For Hugh Jackman, “The Wolverine” has been 13 years coming.
The Oscar-nominated Australian actor first discovered Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s landmark comic book exploring Logan’s past when he was shooting Bryan Singer’s 2000 mutant movie “X-Men.” Immediately, he was struck by the moody, introspective qualities of the saga and the nuanced portrait it offered of its angry, violent antihero.
Now, two “X” sequels, a prequel and a spinoff movie later, the story of Logan struggling with his animal instincts while abroad in Japan is finally heading to theaters. “The Wolverine” will open July 26, with Jackman’s “Kate and Leopold” director James Mangold at the helm.
Mangold is perhaps best known for films such as “Cop Land,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “Walk the Line,” not standard comic book fare. But with “The Wolverine” functioning neither as an origin story nor a tale of a hero defeating a supervillain out to destroy the world, the director could break away from the creatively limiting dictates of standard superhero movie convention and root the story firmly in character.
With the film set for a turn in the spotlight Saturday in San Diego at Comic-Con International, Jackman spoke to Hero Complex about adopting that approach to the story, traveling to Japan to shoot the film, and whether the world might someday see an R-rated Wolverine movie.
HC: You were instrumental in bringing James Mangold on as director on the film after Darren Aronofsky left the project. Why was he the right person to direct “The Wolverine”?
HJ: I knew that I needed a director that had a very strong vision, a filmmaker who was really strong with story and character and also someone to push me. If you look at Jim’s résumé, he always gets the best out of actors. You’d forgive a director for thinking, “Oh, well, he’s going to do his Wolverine thing and I’m going to worry about everything else,” but Jim is not like that. It was just a really perfect kind of synergy. It was something he was up for, really wanted to do, and his skills really brought something fresh and different to the character and to the franchise.
HC: James has mentioned that “The Wolverine” afforded you the chance to more deeply explore the character of Logan than in previous “X-Men” movies. Would you agree with that sentiment?
HJ: Yeah, which is what we needed to do. I loved from the get-go that the studio was on board with the title, just calling it “The Wolverine,” i.e. this is the definitive look at that character. Jim, he’s done such an amazing job with this film. It has all the stuff you expect of a big summer movie, a comic book movie, but really he delves into the character. We have focused a lot on his lack of memory, which is a part of who he is. Now we’re focusing more on where he’s at, his almost immortality, what’s the meaning and purpose to his life, and who he is really. I think one of the great things about this character is how conflicted and tortured he is and we’ve really had an opportunity in this film, in this completely new setting and backdrop, to explore that.
HC: Playing a character this many times must be a blessing and a curse. You can really gain a deeper understanding of him, but it must be tricky to keep it creatively interesting.
HJ: I’ve never found it difficult on the interesting front. This character is very different from me. It’s always a challenge. It definitely takes a lot of discipline, not just physically, but even as an actor there has to be a restraint to him but at the same time an explosiveness. Finding that on a day-to-day basis is tricky, particularly when you’re sustaining for four or five months. To be honest, this particular saga was something that I had my eye on from the very first week that I was doing “X-Men” back in 1999. I saw this comic book and I was like, “Oh, this is the movie.”
HC: Did you approach playing the character of Logan any differently for this film? Obviously, there’s a crazy amount of physical preparation you must go through, but mentally, how do you locate the mind-set to play this character after you’ve been away from him?
HK: I have a few little triggers I use. One of them is taking very ice cold showers in the morning because it really pisses me off, and that’s pretty much where Logan lives, like he’s forced to take a cold shower all the time.
HC: Is it true that you and James Mangold approached the film as a kind of western? Giving Logan the least possible dialogue?
HJ: He told me about “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” which I had never seen, and I was very grateful for that little tip. I love that template that he was using because it very much suited Wolverine, the idea of this suppressed rage and this purpose. It’s more of a revenge film, that one; this is a little more complex on what motivates him, but that idea of the eternal outsider who really doesn’t say a lot, who really communicates in a very subtle, very internal way [is the same]. Jim was really tough on me on being disciplined with that. When you know a character well, you know his voice well, and of course with Wolverine there is a part of him that quips. He’s someone who has a line here and there and that’s always tempting, going for those in every scene. But Jim really forced me to be disciplined.
HC: And there was some thought given to releasing “The Wolverine” as an R-rated film at one point?
HJ: Yes, there was. If there’s ever going to be a comic book character that deserves and could have an R-rated movie, it’s Wolverine, and I, in a way, would love to see that version of it. In the end, it won’t be. The thing about playing this character, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are teenagers, it means a lot to them, this character, what he represents. I said to Jim Mangold, I said, “Look, we have to have a very, very good reason to deliberately exclude them because that’s what we’re saying, ‘This one’s not for you.’” We have to have a really great reason to do that, not just, “Oh, that would be cool.” Tonally, this is a darker film than what has been before, but in the end we decided that’s not what we want. We don’t want to exclude them from this story, and I don’t think we need to compromise on that darker side of Wolverine’s character.
HC: How did you find the experience of shooting in Japan?
HJ: I loved it. I’m someone who loves Japan. I’ve been there many times, not only for work, but I’ve been for pleasure. I always find it fascinating and as beguiling, mysterious, exciting and inspiring actually every time I go as the last. To work there was another thing, and also to work in places like Tomonoura or Fukuyama, which are outside of Tokyo. I’d really only been to the major centers, and I feel in a way I discovered the real Japan working outside. Where we were shooting — and hey, this is Japan, of course we were looked after incredibly well — but when we arrived at the hotel, they said, “If you would like a Western breakfast, we need three days notice.” I was like, now we’re in Japan. Three days notice for a boiled egg? OK.
HC: Given that we’re in a period with so many superhero/comic book films, does it become more difficult to offer audiences something unique? Does filming in a place like Japan help accomplish that?
HJ: Our movie is not overcrowded with mutants and aliens and people who fly. It feels quite real. What Japan gives us is what you or I would feel going to Japan, which is, wow, this is another world. Not only visually does it give us a whole different palette but I think just story-wise as a backdrop it’s just fascinating. I always thought it was such a great juxtaposition, the character of Wolverine, the ultimate loner, in this world dominated by honor and tradition and family, all these things that are the antithesis of who Wolverine is is fantastic fodder for the movie.
– Gina McIntyre | @LATherocomplex
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