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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow
'Wolverine' Hugh Jackman
(CNN) -- When Marvel comics decided to turn the popular characters of "X-Men" into a big-screen, special-effects spectacular, it decided to place at the center of its story Wolverine, the strip's shaggy, steel-clawed mutant.
That decision led to a more difficult one: Who would play the pivotal role in the film?
Austrailian actor Dougray Scott was the first favorite, but he backed out; Scott couldn't finish shooting "Mission: Impossible -- 2" in time to honor the "X-Men" role. That left producers Twentieth Century Fox without a lead just as the cameras began rolling.
Enter fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman -- tall, handsome, and popular in his native country, where he's starred in film, TV and theatrical productions -- but a relative unknown the United States.
After putting the actor through a grueling and lengthy audition, director Bryan Singer took a gamble on Jackman.
The gamble paid off handsomely. "X-Men" brought in $57 million in its opening weekend, breaking a box-office debut record for non-sequel films. And Jackman, who was all but anonymous in the U.S., is beginning to learn how to deal with notoriety in this country.
CNN visited Jackman in New York's Central Park to learn a little bit more about the man behind the claws.
CNN: You landed the coveted role of the Wolverine in 'X-Men.'
Hugh Jackman: I didn't actually realize how coveted it was until I ... walked into CAA (Creative Artists Agency) to have a bit of champagne with my agent. And the whole CAA was kind of stopping -- they were yelling down the hallway, 'Wolverine, go! Yeah, yeah!' and ... and my wife was with me and she said, 'I think this is bigger than we ever expected. This is huge.'
CNN: It's amazing, too, that it was one of those projects (in which) the casting of your role made headlines everywhere.
Jackman: I know, exactly: 'Who's Hugh? Who is this guy?'
CNN: So who is Hugh?
Jackman: He's just a guy from Australia. I was born in Sydney, spent a few years in Perth, went to Melbourne, met the love of my life and my first job, actually; bit of a fairytale start. And I've been working as an actor for five, six years now. I trained for four years and I've done a little bit of everything -- done a little bit of singing, done some musicals. (I've) dressed up in a koala suit in my day. I've been a clown at kids parties. Now I am playing a super hero.
CNN: And you were named Australian Star of 1999.
Jackman: It actually came as a bit of a surprise to me -- but uh, it was a lovely one. On the back of that I came over to America, and that's where this whole 'X-Men' thing started, which is kind of a long story in itself. I think I'm in the record for the longest audition in history.
January '99, I did my first screen test in London, and I was doing 'Oklahoma' over there. I remember ringing my friends in Australia and they were like, 'Yeah, I did a test for that, yeah, yeah, Logan, Wolverine.' Yeah, everyone all over the world was doing this casting call. And then my final test was October '99, so it was like 10 months.
I do remember the first night I filmed: It was an outdoor sequence, and it was at the train station and I went along, and I remember pulling up and it was like (going to) a Rolling Stones concert. ... (I)t was 400 cast and crew. My trailer was the size of my pub back at home, and I was like, 'Whoa.'
CNN: You star in this film opposite Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Halle Berry, yet you have top billing.
Jackman: I actually rang my agent and I said, 'The billing is really good for me.' But Ian McKellan, now, he's a hero of mine. ... I've watched him on stage for years, I've seen him on tapes. He's the best Macbeth ever. And it's extraordinary -- I mean, he's one of the greats. I learned so much from him. I thought, 'This the wrong way around,' and my agent said, 'Don't argue.'
CNN: You've got a good agent, buddy.
Jackman: Yeah, exactly. I was so lucky,
CNN: Did you do a lot of stunts yourself?
Jackman: I did do a lot; I had a fantastic double who did a lot. Usually the routine was this: They would say, 'Now this is kind of a dangerous stunt,' and I would say, "OK, Steve (the double), you do it, and let me have a look at it in rehearsal, and I'll see of I can do it.' ... I'd look and I'd go, 'Oh yeah, I can do that. Save Steve for the really hard stuff.' So I'd look at it and I'd go, 'Fine,' and I'd get in and do it.
CNN: And you'd fall on your face?
Jackman: And I realized how hard and difficult and how much it was hurting, and that these guys, these stunt doubles, they just never show pain.
CNN: Are you getting ready for the fallout that will accompany the opening of 'X-Men'?
Jackman: I'm getting a little taste of some X-Men fans following me around town at the moment, and I kind of keep wanting to say, 'How the hell do you know where I am all the time? I don't even know where I'm going. What's going on here?'
CNN: Now, with 'X-Men' behind you, your first big American feature, you're in New York now, shooting a movie with Ashley Judd.
Jackman: It's called 'Animal Husbandry' and ... it's based on a best-selling book. It centers around the trials and tribulations of this woman called Jane, who is played by Ashley Judd, who's unlucky in love. I play the ultimate bachelor -- who is likely to remain so -- and he's very happy about it.
CNN: That's nice, a different genre.
Jackman: Very nice; it's nice for me. There's no mutton chop (beard); my wife appreciates that very much.
Star of Tomorrow: Natasha Lyonne
X-MEN the movie
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