Articles Interview: Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman: Van Helsing

STACI WILSON: (Jackman enters the room, in costume) Is that real hair?

HUGH JACKMAN: It is real, but it is not all mine. Although by now, I think my hair's got to be pretty long. Sometimes the crew mentions I look a little like the fourth Charlie's Angel, but...

SW: So, did you come up with a back story for Van Helsing?

JACKMAN: He's more than a vampire slayer. You will find out in this. I mean, the main story involves him hunting down Dracula. But for want of a better word, he's kind of doing black ops for the Catholic Church. At the beginning of it, he's doing stuff that is literally under the radar. Imagine, if you will, someone who is possessed or an exorcism that fails: what do they do with that possessed person, whether it be Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Frankenstein? All these mythological creatures that are on the loose. Van Helsing is sent out to take care of them. So he's a warrior. By nature of the job, he's lonely and mysterious and almost like a spy. So in many ways, he is misunderstood by the world and he is operating on his own steam and no one really knows who he is, except by what he leaves in his wake.

SW: So he has something in common with the monsters he's hunting?

JACKMAN: Well, yeah. In terms of the inner turmoil and conflict going on, for sure. He's got some personal issues of why - and I don't want to get into too much, because I will have to give the game away - but he's an enigmatic character and is still trying to work out what drives him. It's also fair to say, for want to a better word, in the beginning of this movie, he's a little lacking in motivation. He's trying to understand why he's doing it and it's taking its toll on him - you know, this killing. Because when anyone is killed in this movie, if they're a possessed soul, upon their death they turn back into the physical visage of whoever they were before. So, Jekyll and Hyde is - Mr. Hyde is the first fight he has, but when he kills him he's left with the rotting corpse of Dr. Jekyll so it's a lose-lose situation in way, for him.

SW: You have a lot of weapons to deal with these creatures.

JACKMAN: You know, that's not always easy. I think I'm up to 23 instruments I'm carrying. I feel like a watch salesman on 42nd Street at the moment, you know. But seriously, physically it's quite demanding. I was just doing some stunts in Prague and I was inside a six-horse coach. Because of what's happened, I've been thrown out and I land in between two of the horses. So the coach is right there, they've got two horses here, and there's four horses right behind my head. And I'm lying on a little tray. It's like a dinner tray, which is supporting my back. Apart from that, I'm holding on and my legs are scraping on the ground. After about three takes, I'm thinking, 'This is interesting.' The horses couldn't come in on me like that, but if anything happened to the... anyway.

So the stunt coordinator came up to me after the take and he goes, 'I've been doing this job for 25 years. I've never seen an actor do this before.' [I say] 'What! What do you mean? Why not?' Ignorance is bliss, shall we say. Until that moment, the fourth take was like, a Herculean effort just to do it. 'Don't know why I'm doing this. Let's get the double,' you know? 'You already done three.' 'Yeah, but now I know it's dangerous.'

So there's a lot of things like that. But in terms of the character, he's mysterious and enigmatic. Those kinds of roles in these movies are deceptively difficult to do, because you have to feel the inner life of the character in order to make relatively little dialogue get the heart of the character. And then there's relationships. It's easy to do the 'I'm good, you're bad. Let's beat you up and move on' and there's a quick one-liner and he has a bit of stubble and long hair and we'll move on. But it's harder to make people actually feel for him. That's what I think is a real challenge.

Q: Are you also one of the characters who's flying high up in the air?

JACKMAN: Yeah, we're doing some wire stuff. That's thrilling. I love it. There are some scenes where we are on wires and we are flying around because there's vampires and bats and things like that involved, and we're being dragged around this huge fight sequence. It's taken four weeks, at least, to shoot just the main unit. Then there's a whole other second unit, too. I'm being dragged by vampires, lifted off the ground - and then Kate's character gets lifted off and I have to run and grab her by the legs - and we're flying, going very fast.

The hardest scene in that sequence was the extras, who were incredible. One of the great things about Prague is you get these extras you can't believe. Their faces, these people look like peasants. Many of them were - I don't say that in a bad way, but um, many of them have been taken from the homeless shelters. They look incredible. And they're thrilled to have the work. The film industry in Prague has been fantastic for them. But they're getting everything translated into Czech so everything goes in, and the scene is a melee. Literally there's 250 people with pitchforks and scythes and knives, all running around. And in the middle of that, I run on wires, and if they cut together all of the outtakes of me taking out the villagers who I'm supposed to be protecting I'll become the most dislikable hero in the history of the movies.

Literally, old men and old women, I run into them. Steve said, 'I know it's hard, but if you knock someone over don't say you're sorry, just keep running.' Literally, the next take I ran and I turned around with this huge crossbow and I went 'bang'. I looked down and there's about a 55 year old woman lying on the ground and I just stepped over the top and kept running. Not on her, but still. It was brutal. I go and try to apologize to these people, try and find them, you know. One old man [who I hit at about 30 miles per hour], my knees went right into him and knocked him over. I could feel a crunch, and I thought, 'That was bad, that was bad.' And I went up to him, but he was running away from me because he was terrified of being fired. He thought it was his fault. All I wanted to was say I was sorry, and he thought he was going to get fired.

Q: Does Van Helsing wipe out all the Universal monsters? Like what about the Invisible Man, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon?

JACKMAN: There was one draft where it was in, and one where it was not. It's not a big play if it is. It's a cameo if it is. I literally don't know if it's in the movie. The movie is not a monster mash. It's really cleverly written, how they all come in and come into play. Particularly how Dracula uses Frankenstein. It's very smart and you won't feel like, 'OK, let's bring out all our properties and get them on! Let's hope it's successful and gets spin-off movies.' I suppose you can see the cynical side of it, but the movie that Stephen has written is really very justifiable and believable. Well, not believable, but it doesn't feel like a cynical exercise or a monster mash.

Q: How will it feel to bounce between franchises with this and the X-Men?

JACKMAN: Well, um, I've got to admit I said that exact question to my agent and Universal. I said, 'Do you think maybe I shouldn't be in both of them?' He said, 'I think this is the first time in history I've had an actor worry about being in two successful franchises.' And course, that's a good point. If they're good movies and people want to see them and want to see another, you know, then... why not?

Q: Are you up for that?

JACKMAN: Yeah. I'm contracted for another Van Helsing. But I'm not contracted for any more X-Men. But would I like to do it? I'd find it hard to see someone else play the role, yeah. I love both of them. If I hated the movies and had to come back again, it would be a terrible situation.

Q: Did you try to avoid similarities between Wolverine and Van Helsing as characters?

JACKMAN: I'm sensitive to that, but the tone of X-Men is very different to this. This is a far more old-fashioned, epic, Indiana Jones type of movie. It has that kind of feeling. X-Men was adapted from a comic book, and has a very particular Bryan Singer style to it. Whilst this movie is serious -- I mean it's not a caper movie or just a monster mash, as I was saying. It's a beautiful, epic, beautifully shot, epic movie. There is a different tone. I don't feel playing Van Helsing that I'm playing the same kind of thing. If you imagined that I was playing Indiana Jones or something, and Wolverine, in an archetype generally you could say that reluctant hero, good guy but not a nice guy. But in tone, to play as actor, very different. That's how it feels.

Q: Don't you feel like you're missing out on doing smaller roles?

JACKMAN: No, because I going to that, hopefully, as well. I'm doing theater. I'm starting in July, and I'm on Broadway for a year playing Peter Allen. I suppose to some level, you're limited by being held to a two picture deal, but I'm thrilled and secretly sitting here a little smug because I know how well this is going. I'm loving doing it, and I think the movie is going to be great. So, you always take that risk but I'm going to try, and I have tried... I had some bad luck trying to do some smaller films as well. After I do the musical, I'd love to do something more like that.

Q: Are any of the musical movies going into production?

JACKMAN: There's a few of them. But because I've signed up to do Broadway for over a year, I missed the boat. But hopefully the boat will still be around, unless a whole lot of bad musicals are made in the next 18 months. Hopefully not.

Q: What's it been like working with Kate?

JACKMAN: Kate is wickedly funny in her wry, English humor. She grew up one of five kids, I think, with four brothers, so doing these action films for her and playing these ballsy women - she has this incredible look which, she sort of, you know, looks very beautiful and done up, and much like a princess in many ways. But trust me, she's stronger than most girls I know.

She's physically very able, which is terrific. I've had one shot where she had to land from about up there, and she had to be dropped on wires as though it was not on wires. So she had to come down fast, with her knees on either side of me here, and her crotch in my face, pinning me back. As she was about to do it, I thought, 'This could be really bad.' All I could see was a mouthful of knees. But she's incredible. She was almost better than the stunt girl.

She's great fun to work with, and of course she's got a little kid and I've got a little kid and they're married. They've declared themselves married. My boy is three, and her girl is four and they're together. I don't know how long it will last but know, they're got it all worked out.

Q: I just saw you shooting a scene a few minutes ago. Your characterization of Van Helsing looks a little Australian. Is that from your input?

JACKMAN: That jacket does look a bit like a 'dry as a bone' doesn't it? He's looks a bit like an Australian bushman, but Gabriella [Pescucci], who does the costumes - her budget, by the way, is something ridiculous, it's bigger than most movies - is extraordinary on this. Everything is handmade. The scene in the ballroom is just mind-boggling, you know.

I literally came in after shooting X-Men. I had one weekend here last November. I put on this costume, and it hasn't changed a lot since then. Maybe a little bit of steel on my boot and that's all. I added that. Everything - the attachments on the waist coat and jacket - is the same. The hat, I warned her about the hat. I said, 'I've got to tell you: I've never worn a hat that has looked good on me. So I've been told.' So she tried out about thirty hats before she found the one. And I have two hats. Here's a little secret for you. A boring secret, but I have two hats. For a tall guy, I've got a relatively small head - so I'm told. So I've got a smaller hat for close-ups, and I've got a bigger hat for long shots. And they're literally chucking them around, one two, and then there's others with rims - and yeah, it's all about the hat.

Q: Can you talk a little about the scene you just shot?

JACKMAN: Anna's brother is a werewolf. He's been bitten at the beginning of the movie, and has turned into a werewolf. However, in the early stages of becoming a werewolf, there are moments where you transform back into being a human. Before the first full moon, the full power of the werewolf hasn't taken you over. So, she keeps arguing that there's hope and there's a way we can save him because in the scene before, she's just bumped into him before he'd them changed into a werewolf again.

So here we are: I'm after Dracula and she convinces me to go and find her brother and to try and save him. So I kind of go along. We don't realize that Dracula is using the werewolf for information and to do his dirty work as his dog, basically. And so here we've been chasing and tracking the werewolf, and we come to this place only to find all of Dracula's helpers. But it turns out Dracula is there, too. That's where I'm going to leave it.

Q: Do you ever feel overwhelmed? The budgets on your movies are so big.

JACKMAN: It's not overwhelming is the short answer. But it's more pressure, I'll be honest. There's more pressure.