While on the set of The Wolverine last fall, we traveled back and forth from the outdoor overnight shoot where Hugh Jackman was working on a major action sequence and the indoor main stages of Fox Studios Australia. Director James Mangold and producer Hutch Parker took time from their schedules during our tour to talk about the latest entry in the X-Men franchise.
The Wolverine marks the first time Hutch Parker steps into the producer role and he’s proud to have chosen this one in particular as he explains in our interview.
Tell us about your history with the X-Men franchise and how you moved into a producer role for this film.
“My background is almost all studio. I was at Fox, between Fox and Regency, for 17 years, so my association with the franchise goes back to the beginning. Really, Tom Rothman was at the helm and kind of the chief custodian and then after the first I was President overseeing X2 and then 3 and then Wolverine and the beginning of X-Men: First Class. The relationship is pretty longstanding, and both with Lauren, the original producer, and with Hugh, the various filmmakers, and the mythologies, you know, all the various scripts that were discussed and developed, and considered, ruled out or ruled in, all of that sort of thing.
I think a lot of that is why when this one came along and it was going to be in Australia, Lauren wasn’t able to go. It made sense for Fox and for the project. It was just a good fit. I’m familiar with it, know the studio well, knew Jim [Mangold] well, know Hugh [Jackman] well. It just kind of made all around sense.”
Did you always know that The Wolverine, the Japanese story arc specifically, was on its way, and the second part of that is, did you know that it would be based after all the other films?
“The first part, yes. This comic is one that I think for everybody really stands as one of the most important comics in the great library of Wolverine comics, and one that kind of held a unique place for everybody. It’s such a powerful journey for his character. I think the challenge always was in mounting these films, on the one hand you have an obligation to deliver a level of spectacle, a level of audience entertainment, not just for the fans, but for everybody else. At the same time, in constantly driving, we all know that the key is character, that what really bonds and audience to these stories is when you manage to take them to a more specific and interesting place with regard to the characters.
And with X-Men that’s a lot of characters to manage. There’s a lot to try to balance all the time, and I think we did it to better degrees and lesser degrees at different times. But I think for all of us, unquestionably there was a longing to tackle something as specific and as profound a storyline as the one embedded in The Wolverine. It really became a question of when was the right time. I think for Fox, Lauren had long championed it. I think it was one she had long been a fan of, and all of us who were reading the comics felt this was one you had to do. But to their credit it was always a question of when and coming off the last Wolverine having really closed the traditional X-Men franchise and having started a new chapter with X-Men First Class the table was set ready to tackle a whole new chapter for Wolverine and I couldn’t have been more thrilled because I believe the tone of this, both the tone that Jim has brought but the tone embedded in the comic itself is what the next step should be.
Frankly, I sort of long felt that a more reality-based, both psychologically, emotionally but in terms of the environment was certainly what I longed for and when I feel the most connected and compelled. And this, almost more so than any other I can think of, the fact that it’s set in Japan which is both alien and yet real, as opposed to having to take us to either some fantasized environment or rely on really histrionic characters to challenge him in new ways. This gave us a venue that could take him further away from everything he knows, detach him from everything he knows and relies on, and force him into confronting the core challenges of his character and do so in a way that could be entirely original and make all of us feel like we’ve gone somewhere completely unique and none of us really know; both the ancient world as well as the contemporary world of Japan. But do so drawing on all the character-based issues we’re all very familiar with from what we’ve all seen and know from the comics. Again to your point, that comic allows the character to go much further in those ways than any other that I’ve seen. So, all of that led to them wanting to put this one forward. They’ve got a really good script.
I was incredibly proud of Fox for stepping up because it’s ambitious and not an obvious choice from a commercial marketing perspective but I think it was a fantastic choice from a fanbase, mythology and lore perspective. It’s exactly what was needed and it’s why, and I’m sure you talked to Hugh earlier, for all of us we feel it will be – what we’re striving to do – is the definitive Wolverine. To actually really give everybody who loves this character the definitive experience.”
What are the keys to making the definitive Wolverine movie?
“Look, if at the core to his character is this sort of struggle between his immense humanity and this rage, this irresolvable rage. I think a key piece to me was delving deeper into what is the complexion of that, not just treating it like an on/off button, but actually trying to detail it in a way and give it specificity and life, reason and context, which is part of what makes Jim [Mangold] such a super filmmaker for it because he’s such an incredibly gifted character-based director. His sensibility is all over this, and now that we’re mostly through filming, he’s such a godsend for the fulfillment of this piece. To me, first and foremost, it would be that.
While of course you want and need to deliver on the action, the spectacle, on all of the entertainment values, in my experiences those only resonate and really work when you’re connected to the character and the character-based stakes that are underpinning those sequences.
If you’re really invested in the issues that the character is managing, then that action sequence takes on entirely different meaning. You pay attention and care. When you’re not, that’s not to say you won’t enjoy it, but you’re watching it with a different relationship. First and foremost, given what the underlying material is, for all of us tackling it was to honor the integrity of it and really deliver on that experience for the film audience which meant bringing to life all those values in a way that you could feel them more profoundly than you ever had before. And that invites challenging Wolverine more deeply then he has been before, seeing him more vulnerable, more in conflict with himself, more in conflict with his role in the world – really choosing to delve into those questions and not run away from them, and make them part of the text of the film which Jim has done a brilliant job of doing, and Hugh too. It’s an amazing opportunity for an actor of his caliber to be able to sink his teeth more fully into the role, and to delve into issues that he hasn’t really had to tackle
That’s the big headline for me. Then it’s about this tonal thing which is really important, the notion of committing to something that can fulfill all the comic book expectations, but be real. I really love that. I really think that’s important. Comic books are no longer sort of fringe, they are the mainstream. They are a modern mythology. Taking the emotional or psychological issues more seriously just pushes them that much further into the heart of our contemporary storytelling. In this case that had a lot to do with tone and making sure the tone of all the characters and the world was one that felt real, that the audience could connect to even though you’re dealing with characters that have abilities that we obviously don’t have.
I’d argue that the power of the first one, how richly Bryan [Singer] captured the themes of teen alienation. As much as it was about mutancy, he was incredibly skilled in the scenes where kids are coming out to parents about their mutancy, the hiding of it, those were really powerful and resonant articulations of that theme. And we hope that this has the same sort of resonance, but delving more deeply specifically into this character that is The Wolverine. You guys can tell us in however many months, but I couldn’t be more excited by what Jim’s done and what Hugh’s done, by what everyone’s done in the fulfillment of that.”
I feel like fans have been waiting for Wolverine to be unleashed. He’s been in an ensembles and even in the first Wolverine, it’s more comic booky. This seems darker in tone. Are we going to get a more R-rated Wolverine?
“I don’t know what I’d put the rating, but it’s definitely Wolverine unleashed. It’s much rawer, much more visceral. In pushing down Wolverine you can expect and will be, I hope, satisfied by how much more of the berserker you see.
He’s fighting more desperately in this and I think the challenges he faces, both internal and external, are deeper challenges and as a result it provokes a more rageful and berserker Wolverine, so it’s certainly our intention to fulfill that. I think the comic book does and that’s certainly the intention of the film.”
You talk about closing the door on the previous X-Men movies and we’re here now with Days of Future Past coming that’s more tied with the Wolverine. We know he’s a central character in that. Do you see the series converging together again?
“I don’t really know, honestly, because I’m not connected enough now to what’s going on at Fox. To me it was more that X1, 2 and 3 were sort of ‘of a piece.’ I think they did a superb job on First Class and that was a significant evolution in that franchise in finding a new cast of characters and embedding it in this universe. It’s one of the things that’ so unique to the X-Men – you really do have a universe to draw on, a universe that we all live in alongside, so there are limitless possibilities to where you can go.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to both mine and look forward and continue to build and expand on the universe and yet never lose sight of the cast that got them there, the key component that got them there. How that marriage will work, I’d love to know but I don’t.”
I know you’re really mindful of what the fans are looking for. Fans obviously want to see, now that they’re seeing The Avengers, they want to see Wolverine as an Avenger. Do you think that could ever happen?
“I’d like to think so, but candidly, it’s people whose pay grades are high and I’m removed from who’ll make that decision. But you’d hate to think that that couldn’t happen. Greater problems have been solved.”
You were talking about the visceral experience and a lot of what we’ve seen highlighted today and heard about is the tone, the grittiness and how much more violent and action-packed The Wolverine is, can you talk a bit about how the 3D will enhance this experience?
“I think the best use of 3D is by way of immersing you in the experience. That’s really what it does well, it’s not when it shocks you. It’s what the heart was of [James] Cameron’s work, first on Avatar and then going back and converting Titanic, it was all about bringing you closer, bringing you more fully and deeply into the world. To the degree we’re exploring 3D, it will be with that in mind. To the action, I do think there is a significant evolution in terms of what you’re going to see from this. It is dirtier. It’s more visceral, more real. It’s kind of uglier in the ways that make you feel it and I think that’s fantastic. Taking the gloss of it and borrowing a page from Bourne, a little bit from French Connection or whatever references you want to use to. Jim’s often referenced for character and tone, The Outlaw Josey Wales. You’re touching on things that are taking seriously the issues that underpin their characters and I think that’s happening here, and Dave [Leitch] and his team have done a fantastic job of realizing that in the action context of this movie.
When you asked what are the distinguishing elements, my mind flashed to one of the things that’s most important and we hoped to be the most proud of – that’s an element that I really hope that people are as excited about as we are because I’m so excited by the material I’m seeing and by the step the film take sin alloowing it to be that tone. It feels like Wolverine unleashed and Wolverine grown up. There’s something about that marriage of tones that just feels like a big step. To your tonal question, that’s a big part of why the action is so special based on what we’ve seen. We’re doing a big sequence now but we’re now 4/5ths done so I’ve seen most of it and they’re doing a fantastic job.”
There’s a genuine sense of excitement around this and we know Hugh has wanted to do this specific story for years, and we hear that from a lot of the cast and the crew and this is like the Wolverine story, and you said yourself this is Wolverine unleashed, the Wolverine we’ve all been waiting for. Is there still room for Wolverine to do another solo story down the road or does his future lay with the team again?
“Absolutely, absolutely. This is a standalone piece. You guys know the story, it lives really neatly off by itself and doesn’t preclude anything else. It doesn’t preclude reconnecting. It doesn’t preclude other standalone stories. I think part of what makes Wolverine such an iconic character is that it’s an irresolvable conflict. His immortality and the emotional conflicts he has surrounding those issues are limitless in terms of where that character can go and where they would live and become an issue and engage so that, I think you’ve got – To Tom [Rothman]‘s credit, to Bill Mechanic’s credit – this is a well that can be mined for a long time. I think the challenge will be the obligation on the part of the filmmakers and the studio to make sure the stories are worthy of going back to the well. Certainly, Hugh’s been a good sport about it over the years he’s done this character. He clearly loves it to death but I do know that it becomes a storytelling obligation to make sure that this one will be a hard one to top, so that we can continue to serve up opportunities for him as a performer that warrant ‘yes, I want to put the claws back on and grow out my mutton chops and do my thing.’”
With this whole Mark Millar thing and him coming in as a consultant, there’s so much potential for what can happen, what would you like to see next from the Marvel side of Fox? We know Fantastic Four is in development with Josh Trank and Bryan Singer is back with Days of Future Past. Is Millar involved with this at all?
“He’s not. Understandably, we were way down the road. We were well into shooting before that happened. You guys know, when you pick the story and are writing the script, you’re setting the table so in odd ways it can be problematic to bring in chefs late in the game. His role really is to help to make sure they’re taking full advantage of what is a very, very important asset, and to see other opportunities where others might not. And clearly he will be invaluable to them in that regard although I think, when I speak to them now and look at the way they’re approaching the franchises, specifically films they’ve targeted within the X-Men universe, I think they’re on a great track. Bringing Bryan back is incredibly exciting. Josh, as a way to reboot and reimagine Fantastic Four is wonderfully creative and inventive. The bottom line for me goes back to stories and storytellers so as long as they are continuing to commit to top grade storytellers, be that new voices or established, I think this universe is in good hands. And they do seem to making a really concerted effort to do that which I think is fantastic.”
The Wolverine is directed by James Mangold off of Mark Bomback and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay. It stars Hugh Jackman, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rila Fukushima.
The Wolverine hits theaters July 26, 2013. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters on July 18th, 2014.
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