X-Men: Days of Future Past star Hugh Jackman tells Tara Brady about getting fit and furry
Steady on, readers. Remain calm. There comes a moment in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh and arguably best X-Men film to date, when Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine clambers out of a waterbed – don’t ask – toward a mirror wearing nothing more than his birthday suit. He checks himself over, making sure all his various bits are intact; well, he has just jumped back in time to 1973.
Even casual franchise fans will be stunned and amazed to note that said bits now have more bits. There are popping veins on popping veins. There are lats on lats; rhomboids on rhomboids.
Bulking up and weeding down is hardly a novelty in the movieverse. Still, talk to actors such as Chris Pine and Tom Hardy about the process of getting properly ripped and they’ll invariably drop down into hushed tones and say something prefaced with: “But that’s nothing on Hugh Jackman”.
And my word, if Hugh Jackman hasn’t just taken that aspect of Hugh Jackman up a notch.
“That’s hilarious,” says the Australian actor. “I can’t take all the credit. My diet for the last two movies was ripped off from Dwanye Johnson. I rang him up and said: ‘Come on man, I need to get to some place that I’ve never been before’. So he gave me a 6,000-calorie and two-training-sessions-a-day plan. If you look at old interviews from about 10 years ago, I’m sure I’m on record as saying you don’t need to train three hours a day. Well, I actually kind of do now.”
Jackman’s Wolverine workouts are now the stuff of legend among the fitness community. Bodybuilding magazines routinely pay homage to his two-hourly consumption of protein shakes throughout the night. Which can’t be much fun for Deborra-Lee Furness, his wife of some 18 years. Unless stealth is his real-world superpower.
“It is,” he cries. “I had a father who was a very light sleeper and great creeper. So I learned from the best. I used to leave the shake out on the windowsill at night to keep it cool. Because I didn’t want to have to go down to the fridge. I mean, it was a sad sight – me sculling a protein shake at the end of my bed really quietly.”
Gym bunnies take heed: “But I’m not doing that anymore. For the past two years, I’ve been on a different schedule. I consume all my calories in an eight-hour period. That made a huge difference. I felt a lot better on that.”
It’s not just the hard-bodies. One never meets anyone in the business called show with a bad word to say about Hugh Jackman. A psychopathically good-humoured fellow, you shall know him by his easy laugh and slap of the thigh. His nice-guy image – quietly spiritual, married with children, Transcendental Meditation practitioner, unfailingly cheery – doesn’t begin to cover it. Unlike most movie stars, he remembers your name, maintains a very self-deprecating narrative, and simply can’t do enough for you.
A lifelong Norwich FC fan – his mum lives there still – not even that club’s recent misfortunes can put a dent in his demeanour: “I’ve still got the 1984 Milk Cup to boast about. It was still called the Milk Cup. Which dates it a little. But that’s alright.”
As hard as it is to picture anyone else playing X-Men’s iconic and way popular Wolverine, meeting Jackman you wonder how anyone ever thought he would stand in for the most brooding of superheroes. Of course, he has a self-deprecating story about that.
“The reason I got cast was because Bryan Singer, the director, was watching my audition. And he turned to the security guard that was in the room and said ‘Is that the Wolverine?’ And the guy said: ‘Yeah, he’d be cool maybe’. And Bryan said ‘great’. And that was me.”
Fifteen years later, and Jackman continues to wield the Marvelverse’s most recognisable talons. X-Men: Days of Future Past sees Jackman take pride of place alongside James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, for a time-travelling, franchise-crossing adventure.
Seventies political thrillers have been a touchstone for this season’s big releases – see
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and select sequences from Godzilla – but X-Men 7 goes one better and works in Richard Nixon, the Kennedy Assassination and a Pentagon assault.
“It was a big old reunion to begin with,” says Jackman. “The script is amazing for this one. And Bryan Singer is back. So I was genuinely excited about that. Because I think he’s a phenomenal film-maker. And then this incredible cast of new people arrived to kick the ball to. Who were so good I never wanted to take the ball off them. It was great for me because I was on the whole movie so I got to work with all of them.”
Even after all this time on the job, Jackman admits he still finds Wolverine’s moods a challenge. This is a character who, whatever his charms, could never be mistaken for a ray of sunshine. Yet he is played by a performer who might just be just that. Jackman’s background in musical theatre adds to the incongruity. “I do love it,” says the actor. “He’s like my older brother; my tougher, cooler older brother. And it does save me a fortune in therapy, I have to tell you. But I do have to be sat on by the director. ‘Don’t add that line. No ad-libbing. Just say the three words.’ I’m always trying to muck around. When I need to think less. I think I’m starting to get him now. Angry. No jazz hands.”
Hugh Michael Jackman was born in Sydney in 1968; his English parents had arrived in Australia one year earlier as part of the Ten Pound Poms immigration, a government initiative offering citizenship to educated Britons and Canadians. He can’t remember a time before acting: all of his older
“Wolverine is like my older brother; my tougher, cooler older brother. And it does save me a fortune in therapy, I have to tell you”
siblings dabbled and two great-aunts had been actors on London’s West End.
“My father was an accountant but he loved the arts and took me to a lot of theatre,” says Jackman. “I was the youngest of five and then I got another stepsister at the age of 11. So I’m used to getting heard over a fair bit of chaos. My mum tells the story that she used to say to me ‘Hugh, you don’t have to stand on a chair to be noticed’. And now she shrugs and says ‘Well, what do I know?’”
Returning to his ancestral home in 1998, the actor earned rave notices and an Olivier Award nomination for his role in the Royal National Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! Within a year, he was Hollywood’s hottest ticket, having landed a series of high profile gigs on X- Men, Kate & Leopold and Swordfish.
“X-Men came out and no one recognised me on the street,” he recalls. “I remember people – and I mean fans – arguing in front of me: ‘No, that’s that guy from the movie’. ‘No way’. Once I had to take out my driver’s licence out just to shut them up. It was only after I started going on those talk shows that people started to know who I was. So I had a good two or three years in which I had been handed the keys of the kingdom, but I still had complete anonymity. It was awesome.”
He has subsequently become a great favourite among contemporary auteurs, working with Christopher Nolan on The Prestige, Woody Allen on Scoop, Baz Luhrmann on Aus
tralia and Darren Aronofsky on The Fountain. “The thing I love about all those directors is that they have such confidence in their taste,” says the 45-year-old. “They don’t want it like that. They want it like this. Like this exactly. It’s a great atmosphere when you’re working with those people. Particularly when you’re working with big studios on big films. Because one person has to make the movie. You can’t make it by committee. Probably Nolan is the best I’ve ever seen at maintaining his authority and vision.”
Between movies, he continues to dabble in razzle-dazzle and musical theatre. He hosted the Academy Awards in 2001. He won a Tony in 2003 for his work on the Broadway revival of The Boy from Oz. Last year, his turn as Jean Valjean in the film adaptation of Les Miséra
bles earned him his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
“The people who know me as Wolverine and the people who recognise me from theatre tend to be very different,” he laughs. “There’s a real split there. I do get offered a lot of Wolverine type roles and I try not to do those. I already feel like I have the best character out there with Wolverine. So I prefer doing musicals and something completely different when I’m away from that character. You can’t be all things to all people. But it’s good to try.”
Wolverine (Jackman) and 1970s Professor X (James McAvoy).
Below: Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask