Hugh Jackman is one of the most popular stars to ever go to Comic-Con International in San Diego, thanks largely to charismatic personality and his role as superhero Wolverine in the “X-Men” and “Wolverine” movies, which are based on the comic books. Jackman was at Comic-Con in 2013 to promote his 3-D action film “The Wolverine” with a panel, press conference and a free sneak-preview screening in which select scenes were shown in advance to fans. Jackman did a Q&A after the screening.
In “The Wolverine,” Wolverine (who also goes by the name Logan) travels to modern-day Japan, where he must protect a mysterious heiress named Mariko (played by Tao Okamoto), who is the target of people who want to kill her. Mariko’s father is Shingen Yashida (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), a ruthless businessman who is the leader of a vast criminal empire. In his quest, Wolverine reluctantly accepts help from a tough, sword-wielding accomplice named Yukio (played by Rila Fukushima), who also acts as Wolverine’s translator and self-appointed bodyguard.
Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, Wolverine confronts not only lethal enemies — including a poisonous vixen named Viper (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova) — but also his inner struggle against his own immortality. Wolverine is also haunted by visions of his deceased lover Jean Grey (played by Famke Janssen), while he finds himself falling for Mariko, who is engaged to be married to another man. Here is what was said when Jackman, “The Wolverine” director James Mangold and “The Wolverine” producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker gathered for “The Wolverine” at Comic-Con.
Hugh, can you describe your experience of working in Japan for “The Wolverine”?
Jackman: I’ve not only promoted movies there, but I’ve been three times or four times for vacation. My wife and I and kids love Japan, but we’ve never had the experience of working there for such a long period of time. We went to not only Tokyo, which I’ve been to, I’ve been to the north to ski, we went to Kyoto, we filmed in Tomonoura, which was four hours south of the bullet trains in Fukuyama.
We went to places I’d never been to before, so I feel like I have a much richer, deeper understanding of Japan and its culture. My son and I climbed Mt. Fuji, which I’d been hearing about for years. In every way, my fascination and love of Japan has deepened.
One of the things that was really important to Jim [Mangold] and [me], of course, this film is based on a famous comic book set in Japan. As we made this film, we were constantly thinking about how this film would feel to the Japanese people. We wanted them to be proud of how we show their country and their customs and culture.
Do you think the trailer for “The Wolverine” reveals too much about Wolverine losing his powers? Do you think people will get the impression that Wolverine chooses to lose his powers?
Jackman: That’s a good question about trailers in general, I think. It’s not that he chooses. I don’t want to give too much away but I think you’ve inferred something that might not actually be true. And of course that would make a big difference to you and I understand that might be upsetting.
Mangold: I think that you may be more satisfied with what you experience in the film when it’s not up-cut to two minutes and 10 seconds.
Jackman: What is in the film, and I don’t mind saying, because it is in the trailer, is imagine being 200 or 300 years old and living with the fact that everyone you’ve known or loved has passed. And in the case of Jean Grey, the love of his life, he killed her as she’d become the Dark Phoenix. At the end of “X-Men 3” [“The Last Stand”], he kills her and then roll credits.
So finally, in this movie we get a chance to live with what haunts Wolverine and what it’s like having that sort of immortality, being who he is, and knowing that his strengths bring destruction, pain and loneliness. He questions the burden that is his life, but I’m not going to say he chooses.
Mr. Mangold, what are you most proud of with what you accomplished in “The Wolverine”?
Mangold: There’s a couple of things. My proudest moment would be my long-term association with this guy right here [he points to Hutch Parker], just realizing that we were really proud of what we were making. And on a simple friendship basis and an emotional basis. You can go back 12 years and I can remember working with him and being very proud of where we had come to, just on a simple gut-level act.
But on a movie level, I think that what I’m really proud of on the film and that we worked very hard to do is that we deliver intense action to the fans with Wolverine, but also to deliver drama, deliver character work, deliver an actual movie in which, between the set pieces of action, there are actual scenes of characters dealing with the ramifications of what happened and where they’re headed. I think that was really a big goal for all of us when we got involved in this was to somehow figure out both to just let the reins go and go further with intensity, and at the same time, carry an audience through scenes that are dramatic in nature and not need explosions.
Jackman: Hutch was working at Fox when I began working on “X-Men.” And Lauren Shuler Donner was the person who picked up my audition tape, when I was playing Curly in “Oklahoma!,” from the bottom of a pile, which probably got chucked out of a window as well. And that audition I did seven months before I got a callback. And that’s for one reason: because Lauren said, “You should check this guy out.” So if there’s one person who knows me as an actor and who’s championed me, Lauren said to me after seeing [‘The Wolverine”]: “This is the best you’ve ever been as Wolverine.”
And I immediately replied to her, “Well, thank you, but that’s because of him [he points to Mangold].” I figured that a director walking on to a set with an actor who’d played a role five times before would say, “Listen, you do your thing. I’ll worry about everything else.” But he never did. Rila and Tao had never been in a movie, for example. He really, I think, got the most out of all of us.
Mangold: Thank you.
Hugh, it’s rare that a character that starts off in an ensemble superhero movie can get so much bigger than the other characters in the group that the character has its own spinoff films. What’s your impression of the Wolverine character over the years?
Jackman: Thank you. I think you’re slightly exaggerating. And around Memorial Day next year [with the release of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”], you’ll see that you’re exaggerating, because you’ll see that I think what “X-Men” movies are loved all around the world. And actually, getting back to the comic-book series, “The Wolverine” spinoffs are very popular, but the “X-Men” series has always been the foundation.
I think what “X-Men” did — and I think Wolverine is a great example — was 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 human as well as something spectacular.
When I was growing up, I loved Mad Max. I loved Dirty Harry. I couldn’t get enough of them. That’s who I thought was cool, that’s who I wished I was like. In a way, I think Wolverine fulfills that, that kind of archetype. 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, but at the same time, he’s just the last person you want to piss off. There’s something really cool about that.
How does “The Wolverine” come into play with “X-Men: Days of Future Past”?
Jackman: Why don’t you answer that, Lauren? Seeing that you’re a producer of both. So I don’t get into trouble.
Shuler Donner: You know, it’s hard to say. All the characters are intertwined. I’m just hesitating because I don’t want to spoil the movie for when it comes out next year. All I can say is that Wolverine plays a very integral part in the movie. And I know that’s vague, but you’ll just have to see the movie.
Jackman: It’s fair to say that the character you see at the end of “The Wolverine” is very much the character who enters “Days of Future Past.” And by the way, he’s a very different character in the beginning of “The Wolverine,” so it’s quite a journey.
How much of “The Wolverine” stays true to the “Wolverine” comic books?
Shuler Donner: We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. They totally created the Wolverine story and saga, but the Wolverine saga was too large, more or less, to condense [in one movie], so we just picked a part of it.
What’s interesting is that once you get into “Days of Future Past,” there are so many versions of reality in the past and the future and the interplay between those stories. And the way they told the story, they ratcheted up the tension in both the present and the future.
Were it not for them building original characters with flaws and conflict grounded in reality, we would not have made any of these “X-Men” movies. Because these characters were so real to all the comics’ fans, they were able to raise them to life and to attract great actors.
“The Wolverine” is a very international movie with actors from several different countries. Can you talk about how having an international cast affects the marketing of the movie?
Shuler Donner: It is an international business. It used to be years ago when I started making movies, you were only concerned about domestic gross … By the ‘90s, you started to be concerned about, “Maybe we should have a French character or an Italian character or Chinese character.” Now, it’s very international. You can do not-so-well domestically and huge internationally — and that would be a big hit. Hutch has seen a lot of this transpire too, so I’m curious to see what he has to say.
Parker: Yeah, I think Lauren is right. Today’s movie market is a world market. It’s no longer a domestic-centric thinking either at the studios or, frankly, with filmmakers. You have to look at it in terms of a global audience.
This comic and this particular story — one that was championed so heavily by Lauren — calls up and asks us to go to Japan. And I think interestingly, in times past, that might have felt challenging. I think in today’s market, it felt like an opportunity to take the audience to a world, to take the characters to a world that we’ve never really seen depicted in this way.
And also, it was something we talked about when making the movie: It felt analogous to taking it to an alien planet or taking it to a parallel universe — somewhere where we can really make [Wolverine] a fish out of water. I actually think the uniqueness and the exoticness of Japan is going to serve, hopefully, very well to the domestic market something new but also to the global market.
Mangold: I also want to add that I don’t really think about that so much when I enter a project — how I can make it work in 28 marketplaces. But what I think Hutch and Lauren are touching upon is the story does take place in Japan. And even though I think the climate is changing and people are more conscious of world cinema/international markets, I credit Fox for really coming through on something that lay at the table even before I came on the project. They were really willing to take a risk with this.
You can make a movie where you pull in different cast members — one from Europe, one from Asia — and you create this kind of Benetton commercial that sells around the world, but this is a movie that other than Jackman [and a few other actors], it’s a Japanese cast. So I think that took a lot of guts on the part of Fox.
And I think they let me play a third or more of the movie in Japanese, which I also thought was a very sophisticated way to go. And I think it plays into audiences these days. I think we’ve gotten past the age of characters from other another country alone in a bedroom speaking English. I think you have to acknowledge in this marketplace, with the amount of money you have invested in a movie, that the studio really made a commitment with this film to make something different, to make something a little out-of-the-box. I hope people appreciate that those risks were taken.
For more info: “The Wolverine” website
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