Press Conference Interview With The Cast And Director Of The Wolverine

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Sick of superhero movies yet? Well, I hope not, because on July 26th, Marvel is attempting another solo X-Men movie for everyone’s favorite badass mutant. Once again played by Hugh Jackman, director James Mangold will attempt to dive deep into the character of Wolverine, exploring a comic arc that sets Logan in Japan without the help of any other mutants. Titled The Wolverine, audiences will finally get a chance to focus only on the man Logan is, as he tries to live with his past while staring into his eternal future.

I was recently lucky enough to attend a press conference with many members of the cast, who were promoting The Wolverine in New York City, which led to some very interesting insight, explanation, and anecdotes from the set. In attendance were Hugh Jackman, director James Mangold, Famke Janssen, Rila Fukushima, Hiro Sanada, and Tao Okamoto. Hope you enjoy our behind-the-scenes coverage!

Starting the day off, we asked Hugh what it’s been like playing Wolverine all these years.

Hugh Jackman: Well, in 1953 I got the part [Laughs]. While it sometimes feels like that, it was in the past century, back in 1999. It’s weird, because I’m actually enjoying playing him more than ever, and I was reflecting on that when somebody said “Well why would that be?” I don’t know, Wolverine is somewhere between the ages of 150 and 300, and on some of the 4:00AM mornings I felt about 300 years old, but I think generally, maybe even being a little older, I think the script, particularly in the title, we’re focusing on this character. We’re focusing on his journey. It’s a more intimate and more interior story. It’s not wall-to-wall mutants and people flying around with lasers coming out of their eyes or anything. This is a real, true character story. Having someone like James Mangold on board not only gives the action unbelievable creativity and makes it original, but it also makes it a true drama, and we see the human vulnerabilities of Wolverine. This made him more challenging, more satisfying, and in a way, more fun to play. I’m really thrilled, from the writers to the studio, that everyone got on board with that idea. The movie we wanted to make, we made.

Hugh Jackman has been saying for a while now that he’s wanted to do the Japan storyline that is utilized in The Wolverine, so someone asked how he feels now that he’s gotten that desire out of his system: 

Hugh Jackman: Famke can remember this. Bryan Singer had this mandate that no one could read comic books on the set because when he was creating the first X-Men, he wanted it to be very human and three dimensional. He was worried that actors would come on set with an over-the-top performance, and that their perception of comic books was two dimensional – even though X-Men is not. But we were handing them around, and I remember being handed this comic book like it was contraband. Those people who know the actual series know that it involves the X-Men, so I said to the producer, “This would be a great X-Men movie!” Actually, as it progressed, the idea for making it the ultimate movie for Wolverine grew in my mind, and James Mangold agreed with me. This great fish out of water story, the idea of taking him to this place that’s completely foreign and making him completely unhinged, not knowing who anyone is, is a great way to do it. He’s a natural outsider, and I think the customs, atmosphere, history, all the samurai codes of honor – it’s the opposite of Wolverine. It’s just the perfect place to put that character.

Opening questioning to the entire cast, we asked about the whole Western structure of the film, the strong presence of The Wolverine’s female characters, and their vulnerability as well:

James Mangold: I’m the guy who likes record shops where the records are in one stack, I never ask “Why is Ray Charles in Country/Western, and why is this album Rock N’ Roll?” It’s almost like you guys need to put things in boxes so it’s easier to talk about them, and we all follow it. The reality is, the Western and the samurai film are incredibly similar. Obviously there’s been a huge dialogue between those two forms over the years. That was really something we focused on. For me, and what Hugh was touching on, is trying to get inside all of the characters in a movie means you need space. You need space from other mutants. You can’t make a movie that gets inside characters when you have 12 mutants and two hours, with each character getting 8 minutes, if that. You need a story that somehow has openings for people to expose what’s inside them. The western is a beautiful example of a format with both action and character, it always has been. It isn’t really about horses and guns, it’s got an architecture underneath. But I’d love for the women to talk about their own journey. Rila? How about you?

Rila Fukushima: Shooting was just an amazing time for me. This is my first time acting in a film, so I just was trying my best to enjoy myself.

Famke Janssen: I just want to say X-Men: The Last Stand ended on a very high emotional note, but the audience didn’t have the time to process what happened, which was Wolverine killing Jean Grey, and it was something people were left with. The fact that both James and Hugh took on this part, and even though it’s a very small through-line in the film, it’s such an important part in the series and what happens on the journey Logan goes through after that. The guilt that he lives with, the reconciliation with his past, and the fact that somehow this Jean Grey character comes in to either guide him or challenge him and find a way through this part of his past. I think that’s a really beautiful way that [James and Hugh] incorporated that into the story because it gives the room for the audience and Hugh’s character to really have some kind of reconciliation with that big moment that happens.

Women are going to respond to this film more than any other X-Men and Wolverine film so far, because it has a love story, real emotional depth, and the journey of this Wolverine character – that’s really this team’s doing.

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Hugh Jackman: Can I just say a couple of things? James said to me in the first phone conversation we had, “Tonally, I’m thinking The Outlaw Josey Wales.” I hadn’t seen it, so he immediately sent it to me and I watched it. If that was the tone, immediately I knew we were going to create something different, and setting it in Japan obviously makes it different. We wanted to make this a stand-alone film. We didn’t want it to feel like any other Wolverine or comic book movies – we wanted this to be in service of the character. We never worried about ratings, we just said “Let’s bring this character to life.”

One of the things in the comic books, which some of you will know, is the theme of women with Wolverince. It’s sort of his achilles heel in a way. In this movie, we have a predominance of women, especially having Famke back. She plays such a key role in this, and was fantastic. In a way, and in such a short time, we were able to explore that relationship more than ever.

I also want to point out these two [points to Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto]. It’s such a daunting thing to be in your first film, but when your first film is as big as this, as you all know there’s a lot of pressure. I’m so proud of what both of these woman achieved. I also want to take my hat off to James, because there are very few directors with the confidence in themselves as directors, or what they’re trying to produce, who would offer such pivotal roles to newcomers. I think it really helps the audience come to this world like Wolverine, in a fresh way and not know what’s going on, and I think both of them have done an unbelievable job.

Hiro Sanada: As a Japanese born actor, I’d like to say thank you to James, Hugh, and the entire crew, because sometimes when people film a movie in Japan, there are a lot of misunderstandings about our culture. But, they respected our culture and researched a lot. When I saw the movie, I was so happy because it had a great balance, a nice mixture of East and West, traditional and modern. I believe the Japanese audiences will be happy when they’re watching. It’s a very super-modern Japan with nostalgia, and I felt a taste of old, classic Japanese movies, but also a modern Japan. I think it’s a great mixture. I’m very happy to be a part of this movie.

Hugh Jackman: I don’t know if I’m going to get a question relating to this, so I’m just going to tell a quick story about Hiro.

It was beautiful what you said, and it’s indicative of who he is. I have to talk about one story. When we were finishing on set one day, I saw the lineup of all the extras, and they were actually lining up – normally extras just bolt and leave. I thought maybe they were collecting cell phones, maybe they’re handing over some prop, but when I craned my head around, around the side was Hiro, who has done what, 80 films in Japan?

Hiro Sanada: 60 [Laughs]

Hugh Jackman: Right, 60 films! He’s an icon there. He stood on the side, and one by one shook their hands and bowed, thanking every extra on the film. When people say to me “Well you’re known as a nice guy in Hollywood,” I go “Nope, I’m nothing.” The humility, the respect, and the generosity was there with Hiro, and it was there with the girls, which made a huge difference. I’m sorry to embarrass you for telling that story, but to me that really is indicative of who you are.

James Mangold: In relation to what Hiro said, we are successfully not existing only in Western cliches of Japanese life. I think that is a credit, honestly, to the cast, who were very vigilant and kind to me in explaining when I was doing something idiotic. Also, they were watching out for language, and customs, and even on days they weren’t working in character, they were coming on-set.

What Hugh touched upon very graciously about being brave casting these ladies, I take the compliment with an open heart, but I also think they were the best. They were the best. It’s easy when you’re reading people, meeting people, and two people land in front of you. Each one speaks to you in the role, inhabits the role. I don’t believe acting is taught, I believe is unlearned. We all are born, playing and acting, but we all learn to get self-conscious and frightened of being other people and pretending. What I’m always looking for is people who haven’t lost it, instead of who need to learn it. I think that’s true of everyone on this stage.

There’s a tremendous action scene that takes place on top of a speeding train (you’ve all seen it in the trailer), and someone asked about the behind-the-scenes work that went into making that whole sequence come together:

James Mangold: That scene is made up of hundreds of pieces. It required two kinds of planning. One of the things that can happen while planning an action sequence for a film, especially when you have resources, is that you can do anything. The trick when you can do anything, is there’s a huge temptation for the filmmaker to start flying the camera through the window of the train, up through the accordion, out the window, and up the drain pipe. My overriding goal, both with the actors and the way I was directing the film, was to try and make the film more real. Don’t make shots you couldn’t make. Technology allows you to do anything, you can literally do anything. When that happens, it almost puts the filmmaker in an odd position in which you can suddenly create any frame in any shot, and it’s almost too many choices. Why does the chase in The French Connection with Popey Doyle look so good? Because it was a handheld camera running under the overpass at high speeds, and it’s real. Every time you’re doing a sequence now, with all the technology available, your crew will ask you, “Well do you want the windshield in front of you? We can do it without the windshield.” Everything can be better, more visible, the camera can move from here to there, and I’m having to say no. I’m saying “Give me the shot as if I were doing it all, absolutely, 100% for real.”

The other side of it is the cast, which is of course Hugh, and the great guys playing the Yakuza fighting with him. They went through physical hell in the way their bodies were being slammed around. When they weren’t really risking themselves, and we were doing green screen work, we were literally blowing 700,000 pounds of wind in their eyes. I think Hugh would say his greatest achievement was keeping his eyes opened while we had six leaf blowers aimed at his face.

Hugh Jackman: I couldn’t make it look like Wolverine was crying [Laughs]. It was a humbling thing to watch because I loved it. There was one scene where there was literally this industrial leaf blower. As I looked back, you can literally see the folds in my skin flapping around. That was one of those points where you think “I feel young, but I don’t look so young.” It was three weeks, and I’ve done a lot of action things, but this was certainly one of the hairiest. A few cuts, bruises, a couple of tweaked necks, but the experience was very exciting because I thought it was emblematic of what James was trying to do. Creative, fun, and really great action. He was going to give the audience what they wanted, but not so overblown.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to spend two hours in a theater, I can only look at pretty, amazing visuals for so long if I don’t care about what’s going on.

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Being very heavy in samurai action, someone asked James Mangold if he was inspired by any past films:

James Mangold: One the main attractions about doing this movie was the fact that I’ve always been a huge fan of Japanese movies, samurai and otherwise. In a way, as Hiro was indicating, this movie is kind of this Lifesaver roll of different tastes and Japanese flavors.

You’ve got a Yakuza crime movie, a samurai film, a fantasy film, a western and historical film – you have all these things tied up in it, all of which I’m fans of. As we were developing the script, one of the directors who allows you into Japanese culture the most, but is least appreciated in the West, is Yasujirô Ozu. He had a huge period of movies about Japanese domestic life, beautiful city and country post-war films, and they had a big visual effect on this movie and the look of it, however strange it seems.

The reason for that journey Tao and Hugh make down South, and the village where I was scouting – I didn’t know Japan. This film really opened Japan up for me. What I was looking for in my mind was the seaside villages I’d seen in these great Ozu films, and wondering if they still existed. Obviously, in relation to samurai stuff, for me it was about trying to make the movie physical. What I thought as such an opportunity, here especially, was having someone like Hiro, who is not only a master himself, but also a master teacher. I think he helped everyone here from their sword work to their choreography. What I was really into, and into seeing in the film, was sweat, blood, eyes, and grounded action. We weren’t the budget level of some of the other summer movies, and I didn’t want to compete on the epic scale, I wanted it to compete on an intensity scale. What that meant for me is, Wolverine isn’t Spider-Man. He isn’t Superman. He can’t jump up and grab a 747, or he can’t fly into the atmosphere. He has flaws, he has a skeleton, he’s bitter, grumpy, and he heals. That’s it. What that allows you to do is stay more in line with making Dirty Harry films, and Popey Doyle films. These are all heroes who have captivated us, but whose feet are firmly on the ground.

Since The Wolverine was such an intense shoot, we asked Hugh how he relaxed after an intense day of shooting:

Hugh Jackman: I’ve been to Japan about 10 or 11 times, so to film there was a great thrill. I took the opportunity to take my family, because we were there quite a long time and it’s something they’ll never forget. When we went to Tomonoura, this village in the South, it was so beautiful there. If you wanted a Western breakfast, they said you needed three days notice. We were really out of Tokyo. For me, I don’t know if you know, but I’m a big foodie. I love Japanese food. I’m ashamed to say I gluttonously went to Jiro three times while we were there. I went once, had to take my wife, then went back again. We swam, we did loads of beautiful things. I climbed Mt. Fuji with my son, I went in some onsens (hot springs).

[Turning to Hiro] I don’t know if I told you this Hiro, but I went in an onsen, which is separate for males and females, and they hand you a towel. A small washcloth. When you go in the onsens, there are eight different types of tubs, so different heats and different temperatures, but one of them is cold. So I’m getting so hot, and I’m using the towel they gave me to dip into the cold water and put on my head, and I was getting very strange looks from everybody. This was at the base of Mt. Fuji, we weren’t even in Tokyo – I was the only white person there. They were looking and I thought “Maybe this is not cool, maybe I’m not meant to be here.” Finally, this guy in the tub is looking at me, and he goes [Makes grunting noise, points at towel on head, makes grunting noise, points to uncovered crotch region]. Finally I realized the towel was meant to be covering my privates. I’d spend about an hour just waltzing around the place with this thing on my head and a beer in my hand.

That concludes our interview but I’d like to thank the entire cast of The Wolverine who attended this press conference. Be sure to catch James Mangold’s film when it opens July 26th!

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