Behind the scenes of The Wolverine

Director James Mangold dishes about taking a turn to the dark side, working with Hugh Jackman and why we can’t get enough of Wolverine

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Five films in and 13 years deep, the world still can’t seem to get enough of the X-Men. And in just a few days, diehard fans and newcomers alike can get another superhero action fix with director James Mangold’s The Wolverine.

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The film sees Logan, played by Hugh Jackman, take an unexpected trip to bid his farewells to a dying friend whose life he once saved. But when he receives an even more unexpected offer to end his torturous life of immortality, he soon learns that things aren’t always as they seem. 

So with an entire film dedicated to the fallen hero, what more do we learn from his explosive rage that we haven’t seen before?

“In this particular film, he’s in a state of loss,” Mangold said. “He’s lost almost everyone he’s ever loved or cared about in the previous films. The X-Men are gone. Jean Grey is dead at his own hands. Professor X, his mentor, is gone. Any other people he’s loved or cherished, any of his friendships, are all gone.”

To convey the multiple themes about loss and mortality, the director opted to take the film on a darker, grittier turn.

“The first thing I wrote on the back of the materials was these five words: ‘anyone I love will die,’” Mangold said. “I thought this could be the peculiar curse that this character feels, that anyone he becomes intimate with will in some way become destroyed. 

“So there’s a sense of a doomed character, perhaps even suicidal, who just can’t find a way out because he himself is immortal. We all wish we could live forever, but we don’t really consider that to go on forever while others can’t means that you have to keep saying goodbye. And at some point, exhaustion will set in. Your soul will grow tired, and I think that’s an interesting place to start the character.”

Not only is it the story of a fallen hero, Mangold said, but also one that we can identify with, even if we don’t have Hugh Jackman-worthy abs (although we can dream).

“I think one of the ways we all identify with the mutants in general is that we’re all a victim of our own genes and whatever our assets and strengths are or weaknesses,” Mangold said. “We might not be mutants, but we all have to accept, live with and love ourselves as what we are. We don’t get a chance to remake ourselves. But then again, Logan has the added tragedy of having been screwed with by science. He doesn’t know who to trust because he’s been abused. We identify with that as well.”

The Wolverine marks the second time the director and leading man have worked together following 2001’s Kate and Leopold, which earned Jackman a Golden Globe nomination. Even though this reunion project required fewer pairs of tights and more time at the gym, Mangold said there’s a reason Jackman keeps returning to the troubled mutant hero.

“Hugh is so great in this part and because he captures both the masculinity and the danger of Logan, but also the heart,” Mangold said. “He can play that contradiction of this man who can really hurt you, but the audience can also imagine he could be their best friend. Hugh can capture these opposite sides and fuse them. How many actors can do that? It’s not very often that you can be both dangerous and charming and likeable.”

Beyond the darker and more complex storyline, if you were hoping to see more of the heart-racing action and adventure known to the X-Men franchise, Mangold said The Wolverine doesn’t skimp on that either.

“There’s a little less [sic] jokes and a little more intensity,” Mangold said. “The fighting is more intense. I wanted the actors really doing the fighting, and that required doing a lot of coaching and practice off hours. They were working out every day even when they weren’t shooting.”

As for insight into the already anticipated release of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past instalment next year, Mangold stayed tight-lipped, but offers fans a tease of what’s to come.

“I have inside knowledge, but none that I’m in a position to give,” he said. “But what I have to give, people might find if they can sit tight at the end of the picture.”

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Catch Hugh back in action when The Wolverine opens in cinemas on 25 July.