Hugh Jackman interview: X-Men: Days Of Future Past and playing Wolverine

As part of our visit to the set of X-Men: Days Of Future Past last year, we sat down for a chat with Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman...

Sitting down opposite Hugh Jackman is an occasion enough in itself, yet when the Australian actor took the time to speak to Den Of Geek and a number of other film writers for a group interview last June, he happened to be dressed as the Wolverine. Having ducked out between takes to speak to us, he still had his hair sculpted into its distinctive shape, with the horn-like bits sticking up on either side of his head, and those luxuriant mutton chops growing down his jaws.

Thankfully, Wolverine’s Adamantium claws are nowhere to be seen, and we found Mr Jackman in friendly, cheerful, self-effacing humour. Here he is talking about playing his signature character for the seventh time, and what we can expect from the forthcoming X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

We were trying to speculate earlier about how you keep track of what’s going on. We’re struggling.

Of all the bouncing around I do, the Wolverine role’s the easiest to bounce back into. People might assume that I’m getting tired of it, but I don’t – it’s getting more engaging. I’m having more fun with the character than ever before.

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This particular film is one that brings up a lot of feelings of gratitude for me. First of all, to walk on set in the first few weeks was like a reunion. I owe a lot to Bryan. He cast me as this character, and that was the first thing I ever did. The first film I did in America had this incredible cast, I was playing this unbelievable role. Even if it was bad, I’d have said yes – I had no other options [Laughs]. But he was a great character.

Then, from there, to have everyone we’ve worked with in the last 10 years, and also Jennifer [Lawrence] and Michael [Fassbender] and James [McAvoy] and Nick [Hoult] – it’s an incredible cast. It really is, every day, a treat. To play a character I love… this story is pretty epic, pretty extraordinary. At the time I heard about it, I was doing Wolverine. And I thought, let me just hear what it’s about. The moment I heard the pitch for this, I thought, there’s no way I’m missing out.

I’ve answered about 18 different questions in one there.

What are Logan’s stakes, personally, in this film?

Ha, everything. For all the X-Men, including my character, everything’s at stake. I’d say the danger levels are the highest they’ve ever been in this movie. It’s certainly the greatest threat or villain they’ve faced. So for everyone involved, the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s as dangerous as it gets for all of them.

This is a continuation of the franchise, so in a way we’re combining two X-Men worlds. I don’t know how much you’ve been told… I don’t know how much there’s been mentioned of the timeline… So when it starts, Wolverine’s very much part of the group, and I know that’s not always been the case.

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How do you compare the physicality of this role to The Wolverine?

There were different elements in The Wolverine. There was the samurai element. So there was the martial arts that I wanted to incorporate into that. Not that he is a martial artist, but that he’d learned some of that. I was learning that style. Here, I think because of my physical preparation for Wolverine, I’m even better for [Days Of Future Past].

Because I really haven’t stopped for almost two years. I spent a year preparing for [The Wolverine], we shot it in six months, and six months later, here we are. So physically, I’d say I’m in better shape than even Wolverine, which is surprising. But all the action in this is… we’ve done a little bit of it, but most of it’s yet to come. So I’m feeling pretty good, but I’m sure my body’s going to be beaten up pretty soon.

I’ve read you’re the only character who appears in all the X-Men movies, is that right? I mean played by the same actor. Was there ever a discussion about X-Men: First Class featuring a young Logan?

I’m sure there was a discussion. They never mentioned it to me, obviously. But look, that’s inevitable, man. Anyone who thinks they’re indispensible is fooling themselves. I feel blessed to have this part. I never thought in a million years I’d get to play him seven times. I get to walk on set with the claws and the hair, and I thank my lucky stars. I don’t take anything for granted.

To think that the seventh movie has this cast and this director, and I would say the best script of all of them, it’s pretty amazing. That’s why I’m still here. I’m sure, by the way, that it won’t always be my decision to be here. At some point someone will close the door on me. That will happen. But for now I’m very happy. 

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How was it working with Bryan [Singer] again?

It’s been fantastic. [The first X-Men] wasn’t his first movie by any stretch of the imagination – it was my first movie. And it was a massive learning experience for me, I learned a lot from Bryan. It’s fair to say that I was scared out of my mind when I began – it was massive. I’d come from Aussie movies, and the whole thing was huge. So 13, 14 years later, to be able to come back to work with such a great director – and we’ve stayed friends ever since – it’s all the sweeter. We know each other so well. From day one we were straight into it. I think he’s as turned on and grateful as I am to have this opportunity, and he’s loving it.

I keep thinking, not only did Bryan create this universe, the comic book movie was pretty much dead when he started. You can credit Bryan, I think, with really igniting the whole genre. So he rightly deserves an iconic status in this world, and for him to come back in such an epic way, with such a big movie, such a big cast, I think is exciting not only for us, but also for fans everywhere.

When Logan goes back in time, do we see a 1973 version of Logan?

Can you tell the grey hairs have been slightly taken out of my beard? He does. There’s a misconception that Wolverine doesn’t age at all, but obviously he does – it’s just at a much, much slower rate because he heals. So for the makeup artist, it takes a little more work for her in the morning [Laughs].

Logan’s relationship with Charles was really important in the earlier films, and I’m sure working with Patrick [Stewart] was important to you as an actor. Can you talk about meeting the young Charles, and how McAvoy changes that for you?

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Such a great question. Because Wolverine really went under a massive change by missing Professor Xavier. He was pretty lost. He was on his own, and pretty rudderless, really. He was wandering around with a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of anger. That guidance really changes him and helps him grow. So it’s such a great concept, this idea that you can send your mind back to your younger body, the idea that you can go back not only for yourself, but with the benefit of wisdom, knowing what a person’s going to become. 

You go back and find a younger Charles Xavier, perhaps, in a more vulnerable place, a slightly less wise place, a difficult place where I can play the role for him that he would later play for me. It’s poignant, and beautifully brought out in the script. 

Building from that, what is your dynamic with Ian McKellen? Because before you were opposed, but in the future world Magneto is essentially one of the X-Men.

We’re brought together by a greater calamity than our own differences. But the animosity’s still there, and we’re certainly playing off of it – not between me and Ian at all, but between the characters. I think that’s fun. Just because we’re in the same family now, it doesn’t mean we get on together. But when you have to unite against a greater foe, you’re forced to come together.

What’s always been great about X-Men is that it’s not all happy endings or peace, love and understanding. Even when they’re together, people are grumpy with each other, they fight, they bicker and disagree. They have faults and shortcomings. I think that’s what Bryan always envisioned, and thought out really well.

How do you connect The Wolverine to Days Of Future Past?

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It does actually come together very well. There is a link, and it has been thought through. All I can say is, The Wolverine follows X-Men 3, so imagine that as two years afterwards. So everything that happened there was fresh for Wolverine. Which is why at the beginning of that movie, he’s very much at a loss and disillusioned. So I’ll let you put two and two together over how he comes out at the end of that movie.

Every movie has its own identity in this series. They’re their own thing.

Yeah. And hats off to the studio. The Wolverine was Darren Aronofsky’s idea, which James Mangold and the studio both took on, that idea that we’re telling another saga, very much like a comic book saga. There are different writers and different authors who take the same schematic and bring out their own vision of it, and The Wolverine is very different from those that came before it, and this movie is going to be completely different. It’s different in scale and size and scope for sure. And for those who really liked Bryan’s X-Men one and two, this is going to be like that on steroids.

This movie’s escapism for a lot of kids as well as adults. As a kid, what was your form of escapism?

Indy! Indiana Jones. I loved Indy. That came out when I was 12, 13, and that was it.

Was that your Halloween costume?

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Well, we didn’t have Halloween in Australia, unfortunately. All I knew about Halloween was the horror movie, and that was it. But you know, I don’t want to be too earnest about it, but I’ve always felt that X-Men has something thematically that is beyond just escapism, beyond superheroes saving the day. It’s very much an allegory between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. It’s about alienation and discrimination. And of course there’s that great wish fulfilment of the person being alienated having claws or can fly or being able to read minds, and having the ability to overcome those powers. It’s particularly why teenagers connect to it, because teenagers feel like mutants most of the time. They feel misunderstood, they feel outnumbered, often, discriminated against, and they feel like they have very little control over their lives.

It’s always had that aspiration, I think, and that’s what Bryan connected to. That’s what changed the genre, and allowed for The Dark Knight and things like that. 

In the 12 years that you’ve played Wolverine, how has filmmaking changed around you?

Well, technology’s certainly changed, that’s for sure. Aside from all the green screen elements you’ve seen today – and I’ve never seen anything of this size before – not that hugely. Yes, in the post-production area, massively. The cameras we’re using now, massively. Right now, Bryan’s looking at the White House in the monitor. He’s not just looking at a green screen.

When I made Real Steel, the director actually had the robots in the monitor, so he knew where everything was. So technically, there’s been advancements. But at the end of the day, movies are about story and characters, so all the other stuff is great, but unless you have those two elements, then you’ve got nothing.

Where does Wolverine go from here? You’ve got the Wolverine movies, the original trilogy and First Class – is it possible for all three of those franchises to continue?

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Can I take at least a little vacation, please? [Laughs] I’ll take the weekend, that’s fine. Wolverine: The Musical? No. I don’t know. This has been a surprise for me. The Japanese story and that samurai saga, I’ve been wanting to make that for 10 years. So from here I’m an open book. We’ll see. I’ll wait until I’ve been beaten up in some fight scenes which are coming up very soon, and maybe I’ll want a longer vacation.

With the international market being so big now, how has that changed a movie like this?

I think it’s fantastic. There’s an economical imperative now, to appeal to audiences all around the world. I’m someone who’s a foreigner making movies in America, so like many of you guys, I’m thrilled when stories go beyond an American sensibility. And why shouldn’t they? I think it’s great; it has changed the focus of storytelling. It means movies are getting made that wouldn’t have been made before, just because they appeal to another market and not an American market. That’s all great. For our business as actors, it means we get to work with great directors from overseas, and great actors from overseas. We have so many great international actors in this.

Never forget how amazing America is, that not only do they allow it, but they embrace it. They’ve always embraced actors like me coming in and putting on an American accent. People coming in and telling stories. It’s a real sign of generosity and confidence in themselves that they’d do that.

I know there was a lot of schedule juggling to get this movie made. But it sounds like in the monastery scene, the whole gang’s back together.

It was awesome. That’s what I was saying. I was honestly waking up in the morning thinking, this is unbelievable. Who’d have thought that in this day and age that I’d have the opportunity to work with everyone again?

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There I was with Anna Paquin. I remember, she stayed behind for 10 hours after she’d finished working to screen test with me. She said, “I’ll stay and read with you”. And she was literally a little girl in that first movie when we started. And here we are in [Days Of Future Past] talking about children and babies. Everyone had moved on. Patrick Stewart’s getting married again [Laughs]. So it’s amazing that the same friendship and camaraderie is still there. And to be doing it with Bryan on a really quality picture – all those things make you realise how lucky you are.

Hugh Jackman, thank you very much.

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