Now that’s odd. “I feel bad for you,” says Hugh Jackman when we meet in Berlin right after the premiere of Logan. There are many reasons why one of the biggest stars in the world could feel bad for me, attractiveness level and significant wage gap notwithstanding, but up until this very moment I was feeling rather fine. Luckily, here comes the explanation: “You just talked to James [Mangold], right? He is so much more succinct than me and just better at what he says.” So it’s not that half-eaten sandwich I have been trying to hide under the table. What a relief.
Jackman has a point. Director James Mangold is a riot, be it when describing the long process of choosing the film’s title (“What would you call this movie if you would go with Wolverine? Is it Wolverine 3 or The Wolverine 2? Or one that would make me gag: WOLVERINE: THE LAST STAND! WOLVERINE: THE FINAL ELEGY! I want to vomit”) or referring to other comic-book adaptations as “having the character development of Bugs Bunny in a Warner Bros. cartoon.” Still, whatever you call him, there is only one Logan. So no need to feel bad for me, thankyouverymuch.
Your character is tired of being Wolverine. Now he is Logan, pure and simple.
When I saw the movie last night, which was also the first time I have ever seen it finished and with an audience, I have never loved that character more. And yet I know it’s the right time for me to leave. For these last 16 or 17 years I always felt that there was something deeper that we hadn’t achieved yet – for whatever reason. A few years ago I recorded something on my phone at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was jetlagged and woke up with a very clear vision for a movie. This film is about 90 per cent of what I had in mind. Don’t get me wrong – James wrote the story and absolutely knocked it out of the park. But there were a couple of elements, and something about the tone. Anyone who knows anything about comics knows that they come in 50 different flavours. The same goes for Wolverine – you may look at some of the images and it’s yellow and blue spandex and then you look at others and it’s like Hieronymus Bosch. They are very different depending on who is interpreting them. And it should be like that. There should be a James Mangold version of Logan and a very different one further down the line. So I have never loved him so much, but I have never been surer it’s time to move on.
How was the last day of the shoot?
The truth is that it was quite poignant for me, because we actually shot the end at the end. I remember James coming up to me and he said: “I am not going to wrap it up, let’s just have another hour. I don’t care about time, just sit and… be. This is your time.” That was something I will never forget. So I said my goodbyes, and turned that page, so to speak. And then it turned out I had to fly back again to do a straight 14 hours of action [laughter]. By the time we were done I couldn’t wait to take these claws off.
You didn’t take them with you?
I always take souvenirs from sets. Always. I have nicked claws, costumes. On the first one I had about 10 X-Men suits. On the last day someone knocked on my door with a garbage bag and one of the suits in it. He said: “You should take that.” I said: “Yeah, whatever, I will grab one later. Maybe.” And he goes: “Man. The other ones are gone.” So that’s the only one I’ve kept and then I kept something from each film, which I will probably give to charity at some point. Playing this character was the best therapy in the world. Every two years I got to deal with all the shit in my life just by playing Wolverine, so I don’t know what I am going to do now. I will just become a grumpy, angry old man. It’s a very personal movie for me because creatively, it’s everything I wanted to do. When I went to producers Lauren [Shuler Donner] and Simon [Kinberg] I said: “Guys, this is the film James and I want to make. And I fully understand if you don’t want to make it.” I wasn’t interested in doing another X-Men movie.
Was that because they have become so overcrowded? James said that there is an arms race now with how many superheroes you manage to jam in one movie.
It had more to do with me not knowing what else to do with the character. I think I owed it to the fans and to myself to finally let go, take my bike and just leave. When I saw that movie last night, it felt completely fresh and new to me. It felt complete. You have to remember that it’s not three movies we are talking about – it’s nine. So it took me a long time to make the movie that I am really, really satisfied with. I wasn’t interested in doing another comic book movie. I was interested in making a movie about this man. Not this superhero – this man. So I said: “I am not interested in saving the world anymore.” I wasn’t trying to negotiate, I was just being clear. But they immediately said yes.
Why was it so important to you? After all, your portrayal of Wolverine was one of the few things nobody has ever complained about.
It was all about finally putting my knowledge of this character to use. And about my connection to the fans – I speak to them every day of my life and probably will for the rest of it. I wasn’t trying to exorcise demons of my past [Jackman has recently been vocal about his life after his parents divorced]. Of course we are the summation of our past and we can’t get rid of that, but my own family life is very different and my connection to my family is very different. This is a man that hates intimacy. He is terrified of intimacy. So family to him is about the worst thing you can present. In 2029 mutants have faded away so they could be idealised and propagandised, in any way, shape or form. If you are a soldier, you return from World War II and there are all these endless heroic movies. Does that represent your experience? I don’t think so. It probably wasn’t until Full Metal Jacket that people started to care about what it really looked like. So let’s imagine comic books as this kind of propaganda: an idealised version of heroes, perfect for the world that wants a simpler version of good and evil. And if your experience is not that, you find it hard. He would love to be on his own if he could, because everyone he has ever known or loved has died. And he is 160, so it’s hard for any of us to understand.
This idea of a superhero growing older is not original in itself – Frank Miller did a great older Batman story. Why is it so appealing?
I think we all relate. In that whatever our successes or failures are, at some point we have to make peace with who we are and how we lived our life. It’s something that everybody relates to. At least every adult, because I don’t think many nine-year-olds want to see Logan limping around, not wanting to be Wolverine. “Just be Wolverine, man! Take your claws out!” – that would be their reaction. Which is precisely why this is an adult movie. It speaks about ageing, and about death. But most of all, it speaks about the value of life. About what makes life valuable to us.
Did you ever think about sending a box of chocolates to Dougray Scott for pulling out of the first X-Men movie?
Yeah, but I thought that might be a little pissy [laughter]. I did speak to him before we started shooting though. We found ourselves in a van together. I was very apologetic and I will never forget what he said to me. That’s exactly what I will say to anyone who will take over this part, by the way: “You don’t have to say anything. I get it – it’s our business. That is the best role, so go and crush it.” That’s what he said. I haven’t really seen him since.
Is it exciting to be finally free of such commitment? It took a huge chunk of your life.
I am excited to be open. I am doing a movie musical right now about P.T. Barnum called The Greatest Showman, but after that I just don’t know. Yes, it excites me. But ask me again in 12 months and if I am still unemployed then I might not be so excited anymore. I will spend more time with my family, though. Which is the toughest role I have ever played, so I was happy we touch upon that in the film. It’s very humbling, because I somehow presumed – I don’t know why – that as a parent you would just know. That magically you would just accumulate all this wisdom. In my experience it has been the opposite – no matter what you do, you end up finding out you know very little. My parents had their issues, but I never really doubted that they love me. In the end as a kid, you have to know that you are a priority. You become an adult, have a few failed relationships of your own and you stop seeing them as superheroes. A friend of mine, who is a famous child psychiatrist in England, once said: “You guys complicate everything way too much. You love them and feed them – that’s it.” In the end, when you are on your deathbed, you won’t be wishing you could spend an extra hour working. You will be thinking about your family. And, in my case, skincare.
You have been very vocal about suffering from skin cancer. Why did you decide to speak up?
There are two reasons for that. One is the opportunity to reach people. I was reluctant to go to the doctor; my wife nagged me to go. I am guessing there are other people like me, so it’s to say: Go. And wear sunscreen, because the damage appears 25 years later as cancer. So to all these 22-year-olds out there who think they will live forever I want to say: Sunbathe, do whatever you want, but wear sunscreen! The other reason is that somehow in our world things get blown out of proportion. This is not life-threatening. I just wanted to be upfront with what it is, because the moment the word ‘cancer’ is involved… Someone said to me recently: “Oh, so that’s why you are finishing with Logan? Because you are actually dying?” Let’s be clear: I am not going anywhere.
The full interview was published in Episodi.
Australian actor, known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men film series. He sings, too.