In 1999, Hugh Jackman’s wife advised him not to take on a very taxing comic book character role that he was offered. That’s some advice that she now admits she’s glad he didn’t take. The blockbuster superhero movie franchise has given Jackman a chance to play the conflicted and angry mutant Wolverine a total of nine times. In his latest (and last time) playing this iconic comic legend, the Australian actor is showing a much more vulnerable side to his character. He finds himself falling into a makeshift family of sorts. His mentor and father-like figure in his life, Charles Xavier, is failing and falling into dementia. When they encounter a young girl, who seems to be made of the same DNA as Logan (no longer the superhero Wolverine), Xavier urges him to take care of her, thrusting him into a parental role that he wasn’t prepared to take on. The film is full of action, as fans of the Marvel series will expect, but there is this underlying humanity to all the stunts. Logan’s character has always had a sensitive edge to it, and this movie used that edge to show his true struggle and the way he made sense of it. Hugh Jackman hopes that his loyal fans will enjoy the story as much as he did. The fan interaction is something this accomplished stage and screen thespian has truly embraced on his journey.
It’s 2029. Mutants are gone—or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request—that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny.
“We wanted something that would feel very different, very fresh and ultimately something very human,” Jackman says, “Because it seems to me that the strength of X-Men and the strength of Wolverine is more his humanity than his superpower. In exploring this character for the last time, I wanted to get to the heart of who that human was, more than what his claws can do.”
From the outset, Jackman’s always had a gift for locating Logan’s humanity beneath his gruff, deeply scarred exterior. But with this nuanced, deeply moving performance, the actor brings the character full circle—the cigar-chomping, hard-charging loner is now a steadfastly loyal comrade-in-arms willing to sacrifice everything for what he believes.
Of course, Jackman and Logan co-writer director James Mangold had already taken the character to new, far-flung places with the character’s previous solo outing 2013’s The Wolverine. That earlier film, adapted from the landmark 1980 comic miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller and suffused with the spirit of Japanese noir, and samurai films as well, and American Westerns, saw Logan plucked from self-imposed exile, only to be drawn into violence and intrigue in Japan. It won praise from critics for its careful parsing of Logan’s inner tumult, rather than strictly relying on over-the-top action set-pieces for thrills.
Mangold says that following their experience on The Wolverine, the duo hadn’t necessarily planned to partner on another project centering on Logan. Hugh and I were both on the bubble about doing another one of these, says the director, who first worked with Jackman on 2001’s Kate & Leopold. If we were going to do it, I wanted to take it somewhere that interested me, someplace intimate and primal— a character— based story where we explore the fears and weaknesses of these larger than life heroes, a film that makes them more human.
Even before embarking on the project, Jackman and Mangold understood that the story needed to exist apart from the dense and heady mythology of the larger X-Men franchise. We both wanted a movie that was a standalone movie,” Jackman says. “This is far more realistic than we’ve done before in the X-Men franchise, maybe any of the other comic book movies. It’s far more human.
Specifically, Mangold, who wrote the Logan script with The Wolverine co-scripter Scott Frank and Michael Green, set out to create a character-driven piece that would focus on Logan, Xavier, and Laura as they made their way across a barren landscape. I had this kind of strange vision in my head that I wanted to make a road movie with these characters, in a way almost trapping myself as a filmmaker, Mangold says. Putting them in a car and trapping them on the highway would tie my hands. We couldn’t do something about worlds colliding or an alien invasion—the movie would essentially force itself to operate on a more intimate level.
Also important to Mangold, who has long viewed Logan as a spiritual descendant of great western heroes like Clint Eastwood’s Outlaw Josey Wales or Alan Ladd’s Shane, was robbing Wolverine of his invincibility to make the character more vulnerable, more exposed. The idea with this film was to find him in a state where his ability to heal is extremely diminished, Mangold says. His strength is diminished. His health and his mental state are dark.
When the film opens, Logan is in a vulnerable and broken state, the curse of his immortality wearing heavy on him as he cares for a weakened Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a derelict smelting plant at the edge of an abandoned oil field. They’re joined there by a third mutant, Caliban, sheltering in obscurity at a time
when the world believes mutants have passed into history.
But Logan’s days of drinking in relative solitude are interrupted when he finds himself the reluctant guardian of a young girl, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) who has powers remarkably like his own: from her hands as well as her feet spring the same adamantium claws as Wolverine’s. Not that he’s exactly eager to accept this newfound responsibility—he’s far too weary to play the hero once more.
“He doesn’t want to help. At all,” Jackman says. “He doesn’t want anything to do with it. He’s long past the stage in his life where he reacts to people’s pleas and cries for help. Basically, he has come to the conclusion that generally when he helps, things end up worse off. The people he loves end up getting hurt, that if he gets too close, or tries too hard, it ends in pain and loss and destruction.”
Tasked with protecting her from the murderous cybernetic criminal Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Logan and Professor X set out to cross hostile territory to ferry Laura to a place called Eden, where young mutants are said to enjoy safe haven. But Pierce and his fearsome army of cyborg Reavers are determined to return the girl to the custody of Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the sinister geneticist behind Alkali who triggered her mutations through a series of inhumane experiments in the hopes of creating a child super-soldier.
“He’s a sociopath who has no emotional understanding or feeling for the mutants that he creates,” Grant says. “He sees human beings as something to be cloned. He’s very scientific and intellectual about everything. He has no real emotional involvement whatsoever.”
With Wolverine’s tremendous physical abilities compromised by age and the passage of time, their relentless pursuit of the travelers takes a great and bloody toll.
It’s often said that a film is often only as great as its villain, and Jackman was quick to praise Holbrook’s turn as the unhinged Pierce. Boyd is a phenomenally talented actor, a really gifted artist, he says. When I read the script, I told him that I thought Pierce was one of the hardest parts to pull off. The greatest villains seem to be having more fun than anyone else in the movie, and he embodied that, and he did it brilliantly because he could turn on a dime and be very menacing as well as funny.
But the actor had especially kind words for his young co-star, Dafne Keen, who makes her feature film debut with Logan with a virtuosic performance. She’s a phenomenal actress, and it’s an honor to share the film with her, Jackman says. Laura, genetically, has Wolverine’s DNA, so there are elements of him in her personality and her physicality, and that’s not easy to pull off. I found it hard to pull off when I was 30, let alone an 11-year-old-girl, and she’s not like that at all. She’s very bubbly, vivacious and energetic. Playing this constantly pissed off, rage-filled mutant who will take your head off if you look at her sideways is nothing like who she is, and she nailed it.
Because of their shared traits, Logan is in a unique position to help Laura come to terms with her feelings and channel that overwhelming rage. Logan had a goodness to him, and if he just didn’t have that, he would have been the perfect killing machine because he goes absolutely berserk, Jackman says. He can take anyone out, but he had a heart. He had a conscience. He had a mind and didn’t just blindly follow whatever order he was given.
“It’s a movie about family,” says Mangold. “It’s a movie about loyalty and love and specifically a character, Logan, who has been stubbornly avoiding intimacy throughout his long life, finally letting it in.”
“There was a moment that I came to terms with the fact that this was my last one,” Jackman says. “I love this character, and he’s been amazing to me. I’d be lying if I said that I would have been okay if I didn’t feel everything was left on the table. And I mean everything. Every day, every scene was a kind of battle to get the best out of that character, to get the best out of me. There was an element of life and death about it—I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt.”
Logan was filmed primarily on location in the brutal summer heat of 2016 in New Orleans and New Mexico. Veteran production designer François Audouy, who also led the design team on The Wolverine, was tasked with creating compelling, textured environments and capturing the ultimate road movie feel.
We really wanted to create the sense that we were going on a long journey in the movie, Audouy explains. From the beginning, Jim wanted to incorporate a lot of different looks into the film—from the dry desert in El Paso and Mexico through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma into Kansas and up through the Badlands of South Dakota. The real challenge was to try and figure out how to create this variety in two states with only a handful of locations.
Audouy and his team utilized four of the Big Easy Stages on the NASA Michoud
Assembly Facility Lot to construct massive sets including the smelting plant hideout and an Oklahoma City casino hotel. In some cases, input from the actors helped shape a particular set—case in point, some of Stephen Merchant’s ideas about Caliban’s domestic life were incorporated into the smelting plant design.
Caliban does most of the cooking and is the only domestic member of the trio living in the smelting plant, so Stephen requested that we add some pops of color to the dark, drab and deteriorating set, says Audouy. We had a connection to someone living near Juarez, so they went into the city and bought some ceramic pots and various pieces with colorful Mexican designs on them to add to the kitchen.
Says cinematographer John Mathieson: The sets François built on stage actually felt real and gritty and dirty. The smelting plant is meant to be old, wasted and
deserted, and since we’d be working inside it all day, we would go home at night and actually feel filthy and grubby. That’s how real the sets felt. His designs are not symmetrical or pretty.
Of course, when making a road trip movie, the vehicles are crucial, as is the case with the limo that Logan drives, which was modeled after the Chrysler 300. The car is Logan’s sole source of income, his means to reach and take care of Charles as well as a key to the mutants’ escape. It became a character in itself, explains Audouy.
Adds Logan car technician Nick Pugh: It was complicated to design a vehicle that was set in the future but only about ten years old. There are three limos, two finished ones and then one stunt car which has the same look, but it’s a Baja racer
car with 16-inch suspension travel since it has to be able to do jumps, go through ditches and tear across the desert at about 50 miles per hour.
In addition to stunt driving, the film is packed with brutal, visceral fight scenes, which presented some unique opportunities for Keen as Laura, who trained near her home in Spain before arriving to the U.S. for filming. When she got here, we had about one month with her, says stunt coordinator Garrett Warren. We had claws that she would hold in her hands so she could see what that was like. I would have her use paper, claw the paper and slice it into pieces. That way she really knew what it was like to use the claws instead of just wielding them in the air.
Keen’s background in gymnastics and aerial arts helped her master the fight choreography, and Jackman was wowed by his young co-star. Dafne did most of her fighting in the film, he says. She worked hard. When I say work, she loved it. She didn’t want to leave stunt training. I looked over one day, and she had my claws on, and she was beaming.
The other actors and filmmakers were like family to me, Keen says. I felt safe. I was always more focused on my character and what her longing for a normal family life which is what she is so desperately fighting for.
While Laura may be a killer, she’s still a little girl, a fact that is most evident in her wardrobe. For Laura, she starts out with a very simple and monotone look, explains Emmy®-winning costumer designer, Daniel Orlandi. She looks like
a prisoner who’s escaped. Then when she gets to pick out her clothes we see this ruthless killer who loves violence pick out a unicorn T-shirt along with pink accessories. It really adds a sweet irony to her character.
For the other major characters, Orlandi took his inspirational cues from classic Westerns and film noirs. Jim said from the beginning he did not want any of our characters to look like they were in superhero costumes or anything too pronounced. Logan is seen half-heartedly wearing a cheap black suit jacket with an old black pair of Levis only because that’s his driver uniform. But once Logan is on the run he picks an outfit that is a suede western style jacket and a cowboy shirt—all dark and simple. He’s on the run and doesn’t want to stand out, Orlandi says.
STRIPLV: Will you tell us about Logan, if there’s a different side of him we get to see?
JACKMAN: Oh, yeah, I think the whole film feels different in tone, character, and any of the others and that was sort of our goal. I didn’t want it to feel like a final chapter of a saga, but a whole, fresh, and new thing; stake some new ground. Logan in this film is more human, hence the title. He’s sick; he’s healing. His powers are dwindling; he’s vulnerable. He’s also looking after an aging father figure in Charles Xavier and hiding him out. He’s under stress, he doesn’t have money. He’s a limo driver, trying to earn enough bucks to get by, to buy the meds Charles needs. It’s very mundane, very normal kind of stuff going on, but clearly, he’s checked out, he’s at the bottom. And so what James Mangle and Scott Frank did was kind of create a world of someone who’s biggest fear is love and intimacy, because it only brings pain. Then surrounding him with a family, forced upon him.
STRIPLV: Tell us about those relationships.
JACKMAN: So Charles has got dementia and Charles, who’s been a father figure, mentor, probably understands him and knows him best, because he’s a closed book, Logan. He quips, and he’s tough and all that. Charles knows where he comes from; his background, and knows the demons he’s fighting. So he knows him, but in this one, the tables are turned a bit, he has dementia, so he’s confused, and he’s vulnerable, and he’s angry. He’s many, many different things: child-like, abusive, and Logan is sort of in a caretaker role, taking care of him day in and day out, and also keeping him hidden from authorities. So it’s a great dynamic, very fun to play with my great friend and one of the greatest actors, I’ve ever met. The young girl who is created from DNA and it becomes clear that that DNA may very much resemble my own, which was stolen, so it’s not like he chose to have a daughter or anything like that. He’s confronted with genetics very similar to his own and a task to rescue, save, and protect her. He doesn’t want that task, and he pushes it away for as long as he can. But that relationship between those two characters, sort of father and daughter, is I think very strong and this young girl, Dafne, who plays her part, is absolutely astonishing.
STRIPLV: Do you have any hopes concerning what fans will take away from the film after seeing it?
JACKMAN: My goal from this, because I talk to fans every day of my life, every second day at least, for the last 17 years, is that every one of them, because I know they know, and they say it to me all the time, after they see the movie, they say to me, “That is the Wolverine movie we’ve been waiting to see.” So that’s my hope, that’s my dream, and that was the guiding star really to making this movie.