Hugh Jackman looks back on 17 years of Wolverine, role he never expected but which has defined his career until now
Australian actor whose friends had him playing James Bond, not a dark, brooding anti-hero, says thought of moving on from his X-Men role, and the unpredictability it brings, energises him
When Hugh Jackman graduated from drama school in Australia, he remembers having friends who were willing to bet money that he’d eventually be James Bond on the big screen. But that he’d play a comic-book tough guy who chomps cigars and sinks his claws into bad guys’ faces? Not so much.
Jackman is the first to admit that Wolverine wasn’t “a bread-and-butter role for me. No one was saying, ‘You’re definitely going to play a dark, brooding sort of anti-hero.’”
The 48-year-old actor laughs at the memory, yet the character, with his recalcitrant attitude and penchant for ultra-violence, has for 17 years fascinated mainstream pop culture, adoring fanboys and even Jackman himself.
He’s played Wolverine in nine movies, starting with 2000’s X-Men, be it as a star or in a cameo, but he’s putting the mutton chops and claws away after one last stand in Logan (in cinemas now), the finishing touch on a memorable run.
What sticks out most for Jackman over that time? So many weights lifted and so many chickens eaten getting pumped up to be a superhero icon. The day Jackman got the role in 1999 – when Dougray Scott couldn’t make it work around Mission: Impossible II. Sitting on a New York fire escape with his wife Deborra-Lee Furness the Saturday night after X-Men opened in 2000 and her saying: “I think this is going to change everything.”
He only thought about walking away from Wolverine one time before, around the release of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. “I was worried it was getting limited for me, and directors I wanted to work with were not so interested” in hiring him for non-superhero acting roles, Jackman says, though his fears were quelled when Woody Allen and Darren Aronofsky approached him – for Scoop and The Fountain respectively – and not the other way around. Since then, “every time I came back to it, it really felt fun and fresh.”
Logan director James Mangold has known Jackman for almost as long as the actor has played Wolverine – he cast Jackman opposite Meg Ryan in 2001’s romantic comedy Kate & Leopold.
Back then, Jackman was “a wonderful, exuberant, wildly talented and versatile young actor”, Mangold says. “The person I have continued to know is just gaining in confidence and gravity. I don’t see an end for him because we have so few of these masculine figures that can own the screen in a traditional sense but are also full of surprises.”
Jackman’s next role is one his schoolmates would have pegged as more his speed: The notable song-and-dance man is filming P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman, and his 11-year-old daughter Ava is jazzed. “She’ll tell you, ‘Hey, Dad, I notice the Wolverines and all that. But that P.T. Barnum, that’s the movie.’ She’s waiting for Christmas,” Jackman says with a laugh.
After that, his future is wide open. Bond isn’t in the cards – “I think Daniel [Craig] has got that one sewn up,” Jackman says – though Logan co-star Patrick Stewart reports that he has a potential theatre gig for him. “I told him if he plays it, I will play a small supporting role. I cannot tell you what it is, but you will hear it about it when and if happens.”