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The return of the claw daddy |

Young Star

The return of the claw daddy


And then Wolverine arrives via the flying fox. X-Men Origins: Wolverine starHugh Jackman comes sliding down the length of a pair of taut steel cables set on the top of a cliff on Cockatoo Island, around 20 minutes away by ferry from Sydney. Only the great Stan Lee could have come up with as auspicious an entrance marked by danger and drama set in a spooky industrial island where visitors could just imagine secret experiments taking place in one of the purgatorial warehouses officiated by evil colonels. And which only the most intriguing of all the X-Men could stop.

But wait, Bub, I am getting ahead of myself.

I know how annoying it is read something in medias res. So, before I get intoxicated by this cocktail of reality and early-morning comic book fantasizing, allow me to set up the scene. Twentieth Century Fox — through its local distributor Warner Bros (Far East) Inc. — recently invited Philippine STAR to the press preview in the Australian capital of the epic X-Men prequel featuring the original anti-hero of comic’s modern age, Wolverine, played of course by Hugh Jackman. The itinerary: Take a morning flight to Sydney; check into a posh hotel on Bridge Street; take a water-taxi ride to Cockatoo Island where some of the key scenes in the movie were shot; and have an afternoon chat with the X-Men Origins: Wolverine star, who as the itinerary states is due for a “surprise entrance.”

“Do you want to get marooned on an island with Hugh Jackman?” so goes the ad in Sydney’s Nova 96.9 radio station. A female journalist looks at me and mutters, “Only Professor Charles Xavier could make me say no to that!” She naughtily laughs afterwards. Like Magneto in a hardware store. Nova FM is having a live broadcast on the island, with DJs Merrick and Rosso interviewing Jackman in front of 500 competition winners, most of whom are holding up black rubber Wolverine claws, howling for Hugh, and excited as hell. 

Quite a trip this promises to be, especially for a writer raised on comic books and such. As a kid, I was more into Ben Grimm than into the Brothers Grimm, more into the creators of Spider-Man and the X-Men than Hans Christian Andersen. Fairytales to me were quite lame compared to the complex universes spun by the writers of Marvel where the forces of good slug it out with the forces of evil, and where from time to time there happens a blurring of distinction between those forces, with characters going beyond good and evil — as in real life. Thus, earlier on you get the likes of do-gooder Captain America going up against the fascistic Red Skull; and then much later on as the plots and story arcs become more intricate, elaborate and web-like, you get heroes getting into epic conflicts with other heroes (a case in point is Marvel’s Civil War 2007 saga). Well, even Wolverine’s first appearance on the pages of Marvel involves the mutant fighting the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk No. 181).

In Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men trilogy, Wolverine is portrayed as a lonely, tortured soul with no memories of the past, except for occasional cryptic, pain-inducing flashbacks, but — just like in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men — he’s a belligerent badass just the same. The “lone wolf” in leather jacket is sarcastic and antisocial, has this cloud of doom about him, doesn’t give a shit about other people, and yet he becomes a sort of father figure to the equally interesting Rogue (played by Anna Paquin) whose touch is morbidly lethal (symbolic, perhaps, of the alienation and disconnection being felt by mutants in the “normal” world).

When Rogue chances upon Logan (played by then-Hollywood newcomer Jackman; thankfully the role didn’t go to Russell Crowe) in a cage match in some far-flung bar at the start of the first X-Men movie, moviegoers knew right away that the guy with the adamantium claws, the muttonchops, the muscles, and that blind, nameless rage would be the standout character in an ensemble piece that features marvelous characters played by Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Halle Berry, among others.

What makes the movies in the X-Men trilogy so compelling is that they’re not just mindless CGI-driven action sequences with cheesy dialogues thrown in between (like the disappointing Star Wars prequels), especially in the first two movies directed by Bryan Singer. Viewers are treated to gravitas, to powerful emotional dilemmas. They are confronted with the theme of mutants as metaphors for minorities, outcasts, and anyone who doesn’t belong. Marvel’s Avi Arad quips, “We all feel like mutants at one time or another.” There are shades of McCarthyism in Senator Robert Kelly’s mutant witch-hunt in the first flick. X2 expands on the theme of alienation and intolerance, and introduces the ruthless Colonel William Stryker to the fray. Stryker, it is foreshadowed, offers a key to Wolverine’s origins. X-Men: The Last Stand concerns the “cure” for mutants, with the flick having just the right blend of gut-busting, visually-stunning action sequences and dramatic twists centering on Wolverine and his love for Jean Grey.

Yes, in all three movies, Wolverine is involved in the most gripping action scenes and, most of the time, has to make a key decision that could spell salvation or damnation for the X-Men. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which opens in cinemas in the Philippines on April 30, fans of the comic book character (and of Hugh Jackman himself) can finally find out the genesis of the most popular among the X-Men, the method to the mayhem of cinema’s most hotheaded amnesiac — as well as discover a few more bits of juicy revelations along the way.

Genesis and Revelations

As we’re having coffee on Cockatoo Island, ears ringing from the incessant screaming of Wolverine fans, a helicopter circles the island. We anticipate Hugh being there. The man is strapped to the chopper, waiving ecstatically, with, from our vantage point, his head not far from the whirring blades. The fans ecstatically wave back. Minutes later, Hugh will have himself strapped to the zip-line, slide down into the back of the stage set up by Nova FM, talk to the disc jockeys, play quizmaster to radio listeners, and lead the fans and us journalists to one of the turbine warehouses for a sneak preview of the movie. Get a load of this: Twentieth Century Fox has recreated the warehouse as Stryker’s foreboding lair complete with the mutant containment area. It is actually like being inside the movie. Led by Wolverine, er, Hugh, we take a stroll on a metal walkway, flanked by cages containing actors playing mutants guarded by actors playing Stryker’s soldiers. With guns glinting in the dark. The infamous adamantium tank is placed in an elevated area, emitting smoke, attracting curious onlookers. (“No, no…” — I want to tell some guy who is consumed by curiosity the most — “you can’t have adamantium bonded to your skeleton by dipping yourself in there… dude, it’s all, um, make-believe...”) The experimental tables are propped into place; an unconscious “mutant” is on one of them. I see Wolverine’s x-ray plates on a rectangular light-box. We walk on. More screaming at the preview room.

Understandably, there is a lot to be pumped up about as the opening day of X-Men Origins: Wolverine draws closer.

Jackman explains, “If you think this is X-Men 4 in disguise, you have to get that out of your head. I want it to look visually, stylistically in every way a deviation from the X-Men movies. We need to exceed expectations here.”

The movie deals with how Logan (or James Howlett) becomes Wolverine, growing up in a mansion with a Southern Gothic atmosphere and many, many dark secrets. How a family tragedy makes him reveal his mutant bone claws. How he runs away with his brother Victor Creed (who would eventually become his arch-nemesis, Sabretooth). How the nearly-immortal Logan and Creed (played by Liev Schreiber) become involved in the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, and are eventually recruited into Colonel Stryker’s Team X composed of mutant mercenaries such as swordsman Wade Wilson (the future Deadpool played by Ryan Reynolds, who was even mentioned in a Deadpool comic at one point); the marksman Agent Zero; the teleporter Wraith (played by Will from the Black-Eyed Peas); Fred J. Dukes or “The Blob” (his fat suit has a state-of-the-art cooling system designed for NASA); and Bradley (played by Dominic Monaghan from Lost and The Lord of the Rings trilogy), who could manipulate electricity. How Logan leaves the group (mainly because of Stryker’s lust for blood) in order to become a humble lumberjack in the remote Canadian Rockies. How he seemingly finds bliss in the arms of Kayla Silverfox. And how, in the words of Jackman himself, “the world he’s been trying to escape keeps drawing him back.” Just like Al Pacino’s character in Carlito’s Way.

No spoilers in this article, don’t worry. All I can say is that Colonel Stryker (the US army’s Dr. Frankenstein) manages to convince Logan to be part of a sinister experiment, to become “Weapon X,” to forever change his existence as man and mutant with a mercurial temper. “To beat Victor,” Stryker tells Logan, “you’re going to have to embrace the other side of you. Become the animal.” All because of one crucial occurrence, with the catalyst being Kayla. But I will not say how. And, oh yeah, Gambit is in an X-Men film for the very first time. It’s in the cards.

Claws and lost Causes

Logan according to Jackman: Wolverine is a very three-dimensional, classic sort of anti-hero that reminds him of archetypes such as Han Solo, Mad Max and Dirty Harry.

Hugh is looking archetypical himself as he sits for the interview. He’s wearing a navy-blue polo shirt, dark gray pants and black shoes. His hair is neatly brushed up, chin shaven save for a five o’clock shadow. Gone are Wolverine’s signature muttonchops and wild disheveled hair that resembles the ears of a wild woodland creature. The actor is articulate and laid-back, talks animatedly to fans and journalists, and will show nary a hint of exhaustion in this Sydney gig (the first stop in a promotional world tour) that begins with him riding the flying fox at past eight in the morning and ends with press interviews just before six in the evening. He grapples with tough questions (“What can you say about piracy and the Wolverine leak?”), ever-recurring questions (“How did you prepare for the role?”) and weird requests: A Malaysian guy asks Hugh to be interviewed by a stuffed lion for his website. The wolverine and the lion — sounds like a fable by Aesop. Hugh must have imbibed Wolverine’s stamina and strength. Well, the impressive muscles are there. A Singaporean journalist even asks Hugh if she can touch his biceps. Hugh obliges. He flexes his muscles and out come the garden snakes for veins.

Jackman explains, “I always have this image of the character (as someone) like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear. I didn’t want to have a pretty or bodybuilder look. I wanted to look freaky and animalistic.”

De Niro’s Max Cady character has this lean yet muscular body riddled with veins and tattoos — more intimidating than, say, Schwarzenegger’s or the bod of any of the Mr. Universes. You don’t want to encounter him in a darkened alley for fear of him ripping your head off. “In the old X-Men movies, I never felt I got the body that I wanted. So I spent a lot longer preparing for this one.”

For a year Jackman seemingly was serving time in the Sobibor concentration camp. He woke up at 3:45 in the morning every day in order to train for one-and-a-half hours. (He would sometimes find himself staying in character to maximize his workout. “I lift 20-percent harder, heavier and longer as Wolverine, than if I train as myself,” Jackman explains, with a laugh. “As myself, I could easily say, ‘Ah, that’s enough training.’ But as Wolverine, it’d be: ‘Now, I’m loving lifting the extra weight.’”) But first he had to partake of the Wolverine breakfast special.

“It was the diet — that’s the killer. I worked out with this natural bodybuilder named Scotty who told me, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to love that meal.’ I replied, ‘What, the 4 a.m. meal?’ ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘because you get the egg whites and dry piece of brown toast.’ ‘I’m sorry, mate,’ I said, ‘what is it that I’m going to love?’ He said, ‘The toast! That’s your only bit of carbohydrates for the day. After two weeks, that dry toast is going to be like an Easter egg, man.’ He gave me the exact diet and regimen he follows when he’s preparing for a competition.”

Then for the rest of the day it was a menu of protein shake, steamed chicken, steamed vegetables, and a bit of brown rice in the morning. “At one point I told the special effects department ‘You couldn’t have just thrown in a lazy half a mil to CGI my body?’ (laughs).”

He also took cold showers in the morning, as cold as possible because it pissed him off. “I also put on some heavy metal music because at 5 a.m. the last place I want to be is the gym. But when Godsmack is playing, somehow everything seems okay. That got me in the mood of doing (scenes as Wolverine). You just have to find the trigger. When we were shooting at one in the morning, it was easy to get into character. Sometimes I just punched up Liev, he seemed to enjoy it (laughs).”

Jackman prepared like a mutant warrior for this movie to please hardcore Wolverine fans.

“I met Vinnie, a maître d’ in a restaurant in New York City, and he took off his shirt to show me a full-color Wolverine tattoo on his back. The passion for Wolverine is way beyond anyone could ever imagine. I always feel I could connect with (hardcore fans). They have the movie version in their head, but they don’t usually have much of a say in it. So I tried to listen to them. They’re very, very vocal about what they want and loathe. Many of the fans said, ‘I want to see that berserker rage. I want Wolverine to be more badass.’ One of the main reasons I became one of the producers is to protect Wolverine as a characters, just the way fans want it.”

Hugh (who, together with John Palermo and Deborra-lee Furness founded, Seed Productions which produced Wolverine as well as the thriller Deception) offers an analogy in differentiating the roles of the producer and the actor: being an actor is like being a kid all the time; being a producer is acting like a grownup.

As one of the producers, Jackman oversaw virtually every aspect of the film’s preproduction, production and post-production periods. He relished the new responsibilities since he had training in theater. (“By the time you go onstage opening night, you know a lot about not only your role, but about the set design, costume design, story development… everything.”)

He recalls, “When I told my co-producers to ‘keep spending,’ they told me, ‘Hugh, go back to your trailer — just keep acting’ (laughs).” 

Jackman also had a hand in casting the actors who would play vital roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed is phenomenal. The fight scene between Logan and Victor is (brutish) and uncomfortable to watch. That’s one of the things I wanted the film to have. Even though they have special powers, they feel the punches, they get hurt. Ryan Reynolds does some of the best stunt-work I’ve seen an actor do. People are going to think that what he did with swords is all CGI. They’re absolutely wrong. He had a lot of near misses, that poor guy, let me tell you (laughs). Scarlett Johansson is pretty lucky he got out of it alive. He worked like a dog in that one. On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, he was working with stunt coordinators. And girls are going to go mental over Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. Even my wife went mental (laughs).”

Jackman also had a hand in choosing locations for shoots, most notably Cockatoo Island, which could pass for the island of Dr. Moreau and, of course, Stryker’s lair. “It has quite an atmosphere. I heard there are even ghosts. And we were shooting mainly at night, so I can’t say that I’m scared, right? (laughs). We spent close to a month here.”

Maybe those responsible for leaking out the unfinished copies of the Wolverine movie could spend time on Cockatoo Island’s former prison facilities.

Jackman shakes his head when asked about the piracy issue. “It’s kind of like a Ferrari without a paint job. You wouldn’t take a picture of a bride at 8 a.m., before she has put on makeup. What’s heartwarming about it is how the online community has rallied behind it. I would say 90 to 95 percent of the sites condemned it. The movie is a big-screen experience, so come April 30 fans are going to see it in the cinemas. I don’t want to diminish how serious a crime it is, and how disappointing it is for everyone involved.”

He adds that the FBI is working on the case and the culprit will be held responsible. If only Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. could take on the case.

Here’s Lookin’ At You, Bub

I ask Hugh, “Do you think the movie manages to reveal Wolverine’s origins and yet at the same time retain a bit of the mystery that keeps the character so fascinating?”

“I hope so,” he answers. “I think it is always good to know where a person comes from. For three films, we’ve been toying with that and never really revealing anything. I think it’s time to lay our cards on the table. There are infinite versions (of Wolverine’s past). We’ve used parts from the Origins series, we’ve used parts from other comic books, but it’s sort of our interpretation of it. More importantly (we are concerned) with how he became that kind of person — emotionally. When Casino Royale came out and you saw that evolution of the James Bond character, and even though you’ve discovered where he came from, you still felt that there’s more to find out about him. Hopefully, we are able to pull it off (with Wolverine).”

He adds that Wolverine main writer David Benioff, one of the biggest comic book fans in the world, told the actor: “Listen, if you don’t deal with the origins of a character, or any character in any film, you’re doomed to go back there again.”

Jackman agrees. “He’s right. We would have done (the origin story) at some stage. I am thrilled that fans at the end of this movie will understand who Wolverine is and they’ll believe he’s the same guy who walks into that bar at the beginning of X-Men.”

The interesting dimension about X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the character’s portrayal as a warrior on some sort of personal quest. Wolverine and Pain are not strange bedfellows. They share the same cot with Trauma. But Illumination cannot be far behind.

 “There is a certain point in his life where he has enough of fighting, and he tries to get away. But like all good stories, his enemies try to get him back in. It is a story about a man fighting who he is. Is he an animal? Or is he human? When we go to work, there is a part of our brains that wants to throw everything away and do what the hell we want. We fight daily against control and discipline. That’s why I am able to connect with the character; that’s why people can relate to Wolverine. It is an emotional story.”

The actor explains that Gavin Hood was hired as a director because of the amazing filmmaking he displayed in his modestly budgeted Tsotsi, a poignant drama set in Johannesburg about a hardened teenage criminal whose life is changed when he becomes emotionally attached to an infant left in the back seat of his car.

“(Tsotsi deals with) the journey of a tough 15-year-old kid living on the streets to become the person he is at the end. In Wolverine, you’ll also get a sense of the journey that Logan makes.”

* * *

X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens in theaters on April 30. Special thanks to Francis Soliven, Ella del Rosario and Mae Vecina of Warner Bros. (F.E.) Inc.; Julie Glenn of Twentieth Century Fox; Kiel Enrique and Willa Santiago of Australia Embassy-Manila.


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