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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Hugh Jackman

6th October 2011
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Real Steel is a gritty, white-knuckle action film set in the not-too-distant future where 8-foot tall steel robots have taken over the world of boxing.

Charlie Kenton (Jackman) gets face to face with fighting robot 'Atom'Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a once big-time fighter with a shot at a title, who’s now all but washed up. Charlie just about gets by from using scrap metal to create budget-bots that get him from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie’s life takes yet another nosedive, he joins forces with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a robot that has a shot at being a championship contender. As the stakes in the boxing arena are ramped up, Charlie and Max fight against the odds to get one last chance at glory.

Apart from the impressive robots on display, the star of Real Steel is Hugh Jackman, best known for his role as Wolverine in the successful X-Men franchise. Jackman’s career began down under in his native Australia with the independent films Paperback Hero and Erskineville Kings, and has stretched over more than 10 years, including appearances in Swordfish, Van Helsing, Kate and Leopold, The Prestige, The Fountain, Happy Feet, and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

TNS caught up with Jackman ahead of Real Steel’s release on October 14th.

This is the first time you’ve worked with Director Shawn Levy. If you could describe him in one word, what would it be and why?

 Phenomenal. He’s become a genuine friend, which is not easy in this business. You can probably count on one hand the amount of friends I have who I think of as real friends. He’s like omnipresent. He knows everything that's going on, from a producer’s point of view.

If I go up to him as an actor and have an issue, he’ll already know what it is.  And I’m like, how can you be thinking that? He thinks of everyone and gets the best out of everybody.  He’s very generous and hardworking.  I think in this film he’s really taken his game to another level and full of heart. I can’t say enough good things about the man. I actually miss not being on set with him. He’s a rare breed. There are very few people like him who are as good at what they do and who are as nice as he is.

Were you consciously looking for a movie like this?

No, I wasn’t. It came to me as a film script and I read it and really loved it. However, when Shawn Levy came on board, that just strengthened it even more. I knew it was a big movie, but it wasn’t relying on me for action. It was almost the opposite. I get beaten up in one scene, but apart from that, there’s no people-action for me.

What was your first step to create your character, Charlie Kenton?

The first step was really getting in touch with the idea of someone who thinks he’s a failure, with a low opinion of himself.  And what makes someone act in that way; what makes someone deliberately try to be almost unlikable. He doesn’t want someone to get close. That was the emotional side of him that I really worked on first. 

There was his physical side too. I told Shawn that we should get some photos of me in boxing shorts so we can have that. Then I went and put on twenty pounds because I wanted Charlie to look like he wasn’t a boxer anymore. When I went for my first fitting, Shawn said, I think you went a little too far! You had a little too much fun!  So I had to pull it back a little bit. 

Hugh Jackman in Real SteelWhat was it like getting in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard?

It was interesting. The first day we were working together, they had a film crew filming behind-the-scenes footage. He’s champion of the world, so he was just sparring with me pretending to punch my stomach…which kind of hurt! Because the camera was there, he just wanted to play around. He’s such a great guy; we've hung out quite a lot, and I really like him.

Did you find that your training in musical theater was good preparation for boxing choreography?

Yes. The scene of me shadow-boxing was actually done with a live person on stilts.  We had to choreograph that so we were in exact motion together. And that was like a one-shot.  So, that took us quite a bit of work. Absolutely, that is theater training.

And those fight sequences also go back to all the musical theater training.  I actually think the best training you can do for fights is dance.  To be a stunt man you crash into walls, crash a motor bike, and all that, but to take a punch is the hardest thing.  A fight punch is a weird mixture of tension and relaxation.  Because when you really get hit, your head snaps, so you have to be able to ask that of your body, which is all dance, really.

Is this movie a new take on what we think of as a sports movie?

Absolutely, in terms of being one of those rousing, get out of your seat sports dramas. “Real Steel” is a sports movie, but it’s a drama too. It’s a lot about the characters and that’s what Shawn was going for. 

When you have simulated crowds and simulated marketing in future boxing, did this movie change how you think about sports?

No. I’m a mad lover of sport. You cannot say a bad word to me about sports.  So I know business is involved and I know it can be cynical, and, of course, I watch it, but for me it’s pure.

When I was in Canada once shooting, curling was on every channel. I started to get into curling.  It’s a great leveler. You can be any age, shape, whatever, and still be a great curler. I love that in a sport. Then in London, I was into the darts championships, so I guess I’m just drawn to sport.

Are you a fan of boxing? It’s got athleticism and human endeavour, and also people bleeding. The perfect mix, right?

Yes, I’m a boxing fan. I train at this place in New York, which was part of preparing for the role because I did want to look like I could throw a punch. The trainer told me he was going to train me like I was going to have a title fight.  I loved that.

My father was an army champion boxer… in the British army. And so he loved boxing and talked it up as a sport.  But then when my brother and I were beating the crap out of each other, he was always trying to tone it down.  But I am a fan of boxing.

Is it difficult with the press and business side of the film industry not to become cynical? 

You do have to guard against cynicism. You can look at the film business with cynicism or you can see it for what it is—an incredible opportunity to work in an area that obviously interests you. After a while, you can take any job for granted. But ‘taking for granted’ is the thing you’ve really got to watch out for.

I think cynicism usually comes out of disappointment, so if there’s a feeling that you haven’t lived up to what you expected, which is not dissimilar to the character I’m playing, then a bitterness comes in and it’s easier to be cynical about something, than to really own up to it—a fear of failure, really. 

What's more important for you in your personal life, winning or getting respect?

I’m quite a competitive person, so I do quite like to win.  But for me the important thing is to ‘have a go.’  To ‘have a go’ or ‘let’s have a go’ is a common expression in Australia.  It’s part of our belief that Australia is a nation where the only real regrets that you have are the things that you didn’t do, and even if you fail at something, at the end of the day you don’t usually regret it. 

So just have a go.  What I respect as far as in myself and in others is the spirit of just doing it.  For better or worse, it may work and it may not, but I’m going to go for it.  Ultimately I probably prefer to be respected for that than whether it works out or not.




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