Wolverine: Len Wein on Hugh Jackman, comic book movies, getting paid
Rila Fukushima, left, and Hugh Jackman in a scene from "The Wolverine." (Ben Rothstein / 20th Century Fox)Link
Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, left, and Hugh Jackman as Logan in a scene from "The Wolverine." (Ben Rothstein / 20th Century Fox)Link
Hugh Jackman is Logan in "The Wolverine." (James Fisher / MCT)Link
James Mangold and Hugh Jackman on the set of "The Wolverine." (20th Century Fox)Link
“The Wolverine,” the latest film starring Hugh Jackman’s rage-fueled mutant Logan, offers a more intimate exploration of the character — one Jackman and director James Mangold attempted to fashion based on an influential comic book arc crafted by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller in the 1980s. But it was Len Wein who first introduced Wolverine to comic readers in 1974, when the character appeared in “The Incredible Hulk.” Wein recently spoke to Hero Complex to share his thoughts on the latest movie, the joys of being a fan and the frustrations of sometimes standing in the shadows while iconic characters of your creation enjoy robust onscreen lives.
Hero Complex: Twenty, thirty years ago, could you have imagined a point where we’d see so many superhero films? At this point, they’ve become a genre unto themselves, and there’s so much variety in terms of tone and style.
Len Wein: I think what’s happened finally is that we won, the geeks have inherited the Earth. So many of the major film producers today are guys who grew up on this stuff and really wanted to see it happen. Technology has finally reached a point where what could only be done in comics can now be done on screen. I think people rush to it. I had a friend in the business who had a lunch meeting probably a decade or more ago with Sam Raimi and he thought, “Oh good, Sam wants to talk to me about a project.” Turned out all Sam really wanted to talk about over lunch was this writer’s run on Spider-Man. This was before Sam was doing the Spider-Man films. He was just a big Spider-Man fan. I think that’s true of most directors and producers. There are people who are now running the entertainment industry and love it.
HC: Have you had those sorts of encounters yourself?
LW: Every so often, I say to my wife, “If I could go back in time and tell my 15-year-old self what my life was going to be like at this point, I wouldn’t believe me.” The people who are my friends, the people who, when I meet them and I’m a big fan, just leaves me befuddled. I have this constantly. There are people I know, who, again, grew up on my stuff and are thrilled to meet me, but I always think, “I’m supposed to be thrilled to meet you.” At this point, this was about five or six years ago, I was a fan of the TV series “CSI” and they were in their seventh season. I thought they were doing amazing work, so I sent them a fan letter. I got the e-address of one of the producers and simply sent a fan letter going, “I think you guys are doing amazing work and I just wanted to thank you for the entertainment.” Thirty seconds later, an email came back, “Are you that Len Wein?” I went, “I guess I must be.” They invited me down to the set to have lunch, watch them shoot.
HC: I love the idea that you’re sending fan letters. That’s really sweet.
LW: I still am a fan. I think part of why my work still works is that I still come at it from the point of what would I like to see.
HC: You’ve talked in the past about how you were eager to see Wolverine’s Japanese saga on the screen. What were your thoughts on this latest film?
LW: I loved it. We’re going to go see it again this week, in fact. My wife and my family have not seen it yet, so I’m going to take them to see it this weekend. It is in very many ways not really a superhero film; I thought that makes it spectacular. It’s really a character study. There’s all the superhero action you could ask for, but at the heart of it that’s not what it’s about. It’s about exploring who and what makes Logan what he is.
HC: That’s certainly what made the source material, what Chris Claremont and Frank Miller created, so compelling. Is that one of the reasons you were excited to see the story told cinematically?
LW: It is where we first start realizing there are many layers to Logan, that he’s not just the berserker monster that people perceive him to be. He’s lived a lot of different lives, with a lot of different backgrounds, and I think getting a chance to start exploring other aspects of who and what make him what he is is always great, the more you can get into that sort of thing. Any good character is like an artichoke; you want to peel away the layers.
HC: That’s a nicer comparison than an onion … James Mangold has described how he went back to the comic design to tweak the claws a bit for this movie. Is that always nice for you to hear, when there’s special effort made to get the details right with regard to the characters you’ve created?
LW: I love that sort of thing, when someone comes at a character from making him as good as possible. For many years, superhero movies mostly didn’t work. That’s because the people producing the films had little regard for the source material. Their attitude was always, “it’s just a comic book, don’t worry about it,” and that kind of attitude gives you “Catwoman” as opposed to “Wolverine.” When they take the time to go that extra yard to make the character as close as possible to what the audience expects him to be, I think you get a much better film.
HC: For those who might not know the story, could you share Wolverine’s creative origin?
LW: It’s one of my favorite stories to tell. Wolverine came out of my writing an entirely different book. I was writing a book called “Brother Voodoo” for Marvel at the time, which was set in the Caribbean. I like writing accents, I like to write so you can sort of hear the voice. So, I was writing a number of the characters with Caribbean accents. Then the editor in chief at Marvel, Roy Thomas, called me into his office and said, “You know, I hate you.” I said, “Thank you so much!” He said, “No, seriously, you write these great accents and I can’t do accents.” He said, “I’d love to see how you would write a Canadian accent. I have the name.” The name was Wolverine. He said, “Come up with a Canadian character called Wolverine.” So, I went and researched wolverines and discovered they were short, really hairy, feisty animals with razor-sharp claws who are utterly fearless and would take on animals 10 times their size. I went, well, that’s the easiest character I’ve ever created. I developed him out of that particular definition. The weird thing was, I actually did a lousy Canadian accent. I thought he ended up sounding more Australian in that first story. The irony of that is so amazing to me. (laughs) I made him a mutant because there had been discussions about reviving the X-Men as an international team of mutants. I thought I would provide for whoever ended up writing that book ["Giant-Size X-Men" No. 1]. I never realized I would be the guy who ended up writing that book. I made my own life much more interesting and simple than I expected.
HC: What are your thoughts on the way Chris Claremont shaped the character?
LW: I loved it. I knew he would do a good job with the book. He was one of my assistant editors and the day I realized I’ve got to give up most of my writing, I was editor in chief at the time and I couldn’t edit 54 books a month, plus write four books a month, so I had to give up everything but one book. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Hulk and that was one of the books I was writing. I started giving away my books to other people. Chris sat at a desk outside my office in what was then the bullpen and when I said, “Gee, I wonder who I can give X-Men to,” he started pinwheeling his hands, going, “Me, me, I’ll take it!” I thought anybody that enthusiastic deserves a shot. One of the best choices I ever made. He did a remarkable job for, God help me, 17 years, I think, straight.
HC: At Comic-Con International last month, Hugh Jackman made a point of thanking you for creating the character that launched his career from the Hall H stage. What is it, do you think, about Jackman’s portrayal of Logan – and really about the character himself — that has so strongly resonated with audiences?
LW: I think sincerity. I think that counts for a great deal with any performance. If people believe you believe, you can carry off anything. The amazing thing about Hugh is that on many levels he’s the antithesis of Wolverine. He’s one of the nicest, most gracious guys I’ve ever known. My wife absolutely adores him. She’d throw me over for him in a second. He’s just that guy. He’s sincere, he’s generous and thankful and appreciative. I think he realizes he sort of fell into the role of his life. They’re going to have to pry it out of his cold, dead hands one day, I think. He loves doing the character. He’s a terrific actor. I’ve always said, to my mind, the most talented person in his industry is the casting director who looked at Hugh playing Curly in “Oklahoma!” and said, “Yeah, he could be the most dangerous man on Earth.”
HC: Hugh Jackman does have a range that is pretty unique.
LW: Yeah, he can go from Wolverine to Jean Valjean. He’s everything he appears to be. He’s a wonderful person. He’s so dedicated to keep in the shape he’s in. In between takes, he’s on the floor doing one-handed pushups.
HC: When you’re thanked from the stage at Comic-Con like that, how do you feel? What is that like?
LW: It’s gratifying. To the best of my memory, he’s the only person to portray one of my characters that has ever done that. He’s done it a couple of times now. He wants people to realize where his character comes from and the debt he owes and I’m thrilled by that. He’s one of the most gracious men I’ve ever met.
HC: When these films come out, is it fair to say that it’s something of a bittersweet experience? Characters you’ve created continue to have these long screen lives, but you don’t have credit on the movies.
LW: I still haven’t had credit on one of these movies.
HC: Is that frustrating?
LW: Yes, of course it is. It’s less frustrating for the characters I created at DC. Money comes with the anonymity, at least. I have contracts that guarantee me some small piece of the action. Lucius Fox has earned me a great deal more money than Wolverine ever has, although I will say that for the latest film Marvel did send me a nice check. A lot of people don’t realize how many movies are [based on] comics. “2 Guns,” this weekend, is a Steven Grant comic originally, “Red” is a comic book, “R.I.P.D.” was a comic book. We might not want to mention “R.I.P.D.” I haven’t seen it, but I imagine I’ll be able to see it on cable.
– Gina McIntyre | @LATherocomplex
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