Hugh Jackman Talks About His Continuing Development of Wolverine From the Set of ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’
Posted on Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 by Russ Fischer
When he was cast as Wolverine in 1999 as a late choice to replace Dougray Scott in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Hugh Jackman wasn’t exactly the vision of the character fans had in mind. The lanky, good-looking Australian was a far cry from the hairy runt of a Canadian that had become the best-selling character in Marvel’s pantheon. But Jackman’s physical presence and pure charisma won audiences over, and over the course of five films he has redefined the Wolverine character for a huge audience.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is Jackman’s sixth turn as Wolverine (or seventh if you count his brief First Class cameo) and he doesn’t seem to be ready to give up the claws any time soon. Last August I, along with a few other editors, spoke to Jackman on the set of Days of Future Past, and the discussion ranged from his own growth to the development of director Bryan Singer, and some non-spoilerish details about the past and future story of Days of Future Past.
You’re doing two Wolverine movies in a row.
Right, yeah. Weirdly, I found out about [Days of Future Past] around October 2012, when we were a month or six weeks off finishing [The Wolverine]. I was literally planning the lamingtons and meat pies I was going to eat at Christmas. In a way it’s easier, because when you’re physically in shape and mentally in that space, it’s easier to follow on. So I had a little time off in between and I did another film in that time and then straight back into it. Grew the sideburns and away we go again!
It’s been awesome though – I am enjoying him as much as ever, but there’s something about this film that is… I feel so lucky that 14 years later I’m back working with Bryan and all that old… I shouldn’t say old, but the older crew, me too, but also this young cast who I am just so impressed with, in every way. Not just as great actors, but it’s definitely that Bryan and I are walking into their atmosphere. Obviously a lot of the film takes place in the past, and I’d say a good 60% of it plays there, and it is a sequel to First Class. And they created such a strong bond, and we had such a strong bond that I thought, ‘I wonder how this is going to work out?’ Because all of us coming back together for the third time or fourth time playing the characters, it’s been amazing and I’m really impressed with them. It’s like two great movies in one.
You are the lynchpin to make this movie happen; if you said no, Days Of Future Past never happens.
They would’ve re-written it, don’t worry! They would’ve come up with someone else who can travel back in time, I’m sure!
Can you talk a little bit about when you were presented with the material, knowing it’s going to be based on an iconic storyline?
I didn’t know that as much. Obviously I’m more myopic about Wolverine and I didn’t really know X-Men at all before I started. So I’d heard of this comic but I didn’t know it was as beloved or as iconic as I have now found out. I just know fans are going to flip out at this, because, as they know with Bryan, there’s no director better at handling multi-character stories. He knows how to do that. He showed in The Usual Suspects right off, and they’re always smart, they’re always engaging, they’re always surprising films. I think it’s fascinating to watch him grow as a director. He embraces the emotional side of the story in this fully, there’s a lot of comedy in it as well and all things that – I’m not saying he was scared about – but he was worried in the first one tonally about setting a new tone for these movies, which had been seen as too broad prior. So he really wanted to create a very realistic, human, emotionally rich dynamic and it’s just gone to another level on this. It’s a very epic, big, big movie.
How do you feel you have evolved as a character throughout this entire run?
A lot. And it’s nice to have a touchstone like this, something to go back to all the time. I see photos of how I was, 14 years ago after playing the same character, it seems a lifetime ago. And this character is very much the foundation, the spine of my career, so I can easily see how I’ve changed. I’d say I’m more confident- I was very much an actor based in the theatre when I got the job and I’d done some TV and film. But I was more comfortable on the stage, and I think that’s equaled out for me. I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of shots at being in films. So I’m enjoying that as much and loving it. I’ve grown more confident and probably my appreciation for the character has grown. And that thing where you know there’s a day when you’re not going to be playing it, and that becomes clearer to you. I’ve been doing it for 14 years, of course at some point I’m going to have to pass it on, so I guard it more jealously, I appreciate it more and I’m enjoying it more than ever. I think the last Wolverine movie was a script I could really get into and this one equally is something I’ve enjoyed as much as any of the others. I’m very chatty today, sorry! I’m giving long answers.
It’s pretty rare that in film that you get to play opposite two actors who are playing the same character. Can you talk about the difference in energy, or the complimentary energy, for instance, between Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender?
Well, what is amazing is, with this story, I’m not talking about the actors, but the character of Xavier, it’s very much at the center of the story. Ian, Michael and Jennifer are really very much in the center here, and Nick, so playing with the younger character, you really get a chance to see a much broader range of that character then we ever really got with Patrick, because he was a much more set character in a way. So his journey is huge. I get to follow it through, as you said, with both actors and both are… all four are incredible actors. I know that Ian and Patrick are thrilled that James and Michael are playing those characters, because I thought one of the most difficult things when I saw X-Men: First Class, I thought, ‘will they be able to create that chemistry, the layered, complex relationship that Ian and Patrick did in very little screen time?’ Because for me, I’ve known them for years as theater actors, right? And I always thought, well, this is the English version of De Niro and Pacino in Heat. These two actors up against each other are amazing. And I think the younger actors have created that and maybe even more, because there’s more for them to explore, story-wise. So I don’t know if I answered your question, but it’s been really exciting and fascinating to watch.
Something that we’ve all been waiting to see is a knock-down battle between Wolverine and the Sentinels. Can you tell us how that might play out?
That’s a generous question, I appreciate it. I feel the heat from my back left shoulder. [From the hawk-eyed publicist.] Yes, you do see battling and I’ll tell you, you see battling in the future and in the past. And not just me battling them, but all the characters. It’s exciting after doing two Wolverine movies in a row to see how the X-Men work together, so I’m trying to give you a little something without giving you much, but they need to work together in order to bring down the Sentinels.
Can you talk a little bit about the Sentinels in the past and the future and how different they are?
I was just told I can’t tell you about the future! You guys have seen the past, right? You’ve seen the past Sentinels.
We saw Bryan’s pictures… And there have been pictures as part of a viral marketing campaign.
All I can tell you… is that in the future, the Sentinels are formidable. They’re formidable in the past, but in the future it is a very dire situation for the X-Men. (Laughter) [Unit Publicist] Joe’s happy, no one else is! Sorry!
Days Of Future Past is this weird, complicated story; do you worry that the next time around is going to be even more weird and more complicated?
I know with Bryan, you could see the evolution from X1 to X2, he’s someone who loves that kind of complexity and story. He’s a ridiculously smart guy. And he understands and can hold so many characters, so it has gone to another level. But he’s a mad… See, Bryan is a fan of many things. He’s a Superman fan, and I knew that. He’s a World War II freak, right, we know from Valkyrie. I’m not sure if that’s been exorcised or not or if we’ll see more, but he loves time travel movies. So for him, this is not just an, ‘Oh great, we’re going to travel back in time…”
It’s important to him to create the most incredible time travel movie of all time. And that means, anyone who’s even vaguely attempted to write a time travel movie, it’s easy to pitch, and very difficult in the details. Because every line, every action, everything, you’ve got to set up the rules very carefully so an audience understands it, but then you have to pay it off in many ways. And it’s difficult. As well as having 20 characters across that. So Bryan is in his element. He has – actually, when I first heard about it, I said yes on the phone because this is a slam-dunk. And part of me was, ‘Ah… I’m doing Wolverine, do I want to do it again?’ But there was no way I was ever going to say no to being, without even seeing the script, with Bryan in a story with everyone involved. Who knows, this may be my last time playing it? And if it is, it couldn’t be a better way to wrap it up.
In the comics there are instances of different incarnations of Wolverine meeting up. Could you ever play two Wolverines in the same scene?
Now, I’m worried, yeah! I’ll probably end up doing it… “Shut up, Bub!” “Who said Bub?” “I said Bub…” Who knows? I’m fully aware that people will hear [this Days of Future Past] idea and think, ‘Ah, they’ve just come up with a way to bring everybody together’ right? And the great thing is, I don’t have to sell it because I know the storyline is phenomenal. Any of the cynics out there, it’s going to exceed their expectations by a million miles. Because it’s a very strong, emotional story, which I think has always been the strength of X-Men following the humane and difficult side and tortured side of these superheroes, but it’s also intellectually very, very engaging and the action is ridiculous. It’s – I probably shouldn’t tell you this either – the biggest Fox movie ever outside of Avatar, so it’s a massive movie.
How is Logan different this time around? Do you have new areas to explore?
Well, it very much follows on from The Wolverine. You get the feeling that he’s come to terms with who he is – I’m a warrior, I’m Wolverine and that’s who I am, for better or worse, it’s not all going to be pretty, but here we go. And then soon after, as you saw in the teaser, he gets approached. Now, actually, it’s all hands on deck, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on in terms of mutant politics, it’s about survival. So he’s on board, but he’s very much in the center of it in terms of the team, so to speak. And then he’s sent back to try and fix things and, as he says, I’m the last person in the world who should be sent back on this mission. If you want someone to go back to take someone’s head off, fantastic, but he’s really got to go back and almost act in parts as inspiration, as mentor, as guide, because he can’t do it all on his own, which is always his preferred method, but he can’t here because of the nature of the story. So he has to become, not necessarily a leader, because I’d still call Xavier the leader here, but in a way he has to become a facilitator for everyone to come together. Which is not his normal modus operandi and it’s certainly not easy for him.
You might’ve gotten the best drop of an F-bomb in the previous movie. Is there a little competition between everyone about who might be able to get it in this one?
Fair to say, if there’s an F-bomb, I’m going to have to let that go to another character! I’m happy, I feel like, if you can do a movie, say two or three words and one of them is the F-bomb and get out, don’t try and repeat that, move on! I always feel about that, because I didn’t get paid for it, but Fox very kindly made a charitable donation to my kids’ schools and I always felt slightly weird handing over the check when, “Listen… Don’t ask me how I got this, but…” I think I may have been the only person to be rewarded charitably and get a tax deduction for swearing on film! That’s a scoop for you! I haven’t told that to anyone!
You mentioned something interesting in that you might eventually not play this character. Have you ever thought — and I’m not trying to get you to say, “I’ve only got two more movies and I’m done” — about how long you want to do this role?
I don’t think about that, how long. I know 100% it’ll come to an end and it should. I’ve said before, I always think the great parts outlive the actors that play them. That’s a stage tradition that goes back hundreds of years and it should be that way. I came off the bench to play this part and when people do that, they’re even more reluctant to give it up! But I really love playing Wolverine and I was very motivated to do what I thought was a more definitive version of that character. Being in this is a dream. There’s no way I’d miss out on this opportunity, right? So to go on from there, here’s how I think. It has to be more interesting than the last Wolverine if I’m going to a Wolverine movie, it has to be more compelling. And the same with an ensemble piece, whatever it’s called, it would have to be the same thing. I don’t know when that will be. Who knows? I don’t know what’ll happen.
Obviously The Wolverine‘s still in theaters [ed: remember, this interview took place last year] and this still has a year to go. So in a way I’m not even thinking about it right now, but that’s always been my touchstone. I feel better within myself and I think the team do in terms of what we created with The Wolverine. I feel like I’ve in a way… I was about to say something that I know will look bad in print… but I don’t feel the weight of that like I did after the first Wolverine. After that one, I felt we still hadn’t created that movie. And I’ve been so lucky to play it and I always wanted to have that feeling in 30 years when someone says, “What movie should I watch?” I go, “Watch this one.” “What’s The Wolverine?” I go, “That’s Wolverine.” And I won’t tell you now, but if someone asks what X-Men movie will I watch, maybe this one… But that’s what motivates me.
You look like you’re in even better shape than you were before. You play a lot of your own stunts, right?
Yeah. I do a lot of my own stuff, except the stupid stuff like bashing your head against walls or crashing cars and all that jazz. But I did it the right way. I had a good amount of time to prepare, so I built slowly, I hit The Wolverine and this movie without any injuries, which is was the first time – every time I’ve played Wolverine before I’ve carried some kind of injury because I’ve had to race to get ready. I did it slowly, I felt great, I felt great throughout. I felt tired, obviously, and it is harder, I’ll admit that, but I felt really good. Physically for me, I feel better now probably than I did in the earlier films. So that’s not an issue for me. Yet. (Laughs) It’s all the meat pies! You guys saw the Wolverine diet…
I would imagine you going out with Patrick or Ian or some of the cast either for dinner or drinks — do you ever go out as a group and just have fun with fans freaking out seeing all of you?
Yeah, we do go out. Actually, when we’re all out, it’s sort of intimidating. Because we’re very loud, quite often have parties where people end up singing and drinking a lot and so it can get a little intimidating, I think that’s the way it seems. We don’t get people coming up to us, you can tell people notice us but it is a very social cast. And let me tell you, that young cast… That’s where I feel it physically! Next morning, Fassbender, Nick and James are, like, “Okay! Let’s go!” And I’m (mimes looking rough). It’s easy for me to be grumpy on those mornings. But a lot of the time I can’t keep up with them.
You said you went to Comic-Con wearing the costume?
I was joking but I should!
People thought that was literal.
Sorry. My sense of humor. But I heard about Bryan Cranston doing it with the mask. And I thought that was genius. But I just made a joke that literally, I was going around going, “Is that me?” They were more like me than me! So I was making a joke that I should go around and people would be, “Ah, no, can’t be him – way too tall.” I think I could easily do it, it would be fun to do. I think, yeah, it’d be really fun to do, actually.
I would imagine that going out with the cast, wearing something, for little kids especially, it would be…
I went out during X2 with my son on Halloween straight from set. And the make-up crew made him the full leather outfit. Totally spoilt – every other kid has the stupid thing with the plastic, elastic thing or whatever, and the claws that don’t work and look ridiculous. He had the full thing, right? All custom-made leather. And I was behind him and I had – not hair and make-up – but I had claws. And we went trick or treating all night and once I remember someone jumping over a hedge going, “It is you! I knew it was you! That’s my house up there!” It took about four houses… If you think about it, Halloween, you knock on the door and it’s, like, “Oh, hi, yeah…” They don’t even look at the parents. I remember the time Oscar – every third house, I’m not exaggerating – would walk in, just walk in. Because we’d been in different houses every three months of his life. And I think he just thought, ‘Oh, we’ve moved…’ Honestly, I’d said, “Trick or treat” and there’d be a thing where he’d just walk into the house! And the mothers are just staring. One time he went up the stairs and we’re standing in the door, like, “Ehhhh… Right. I don’t think he understands the concept yet…”
X-Men: Days of Future Past opens on May 23.