Interview: Hugh Jackman on Real Steel, Small Jobs and Wolverine 2
So we had a chance to interview Hugh Jackman, who’s playing the main lead in Real Steel, a robot boxing film. The movie is surprisingly good, which you can check out our review here. He’s a real charming guy on and off the camera, and is also a very down-to-earth guy. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but he’s one sexy and tall hunk. Alright, so here’s our lengthy interview with Hugh Jackman, and I do mean lengthy.
On Dakota Goyo, the boy who plays Max.
Hugh Jackman: When he auditioned, I turned around to Shawn, and we knew we had our kid. I remember the pre-lighting tests just slowly pushing in on his face. There’s no acting in a lighting test, you just sit there. Everyone was talking, so he was kind of just drifting off and the camera was just moving in on him. The girl behind the monitor started crying, like he just has a softness to him.
In terms of the chemistry, I just genuinely love this kid. I have kids as well, and I had to be a little careful when my son was around so that he didn’t get too jealous. He’s the nicest kid. He’s fun and mature, which you need to be on the movie set, unfortunately. He’s kind of mature without being precocious and we mucked around. I mean we literally did practical jokes with him all the time. I had to keep reminding him and myself that we’re like contemporaries in this movie. [To Dakota] “If anything, you’re more the adult than me.”
Dakota is quite skittish about dirt. The poor thing was dirty the whole time and all those mud scenes. I’ll be like, “Seriously man, you got a little something on here.”
He’ll go, “Huh, what?”
“No, no, you have a spider,” and he’ll start hitting me.
On his character being a loser and when he realizes the change in his character.
Well half, definitely half. Maybe a little bit beyond that, but what I always loved was that his strength actually emanated from his son first. What I got right from the beginning, I always felt for this character. I got that he’s someone that “could’ve been a contender” you know. He could’ve been the guy. It wasn’t his choice. In the end he wasn’t the best boxer of all time, but he was right up there, and it’s taken away from him.
He’s made mistakes. He definitely made a mistake with his son, probably with many relationships, and he owes money all over the place. He stopped believing in himself. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but of course I made up a whole back story of him losing his father and Bailey’s father becoming like a father to him, then he dies. I thought of it as a bit like Mike Tyson and Cus D’Amato, you know. That these people make a big difference and when they’re gone, he’s just someone who had not much to rely on. He had no base. When life becomes too painful, I think people switch off and it’s easy not to participate and make bad choices after bad choices. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. And it’s the kid who’s kind of like, “You can do this,” and Bailey says, “You can do this.” He doesn’t even believe himself to be a father. So even though he was kind of a loser, I always felt for him.
In the movie Anthony Mackie’s Finn says, “You’re a bad bet,” to Jackman. Jackman explains what part of his life was a bad bet.
I think when I started acting. I felt like a bad bet. I was someone who acted all the time; school plays, having a musical society, having done plays, you name it. Then I thought, I want to go and do some acting classes. I’m finished, majored in journalism, and I have a degree. It’s like, I don’t know if I’m up for it, so I went and did some classes. I got into this one-year course which was not easy to get into and I snuck in. There were 18 of us in the course, the first four months, I felt like the dunce of the class. I don’t know why. I really knew nothing about acting, except that I like it. And everyone seemed cooler and had a big leather jacket and smoking. I was like, “Hey acting, it’s going to be really cool. How are you doing? Love that. Have you guys seen Indiana Jones? Cool movie.”
[Imitates other classmates in a cool voice] “Raging Bull man.”
I was like, okay. Every time I did something, the teachers would roll their eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in this situation, but when there’s a smell about you, like you’re the dunce of the class, everybody’s like, [acting indifferent] “Hey man, how are you?” It’s a lonely feeling.
The turning point was kind of just not caring anymore what anyone thought. I was like, “I’m never going to be an actor, that’s obvious, so I’m just going to enjoy this. I don’t care whether you’re rolling your eyes at me or not.” It was a great lesson to learn. In a way I’ve carried that with me as an actor. “Alright man, you’re just going to have to do what you think is right and you’re going to have to work harder than everybody else.”
On his journey of becoming an actor.
When I started as an actor, it was all I can do and not be unemployed. I want to keep working and I don’t want to have to go back to whatever small jobs I had. I just want to work as an actor, and I’ll try it for five years. I was a presenter on a TV show, I did TV, I did a couple of small films, and I did theatre. I did musical theatre for crying out loud. I’ve never sung in my life before. I was shocked. I am the only person in the history of musical theatre to have in his contract to have to pay for and take singing lessons every week. So I was good. I was not great. Trust me.
And I thought, I’m going to keep opening as many doors as I can. And somewhere, I’m not sure where that happened, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, all of a sudden instead of it being just a survival mechanism, it became like the thing that differentiated me from other people. Now it’s been 15/20 years that I’ve been having singing lessons every week. I’ve been doing dancing classes, you name it, I did everything.
On why he continued to be an actor.
I don’t want to be that guy that stays at the party too long. There’s nothing worse than a desperate guy. 98% of actors don’t make it, it’s okay. So I thought 5 years I’ll do it, and if for 5 years I couldn’t support myself, I was moving on. I remember after 5 years going “okay.” You know, it was okay, it was not great, but I might do another 5 years, and somewhere in that 5 years X-Men came along.
On getting a rematch with Kevin Durand in Real Steel, who was also in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as the Blob.
I love Kevin Durand. I think he’s one of the most underrated, talented actors out there. I was thrilled when he was in this movie. I’d love to be in every movie with him. Honestly, I’d love for him to be a star of a movie, because I think that’s what he deserves.
On Wolverine 2 and making it better.
What we didn’t quite achieve with Origins is actually really getting a great snapshot of who this guy is. I think we didn’t need to get hung up on his past and memory. We’ve explored it. It’s enough you know. I think we can move ahead. The Japan saga for me has always been the strongest of the source material for this character. Right after X-Men 1, I was reading that, so I was really excited.
It’s simple… scripts. You gotta have a great script and Chris McQuarrie has written the best script of them all. It’s precisely why Darren Aronofsky signed on originally. I tried to get him to do X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but he’s like, “I’m not sure if this is for me,” until this one [Wolverine 2]. And then we all know what happened there.
On training for Real Steel
So what happened was I was doing a movie called Selma for Lee Daniels, which got cancelled the last second, and Lee wanted me to play Clark, who’s fat and wears his pants up high. He asked, “What happens if you get fat?”
I said, “I’m skinny by nature. So if I did no training, I’ll have little skinny arms, legs, and a pot belly.”
He goes, “That’s not what we want, because Clark is short, stocky and fat.” So he said, “Just hit the gym. Do no cardio and eat everything inside,” and I did. I put on about 30 pounds, and I was training hard. Training for that is like heavy, heavy, heavy weights, but very few reps. It’s a bit like sumo wrestling with short bursts.
So anyway I did that and it got cancelled. I was like, “Oh man, I gotta ring Shawn and tell him, ‘This is where I’m at. We’ve got 3 months out from filming. What do you think? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to lose it all?'” I said, “I should look like I could have fought, look thick, but not too similar to where I was at.”
He said, “That’s awesome. I love that idea.”
I came in, called the costumer and said, ” I’ve put on some weight. It’s literally like putting on my son’s clothing.”
On Evangeline Lilly “giving up acting” and joining Real Steel.
I think she’s always given up acting. Evangeline is famous for saying that about everything, I don’t know if you know that about her. The first audition that she did was for Lost. I think she told me the story as if it’s almost like luck, like how she went down [to Hawaii] and became the biggest thing of all time. She always wrestled with that.
She said she read the script (She says no to everything. A lot of things [scripts] she doesn’t even read). But she was intrigued by it, read it and started crying while she was reading it. She said, “I was so moved by it as a story.” So she said yes. Thank God she did, I mean, she really brought so much to that [role].
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “It’s going to be really cool. We don’t know if you really like each other. You’re at each other’s throats.”
I’m like, “Yeah, oh wow, we haven’t seen this before.” I know there’s a charm in doing that, but there’s an element to this. We’ve seen it before.
There’s not one take that she does what you would expect. I don’t know if you remember the scene where she slaps me [when dealing with money]? I was trying to work through the math of this. The whole time I kept thinking, okay it’s 50,000 for this because I love math. When she said, “You and me, $6,000.”
I ad-lib and say, “It’s actually 3,” and she slaps me. I’m like, “Woah!” Then she grabs my hair, and I’m like, “Woah.” She is right on it. That was that take. The next take, you don’t know what is coming out of her. It was so much fun to act with her. Somehow that thing about her not really caring about being an actor is what draws you to her.
On being accessible and signing posters from “fans” waiting outside the hotel.
I think I’ve gone into acting on my first big movie when I was thirty. Trust me, I earned ten bucks an hour inside a koala suit running around Australia, promoting the national parks in Australia. I’ve worked in more kitchens as a dishwasher. I’ve only just now probably eclipsed my years as a working actor as suppose to being a waiter or working at a gym for six years.
I know that guy’s selling and I don’t agree with him selling my autograph on eBay. I know he’s a professional guy, but on some level I’m like, really, he’s going to stand there for 8 hours to get $25 selling it? That’s [crappy] man. That’s like four bucks an hour. I’m like, “Alright, come here. I wish you can find a better way to make a living, like not off my autograph. But if you’re really prepared to stand there that long, I’ll give you an autograph.” I don’t know, it’s just probably a little bit of empathy.
On seeing the robots on set for the first time.
There’s a picture of me and Dakota. It was a big moment, Shawn brought us out to see it. People were shocked. About half the movie is those robots fully operational. Dakota and I looked ten-years old. It’s amazing. It’s so great to let us know what we’re working with.
On his appearance on WWE and if he broke Dolph Ziggler’s jaw.
I’m pretty sure, and I’ve done my research on this, that Dolph was exaggerating. Actually, it’s something he likes to do a lot of, and that’s why I hit him. Fair enough, right?
Real Steel hits theaters on October 7th.