The first time Hugh Jackman played Wolverine was 17 years ago in the first X-Men movie.
Since then, his mutant character – also known as Logan – has had eight more official appearances on the big screen.
Now, the 48-year-old Australian actor is ending that chapter in his life with Logan, the final Wolverine superhero flick, which opens here on March 2.
Image: AFP, 20th Century Fox
At our interview at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City, Jackman said he feels “surprisingly peaceful” about that.
He told The New Paper: “When I knew this was going to be the last one, the stakes of this movie tripled for me.
“There is a man whose greatest fear is intimacy and love. And there are scars emotionally and physically, of his life, as a weapon and as a warrior.
“Everyone he has ever loved has died, so how do we get to the depth of that character?”
Reflecting on the time he has spent playing Wolverine, Jackman said: “I am really proud with what we have done, and that makes it a lot easier to leave the party.
“You have got to leave the party at some point, and I know it is very un-Australian to leave and not be kicked out…
“But I just knew it was the right time. I remember that last day of filming, and I felt very at peace with it.”
Written and directed by James Mangold, Logan is set in a post-apocalyptic 2029, more than 50 years after the events of 2014’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
Mutants have almost disappeared, and on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, a depressed Logan is drinking his days away, in between doing odd jobs as a driver and caring for a sick Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose mind is failing.
Fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is his only other companion in this self-imposed exile.
But when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request to shepherd a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to safety, Logan once more faces off against old enemies as well as his inner demons.
Laura, a feral wild child, has powers remarkably like Wolverine’s, thus beginning a road trip crossing hostile territory to outwit the movie’s baddie – cybernetic criminal Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) – and his army of cyborgs and deliver Laura to Eden, where young mutants enjoy safe haven.
Jackman was particularly impressed with the 12-year-old Keen, who became good friends with his 11-year-old daughter.
“She has got this rock star sort of badass power,” he said.
But casting the Spanish-English actress was worrisome for him and Mangold.
“I said to Jim, it is too dangerous to hinge a movie on a virtually mute girl, who has to somehow embody the qualities and DNA of Wolverine.
“I did not start playing it until I was 30, and I do not know if we are going to find this person.”
Keen had never done a movie, but Jackman and Mangold were blown away by her audition tape. They auditioned and cast her and never regretted it. Jackman said: “I was blown away by her every single day. She trained and trained, and she loved it. She had so much energy, she never wanted to leave training.
“I think for fans, maybe unexpectedly, we have found the successor to Wolverine.”
In a prescient way, the movie also deals with a wall on the Mexican border, an issue the Trump administration has been championing.
Jackman said: “I can tell you that the thing with the Mexican border and the wall was built into our script like, a year before.
“When I heard some of the stuff that was being talked about in the US election, I was like, ‘Uh, did someone read our script?’
“The best movies and stories are really very intimate and quite simple. This is a story about family and people trying to come to terms with the pain and difficulties of true connections and relationships, and it is not easy. Life is no joke, right?”
On why he still worked so hard on building up his Wolverine body after 17 years, Jackman said: “I wanted him to have that animalistic kind of thing. I did not want him to look like a pin-up boy. I wanted him to look like ‘this guy is going to rip your head off’. So I was happy to do that.”
Naturally, Jackman does not miss the rigorous diet and training he had to undergo. “I still try, probably at about 75 per cent. So if I had to be in that shape for another role, I could do it.
“But if you went out on the street and said to any random 48-year-old guy that we are going to give you a trainer and we are going to pay you a lot of money to be in the best shape of your life, no one is really going to complain about it.”
He jokingly added: “But yes, I am happy to not have steamed chicken and steamed broccoli six times a day.”
Or perhaps age did take a toll.
The sheer strenuousness of the action caused Jackman to pass out during a take of one scene.
“That last sequence in the woods was in a place that is about 9,000 feet (2,743m) in elevation. A lot of it is a very steep hill… I did not realise I fainted, I thought I had tripped.
“I found myself on the ground, and they called and said, ‘We better finish with it.’ I said, ‘No, I just tripped.’ And they said, ‘You might want to watch the playback because your eyes are rolling in the back of your head.”
Some of the movie’s action scenes required Jackman to undergo driving training too.
“I am an accredited stunt driver now. I got so much fun out of it. If you need me to slide into a car space or do a 720 reversing, I have got your back,” he said.
This story was originally published in The New Paper. For more stories like this, head to www.tnp.sg.