Hugh is “at Peace” with Wolverine

There’s a great, long article with Hugh Jackman in The Times. In it, he talks about his future as Wolverine — and whether or not it’s his decision to make more movies as the beloved X-Men character. He talks about his latest thriller, Prisoners, and the deliberate choice the filmmakers made with regards to the film’s commentary on violence (including how it ties into current political affairs).

Along with the talk of his films, there are a few scattered moments throughout the article that touches upon his personality. How does Hugh feel about being a multimillionaire? Although he’s not sentimental with photos, which one did Hugh recently keep in his collection? There’s also confirmation that Hugh’s next film will be Chappie, a Neill Blomkamp-directed sci-fi with hints of comedy that will shoot in South Africa early next year.

Hugh Jackman is wincing in his seat. We’re barely ten minutes into our interview time and the 44-year-old Australian, famed for his Oscar-nominated turn in Les Misérables as much for his muscular weight-gains in the X-Men movies, is grappling with the thorniest and most pressing issue of his career to date — whether or not to retire his trademark comic-book action hero, Wolverine, a role that is beloved by global audiences, has so far bagged £1.18 billion at the box office (from five movies), and yet, you suspect, is something of a creative dead end for the increasingly versatile actor.

“Right now, I’m not making that decision,” he says, haltingly, like someone who’s going to make that decision, just not right now. “Although I will say that I was proud of the most recent movie [The Wolverine]. And so if there is no more Wolverine, and that’s the end of it, then I’ll be at peace.”

He suggests that the decision itself is, technically, not his to make (“90% of the choice belongs to the studio!”), but also notes, with some finality, “What I do know, however, is that great parts can outlive the actors who play them. Superman. Batman. And Wolverine. So someone else will play him. For sure.”

You don’t have to look far for the reason behind Jackman’s comic-book equivocation. The poster board outside our London hotel room, for instance, advertises his latest movie, Prisoners , a searing and genuinely grown-up kidnap drama that’s defined by Jackman’s terrifying turn as a grieving father with blood-curdling torture in mind. It’s also another notch in the post-Les Mis’ career of Jackman, serious and intense Oscar-calibre actor (Swordfish ? Van Helsing ? Never heard of them!). “I think I got put in a hole in the past,” he says, referring to the conceptual gap between the old and new Hughs. “And it’s important for me not to go backwards.”

In person too, Jackman today is different (we have met before). Six foot two and a bit, and still carrying some excess Wolverine buff (from a summer stint on X-Men: Days of Future Past ), he is tanned, affable and warm, but alongside his new-found gravitas there is also an end to the jazz-hands, crowd-pleaser vibe of old. There is a hint of darkness now. And it suits him. In conversation, for instance, he remembers taking a bullying big-name Hollywood director aside on set, and whispering, “Why are you screaming at me like that? If someone came up to me on the street and behaved like that I’d probably just smack them in the head. And I will not put up with it from you.”

Equally, his Keller Dover, the anguished guilt-ridden father in Prisoners, is simmering intensity personified. He’s a man who turns the tables on a kidnapping suspect (Paul Dano) and attempts to torture the truth out of him, via punching, bludgeoning, scalding and the kind of screen viscera that teeters right on the brink of the taste threshold. Indeed Jackman has claimed that his wife, the actress Deborra-Lee Furness, was so repulsed by the movie that, after the premiere, she threw him out of the marital bed. “No, I was being facetious when I said that,” he clarifies. “She was uncomfortable with the film, but I’m still in there. I’m fine.”

More important than the provocative violence, says Jackman, is the film’s political subtext. It’s a movie in which characters consistently debate the implications of violent intervention for the sake of the long-term moral good, and as such it seems to be an explicit and unashamed interrogation of post-9/11 American foreign policy. Too fanciful? “No, it’s very deliberate, totally deliberate within the script,” he says. “And it’s uncomfortable to see that, and unusual for a Hollywood film to raise those issues. And it makes me think of Guantanamo Bay, and of Syria right now, and of Obama, lying in bed at night, trying to make the right choice, but there is no easy choice.” He says that the movie has been a hit in the US (No?1 at the box office) primarily with adults (polls revealed that 70% of the audience were over 25), and that contemporary audiences now are “looking for a little more meat on the bone,” and that he’s proud to be fulfilling that need, and to be making serious cinema for grown-ups.

This is all, of course, far removed from early Jackman, a man who burst on to the scene in the Noughties with a reputation for musical theatre and cheesy shirtless movie roles (see his horrific 2001 rom-com Someone Like You ) that earned him the derision of hipster TV shows (he became a long-running gag on Scrubs) and serious critics alike. “I remember doing interviews at first and they’d say: ‘So, is it in your contract to take your shirt off?’ And I suddenly thought: ‘Oh no, people think I’m a w***er!’”

Back then, Jackman had emerged from drama school in Perth, Western Australia, with smiles, dance routines, and buckets of fair dinkum Aussie charm (early interviewers were wowed by his earthy enthusiasm). Even his seemingly difficult childhood (devoutly Christian English parents come to Australia in 1967, but divorce when Jackman is 8, with mother Grace returning to the UK, leaving Jackman and four siblings with accountant dad Christopher) was spoken about in terms of freedom, and fun, and loving encouragement. I wonder today if anything has changed, or if he still feels the need to sugarcoat it?

“It was a different time, back then, and I’m sure if it was this era they would’ve handled it differently,” he says, before stopping himself with a sigh. “I’m 44, you know?” he eventually says. “And I don’t know when it is, but there’s a point in your life when blaming your parents becomes a little bit pathetic. I’ve talked about it with them, and we’ve gone as far as we’re going to get. At some point you have to take responsibility for your life, and move on. And I have.”

Jackman’s ascent into stardom was relatively speedy. There were bit parts on Australian TV, followed by Oklahoma! at the National Theatre for Trevor Nunn, followed by a chance casting as Wolverine in the very first X-Men (original choice Dougray Scott dropped out due to a scheduling clash with Mission Impossible 2 ). Along the way he married Furness (they met on the Australian drama Correlli ), moved to LA, raised two children, Oscar and Ava (now 13 and 8), performed in a one-man Broadway show, and presented the Academy Awards. And yet never quite felt accepted as a “proper” actor until Saturday, February 23 this year, when he found himself at a private luncheon, secretly orchestrated by the Academy itself, with fellow Oscar nominees Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Alan Arkin and Joaquin Phoenix.

“It was a little awkward at first,” he says, grinning. “But within 15 minutes, after a couple of beers and a few wines, everyone just relaxed, and it became something that I will never forget.” Any gossip? Apparently Phoenix was the funniest guest (“He kept going: ‘Why am I here, man?’”), Arkin gave a speech (“Which was a bold choice, in that company!”), and DeNiro insisted on taking photos — “I have a picture on my desk that he took of us all. I’m not one for holding on to photos and posters, but I kept that one.”

For now, Jackman is understandably keen to remain in exalted-actor company, and is thus choosing his projects with precision — his next movie, set in South Africa, will be a sci-fi called Chappie , for Elysium director, Neill Blomkamp. Off screen, he says that one of his dilemmas is that exceedingly rare issue of having, well, too much money. “I’m a little embarrassed by it, and a little uncomfortable with it,” he says. “But I struggle with it, and with what effect it will have on my kids, growing up in this situation. What is necessary? When does it become gluttony? And is there a point when you say: ‘That’s enough! Give the rest away!’” Has he reached that point? “Oh, I’ve got more than I need, for sure. There’s no doubt.”

We end with something I recall from our last encounter, where Jackman spoke of being driven by a lack within himself, and of identifying with U2’s Bono, when the latter referred to having a spiritual hole that only the screaming adoration of 70,000 fans could fill. I suggest that maybe the Oscar nomination for Les Mis , the new career profile and the friendship and adulation from the best in the business has gone some way towards filling that hole in Jackman.

“Hmmmmm,” he says. Another epic pause. “I think Bono was implying that the hole is insatiable and can’t be filled. And I don’t know why it is that we get these holes, or have these needs, but I will say that I feel a little calmer now. I’m less frightened. And the truth is, I’m loving it more and more.”