Hugh Jackman gets to the heart of ‘The Wolverine’

July 25, 2013 | 6:00 a.m.
wolverine4 Hugh Jackman gets to the heart of The Wolverine

Rila Fukushima, left, and Hugh Jackman in a scene from "The Wolverine." (Ben Rothstein / 20th Century Fox)

wolverine7 Hugh Jackman gets to the heart of The Wolverine

Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, left, and Hugh Jackman as Logan in a scene from "The Wolverine." (Ben Rothstein / 20th Century Fox)

SAN DIEGO — Striding into a cramped hotel room at the beginning of what will be a long day at Comic-Con International, Hugh Jackman glad-handed onlookers and flashed his million-dollar smile.

He’d arrived at North America’s biggest pop culture expo to talk up his new film, “The Wolverine,” which arrives in theaters Friday, and he moved with a seriousness of purpose, one that seemed all the more striking in contrast to the exuberant mirth of the Stormtroopers, Klingons and other costumed revelers flooding into the city’s convention center 12 floors below.

Hugh Jackman, photographed July 22, 2013 in San Diego, Calif. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Hugh Jackman says the new “Wolverine” movie takes a definitive look at the title character. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

For Jackman, though, “The Wolverine” isn’t just another sequel in the long-running “X-Men” franchise, another chance to flay bad guys with adamantium claws and deliver pithy one-liners. The new film offers a definitive look at the character that propelled him to stardom, examining the pain and brains beneath the brawn.

“We wanted to make something fresh,” Jackman said. “This movie is not wall-to-wall mutants. You don’t have people flying around, changing colors or shooting lasers out of their eyes. It is very human.”

Locating the humanity in the wounded, angry loner has been Jackman’s central acting challenge since first signing on to bring the character to the screen in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film “X-Men,” a thinking person’s spectacle film that ushered in the modern era of superhero movies. Jackman has played Wolverine, or Logan as he’s known, in two sequels and a spinoff movie (2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) in addition to a small cameo in the prequel film “X-Men: First Class.”

“The Wolverine,” directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”), finds Logan in something of a compromised, contemplative state. He’s a man haunted by his recent past and searching for meaning in a world without end. Logan is retrieved from self-imposed exile in the Canadian wilderness by the mysterious Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who takes him to visit a past acquaintance with an intriguing offer.

The dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) tells Logan he can take away his regenerative powers. Without his ability to heal, Logan could live something closer to a normal life; most importantly, he finally would grow old and eventually die.

Jackman said he first read the landmark 1980 comic book by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that inspired the new movie when he was shooting Singer’s “X-Men,” and was immediately struck by the moody, introspective qualities of the saga and the nuanced portrait it offered of its angry, violent antihero and his exploits in Japan.

“The guy who is the outsider, emblematic in a way of anti-authority, anti-tradition, anti-honor, anti-code, is in Japan with all these samurai and ninjas,” Jackman said. “I think it’s the perfect juxtaposition for this guy who doesn’t think, he’s emotional. He acts and then has to deal with the fallout from it.”

Jackman’s “X-Men” role has helped make him one of the biggest movie stars in the world. It’s the constant through line in a career that has seen the actor tackle other big-budget adventures (“Van Helsing,” “Australia”), animated features (“Happy Feet,” “Rise of the Guardians”) and challenging dramas with hints of the fantastic (“The Fountain,” “The Prestige”), in addition to a Tony-winning turn in the Broadway musical “The Boy From Oz.”

Hugh Jackman at the "X-Men: Days of Future Past" panel at San Diego's Comic-Con International on July 20, 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Hugh Jackman at the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con International on July 20, 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

This time, the 44-year-old actor is revisiting the character in the wake of an Oscar nomination for last year’s “Les Miserables” and just weeks before another new project, the harrowing drama “Prisoners,” premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. But he’s not leaving stage work behind — Jackman is set to star in the new Stephen Schwartz-scored musical “Houdini” due on Broadway next year, and he also is planning to bring his one-man Broadway show, “One Night Only,” to Los Angeles in October to benefit the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

In that way, Jackman is unique in the world of action heroes — there aren’t too many talented song and dance men who could believably play a rage-fueled mutant tough guy.

“You have in Hugh a man of incredible masculinity and physical power and acting power who can mount this gruff exterior and play this sense of resentment and rage and being an outsider and connect with it,” Mangold said. “At the same time, you sense this tremendous heart, which is also a functioning feature of Hugh Jackman’s real life character.”

James Mangold and Hugh Jackman on the set of "The Wolverine." (20th Century Fox)

James Mangold, left, and Hugh Jackman on the set of “The Wolverine.” (20th Century Fox)

As a producer on the film, Jackman was instrumental in recruiting his “Kate & Leopold” director Mangold to helm take over the movie after the departure of Darren Aronofsky, who was originally set to direct the project. Mangold is not known for making standard comic book fare, but that was precisely why Jackman turned to him.

Mangold said he drew inspiration from film noir and classic westerns such as Clint Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” and sought to create a grittier action film and character study that worked from a different vantage point than Wolverine’s previous solo outing, which explored Logan’s earlier life.

“For me as an actor, I wanted someone who would push me, take me to places I hadn’t gone to,” Jackman said.

“The Wolverine” spent about five weeks shooting in Tokyo, Enoshima and other more pastoral locales, and the exotic locations, along with the largely Asian supporting cast (including action veteran Hiroyuki Sanada) and subtitled sequences help to distinguish the movie from a standard-issue popcorn movie. But taking the Sydney, Australia-based production on the road wasn’t without certain hiccups, Jackman said.

“We shot Tomonoura, this little fishing building in the middle of summer,” the actor recalled. “I remember turning up at the hotel. They were very apologetic because they’d heard what I eat, I’m on a very restricted diet. They said, ‘We’re very sorry, if you want a Western breakfast, we need three days’ notice.’ I was like, Wow, for a boiled egg? We are really out of Tokyo now.”

Hugh Jackman, photographed July 22, 2013 in San Diego, Calif. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Hugh Jackman, in San Diego for Comic-Con, says Wolverine reminds him of Dirty Harry and Mad Max, characters he loved as a boy. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Although the competition at the summer box office has been brutal so far, with a number of high-profile films failing to connect with moviegoers, audience interest in “The Wolverine” appears high, with the movie on track to collect $75 million to $80 million in its box office premiere this weekend. Early reviews for the film also have been kind — Variety called “The Wolverine” “an entertaining and surprisingly existential digression” — all of which is good news for Jackman, who is currently shooting the next installment in Logan’s saga.

In next summer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Singer returns to the franchise for a project that reunites the casts of the first mutant trilogy and the prequel that was directed by Matthew Vaughn. The entire throng, a group that includes Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence and Jackman, among others, assembled on the stage of Comic-Con’s marquee arena, the 6,500-seat Hall H on Saturday, to wildly adoring fans.

Jackman thanked the crowd for their love and support, echoing on stage some of the same notes he sounded earlier in the day when describing Wolverine’s enduring appeal.

“To me, he’s eternally surprising, there’s a great deal about him which I personally love,” Jackman said. “He reminds me of the characters I loved growing up — Dirty Harry, Mad Max. He doesn’t speak a lot. Yes, he’s tough and yes, he’s cool, but there’s a lot going on underneath the surface. I wouldn’t still be playing it otherwise.”

– Gina McIntyre | @LATherocomplex


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6 Responses to Hugh Jackman gets to the heart of ‘The Wolverine’

  1. Rudya says:

    I will no longer attend any movies with Jackman in them. Walmart exploits its workers, forcing the taxpayers to have to subsidize their subsistence wages, and this cheerleader for the Walmart firm stands up and praises the corporation. Jackman's wealth keeps him from feeling the pain being inflicted by the greedy.

    • berrigirl says:

      Get over yourself! YOU try living in a small town without a WalMart. They provide jobs for lots of people who need them, too.

  2. Charlie says:

    I just can't get that image of Jackman cavorting around on Walmart's stage at the corporation's private party out of my head. Wish I'd never seen that. That visual has somehow "permanently tarnished" my perception of a great actor.

  3. Sophie says:

    Wolverine, long before Hollywood discovered, is one of the coolest characters in the Marvel universe. The X-Men and their complex stories, personalities, etc., are what make me a Marvel fan.

  4. lasparky11 says:

    It's sad when people like Jackman purport to care about the poor & middle class, then show up working for Walmart. I think I will save my money & stay home.

  5. america says:

    Tom Cruise was there as well.

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