Hugh Jackman is a song and dance man, who regularly pops up in stage musicals and, with “Les Miserables,” film musicals, too. He’s even starred in “Hugh Jackman … One Night Only,” a one-man production of showtunes and recollections that he will bring to L.A. this fall. But to most, he’s Wolverine, the decidedly un-exuberant, brooding mutant of the X-Men franchise. Having explored his origins in the first solo Wolverine film in 2009, he once again dons his claws and his pissy stare for “The Wolverine,” a spinoff that finds his anguished asskicker considering mortality while fighting ninjas, robot samurai and a she-lizard in Japan.
I heard you were a big fan of the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller run from the early ‘80s, on which this was loosely based.
I read that during the first “X-Men” and I always thought that was a great basis for a movie. After 13 years [the producers] agree with me. I love the backdrop. To me, I want a character who symbolizes the anti-authoritarian. To go into the world of Japan with samurais is really fresh and different.
Wolverine has to fight ninjas and samurai, not other mutants. What kinds of challenges does that give him?
What’s really cool is the way they fight and the values, not just the training. It’s not just physical — it’s a control of the mind. I think to Wolverine, who is instinctive and animalistic and emotional, he just doesn’t think things through. It’s not like he’s fighting mutants. He’s fighting humans.
This is more stripped-down and darker than the first solo Wolverine film.
It is darker and I think it should be. Even in the storyline it’s a bit of a rebirth of the character. That character really is incredibly tense; he is darker. If there ever is an argument for an R-rated comic book movie, it is probably Wolverine. We did actually discuss that.
You seem like a nice guy. And you often play nice, more exuberant characters than Wolverine, who broods and hates everybody.
Acting always allows me to kind of explore other parts of myself and the human condition. Wolverine is something difficult for me to get back into because I’ve been playing him on and off for 13 years. James [Mangold, the director] was on me about being deep and more restrained and really highlighting the moment before he blows his top, and then when he blows his top we earn it.
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James Mangold tends to direct smaller films than this, like “Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “Kate & Leopold,” in which you starred. What did he bring to this project?
It’s the sixth time I played the role but it was never like that. I felt like he got the best performance out of me and the best out of every actor. He had a huge range here and he was the same with all of us.
You were known for musicals (“Oklahoma!”) before you got the role in the first “X-Men.” How did they come to choose you?
It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. Seven months before I really got brought in someone else got the part, and finally when things fell through for Dougray Scott, who was cast in another film, then she said, "Remember that guy? Let's bring him back in." It just so happened that I was in L.A. that week. It was a lot of the skies certainly aligning.
Were you into comics before?
I really had no idea about X-Men, about its reach or size or passionate fans. I certainly knew afterwards. Being on a Hollywood set is very different than getting work in Australia. I remember being quite nervous to begin with. When I did my audition they were already a week into shooting.