The walls of Hugh Jackman's office are covered with posters for grand old Hollywood musicals, but on a recent afternoon the devoted song-and-dance man was in less graceful mode. Fists raised and teeth bared, he was practicing a number from swinging in the ring, not "Singin' in the Rain."
"When I first started the role of Wolverine, back for the first 'X-Men' movie, I watched a lot of Mike Tyson videos in my trailer," Jackman said as he shadow-boxed. "The way he just goes straight in. I kept saying to the writers, 'Don't give me long, choreographed fights for the sake of it. Don't make the fights pretty.' Like Tyson, if Wolverine wants to take your . . . head off, he's going to do it."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 02, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Hugh Jackman: An article about Hugh Jackman in Friday's Calendar section said the actor and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, came to the U.S. to adopt their first child, Ava. They came to adopt their son, Oscar, who is their first child. Ava is their second.
Just two months removed from the dapper, soft-shoe duty as the host of the Academy Awards, the Tony-winner has returned to his cinematic dark side. The ferocity of Wolverine, his haunted background and those famous claws have made him the most popular comic-book character created in the last 40 years. And, with the release of Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the Marvel Comics character is finally at the center of a fourth major film.
The first three appearances of Jackman in the Wolverine role were in "X-Men" films, a trilogy that pulled in more than $1 billion at theaters worldwide with each installment making more than the last. Jackman and Wolverine were clearly the fan-favorite and in this new feature, Wolverine's previously murky past is explored with revelations about his family, his secret military career and the origin of those unbreakable shiny blades that pop from his hands.
A week ago, at his Seed Productions office on the Fox lot, Jackman was giddy about news that, according to one online survey, the advance tickets sales for "Wolverine" were more robust than those for last year's "Iron Man," a film that pulled in $98 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. "That is great news," the 40-year-old Aussie said. "I can't tell you how great. We've been through a lot. . . . "
"Wolverine" marks his first solo film franchise, but for the ragged Jackman it feels more like a finish line -- very few movies have endured as many last-minute crises as "Wolverine," chief among them a major act of piracy that sent a stolen copy of the film pinging around the world.
"People were working like dogs to get the movie finished and then to have an unfinished version get out, well, it was just crushing at first," Jackman said, shaking his head. "I've moved on about it. And I think people want to see it on a big screen, see it with 500 people and yell and scream and cheer and boo."
Jackman is the youngest of six children and, after he turned 8, he and his siblings were raised by their father, an accountant in Sydney, while their mother lived in her native England. It was on the stage in Melbourne that the handsome Jackman found his life pursuit, landing roles such as cynical Joe Gillis in "Sunset Boulevard" and the brawny Gaston in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."
He wanted to make the transition to film but his path to his most famous role was an unlikely one. He and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, came to the U.S. to adopt their first child, Ava, and, through a series of unexpected events, he ended up inheriting the role of Wolverine from Scottish actor Dougray Scott, who had to drop out because filming on "Mission: Impossible II" ran long.
"Where I would be without this role, I don't know," said Jackman, who speaks graciously of Scott, but, well, Ringo Starr never had a bad thing to say about Pete Best, either. "I knew nothing about the history of the character, but as I got into it, it was amazing."
In Marvel Comics, Wolverine first appeared in 1974, the creation of Len Wein and John Romita, but many of his most intriguing shadings came a decade later with a solo print mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Much of the loner hero's background was left as cryptic blank-spots until a 1991 run of stories called "Weapon X" and a 2001 series called "Origin."
Jackman said he first began studying the comics while filming the 2000 film "X-Men," despite director Bryan Singer's ban on comics from the set to encourage reality-based film. ("I had to sneak them in my trailer," Jackman said sheepishly.) Now as a student of the history and producer of the film, he had no doubt that the crux of the film should be a struggle not between good and evil but between one man and his own rage.
"The battle between animal and human, I broke that down to be the most essential thing to focus on with this character," Jackman said. "We can all relate to that. Maybe not in the same extreme level, but we wrestle everyday with that argument between chaos and control and freedom and discipline."