‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’ – Interview with Hugh Jackman

After a hectic morning of press interviews, the man we know best as Wolverine met F*** for an exclusive chat in Singapore’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

By Shawne Wang

Throughout the interview, Jackman was unfailingly polite, funny and generous with his time and insights, speaking warmly of his colleagues and director. It was, quite frankly, wonderful to see him still brimming with enthusiasm for the new X-Men movie and his career-making (and sustaining) role as Wolverine, fourteen years after he first played the part.

You had local breakfast! Was it good?

Oh, so good! I loved it. I had the soft poached eggs, and they came and I was, like, ‘Do you mind poaching them more?’ And they were, like, ‘No! Try like this!’ And they were right! It was awesome. Then he put soya sauce in them, and the toast came with the coconut jam. I bought some, so I can do it at home. I’ve had my yearly intake of butter, this morning! I was, like, ‘That’s a lot of butter!’ But, yeah, it tasted so good. I’ve been Wolverine-guy for too long! I can’t have butter anymore. So I was loving it. Went to the temple, said a prayer – had a good start to the day!

So you’ve been up for a while!

Yeah, I went to see Doctor Song – he woke up early and came in today. I had a bunch of stitches that had to be taken out today. So he took those out this morning at 6.30, and he had three assistants and his wife, who works there as well. I invited all of them [to the premiere], plus his partner – so if you see a whole row of people sleeping tonight, it’s probably them! I was there at 6.30, I don’t know what time he was there!

Have you had enough questions about the skin cancer? [Jackman revealed that he had a second cancerous growth removed from his nose a week ago.]

Well, no – it just happened, and it’s life. I wish someone had told me to wear sunscreen when I was a kid, and my wife was nagging me a little bit about getting a check-up, and thank god she was, because it’s so simple. Everything is preventable. I had a basal cell carcinoma, which is a minor form of skin cancer. But it is a cancer, and it had to be dealt with. It’s all preventable. It’s out now and I’m better. But hopefully someone will read this and think, ‘I might as well get a check-up.’

Would this count as a superhuman moment in your life?

Well, no, this one’s very human to me! It was born from a very human mistake of not wearing sunscreen and probably waiting too long to get a check-up. Unlike Wolverine, I don’t heal – or at least, not as quickly.

You’ve been playing Wolverine for fourteen years. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.

Nor to me, it’s frightening! My son was born just as we were making the [first] film. So, it’s amazing to me – his whole life, Wolverine has gone through it.

Has the way you’ve approached the role changed over the years?

Absolutely. I’ve learned more and more about him. For me, I think the movies are getting better and better. [Days Of Future Past] is probably one of my favourites. I really liked The Wolverine. I think the scripts are getting better and becoming more and more character-driven. I’m being asked to search for different sides of the character all the time, which is what I look for – what all actors look for, really. So I’m really excited; I’m enjoying playing him more than ever.

Physically, it’s getting harder – I can tell you that! And I know more, too. I remember, for the first X-Men film, I thought, ‘Ah, I think you can get buff in three or four weeks.’ I had no idea! I used to work in a gym, for years, behind the counter – handing out locker keys and towels. And I never lifted a weight, except cleaning up after those blokes who were messy. I just didn’t understand why anyone would weight-lift. I was, like, ‘What’s the point? This is ridiculous! When do you have to push 350 pounds like this in your life? Never!’ But I’ve learned a lot – and it takes longer!

There’s a particularly memorable scene in which we get to see… quite a lot of you in the movie. How long did it take for you to get there?

I can tell you that was May 21! What I’ve learnt is, to have your body at a ten out of ten, you need to have a date like you would prepare for a marathon or an event. To be that ripped for six months is super hard. If I told you all the things I did leading up to May 21, I think you’d be a little shocked!

Tell us!

Well, it’s probably two years, because we did The Wolverine, and then I did Prisoners and went straight into this. But I’m eating 6,000 calories a day and training twice – an hour and forty-five minutes in the morning, and forty-five minutes in the afternoon. I up it a little as I get closer to May 21. I have no carbohydrates for the last month, and for the last 36 hours, I don’t drink any water. For about a week before that, you increase your water intake – to a ridiculous level, like ten litres a day. This may be too much information, but when you stop, 36 hours before [the big day], you stop drinking water. You start to dry out and you can lose up to ten pounds of water weight, right under your skin. And you get really lean, really ripped. The first bit of water you have is pure sugar, like glycerin, or some flat Coke with a bit of honey in it. You can watch your veins just [pop].

So I said, give me the date for that scene, and it was May 21. A week before the date, they said, ‘You know what, Hugh? We’re thinking of changing that scene. We’re going to do it a couple of weeks later.’ And I said, ‘Here’s the deal. You can change it if you want. But I’m taking my clothes off on May 21. If you want that to be in the White House, fine. If you want that to be in the X-Jet, fine. But I will be naked in that scene, on May 21. All the promotional photographs you want with me and my shirt off, that’s May 21.’ And they were, like, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s put it back to that hotel scene!’

Are you happy with how you look?

Oh yeah! I stood in front of the mirror in the scene, and just before we rolled, I remember thinking, ‘Never going to look like that again!’ [laughs] That’s a weird thing to think.

And you’ve been doing this for fourteen years!

I’ve learnt a lot more about how to do it. I rang Dwayne Johnson about a year and a half ago and got his advice on how to really get into shape. He was the one who said, ‘Hugh, you need six months. If you want to put on 20-25 pounds of muscle and not put on fat, you need six months. Otherwise, you can’t do it.’ He gave me the diet and the training regime. He’s been a great mentor to me.

Channing Tatum has been confirmed as the new Gambit…

Yeah, I think Channing Tatum is awesome! By the way, I also thought Taylor Kitsch did a great job in the first Wolverine movie. But I think Channing is fantastic, and I think it just continues to show the strength that the franchise is in. He’s probably one of the hottest actors out there and has his pick of roles. The fact that he’s chosen this, I think is awesome.

For me, this movie shows that it’s opening up. It feels fresher than ever, and that’s exciting, after fourteen years.

We think it’s only fair that, if Channing is coming on board the X-Men franchise, you should get on Magic Mike. Would you consider it if they asked you?

Absolutely! I loved that movie, I thought it was fantastic. Yeah, sure! I haven’t waxed my chest in a long time! I don’t think there’s any male strippers with a chest like that! All the Wolverine fans will be, like, ‘Whaaat?! Waxed chest??’ [laughs]

Speaking of opening up narrative possibilities – the ending of Days Of Future Past really suggests that, now, anything could happen. How do you think this will affect the future of the franchise?

This has really excited me, because we’ve been working on the next Wolverine movie with Jim Mangold. Then I saw this movie, and I was, like, we can be way freer with where we think we can go with this. I think it’s really exciting – I got goosebumps at the end, and got quite emotional. Maybe because I’ve been part of it. But who knows where it’s going? I think it’s as open as ever, and I think that’s how it should be. In a way, Marvel are leading the way with the comic book, announcing the death of Wolverine. I don’t think it will be the end of Wolverine, even in the comic-book sense, but the idea that anything could happen excites me.

Has your character strayed away from the original version in the comic book?

I always like to think that the DNA of the character is there, from the comic book through to the movies. [The movie version] has kind of acquired a lot of different interpretations of the character, from different artists and different writers. People will talk about the Chris Claremont version, and Len Wein’s version. There are six different versions of his origins alone. He’s been killed before, by the way, and I’m sure he’ll get killed many times again. And yet, there is something at his core that always feels like Wolverine. I feel, as long as we stay true to the core of who that character is and what he represents, then you can have a little bit of license.

Obviously, it’s my interpretation of Wolverine. I read and I listen to people – and I get stopped in the street every day, let me tell you. But, at some point, I have to stop and go, ‘I have to make this my own.’ A bit like what James [McAvoy] and Michael [Fassbender] had to do, playing younger versions of their characters. You feel the older characters, but at some point, they have to make it their own as well – otherwise, it’s not emotional, it doesn’t connect with you, you know?

Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Evan Peters in film X-Men: Days of Future Past

What was it like working with James and Michael?

First of all, they are two unbelievably talented actors. To watch them work together – that scene in the jet, you notice I was in the back there, and I got to watch all of those scenes and many others play out. They are both phenomenal actors, and to see them play off each other is really inspiring. They’re already having massive careers, so it’s redundant to say that, but I think they will be remembered as two of the finest actors that have ever been around. With Jennifer [Lawrence] and Nick Hoult – it’s an amazing cast!

And they are hilarious together, these two. Literally, as they’re rolling camera, these two will be telling jokes, punching each other, mucking around – they play games where one will say a line from a movie and the other one… I mean, Michael Fassbender has, like, a mutant ability. You say one line, and he will give you the next three pages of dialogue from any movie, lyrics to a song, anything. And then, ‘Action!’ and it’s straight in, while I’m still thinking about the lyrics!

If you weren’t playing Wolverine, is there an X-Men character that you’d like to play?

I’ve always thought Magneto is a great role. Although sometimes, when I’m training constantly at four o’clock in the morning, I look at Patrick Stewart sitting in that chair all day long, in a suit, and I think, ‘That one looks pretty good! Maybe that would be good for a movie or two!’ [laughs]

Funnily enough, he is one of the most energetic – he works out, he’s, like, young. And a bit like Michael. Very energetic, but onscreen, very still. In life, the opposite!

What was the most challenging stunt in the film?

For me, this was probably less challenging on a fight sense than ever before. You know the bit when I get thrown out of the stadium by Michael? I went a long way. I’ve been on wires before, but I probably went two or three hundred metres, very very fast. That was awesome. That wasn’t a challenge, that was fun!

How about the bit with the steel going through your body? That looked excruciatingly painful and real.

Thanks, because that was all pretend! The thing I’m most proud of about that? At the end, when it looks like I’m being raised up and lifted, I somehow managed to do that with my arms. I don’t know how I did it, but when I look back, I was, like, wow that really worked! Actually, that scene was a little full-on. When you have to run and get hit in the back by something that you’re not being hit by… it’s little things like that that are challenging.

What’s it like working with Bryan Singer again?

It was great. We’re good friends and he’s the one who cast me and all of us in the beginning. I think he was the most relaxed that I’ve seen him – obviously, he’s a very smart guy, so it’s always smart with Bryan. But he was not afraid to push the emotion or the humour, and still keep that Bryan Singer tone. I thought he achieved that in this more than ever before. I mean, everyone knows how good he is at juggling different storylines, from The Usual Suspects right through, but there are so many storylines in this. On paper, it seems almost an unachievable task. But he and the writer, Simon Kinberg, did it really well.

Did you have a favourite superhero growing up?

Superman was my favourite superhero. And can I call Indiana Jones a superhero? No, he was human… Superman. Those movies came out when I was young, and that was it for me.

You’ve done stage and movies – would you consider TV? If you would, is there one television show you’d have said yes to if they asked you?

I’m a massive fan of House Of Cards – and there are so many other shows that I don’t watch because I can so easily get addicted and I’ve got kids and I don’t have time. That, Friday Night Lights I love. But I can’t imagine anyone else but Kevin Spacey doing that role!

I’m totally open to doing TV. For me, the genre doesn’t matter. I’m not a snob about any of that stuff, and I don’t think anyone else is in the business. Which is right. A great role is a great role. Theatre, TV, film – if you’re lucky enough to get a role, just take it!

X-Men: Days Of Future Past opens on 22 May 2014, and is on the cover of issue #52 – out on newsstands, and digital stores now! http://www.fmoviemag.com/52-may-2014/