While on the Australian set of The Wolverine last fall, walking into a tent full of ninjas waiting for the wind to die down before they’re called to set, we prepare to to chat with the star of the film. The ninja army leaving doesn’t help reduce the noise in the large tent being blasted by the wind. After a few minutes, Hugh Jackman walks in, wishing to chat with us before he goes in for his makeup and hair. He’s noticeably tall, unassuming, and he walks in with a smile, introducing himself as “Hugh” as if we didn’t know who he was.
Under my button down is a classic X-Men t-shirt, he notices a corner of the logo, grabs my shirt asking what’s on it and I assure him that Wolverine’s there as I reveal the early ’90s team. I was told, actually warned, he likes that sort of stuff, I wasn’t told he loves that stuff.
There’s myself and two others as we sit down on one of the dozens of wooden lunch tables is the vast temporary structure and begin our interview which we were told would be around 10 minutes.
Hugh Jackman: “How’s it going, guys?”
Good, yourself? A little windy.
“A little windy, yeah, unfortunately. It’s frustrating.”
Okay, so the first thing we wanted to kind of ask you is where will we find the Wolverine character in the beginning of this film? We’ve heard a little bit about Wolverine’s at his lowest point at the beginning of this film. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
“Well, you know where it takes place, right?”
After the [X-Men] trilogy.
“Yeah. So, pretty much as you know, a lot of his life even though a fair bit of it he couldn’t remember, even the bits he does remember has involved pain and loss and the people closest to him dying, sometimes at his own hands, as you saw in X-Men 3. So, he’s pretty much jacked off with life, with himself, with who he is, with his past. He really just wants out. He is finding it tough to find a reason for anything—to live, and battling with himself, with his really—with his immortality. All these things, everything close to him dies, so he doesn’t want to be close to anything. So, he’s pretty much off on his own. I don’t think I want to tell you much more than that.”
When you say everybody he knows dies, does that mean that this is further in the future?
“Well, not everyone, but the people he loves, you know? He’s not good for people that are close to him. So, what was your question?”
No, that was it.
“Oh, that was it, right.”
So, the Claremont Wolverine series, you were drawn to that. What was it about it that was interesting to you?
“Our movie is obviously quite different. I mean, it’s not an X-Men reunion and there’s no wedding like that. But, I just immediately loved the intrigue of the world, that it was based on some things that are true—the Yakuza, the elements of Japanese life. And I just think the juxtaposition of who he is as a character thrown into this world, which is just so opposite to him, where he kind of ends up at first, you know, he’s sort of disdainful of it all, dismissive, and then he actually starts to learn some things. I love that first scene where he kind of, he’s a little poisoned and he gets his ass kicked by the father. You know, I thought it was unexpected, and I think that’s the great thing about that series and about the world we’re setting up. A lot of it’s unexpected and a lot of it, it’s not jam packed full of mutants everywhere and powers, but it is otherworldly, in a way, and it’s a fish out of water story and he’s in our movie. Certainly, through Wolverine’s eyes, it’s really foreign and you don’t know who’s what. You don’t really know who’s good or bad. You don’t really know what’s at play. All we know is there’s a lot of confusing, intricate elements.
The love triangle between Logan, Yukio and Mariko was a big part of the comic series.
Does that factor into this film as well?
“Yeah, it’s obviously different because we’re not starting—well, I’m trying to work that out before…..” [Looks towards publicists at neighboring table]
(Laughs) We understand.
“Yeah, I know. There is an element there, but it is different than it is in the comic. But, I think that we touched on it enough that the fans of the comic will I think be really impressed with what Chris McQuarrie, how he interpreted it and how he came up with it to make it a narrative film line, I think was really smart, and I think actually even the points where we move away, the fans will go, ‘Oh, actually, that’s really cool, and I see why,’ I’m pretty sure.
Our own Kofi Outlaw spoke with Christopher McQuarrie about Jack Reacher late last year where he detailed his original vision for The Wolverine, a screenplay he describes as his best work, and one that surprisingly involved no other mutants.
I have a question. So, when you did the live chat with Ryan [Penagos aka Agent M] on Monday, you specifically used the word, we’re going to see your “Kryptonite,” so to speak. Can you tell us a little bit about the physical dangers that you deal with, and whether or not mutants factor into that—mutant powers or mutant abilities?
“Right. Well, there are definitely, you know, let me start by saying I always think one of the most interesting things about Wolverine is the battle within himself. I think that is key, key to this story too, and that’s where we start and it’s really the resolution where we finish. There are a number of other mutants. You know about Viper, obviously. There’s others that are certainly formidable in a very classic sense, I think. The fans will be really excited about that. So, there’s a number of opponents to him that are great matches for Wolverine.
In terms of his Kryptonite, we were getting in that situation, and it was Chris McQuarrie who first said it to me, he said, ‘There’s this weird inflation or power to the point where it feels like there’s very little danger, you know, to him, very little peril and it’s like that. So, what you know, really, he’s been shot. Oh, so now we gotta shoot him with an atomic bomb?’ So, in this movie, and now I actually can’t tell you why because it’s so endemic to the core of the story. But, I was about to say something which would’ve given it away—no, I think he’s just very, he’s certainly compromised. And so, some of the things he could rely on, he can’t all of. So, that’s what I meant by Kryptonite.
This is a key part of the marketing so far when it comes to both trailers (one and two) of The Wolverine. Something happens and when Wolverine is shot at the funeral, his healing powers don’t work as expected. We have yet to discover the cause of it, whether it’s a permanent change that’ll end his “curse” as promised or something caused by poison or another mutant power.
So what is it about the Japanese culture that draws Logan in?
It’s girls, first, as is with him (laughs), you know, his weakness, really. There’s a lot more girls in this, but it really is actually a girl. I mean, in our story, the reason he gets over there, I definitely can’t tell you. I know you guys will love it. It’s fantastic. It’s Chris McQuarrie at his best. So, he gets drawn in very reluctantly, what is going to be a flyby, and it’s got to do with something in his past and something that he said he would do a long time ago in his past that he’s avoided, really for years, and just sort of, ah fuck it, I’ll go, you know, that kind of thing. But, what really draws him in is the girl. That’s what makes him stay a little longer than he normally would’ve, should’ve, whatever, however you want to look at it. But, I think your question is a good one because this idea of tradition and family, honor, history, the whole samurai code are opposite to him. He kind of thinks it’s a bit like how you found him in X-Men – this whole idea of teams and this and schools. It’s a crock, you know? He’s just look after yourself and do the best you can, don’t worry about all this other stuff. He actually realizes through it – even though he’s definitely still a little disdainful of a lot of it – he realizes that actually in some way, the strength of those codes is in some ways greater than his own strength. So, he sees the positive side to it as well, and certainly learns from it. And one of the cool things of the action is, not that he’s going to finish up the full samurai, and I know we’ve seen those images. Those certainly are some of the elements, particularly the mind control, which is something he’s obviously struggled with his whole life. There are elements that he picks up on.
So we know a lot of this film deals with the idea of immortality, something you deal with is all of this loss. How many years does this take place after the X-Men films? Could we ever see something of Logan in the future, like Old Man Logan from the comics where he’s looking back on his life and he’s lost even more?
“Mmm… Great question. Can I say generally how long after? (looking at publicist)
Jackman: A few years, not that far. So, it’s not that long after X-Men 3 finishes, long enough so that you see him—and you’ve probably seen the pictures of me with a really long ass beard and the long hair. Right. So, obviously long enough for that, and long enough to feel that he’s settled into this kind of rut that he’s in. Essentially, he’s doing his best to stop himself from inflicting more damage and pain on everyone around him. I didn’t answer the second part about the older. I think that would be fascinating, and I think that I can’t really answer that question because you’re onto something.”
It seems like from talking to the second unit director [David Leitch], it seems like the action and the tone of this film is very different than the action films or even the Wolverine films. Can you talk a little bit about that?
“Yeah, it definitely feels like a standalone movie in every way. I always hated the idea of saying ‘Wolverine 2.’ I didn’t know what it was going to be called. It was the studio, I think, who came up with the idea of the title, and I was like, ‘Fantastic.’ Because in a way, I knew that everybody, from studio down, was embracing this idea of this movie being different, and it needed to be. I mean, it was one of the reasons why the comic books are so popular. It feels like a whole different offshoot and I think visually, stylistically, the movie—and I’ve probably seen at least 45 minutes cut together and I’m so happy with it. I definitely think it’s the best I’ve been in the character. I look at it and go, ‘Wow.’ It feels different and it feels in a way more like the character that I envisioned when I first read it. I think their style is different. The palette, the design is different. The story is different. This is not jam packed with mutants. This is not a massive, special effects movie, and nor should it be. It doesn’t need to be. This is a character study about this guy, and setting it in this world I think is just exciting because as I said, we start normally where you might finish a movie, you know? It’s over, so you kinda need to bring him out of that, but he’s still dragging. I keep thinking of ‘The Mission’ and Robert De Niro with all that stuff up the mountain. He’s still dragging it all with him that in this world it’s this fantastic opportunity to see him really try and embrace who he really is, which is the essential struggle, always that I feel like we’ve never really taken him down far enough in order for him to see that rebirth, and to see him really embrace who he is or not. We’ll see, you know?
Is there any room for Logan to be happy, or is it always at his lowest point?
“Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, like, it just feels disingenuous to have a completely happy ending. I don’t know—and Chris McQuarrie talked about that, or we talked about that two or three years ago. Jim [Mangold] and I, I think, you can definitely talk more him the battle to be at peace with himself, the battle to be happy. It just sends the wrong conversation for this character. But, his version of happy is different from my version of happy, you know? I think he’s a lot more badass than me, but there’s certainly a lot more women around in this movie. He’s happy for that.
We heard that Bryan Singer’s rejoining the X-Men.
“Yes, I just read about that, yeah. I think it’s great.”
Is Wolverine going to be involved?
“We’ll see. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I’ve just gotta focus on this one, but yeah.
Publicist: Thank you very much
Jackman: I’ve got a couple more minutes.”
One question I had—
Jackman: (To Publicist) Unless you’re worried about what I’m saying. Is that what that’s about? Yeah, right.
Side-note: Jackman himself effectively doubled our interview time and was very enthusiastic about just chatting all things X-Men.
I was very excited when Aronofsky was going to be directing.
But I’m equally excited about James. I’m just wondering, how much has the film changed from when Darren was working on it, and what kind of changes?
“That’s a good question. Not too much. Like, maybe 10, 15 percent is the realm of changes script wise. Obviously, stylistically, who knows what Darren would’ve brought?”
What has James brought to the project?
“Many, many great, great things, which are key story points that I can’t tell you. They were some of the actual lynch pins of this, he really brought to it. Out of defense to Darren, I don’t think we got to the point—even though we were on and it was going—because he had “Black Swan” and all that going, we hadn’t got to the point where I was really seeing his shooting script. I don’t think he stepped over that line. Like, he was making the movie, but you know, for Darren, I’ve worked with him on a movie, so I know where he gets to. I don’t think I’d seen the final version. Like, he was working on the script as it was, and in that way, the story hasn’t changed that much because he responded to Chris McQuarrie’s like Jim did. And Chris is really, really great, and this is one of the movies that even he said to me, he goes, “Sometimes I struggle with a movie. This is one of those ones where I said whoosh, it just came out.” You could feel it when you read it. So, even now the draft we have, and of course, we’ve had writers come on and help with this or that, change this or that, it’s still 80 percent of what Chris was writing, you know? It was never one of those, oh, it’s great, but we have no third act, or we have none. So, in that way, Jim first said to me ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ you know, and that idea of that character who’s driven by this—well, in that movie it’s clear sort of revenge and desolation of everything that he’s had. So, it’s not exactly the same, but stylistically, I think he was onto something really great. He’s definitely made me angrier, surlier, more tortured. He’s encouraged me at every turn to—you know, at times I want to quip, and here and there I’ll quip, and occasionally they’re there, but very careful about that, about us losing the tone, which is notably darker in this movie, which I think is always the way it’s gotta be. But really, in many ways, both of them are very assured filmmakers, and they would’ve been different movies, but again, I want to say in the 20 percent difference, not like chalk and cheese.”
With Darren’s story, was it also going to be based after the other films? That was always the plan?
[Click for full-size image]
With this being a darker film, is an R rated film more appropriate?
“We talked about it. Darren and I talked about it. Jim and I talked about it. The studio and I talked about it. By the way, they were open to that idea because if you’re ever going to make a real character R-rated, Wolverine’s the one, and I can… part of me would just love to indulge in the freedom that that gives you. On the same point, and I worked with him, but I’m forever grateful to Chris Nolan because I think what he’s shown is actually the R-rating is not necessary to give you a satisfying, smart, dark, emotionally complex story. All I said to Darren and I said to Jim, I said, ‘It’s tempting , could be great.’ Obviously, the samurai elements, and you think of the history of blood spattering and all of that, the visuals, all of that, which is so tempting, I can’t tell you in the last 10 years how many 11, 13, 15 year olds, 17 year olds that I’ve met that it’s not just ‘cool movie, man,’ what it means to them. And so, I say, we’ve gotta have an incredible reason to deliberately exclude them, because that’s what we’re saying. We’re saying, ‘This is not for you,’ or ‘you can watch it in six years’ time. I mean, of course, they’ll all watch it anyway. But the message is, ‘This is not for you.’ And I just said, ‘In the end, actually, everything we wanted to do with an R-rated version, we are doing in terms of who the character is.’ So, yeah. One more?
Side-note: For more on an R rated Wolverine from the directors and producer, click here.
Yeah, sure. We saw the set photo from “Empire,” which had you sporting the old bone claws. We also saw some photos from the prison camp. Can you tell us how much time was spent in World War II? We think it’s World War II, or in the past, and how that affects…
“Good leading question, man. It is in the past.”
A reason why you go back to Japan? How does that affect him?
“It is related. It’s not that much of the movie time wise, but it’s a significant story point. It is, yeah, yeah.”
Is it a certain character in the past?
Okay. I think a lot of fans would want to know, would Wolverine—you as Wolverine—ever appear in an Avengers movie? Do you think the legal powers that be could ever make that happen?
“You know, obviously we have people from—one of the great things about this movie is that a lot of people from Marvel are here and it seems a lot more inclusive than it has been in the past. I don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but I think it’s fantastic. I actually just asked the other day, I said, ‘I don’t know what the legal situation is, but why don’t these companies come together? Why isn’t it possible?’ Because personally, I would love to mix it up with Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man and kick his ass. It’d be great. (laughs) There you go. There’s your quote. (Laughs)
That’s why we came here.
“Now I’m getting yanked. But no, I think it’d be fantastic. I loved The Avengers. I love what they do with it. Kevin Feige, by the way, I can tell you is one of the true gentlemen of this business. And I say that from when he was on X-Men 1, and I don’t even know what his role was, officially, associate producer maybe? But, when I first auditioned for Bryan [Singer], Dougray [Scott] was playing the role. Bryan… I think I was sent there by the studio. I don’t think he even knew I was coming, and it was one of those auditions you walk out going, ‘Well, I know this isn’t happening.’ Instead of just putting me on a plane, I remember him taking me out, him and Tom DeSanto took me out for a restaurant because I had to stay overnight. It was too late. They took me out for dinner. I remember thinking, I go, ‘Well, I know I’m not in this movie, so you guys are true gentlemen.’ They were really nice. I know how busy they were. They were already filming at the time, and I know I really wasn’t doing it. I know what was going on behind the scenes. And within a week, all of a sudden the Dougray thing started to unravel. So then, I went back and did a real audition. But the first one, I don’t know what the first one was, maybe for the studio to see me more. I don’t know, or maybe they were anticipating what was coming. Who knows? But anyway, I just always remember Kevin and I have such a soft spot for him, and I’m in touch with him and I don’t know how I got onto that. But anyway, I’m basically really happy and proud of what he’s achieved. I think he’s making great movies. People love them. And consistency is incredible. So, who wouldn’t want to be involved with that?
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.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your X-Men movie info.