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Hugh Jackman :: Turning Japanese in ’The Wolverine’

by Fred Topel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 24, 2013

It would be impossible to imagine a Wolverine film without Hugh Jackman. Since he first appeared as Wolverine in the Bryan Singer's "X-Men" in 2000, he's become synonymous with the character (aka as Logan). But he wasn't the first choice for the role: he replaced British actor Dougray Scott when that actor couldn't get away from a Tom Cruise film he was making. At the time Jackman's wife even advised he not take the role (today she's happy he did).

The role established Jackman in Hollywood, so much so that when he hosted the Oscars in 2009 he sang a number called "I'm Wolverine." That shouldn't have surprised anyone; in addition to being an action star, Jackman is what is known in theater circles as a triple-threat. He sings and dances in addition to acting. In fact, his first break was in his native Australia in the musicals "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sunset Boulevard."

His breakthrough role was in London's Royal National Theatre's revival of "Oklahoma" in 1998 (which was later filmed). Subsequently he's mixed things up, moving between stage roles (including a Tony award-winning impersonation of Aussie performer Peter Allen), solo shows and, last year, a highly-praised performance in the film version of "Les Miserables," which netted him a Golden Globe award and his first Oscar nomination.

Headed to Japan

This week he returns to the character of Logan for a sixth time with "The Wolverine," directed by James Mangold. For the record, he played it four times in "X-Men" movies (including a cameo in 2011’s "X-Men: First Class"), and once in the franchise’s first solo effort, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" in 2009.

That film ended with a mid-credits tag that showed Logan (Jackman) headed towards Japan, which fans recognized as a familiar storyline from the comic books. This may be why "The Wolverine" is largely set in Japan. When making the film, Jackman moved his family to the country and enjoyed an extended stay there.

"I’ve not only promoted movies there but I’ve been three times I think, or four times for vacation," Jackman said in an appearance at Comic-Con last weekend. "My wife and our kids love Japan, but we’ve never had the experience of working there and going for such a long period of time. We went to not only Tokyo, which I’ve been to... (but) this time we went to Kyoto. We (also) filmed in Tomonura which was four hours south by bullet train. We went to places I’d never been to before, so I feel like I have a richer, deeper understanding of Japan and its culture. My son and I climbed Mt. Fuji which I’ve been hearing about for many years. In ever way, my fascination and love of Japan deepened."


It’s one thing to draw Japan in the panels of comic books, but Jackman and director Mangold knew they owed it to the fans and their Japanese hosts to do right by them. "Of course this film is based on a famous comic book set in Japan, so one thing that was really important to Jim and me was how this film would feel to Japanese people," Jackman said. "We wanted them to be proud of how we show their country and customs and culture."

Wolverine emerged as a wave of mutants with unique powers in the Marvel comic books in the 1970s; Singer brought him to the screen with great success in 2000. His power is the ability to heal, which means he cannot be killed and has lived for centuries, not aging. He also has a skeleton made of adamantium, an indestructible metal per the Marvel universe, which extends three metal claws from each of his fists.

Though being immortal has brought an entire set of troubling personal issues not yet explored in the previous films.

"Imagine being 200-300 years old and living with the fact that everyone you’ve known or loved in the past has died," Jackman said. Specifically for Wolverine it "Jean Grey, the love of his life. He killed her as she became Dark Phoenix at the end of ’X-Men 3.’ He kills her and then, roll credits. So finally in this movie we get a chance to live with what haunts Wolverine. What it is like having that sort of immortality, being who he is and knowing that his strengths bring destruction and pain and loneliness to the world. So he questions the burden that is his life."

Inspired by Mad Max & Dirty Harry

Many comic book fans were wary of the 6’2" Australian actor playing a character that, in the comic book, is a foot shorter in height. But any concerns dissipated once Jackman brought both his physical and acting prowess to a role that requires brooding intensity. When he took the role he studied Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood, along with the fighting moves of Mike Tyson, to get closer to the role.

"When I grew up, I loved Mad Max, I loved Dirty Harry, I just couldn’t get enough (of them) because they were cool; they were who I wish I was like. In a way I think Wolverine fills that kind of archetype," Jackman said. "He’s a bit of an anti-hero. Deep down he’s a good guy, but he’s never a nice guy. He’s conflicted and he is, in a way, flawed. He’s just the last person you want to piss off. There’s something really cool about that."

Next year marks his seventh time playing Wolverine with the new "X-Men" movie "X-Men: Days of Future Past," which features characters from the first four "X-Men" films played by many of the actors that originated the roles. Reflecting on some 15 years with the character, Jackman credited producers Hutch Parker and Lauren Shuler Donner with getting him the role in the first place.

Best he’s been

It was Donner who first brought Jackman to Hutch’s attention when she gave the Fox producer Jackman’s audition tape. "It was when I was playing Curly in ’Oklahoma.’ She pulled it out of a pile," Jackman recalled. "It was seven months before I had a callback. And there was only one reason why: because Lauren was saying, ’You should check this guy out.’ So if there’s one person that knows me as an actor and has championed me, it’s been her. And after seeing me in this movie, Lauren said, ’This is the best you’ve ever been as Wolverine.’"

Jackman took the compliment graciously, but immediately corrected her, citing Mangold as the reason for his strong performance. "Because I think if you’re a director walking onto a set with an actor who’s played a role five times before, you expect him to say, ’Listen, you do your thing. I’ll worry about everything else...’

"But he never did. With me, with all the other actors, Rila [Fukushima] who’d never been in a movie for example. I think got the most out of all of us."

And, Jackman warns, don’t leave until the final credits roll.

"If you stay to the end of ’The Wolverine’ you’ll see a great teaser for ’Days of Future Past.’ It’s fair to say the character you see at the end of ’The Wolverine’ is very much the character that enters ’Days of Future Past’ which, by the way, is a very different character from that at the beginning of the movie. So it’s quite a journey."

He is also very happy to return to the X-Men team for the new film.

"The X-Men movies are beloved all around the world and actually if you go back to the comic book series, the Wolverine spinoffs are very, very popular but the X-Men series has always been the foundation. I think what X-Men did, and Wolverine’s a great example, is invent a way to make superheroes human, complex, flawed, interesting. That’s why they’re played by so many interesting and different actors. That’s why so many great directors take them on because there’s an opportunity for something very, very human as well as something spectacular."

"The Wolverine" opens Friday.


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