Aussie actor Hugh Jackman sharpens his claws and tells Dan Brightmore about going berserker to play The Wolverine.
What do you think explains the enduring appeal of the clawsome Marvel Comics hero?
Wolverine marches to the beat of his own drum. He lives his own life. He doesn’t follow anyone else’s opinions. When you look at the X-Men he’s got less powers than any of them but he’s the most courageous. He can heal himself, which is handy, and he has these claws but, if you think about it, anyone further than six feet away from him can beat him in a fight because they’ll shoot him with things coming out of their eyes or they can fly away. But in the world of X-Men, Wolverine is the most feared because he’s the toughest, grittiest and angriest.
It’s the sixth time you’ve played the mutant on the big screen. What’s the story this time?
It’s based on the 1982 Samurai saga (by graphic novel legends Chris Claremont and Frank ‘Sin City’ Miller – written by The Usual Suspects scribe Chris McQuarrie) and the beginning of our story takes place in WWII. It’s Nagasaki, bomb’s about to drop, there’s panic everywhere. That’s where Logan meets the young Yashida and ends up saving his life. Some 60 years later Yashida is the most powerful businessman in Japan. He sees in Wolverine someone who has the ability to live but doesn’t necessarily want it.
Wolverine must protect Mariko (Yashida’s heir and granddaughter played by Japanese super model Tao Okamoto) but with his powers diminished he finds himself caught in a gang war amid warring ninjas and Yakuza with no one he can trust. He’s up against classic Marvel villains Viper and the Silver Samurai and more of a monster than you’ve ever seen him before!
Are you a comic book geek?
I never read an X-Men comic until I got cast. Literally the first one I read was this Japanese mini-series. I was like, ‘this is amazing!’ And 12 years later, here we are…
Has your approach to playing Logan and channelling his ‘berserker rage’ changed over the years?
As an actor you change, but you don’t revolutionize it every time.
The film has some serious themes…
For sure. What is the point of living forever if your life is filled with regret and pain and everyone you love dies?
We’re getting very philosophical here, but in real life, if you can’t come to terms with your own death, I think that actually impinges your ability to live because if you’re living in fear of that, your life will have the same level of fear in it all the time. So until you accept the fact we all really know we’re dying and you are okay with it, you know, on some level you inhibit your life.
Director James Mangold has described this Logan as a Ronin – a Samurai with no master. Can we expect a moodier tale?
There’s definitely a darker tone in line with Chris Nolan’s [Batman] movies and you’ll experience a very different style of action than you normally see in a comic book adventure.
Did you take an equally raw approach to the action?
We didn’t choreograph the fights with a lot of complicated wirework – they’re designed from a martial arts movie perspective. There are foot chases and the sword fights tend to be influenced by classic martial arts rather than the kind of fights you see in a regular superhero movie. You still have all the fantastic spectacle that you get in all the big X-Men films, but this film is grittier.
Logan doesn’t learn martial arts formally in the movie. He doesn’t train in a traditional way, but he learns about the philosophy and discipline by observation. He is animalistic in the way he fights, but he’s fighting these super technical, relentlessly disciplined foes. Wolverine’s fighting style is more street fighting than classic Japanese martial arts.
What’s your favourite fight scene?
When Wolverine encounters an army of ninjas it’s awesome. They use every type of weapon you can imagine. It all takes place in the snow and ice and looks amazing. The ninjas work as a team using different kinds of weaponry in synchronicity to keep Wolverine on the ropes. They’re formidable opponents in a world that’s entirely foreign to Wolverine who returns to that ‘berserker rage’ he’s known for because it’s the only way he can survive this onslaught. He has to start taking these guys out. The ninjas set up trap after trap for him and he has to use his ‘Wolverine techniques’ with his claws: slashing, grabbing and throwing. It’s great fun and a sort of homage to classic martial arts movies like 13 Assassins.
So how do you get in shape to bring the action smackdown?
It’s seven days a week with five days a week on weights and cardio twice a day. An hour in the morning, then an hour of weights and then 45 minutes in the afternoon. The most important thing about the training
is the eating.
How do you re-fuel to keep going?
I’m on this 16/8 diet which is all the rage. I eat for eight hours a day and I fast for 16 hours a day so from 10am until 6pm I eat. I just eat in the middle of the day and I eat about 5,000 or 6,000 calories in that period.
So when you’re not eating mountains of steak, chicken and tuna how do you like to pig out?
It’s a toss up: ice cream or lasagne!
You worked with the top movie stunt team 87Eleven – did they let you have a crack at the scary stuff?
Yes, I do what I can for an old man. I’ve learned a lot over the years like there’s a scene in X-Men where I get hit by Sabre Tooth. I was on top of a ladder, I fell about 10 feet and got concussion and almost passed out and, literally, I watched the movie and I am like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I had no back pads on. I literally just landed on my back on the roof of a car. I don’t do that anymore!
Tell us about the bullet train fight.
It is insane. One of the most emblematic things about Japan is the bullet train. Wolverine can’t go on the bullet train without an incident. It was hairy, shooting that stuff. To re-create what that is like, the kind of winds at 300mph, let me just say, looking back at some of the footage, I thought, ‘It’s time for a facelift.’
Even Logan rocks a sharp suit in this film but what about your own style?
Well, I’m a little more eclectic. My style is basically what my wife wants me to wear – we’ve been married for 17 years. But now I have been exposed to a handmade shoe! That changed my life. I didn’t even realize how good life could be in a handmade shoe, so I have two pairs of those from the London shoemaker John Lobb, which I do love to wear with a suit from Tom Ford.
So your wife must be happy with your ripped physique.
When I met her it was my first job and I had to put on a lot of muscle so she’d never really seen me in my real body, actually, because I was playing this prisoner and I had tattoos and she used to say to me don’t take the tattoos off. She sort of liked the bad boy. We never would have got together if we had just met in the street or something. And at the same time she’ll say to me, ‘Hugh, your job as my husband is to look bad, okay, be in bad shape, be overweight, be schlubby so I look great at all times.’ And she’s right, but says I’m always failing!
Are you a lover or a fighter?
I’m not nearly as tough as Wolverine! Growing up in Australia you don’t show your feelings. A real man doesn’t cry. All that sort of thing. But my opinion of masculinity? When you go to Italy men can show emotion, they can be affectionate and still be masculine and I’m more on that line of thinking. I’m more Italo-phile than Aussie-phile.
Do you find it hard to hang up the mutton chops at the end of the day?
Is it tough to turn off Wolverine? I use it occasionally to get reservations at a restaurant or a seat on the subway. But after playing Wolverine for 12 years I can turn it off quickly, because I don’t think I’d be welcome at home if I was scowling and calling everyone, ‘Bub!’
The Wolverine is in cinemas from August 15.