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Hugh Jackman on X-Men: Days of Future Past, Retcon, and Why Wolverine Doesn’t Multitask

Hugh Jackman never thought he'd still be playing Wolverine some 14 years after he signed on for the 2000’s X-Men, or that his frequently screaming character would become so pivotal to the mutant movie series that its latest installment repurposes a beloved Kitty Pryde story line from two 1981 issues of The Uncanny X-Men into a showcase for him as well. The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past is a doozy, but suffice it to say that it involves sending Wolverine’s consciousness from 2023 to his 1973 body to thwart an assassination. (Cue the ’70s music and styles.) Jackman chatted with Vulture recently about his own timeline, from the past self who first contemplated taking on the challenging role as an unknown actor to the future self who is the biggest star of a star-filled billion-dollar franchise. But only after he put down the Sharpie.

[Vulture enters.]
Sorry, I'm signing posters.

Sign away!
No, not while I’m talking to you! [Starts to put them away.]

It's okay. I'm sure you're used to multitasking.
I'm a man. [Laughs.] Come on. Do you have any men in your life who can multitask? I can't do that! I'm not good at multitasking. You can give me ten different things to do in a day, but not at once. I literally compartmentalize. Like, give me, "I'll do that for an hour," and I'm focused on that for an hour. I'm a typical man in that way. I'll go hunting now, and then I'll go drinking. But no hunt-and-drink. [Chuckles.] Just to perpetuate more stereotypes! I don't know how many — 11? — I just perpetuated.

If you were a character on Game of Thrones, hunting and drinking would mean your imminent death.
[Whispers.] I've never seen it.

Working with Peter Dinklage on this film didn't get you to check it out?
No, and I'll tell you why: Everyone loves it. As a kid, I saw every TV show; I was addicted to TV. So I know I have that in me, to be addicted. And I have two children, and I work, and I don't have the time to be addicted. I watched one episode of House of Cards, bang! Next day, all 13. And I know with Game of Thrones, I'll be addicted to it. I can tell. So I don't watch any.

Maybe someday you can watch it, when you're on a vacation or something, because it's not just a fantasy show. It's about power, it's about family, and Peter plays just the most amazing character.
That's what I hear! I heard someone this morning describe him as a villain, and you could see by how he responded, it's more complicated than that. I really should watch it. Do I have to start at the first season?

Yeah, but you won't need to binge it. I think you can take it more slowly and unpack it as you go along.
All right. Great. You convinced me! Okay — maybe on the plane I'll watch a few episodes.

You've talked about hanging up the claws. What keeps the material from getting old? Is each time you play Wolverine somehow new to you?
I've always loved that idea that as an actor, you get to learn something new, and it's often exciting and nerve-wracking to start in a new position each time. Someone said to me the other day — someone who makes speeches all the time — that someone asked him, "Do you ever get nervous anymore?" And he said to me, "It'd be like you. You don't get nervous." And I said, "Well, it's not really like that for me. Of course, I've been on-camera, so it's not like I get nervous about being in front of the camera." But I said to him, "Imagine if every time you spoke, it was a completely different topic." And he said, "Ah! All right, I see." And I said, "Because the character I played last time, I had to act something totally different." And whilst you get into that, weirdly, for Wolverine, I don't have the nervousness of finding it. I have a great comfort, actually, in knowing the character to some degree, but also I love that it's different every time, and this one in particular, a whole different side to him than you've ever seen before. So I enjoy that. But it feels comfortable in a way to me. It's still challenging, and physically very challenging, more challenging, but I get a great feeling of comfort, going back to that character. Probably more than ever.

But I don't want to lie and say I'm definitely doing the next one. Because since X-Men 1 and 2, where I had a two-picture deal, I haven't made the decision until I've seen the script and know who the director is. And I don't have scripts yet. But I am working with Jim [Mangold] on another Wolverine movie, and I would like that to happen. I feel like the scripts and story lines are getting better and better. So I'm not going to do it unless we stay on that trajectory. I don't want to ... There's no point in doing it if you're like, "Eh, it's sort of there ... " And everyone will say yes to it because it's got a following, but I want to keep it up there, for me and for the fans, out of respect. So I won't sign on until we see it. But I'll be very honest. Would I like it to happen? Yes. Do I want it to happen? Yeah, because I'm enjoying it. But I do know there is a use-by date to all this stuff, you know?

Because you personally don't heal like Wolverine.
[Laughs.] There is that. But weirdly, for a man, that will probably keep me longer! "I can do it!" That's probably not the best way to make me stop. I also kind of really admire what Jerry Seinfeld did with his show, you know? He finished at the top, after nine seasons. Admittedly, that's nine straight seasons. I get to do other things in between. I don't know when that day will be, but I want to make sure that there's still more for me to create that I'm still as passionate about and committed to it, and that the movies are as good. As long as all that lines up, I don't see an end date yet. I mean, I've seen some quotes, some of which have been accurate, some of which were misquoted, but I've tried to be honest. And the truth is, right now, I would like to be able to continue playing it, but I probably have higher standards to get me there. And see, Jim [Mangold], he pushed me. Just like he pushed me on Kate & Leopold. So even though I had done Wolverine five times before, he was like, "No, no, no." And he was right on me, every day, right to the last day. But he inherited a script — remember Darren [Aronofsky] was going to do it? — and of all the things Jim can do, he's as good of a developer of a script as he is anything. So I'm really excited to see what we can come up with together, and working with him, to find something from scratch. And already he's come up with an outline for something that is completely different for Wolverine.

Old Man Logan, maybe?
We did look at that, because I am rapidly approaching Old Man Logan! [Laughs.] It does, some mornings, feel like the most appropriate way to go. That's in the mix of discussions, yeah.

And then there's also The Death of Wolverine, coming in the fall. Not that he couldn't be resurrected after death.
Yeah, that's right! I know! I just read about that. I'm really looking forward to reading it, actually, and see what they come up with. But let's not forget, I don't know how many origin stories there are, six origins? So if there's six origins [laughs], I think it's maybe safe to say there could be more than one demise story, if you know what I mean! Wolverine has been killed before, hasn't he? But they're making a really big deal out of it. I don't know. Maybe. But I thought this movie felt really fresh. It felt like a fresh beginning. I felt like there was a lot of stuff in it that I had never seen before. Like that Pentagon kitchen scene [with Quicksilver]? I thought that was awesome. That brought the house down, when I saw a screening. There's a lot in it that feels fresh.

I think, to make the genre relevant, and to keep people interested, the stakes have to be real. There has to be some danger. And I think you have to do the unexpected. I was a little shocked when I read they were killing Wolverine off in the comics, and I was wondering how I would feel if I had actually been playing him for like the last 40 years. Actually, I'm in touch with [creator] Len Wein. I should get his opinion about it, and see what he thinks! But my gut feeling is like yours, that it won't be the end-end. These are characters that have become iconic, and that's great. But I can guarantee — the character can live beyond an actor! [Laughs.] Even if I do another 22 movies, there will be someone else playing him!

Even here, there's a whole retcon where you can kind of go and do them again ...
Retcon?

Retroactive continuity.
Oh, I love that! I've never heard that phrase. Absolutely. Even as we were filming it, I was like, "Hang on a sec!" I didn't realize this at first, but for Bryan [Singer], there was a deliberate desire to actually fix some of the ... He didn't say this, but some of the sloppiness, actually. Because, and I don't think it's bad, but because there was never a knowledge that there was ever going to be seven movies and the whole thing moving forward. We just did one and then the other and then people would have different directors and go, "All right, that was that, but now we're doing this," and no overall sense. Marvel probably changed that, actually. Their famous 15-year plan, which everyone knows about, and I think that's smart. So I think Bryan's like, "Okay, it's not too late." And Bryan was involved in The Wolverine as well. So it feels like that's being redressed, and in this movie, it's okay! We worked out a way where we can now move forward with a fresh beginning.

If you ever were a fan of a particular romance between characters, but you had thought, Oh, I wish they had a chance, now some of them do. And others have a new timeline, where only we — and Wolverine — know what might have been. We know what was thwarted.
[Claps with glee.] Yes, I know! Right! I know exactly what you mean. And I'm sort of really glad, as we look back, there's something iconic now, weirdly, and in the comics as well as the movie, about the Jean-Logan relationship, you know? Even in The Wolverine, we kept that very much alive. That was Jim [Mangold]. He was like, "We have to be very careful to raise that part of him, because it defines him, and her." That relationship is as iconic as the characters, because they exist for so long, and I'm thrilled we kept that alive.

You recently gave some advice to your 1999 self ...
Everyone was saying, "Book another movie before this thing [the first X-Men movie] comes out! You'll be back where you began, buddy!" There was no sense that this would be something, you know? My wife was the one who said, "Don't do it." She read the three pages I was given, because they wouldn't give me the script. Three pages, I got. And she was like, "This is ridiculous."

You remember what was in those three pages?
"Wolverine senses danger. His nostrils flare. And snikt!" — S-N-I-K-T! Which I didn't know was from the comic books! I was like, "Snikt?" I wasn't sure it was spelled right! I was like, "I don't know what this word is!" And then "Claws come out of his hands." My wife was reading it with me, and she goes, "You got claws coming out of your hands? This is ridiculous." And I was like, "Babe! It's Bryan Singer! And Ian McKellen!" It's the only time in 18 years of marriage that she's ever been wrong! [Laughs.] Or that she'll admit to.

Okay, but with the retcon, the claws might change, because of the new timeline ...
One hundred percent! That's great. I had never thought of that, actually. That is awesome. Somehow, when we finished with that, I was thinking, Okay, so that situation is going to happen again, but that's really cool, actually! That is really cool. There you go! We're going to have you as a consultant!

For the next one, yeah. We'll talk. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] So you'll know for the next one, if you see bone claws coming out, you can be like, "See?!"

Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images