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Few comic book characters have greater public awareness than Wolverine, and that's in no small part due to Hugh Jackman's performance as the character for nearly two decades of X-Men films. Yet when he first signed on to the role, Hugh Jackman himself didn't know who Wolverine was. More than that, he didn't know that the character's name was derived from a real animal, as he explained:
Embarrassingly, I didn't know what a wolverine was. I had never heard of such an animal and I presumed it was a made-up name for the comic book. I'd never read an X-Men comic, I'd never seen one in our zoos. We've got a lot of really crazy animals in our zoos in Australia. So I presumed it was a wolf and I did study wolves. I watched some documentaries, there was a big IMAX movie at the time, I went twice to go and see it.
Hugh Jackman hails from Australia, a land of fascinating species where everything that walks, swims, flies and crawls can kill you. However Australia is not home to the ferocious and fearless wolverine, which primarily resides in cold, northern regions. Therefore the actor didn't know that there was such an animal and he didn't bother to ask, instead playing the tricky game of assuming.
During his time as Wolverine, we have heard a lot about Hugh Jackman's intense workouts and restrictive diets, but for the first X-Men movie, he was just trying to take a method approach to his character. He assumed that a wolverine was a comic-fied version of a wolf, so that's where he focused his research, telling Stephen Colbert on The Late Show that he studied wolves and watched documentaries on them to prepare for the role.
Hugh Jackman took all that wolf research and used it to inform his performance, at least before someone gave him a quick zoology lesson, as he recalled:
So, I turned up on set for a fight rehearsal and I was just incorporating some of that, you know, wolves always have their nose to the ground. They're always looking through their eyes and always smelling you. And the director goes, 'What are you doing, man?' And I said, 'I was thinking, you know, I would do some work on the wolves.' And the director goes, 'Wolves?' Why wolves? You're playing a wolverine.' And I go, 'Well, that's not an animal.' And he goes, 'Yeah, it is. Go to the zoo.'
Maybe reading the comic books or watching the animated series would have been better research because that is embarrassing. This must have been so strange for everyone on set, watching Hugh Jackman basically imitating a wolf. Hopefully there is footage of that somewhere. Fortunately, director Bryan Singer saved him from further embarrassment, letting him know that all the time he spent watching wolf documentaries was for naught.
While a little embarrassing, I've got to think it wasn't all bad though. After all, how often do you learn about a new animal? And through his research, Hugh Jackman did get to learn a lot about wolves, and wolves are awesome.
It is so funny to hear how Hugh Jackman's time as Wolverine started with a scene that sounds like it belongs in a cringe comedy series. This story is especially ironic to hear in light of Hugh Jackman's history as the character. Fans doubted he was right for the role in the beginning, and if he continued the wolf impersonation he might have proved them right. But now it is incredibly difficult to imagine anyone else as Wolverine given how brilliantly he defined the character onscreen, not to mention how that first X-Men birthed the modern superhero movie age.