you can help set the tone for the movie and the making of your character. But having Bryan (Singer, the director) is fantastic. He was very attentive and challenging of me. We had a lot of discussions early on. We sometimes held up shooting because we were trying to work things out. But it was vital. We had to make Wolverine - like every character in this - three-dimensional. We couldn't skim over things. We had to ask, 'Why is he like this? Why is he angry?'
So, in that way, it's hard as an actor because you feel a certain pressure because there's a roll on already in terms of the momentum of the movie and you want to keep it going.There is a momentum, and everyone's comfortable. The crew's all comfortable with each other and they've already worked out their politics that happens on every movie. Every time, I'd prefer to start out at the beginning, particularly on a role this big. It also meant I was working almost seven days a week. I think last Saturday was my first day off in 20 days, it was pretty tough.
The Continuum: Do you realize the popularity of the character?
Jackman: Yeah, there's a lot of responsibility in playing a role like Wolverine. I always thought as an actor that playing someone who's famous and still living was probably the most daunting prospect because everyone's got something to refer to. In a way, playing Wolverine is even a greater challenge. He looms and looms so prominently in so many people's imaginations. I've met people that have tattoos of Wolverine or tell me, 'Oh, my dog's named Logan.' Then you think, 'He means a lot to them.' The comic's been around 35 years, and probably a lot of people have waited a long time for this movie.
I sat down with a group of writers from science-fiction magazines, there was about 10 of them, and I sat down with them and it was kind of silent in the beginning. And then one of them said, 'Excuse us, but we're looking at Wolverine!' They were all staring going, 'Wow! This is Wolverine.' That's really exciting. It's kind of a daunting prospect, and it will become more daunting to me. When you're on set, and you're filming, and you have a director and actors and a script to work with, and you have to treat it as a role. I put my heart into everything, but you have to treat it as a role. You're bringing a role to life. You can't possibly be carrying the weight and expectations of millions of fans around the world every time you do a take. You have to be playing the role.
I'm sure it will become painfully aware to me just how well I've done. Let's hope it's not hate mail coming in my direction.
The Continuum: You're Australian and Wolverine's Canadian. Will you speak with a Canadian accent?
Jackman: I don't. We did talk about and we were going to do that. There were several factors. We do set where you find in Logan is in Canada. We've kind of discussed where he's from, but you don't really know where he's from. So we've made him kind of generic American in terms of his accent. There's another factor to that. People in North America can understand the difference. People outside North America don't. If you're Australian, putting on an accent, we were just afraid it would take people out even if you were doing the correct Canadian sounds. People would go, 'He's got it wrong.'
We got the 'bub' in there. We kept playing with that. Bryan's fantastic like that. Sometimes it wouldn't be in there, and at the end of this fight with Sabretooth, one of the lines is, 'I ain't finished with you yet.' And I just came into it and said, 'I ain't finished with you yet, bub.' And we cut, and he went, 'Yeah!' It's very hard to do self-consciously things that are so idiosyncratic in the comic, so you just chuck them in there when it feels right, and we chucked them in a few times. It'll be up to Bryan and the editor to see how many times it makes it, but I hope it does. It feels right saying it. It feels right.
I hope the Canadian connection aren't going to be too upset. I'd like to think, in terms of characterization, that, yeah, he's living in Canada.
Canada is home. He doesn't know where he was born, let alone how old
he is for crying out loud. We didn't play it up. I don't want to make too
many excuses for it, but we didn't want to confuse the wider audience.
We always have to be careful with a movie like this. As well as catering
to the people who know everything about it, we have a large audience out
there we want to bring to X-Men. It's just one of those things that got
sacrificed along the way.
The Continuum: Were the claws dangerous?
Jackman: (Laughs and points to his knee) I got a little scar. That's three months old. I've got a little scar on my forehead where I've cut myself open. We were about to go on the next take and someone said, 'Cut.' And I said, 'What?' And the blood's coming out. This little one went through rubber that thick, which is in my suit, and went straight through and punctured my leg. I didn't even realize it, that it was so sharp. We then had to modify it. Those things are deadly weapons. They're pretty scary to use at times -- fun, too.
I have the first pair that we tried. They were metal and were sharp as a needle at the end, and they were just lethal. And I said, 'I don't know when we can use these.' We certainly couldn't in any fight because one slip, and that would be it.
They were fun to use. Getting used to fighting them was hard because I'm so used to fighting all the time and going to that distance. When you fight with them, you only go to this distance, to you avoid killing someone. So you don't have to get nearly as close. We did a lot of training. A heavy part of my first bit when I arrived was three weeks of heavy fight training, every day.
I've done a lot of fighting on screen and I've done some stage shows where you had fights every night, so I've got the techniques down. This particular fighting was different. It was more Mike Tyson street brawling. And I wanted to make him like. I didn't want to make him look pretty. I wanted to make him look vicious.
The Continuum: There was quite a reaction to Wolverine popping his claws at the end of the first trailer.
Jackman: It's a fun moment. We now know it as "shooking." To "shook" is the new verb. For whatever reason, the first script we all got had the word S-H-O-O-K in big print. And Logan 'shooks' his claw. Shook! We all thought of different words, but 'shook' has remained. The trailer is the first shook. I love that moment. 'Shook!' And then Patrick Stewart says, 'We're not what you think.' I love that trailer. I think it's looking pretty good.
The Continuum: And its shows you fighting with Tyler Mane/Sabretooth. What was that like?
Jackman: Having been a professional wrestler, he's unbelievable. He can go within this distance of you every time and make it look very real - and never hurt you. He prides of himself on that. The good thing about Tyler is that he can take some punishment. There's some shots when I'm on wires and smack him as hard as I can in the chest. He just brushes this off.
And, 'I'm glad I didn't meet in a back alley!' He can take some punishment for sure.
He's great. A real perfectionist, which I love. It was so great with the Sabretooth-Logan in the comics, it's such a huge rivalry the two of them have. It will continue!
The Continuum: Will Logan have a relationship with Jean Grey?
Jackman: It's explored (laughs). Who wouldn't? She's kinda hot. It definitely explores Wolverine's flirtier side. Sometimes it's hard to tell, whether he's genuinely really attracted, or whether he enjoys flirting of whether he just enjoys pissing Cyclops off. It's probably a mixture of all three. The relationship with Jean Grey, because it is sexual and he is sexual attracted, but he also really likes her - I mean, in a friendly sort of way. It all hovers in there.
It's so great to have super-heroes with flaws. They've all got their own little things, and they're all explored in this movie. It's a daunting task to write a script in a modern movie with eight, nine, 10 characters. Eight, at least with a lot of dialogue. Sabretooth doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but it's as big of a character as Chewbacca in Star Wars. People have to know him, Toad as well and Mystique. They're all explored here, and it's a huge story-telling task, to introduce all those characters, and then get a story in there.
I think they do a great job of it in the script. Bryan is interested in the characters. He's interested in what makes them all tick and their flaws. That's obviously why they hired Bryan. You look at his movies - The Usual Suspects - they're interesting and they'll unpredictable. That's what makes X-Men, to me, stand out from a lot of comics series, too, the depth of the characterization. That's why people are still in love with them and follow them 35 years later. I hope that really does come out.
The Continuum: Are you involved in a lot of special effects scenes?
Jackman: In terms of the visual effects and the stuff I've seen, I would describe it as smart. It's all there and it's the highest-grade visual effects you can imagine and yet sometimes you go, 'What was that?' And then you're back to the action, and Toad's just gone 100 feet up the side of a wall. It was100 feet away in the shot.
It's smart. I've seen some heavy visual effects scenes without any of the visual effects - it's before they're done. And the scene is just fascinating because he concentrates on the battles and the conflicts and what's going on between the characters. Apart from Sabretooth and Logan - which is going to be pretty amazing and it's going to look incredible with the claws - but at the end of the day, it's all about these two adversaries getting together and setting up this awesome rivalry.
And that's what Bryan brings out. That's why he's got actors such as Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry -- all these great actors. Even in doing a visual effects movie from a super-hero comic, it's all got to be about the acting.
The Continuum: What was it like working with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart?
Jackman: I've worked in London on stage. A lot of my history is English. My parents and English, and I've been to England a lot. Now, American audiences will catch on, they know of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. But, the two of them together, in terms of English theater, is as powerful as DeNiro and Pacino together in Heat. These are two of the great masters of English theater. The stuff they've done here is incredible. The two of them together have some great scenes.
They add a lot of weight to the whole piece, real integrity. The one thing you can say about both of them as actors is they have such integrity. I learned so much just working with them. It's all heart, they care so much about it. They're on, they're just phenomenal.
We did one scene with Patrick Stewart where he's trying to get Logan to stick around. We did about five or six takes of this monologue. Not much was said. Bryan would say the odd thing about this line or that line, but not much was said. I remember after the first take going, 'This is so brilliant. I wonder if he can get him to do it again.' And he got him to do it five or six times. I thought, "Why did he get him to do it so many times?" It was brilliant, and different every time. Then Bryan said, "Cut! I really only needed to do it once, but I got five brilliant takes. Which director wouldn't ask for it?" He said, "I could keep going. They're all brilliant. I don't know which one to use."
Bryan just kept going; he was amazed to watch this actor invent different ways with the same monologue. I mean, what a gift. And I'm this close to him watching him do this.
The Continuum: Is it intimidating?
Jackman: Somehow, with them it's not intimidating. You almost feel honored. It's in the way they act. That's why I mention integrity. They're from the school of acting where good actors make other actors look better. When you do act with them, it is easier. It's not intimidating because they're so present and they're so there for you. You can't help but be there and make spontaneous choices. It's a bizarre thing. I haven't come across that intimidating feel yet. I'm in awe of them, not intimated.
Also, playing Logan is a pretty good way of not being intimidated. He
hears the monologue, and it's like, "Yeah, yeah..."
The Continuum: What's the costume like?
Jackman: When I first put it on, I could barely breathe because it was so tight. But once I wore it in... Generally, I really liked them. I thought they felt very strong. I thought they were really sleek and relatively simple too. I didn't know what they were going to be like. It was difficult at times. You don't know how many times I'd ripped the ass out of them when I was dropping down to do stunts. Rips here and there, and then you would get so hot during the fights. I got heat exhaustion the one night and because we kept going and going and going and before I knew it I was throwing up. I took the thing off and I had ice packs over my whole body and I was still sweating. It was so hot. I thought they would look good.
The Continuum: Did you work out a lot for this role?
Jackman: We were all at the same gym. I kind of thought about working out with Tyler, but then I thought, 'Not a good idea.' We had to maintain this rivalry, you see, for the public. I had to work out and I had to work out with a trainer. Otherwise, after a 16-hour day, I'd convince myself I didn't need it. I'd have a trainer to make sure I went. He was a mad X-Men fan. He would basically cancel any client to take on Wolverine. And he would ream me out, he was so intense. He'd ring me up, and it's 9 o'clock in the morning, and he'd say, "Wolverine, get to the gym!" I'd wake up and go.
The training is a really important part because you get to try on your
character. When you're training, you're into physical extension, the hardest
you can go, and it's so keyed into the character. Every time I'd train,
I'd click over a little bit and imagine it's Wolverine training.
The Continuum: You're not going to keep the mutton chops?
Jackman: I'll definitely shave. My wife has a big say in that. Yeah, I will. I don't think I'll be setting any fashion trends. I don't know about the mutton chops. You never know about the hair. But the mutton chops, I don't think so.
The Continuum: Do you think that the film will satisfy the diehard X-Men fans?
Jackman: I want them to know that the loyalty of the fans has really been at the forefront of our heads, in the whole time for the decision making, we've wanted to stay true to what the comic book is all about. When, at times, we've taken any kinds of liberties with it, it's been a hard decision. I think we all appreciate their loyalty and their support throughout the web sites and stuff. I hope they share our vision that this is going to be a really cool and groundbreaking movie in this genre. That's what we've tried to do. I got to tell ya, from cast and crew, there are so many fans, and they've all put their hearts into it, and I hope this is the beginning of many X-Men films.
The Continuum: Would you come back for a sequel?
Jackman: I think so. I'd love to come back. All the cast and crew would love to re-visit these characters and work with each other again. I always think when you create a character that you really love and you respect - and I think all of us got to that point - it's a shame to put it away. I supposed that's what I love about the theater. You spend eight weeks creating a character and then you get to revisit every night and it's never the same and you get to flush it out many times. Whereas in a film, you're flushing it out in different ways every day and then after three months, you put it to bed and say goodbye. Sometimes it's a blessing if you haven't had a good experience. But with this, I'd be really, really happy to come back to it. I'm looking forward to a bit of break. My body's looking forward to a bit of a break.