Back in 2000, Hugh Jackman became a blockbuster icon playing Wolverine in the first ever X-Men movie – but he famously wasn't the first choice for the part. 20th Century Fox explored a number of avenues before tapping the Australian actor for the role, and had even signed an original deal with Dougray Scott (who had to drop out due to an injury sustained on the Mission: Impossible II set). Viggo Mortensen was one of the performers who was on the studio's wish list back in the late 1990s, but he turned them down, and now he has revealed why: it was too big a commitment, and not faithful enough to the Marvel Comics source material to satisfy his son.
Viggo Mortensen was recently a guest on the Happy Sad Confused podcast (via The Playlist), as he is currently promoting the release of his directorial debut, Falling, and during the interview the Lord of the Rings star discussed the backstory behind the time he almost played Wolverine in X-Men. Per Mortensen, the reason he decided not to be a part of the project was because he knew that it would eat up many years of his career, and he didn't want to play the same character that many times. On top of that, he ran the proposal by his comic-book-fan son Henry Mortensen, and it wasn't viewed as up to snuff:
The thing that bothered me at the time was just the commitment of endless movies of that same character over and over. I was nervous about that. And also there were some things, I mean they straightened most of them out, but I did take Henry to the meeting I had with the director as my sort of good luck charm and guide. In the back of my mind I was thinking he could learn something too, because I did let Henry read the script and he goes ‘This is wrong, that’s not how it is.’
On the time commitment front: yeah, that was definitely a strong instinct demonstrated by Viggo Mortensen. Hugh Jackman wound up playing Wolverine seven times over the course of 17 years (including his cameo in X-Men: First Class), and while he got opportunities outside of the X-Men franchise, it was definitely seen as the role that his career revolved around.
As for the part of Wolverine in X-Men not being entirely faithful to Marvel Comics: also an accurate assessment. While the film is certainly revered for the way in which it changed the world of comic book movies, there is also a lot about the source material that was altered – much of it involving the three-clawed Canadian with the adamantium skeleton. According to Viggo Mortensen, Bryan Singer had memorable reaction to his son's assessment of the script... but added that it didn't really matter ultimately anyway.
And he goes ‘Yeah, but he doesn’t look like this.' And all of a sudden the director is falling all over himself and then the rest of the meeting was him explaining in detail to Henry why he was taking certain liberties. We walked out of there, and Henry asks if he will change the things he told him about, and I say I don’t think so. I’m not going to do it anyway, because I’m not sure I want to be doing this for years, and then a couple of years later I’m doing three Lord Of The Rings so who knows.
Thinking about all this makes one consider how 21st century Hollywood would have been different. If Viggo Mortensen had said yes to playing Wolverine, that surely would have made him unavailable to replace Stuart Townsend and play Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings movies. But maybe that's a role that Hugh Jackman could have taken? He certainly wouldn't have been a bad fit for the part.