While Hugh Jackman may have been the breakout star of the three blockbuster "X-Men" movies, he was one mutant among many, with an assortment of Oscar winners and theater legends all gunning for their own super-powered moments.
In the new "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," it's Jackman's show. It's his character in the title, his image front-and-center in the poster and his name listed as both leading man and producer. It's no wonder that Jackman admitted, at the recent "Wolverine" press day, that even without playing favorites, this movie means a little extra to him.
"There's no less effort or desire that goes into every role. Every film has that sense for me as an actor. Obviously this movie has a different dimension as producer," Jackman acknowledges. "I found myself yesterday asking everyone what they thought of the movie and I was nervous about it, because individually I gathered everybody here... In that way, I feel it's more personal to me. It's more my baby. I asked all these actors and Gav, the director, to come on board, so obviously I'm more attached to it. It feels more personal. That's the difference."
As producer, Jackson assembled a supporting cast featuring Tony winner Liev Schreiber, ubiquitous character actor Danny Huston, versatile leading man Ryan Reynolds, "Friday Night Lights" heartthrob Taylor Kitsch and Grammy winner Will.i.am. The assemblage of new and familiar mutants is directed by Oscar winner Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi"). Adding to the pressure, though, is a new complexity for Jackman's Logan, who was counted on for brawling, wise-cracking and only the occasional emotional subplot in the first three "X-Men" films.
"I think comic book fans have loved Wolverine the character, in fact all the X-Men characters, more than the action. I think that's what set it apart from any of the other comic books," notes Jackman. "You have, in the case of Wolverine when he appeared, a revolution, really. He was the first anti-hero. There was not just good and bad guys, but an internal battle of good and bad going on within the character. That's why people relate to him. Yeah, they're cool and have their claws or they can do amazing things -- swords, cards, all that great fun stuff -- but each one of them has a personal battle going on and that's why audiences can relate."
As the title implies, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is an origin story, following Logan from childhood, filling a number of key gaps for a character famed for his amnesia. This fresh look at the character prevented fatigue from setting in as Jackman donned the metallic claws for the fourth time.
"Everything felt new to me," he says. "Obviously, you see the actors I'm around. Everything's new. Took me a little while to get over the fact Halle Berry wasn't on set most days. I jest," Jackman says. I'm playing, yes, the same character, but I'm filling in approximately 100 years of life that had never been explored before, that had been unknown to him. It was a chance not only to reveal that, but a thing that Gavin and I talked about from the beginning was we didn't want that shot at the beginning of the movie where people go 'Yeah! There's Wolverine. Cool!' I wanted to see him evolve."
One advantage, though, in returning to a familiar character is that you have some sense of audience expectations, a developing awareness of what the fans want.
"As these guys have probably already found out or are about to find out, about every third day for the rest of their lives, they're going to hear a critique of how they played the part, what they should have done differently and they could do the next time if they ever get a shot at it," Jackman laughs, looking at his co-stars. "So I knew exactly what fans want. I'm not just talking comic book fans, I'm talking fans of the movie."
One thing Jackman realized is that fans felt Wolverine had been excessively softened by the end of Brett Ratner's 2006 "X-Men: The Last Stand." While "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" includes a romantic subplot with Lynn Collins' Kayla, Jackman feels that's secondary to the cigar-chomping, berzerker-raging Wolverine fans have been missing.
"I think fans love about Wolverine is his, in a way, more uncompromising approach to life. He is who he is. He's not always a nice guy. He has got edge. He's an anti-hero and there's also a vulnerability in there. There's conflicts and battles going on in there," Jackman explains. "So I had really, with Gav and these other actors, a chance to explore that more. I wanted the film to feel different. Gav and I talked a lot about that, the aesthetic of it, the tone of it, probably a little darker, a little rougher, a little tougher and hopefully, maybe even a little more human. I think that's really what appealed to me about the comic book."
He smiles and adds, "And no more black leather suits."
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" opens on Friday, May 1, 2009.
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