Logan: Final Chapter in Wolverine Saga–Interview with Hugh Jackman

Writer-director James Mangold has made the new chapter in the saga of a  great comic book hero. Logan sees Oscar-nominated actor Hugh Jackman reprise his iconic role as The Wolverine for on final time in this powerfully dramatic standalone story of sacrifice and redemption.

It’s 2029. Mutants are gone—or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire.

His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request—that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny.

Logan opens in theatres worldwide on March 3, 2017.

Hugh Jackman first brought his energy to the mutant known as Wolverine in 2000 in the film that launched the modern-day comic-book blockbuster, director Bryan Singer’s original X-Men.

Since then, the Australian actor has slipped into the skin of the world’s most famous mutant a record 10 times on the big screen. But this time, with LOGAN, Jackman had the chance to craft something special as a mean of laying to rest his longtime screen alter ego.

“We wanted something that would feel very different, very fresh and ultimately something very human,” Jackson says, “because it seems to me that the strength of X-Men and the strength of Wolverine is more his humanity than his superpower. In exploring this character for the last time, I wanted to get to the heart of who that human was, more than what his claws can do.”

Jackson’s always had a gift for locating Logan’s humanity beneath his gruff, deeply scarred exterior. But with this nuanced, deeply moving performance, the actor brings the character full circle—the cigar-chomping, hard-charging loner is now a steadfastly loyal comrade-in-arms willing to sacrifice everything for what he believes.

Jackson and cowriter-director James Mangold had already taken the character to new, far-flung places with the character’s previous solo outing 2013’s The Wolverine. That earlier film, adapted from the 1980 comic miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller and suffused with the spirit of Japanese noir and samurai films as well as American westerns, saw Logan plucked from self-imposed exile only to be drawn into violence and intrigue in Japan. It won praise from critics for its careful parsing of Logan’s inner tumult, rather than strictly relying on over-the-top action set-pieces for thrills.

Mangold says that after The Wolverine, the duo hadn’t planned to partner on another project centering on Logan. “Hugh and I were both on the bubble about doing another one of these,” says the director, who first worked with Jackman on 2001’s Kate & Leopold. “If we were going to do it, I wanted to take it somewhere that interested me, someplace intimate and primal—a character-based story where we explore the fears and weaknesses of these larger-than-life heroes, a film that makes them more human.”

Jackman and Mangold understood that the story needed to exist apart from the dense and heady mythology of the larger X-Men franchise. “We both wanted a movie that was a standalone movie,” Jackman says. “This is far more realistic than we’ve done before in the X-Men franchise, maybe any of the other comic book movies. It’s far more human.”

Mangold, who wrote the Logan script with The Wolverine co-scripter Scott Frank (The Wolverine) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant), set out to create a character-driven piece that would focus on Logan, Xavier and Laura as they made their way across a barren landscape.

“I had this kind of strange vision in my head that I wanted to make a road movie with these characters, in a way almost trapping myself as a filmmaker,” Mangold says. “Putting them in a car and trapping them on the highway would tie my hands. We couldn’t do something about worlds colliding or an alien invasion—the movie would essentially force itself to operate on a more intimate level.”

Mangold has long viewed Logan as a spiritual descendant of great western heroes like Clint Eastwood’s Outlaw Josey Wales or Alan Ladd’s Shane.  He wanted to rob Wolverine of his invincibility to make the character more vulnerable, more exposed. “The idea with this film was to find him in a state where his ability to heal is extremely diminished,” Mangold says. “His strength is diminished. His own health and his mental state are dark.”

Although LOGAN takes place more than 50 years after the events depicted in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), it is a standalone tale that plays more like an intimate family journey—one packed with high-stakes action scenes—than a conventional sci-fi adventure propelled by explosive visuals. “We wanted to go out with a bang,” says Mangold. “But the thing is—once cities and planets have been destroyed—you have to earn your bang as opposed to just getting louder.”

When the film opens, Logan is in a vulnerable and broken state, the curse of his immortality wearing heavy on him as he cares for a weakened Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a derelict smelting plant at the edge of an abandoned oil field. They’re joined there by a third mutant, Caliban (The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant), sheltering in obscurity at a time when the world believes mutants have passed into history.

Logan’s days of drinking in relative solitude are interrupted when he finds himself the reluctant guardian of a young girl, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) who has powers remarkably like his own: from her hands as well as her feet spring the same adamantium claws as Wolverine’s. Not that he’s exactly eager to accept this newfound responsibility—he’s far too weary to play the hero once more.

“He doesn’t want to help. At all,” Jackman says. “He doesn’t want anything to do with it. He’s long past the stage in his life where he reacts to people’s pleas and cries for help. Basically, he has come to the conclusion that generally when he helps, things end up worse off. The people he loves end up getting hurt, that if he gets too close, or tries too hard, it ends in pain and loss and destruction.

Tasked with protecting her from the murderous cybernetic criminal Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Logan and Professor X set out to cross hostile territory to ferry Laura to a place called Eden, where young mutants are said to enjoy safe haven. But Pierce and his fearsome army of cyborg Reavers are determined to return the girl to the custody of Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the sinister geneticist behind Alkali who triggered her mutations through a series of inhumane experiments in the hopes of creating a child super-soldier.

“He’s a sociopath who has no emotional understanding or feeling for the mutants that he creates,” Grant says. “He sees human beings as something to be cloned. He’s very scientific and intellectual about everything. He has no real emotional involvement whatsoever.”

With Wolverine’s tremendous physical abilities compromised by age and the passage of time, their relentless pursuit of the travelers takes a great and bloody toll.

If a film is only as great as its villain, and Jackman was quick to praise Holbrook’s turn as the unhinged Pierce. “Boyd is a phenomenally talented actor, a really gifted artist,” he says. “When I read the script, I told him that I thought Pierce was one of the hardest parts to pull off. The greatest villains seem to be having more fun than anyone else in the movie, and he embodied that and he did it brilliantly because he could turn on a dime and be very menacing as well as funny.”

Dafne Keen

The actor had especially kind words for his young co-star, Dafne Keen, who makes her feature film debut with LOGAN with a virtuosic performance. “She’s a phenomenal actress, and it’s an honor to share the film with her,” Jackman says. “Laura, genetically, has Wolverine’s DNA, so there are elements of him in her personality and her physicality and that’s not easy to pull off. I found it hard to pull off when I was 30, let alone an 11-year-old-girl, and she’s not like that at all. She’s very bubbly, vivacious and energetic. Playing this constantly pissed off, rage-filled mutant who will take your head off if you look at her sideways is nothing like who she is, and she nailed it.”

Stewart, too, was impressed by her professionalism: “She’s a child who performs with the weight and seriousness and intensity and diversity of a very experienced and worldly actress,” Stewart says.

“Laura at the beginning is a very silent child,” Keen says. “She can’t express sadness like a normal child would do so she gets really angry and starts killing people. It’s fun doing that and at the same time loving pink T-shirts and unicorns and rainbows and stuff.”

Because of their shared traits, Logan is in a unique position to help Laura come to terms with her feelings and channel that overwhelming rage. “Logan had a goodness to him, and if he just didn’t have that, he would have been the perfect killing machine because he goes absolutely berserk,” Jackman says. “He can take anyone out, but he had a heart. He had a conscience. He had a mind and didn’t just blindly follow whatever order he was given.”

If Logan serves as a surrogate father to Laura, he’s the prodigal son to Charles Xavier, who is battling a debilitating illness that threatens to harm others as well. “He’s old, he’s ill, but most importantly, he’s dangerous,” says Stewart of Charles. “His powers are out of control and have to be controlled. He’s in peril. And the person who looks after him, mothers him, nurses him, supervises him, argues with him, picks him up off the floor when he’s fallen down is Logan.”

Stewart says: “The superhero aspect and the mutant powers are not the focus of attention as much as they were in all of the other movies. The sense of people, of individuals, of relationships, I think is stronger in LOGAN than it has been before. James has created a world which is recognizable and familiar and every day, and in its way, commonplace, yet wrapped in this maelstrom of fear and excitement and danger and the need to escape.”

Like Jackman, the acclaimed British thespian’s performance in LOGAN represents a culmination of years of work on screen. “He reveled in this character, and it shows,” Jackman says of Stewart. “It’s a heartbreaking, beautiful, layered, textured, complex performance—at times unbelievably lucid and clear. You see the relationship with he and Logan as very sort of father-son in all its colors: pride, disappointment, anger, frustration. It all plays out.”

Caliban, too, belongs to the unconventional family, and he and the famously anti-social Logan enjoy a certain measure of camaraderie. “I felt like it was important for me to not just constantly be antagonistic with Logan,” Merchant says, “that we could have a few moments where there was some warmth between us, again just to hit that idea of a surrogate family.”

“It’s a movie about family,” says Mangold. “It’s a movie about loyalty and love and specifically a character, Logan, who has been stubbornly avoiding intimacy throughout his long life, finally letting it in.”

LOGAN sees the wizened hero find a surprising human connection, but the film also offers its most authentic, unfiltered depiction of Wolverine yet, with Jackman unleashing his berserker rage as never before. It earns its R-rating, a first for any film in the X-Men series. “Wolverine may be one of the darkest, most complex characters in the comic book universe—all Jim and I were worried about was taking off the seat belt,” Jackman says

Mangold says the rating freed him to take LOGAN in a more mature direction, to explore human frailty, mortality and the complicated bonds that bind families together. “I didn’t want to make a more violent, sexier, more explicit, more obscene movie,” Mangold says. “I wanted to make an adult movie. This is not a movie for nine-year-old children. When your movie is rated R, you suddenly are making a movie about more grown-up themes. You’re not under the pressure to make a movie for everybody.”

There’s no question that the movie absolutely will speak to those longtime fans of Wolverine, those who have followed Jackman’s portrayal over the last 17 years. In fact, it was critical for Jackman, as he said farewell to his extensive X-Man past, to put everything on the screen for this, his last mutant adventure.

“There was a moment that I came to terms with the fact that this was my last one,” Jackman says. “I love this character, and he’s been amazing to me. I’d be lying if I said that I would have been okay if I didn’t feel everything was left on the table. And I mean everything. Every day, every scene was a kind of battle to get the best out of that character, to get the best out of me.”

Concludes Jackman: “There was an element of life and death about it—I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt.”