Set Visit: Talking with Hugh Jackman on the set of Real Steel!
Yesterday, I spoke a bit about the fact that REAL STEEL is, in fact, my first ever set visit. Towards the end of the visit, I had a thrill when I got to meet none other than WOLVERINE himself, Hugh Jackman. As I’m not yet experienced with going toe-to-toe with stars of Jackman’s stature, I was probably a little nervous at first. Luckily, Jackman’s a gem of a bloke, and he immediately put me and the other journalists at ease.
We got the chance to have a little impromptu scrum with Jackman as he was prepping to film a scene with Dakota Blue, who plays his son, Max, In this scene, Jackman's robot, Noisy-Boy, was just gotten his ass sent to the scrap heap after getting wrecked by Midas, the reigning underground champ of the robot fight circuit. One nifty part of watching this scene being filmed is that for Noisy-Boy, a real animatronic robot was being used.
I was amazed by how much time Jackman ended up giving us, considering what a busy day this seemed to be, and we had a good twenty minutes or so, during which time Jackman, and director Shawn Levy dished on all aspects of REAL STEEL. Considering there were about eight of us trying to get our questions in, the interview covered A LOT of ground, but Levy and Jackman both made an effort to allow us to get all of our questions in, and were generous with their time.
My first thought was like no one is going to believe this is not CGI. Everyone’s going to think this is extension looks so incredible. Did you see some of the big wide shots? I mean it’s so amazing. That was my first thought that this looks so unbelievably good that they aren’t going to believe it’s for real. And I think it’s going to be the same with the robots because we have real robots for some of it and then it’ll be CGI. It’s really exciting.
But again, people will think they’re CGI but it makes such a difference for us as the actors and I think just in the overall look. And I think what Shawn’s done so brilliantly is create a world which feels very real, very gritty, very timeless and the robots are very sort of everyday. So I know what’s going to happen. This movie’s going to come out and every kid’s going to be really upset that it’s not real. It’s so funny and totally believe that this could be the biggest toy in the world.
On his character's complicated on-screen relationship with his estranged son.
I think he’s (Charlie) a little bit of a broken man, you know? And he’s disappointed himself and many people right throughout his life and he’s kind of used to that. He kind of expects to disappoint people. So he’s one of those people who doesn’t put himself in a situation to have people rely on him, you know, deliberately because he lacks at self-confidence or self-belief I suppose. And this is a kid he pretty much abandoned at birth and having him around is just a constant reminder of probably his biggest failure in life, you know? So it’s much easier to keep someone at a distance than to try to keep them closer and be rejected, you know what I mean? I didn’t tell you too much information did I?
On the difference between Charlie Kenton and Wolverine.
There’s some. I know what you mean. Some of the vulnerabilities. They’re very, very different people. I feel they’re very different people. Certainly tonally, speak, the way they think. It’s not…Wolverine is a lot more stoic. A lot quieter. Keeps really, really keeps everything inside. And Charlie has a lot of frustrations. He’s someone who goes for the rafters every time he tries to hit the ball, he’s trying to hit it out of the park. And he fails a lot. He goes for it. He’s frustrated a lot. He’s one of those people who believes in lucks going to turn my way. Sort of the power outside himself. And when things don’t, he gets mad and lets it out. Wolverine is a lot more stoic. He’s had hundreds of years of pain and he’s a little better at dealing with it.
On what drew him to REAL STEEL.
I think the heart and the emotion of the story. I mean, it reminded me of Rocky. There’s some great moments in this, but really I think the world is really cold but the relationship particularly between Max and Charlie—the father and son—felt very real. Very….something I’d really grab onto…I think the audience will really grab onto. Anyone who thinks this is just going to be a robot boxing movie is going to be pleasantly surprised. Even though the action is really great and it’s going to look amazing, the relationship with Bailey played by Evangeline Lilly that’s a lot more complex then I think your average movie. And that’s sort of what, for me, that’s why I wanted to do it. That’s what elevates.
On the new technology, much of it from AVATAR, being used to make REAL STEEL.
Okay. This experience which is light years ahead of anything I’ve had before, you can ad-lib and do things but everyone’s acting…everybody from Shawn to….everyone has this sense of we don’t really know what it’s going to be at the end, so we’re sort of all playing but we don’t know if we’re way off the mark or not. But this technology, we know where we’re going and it’s not just in the hands of a bunch of 21-year old guys animating the whole thing. It’s really in Shawn’s hands, so it gives you the solidity, the freedom as an actor to know exactly what it is so we get the scene as it is. I know what moves they’re going to do. I know when it’s a left upper cut or right upper. I know exactly what they’re going to do so I can do that and then if we want to improvise around it we can. And Shawn who’s got an amazing sort of background with comedy, he allows us to improvise and just be free but that’s only possible if you know where your foundation is. It really is and that’s what we have here with Shawn and you know.
On the difference between films like REAL STEEL, and smaller, character pieces like BUTTER.
When you come from the theatre you have nothing, right except for 1,000 people looking at you and you’re meant to believe you’re on Bondi Beach sunning yourself. So I come from a world where you can’t afford the scene so you’re miming on-stage, so everything is relative and I take it as a challenge but having this is so much….there’s so much…clearer to the actor. What we’re doing, where we’re going and where to look for example. Like I know because there’s technology Shawn goes "you know your eye line is not quite right." I remember on VAN HELSING, I’d be going through and once I would do like a "whoa" because okay Steven Sommers was like now we’ve got to animate something flying over his head. But if I did too much of that it locked him into stuff. So you were constantly kind of second guessing yourself. With this, you’re not at all.
On Levy's use of music during filming to heighten the emotion of a scene. Levy played Guns n' Roses' Welcome To The Jungle throughout the scene we saw being shot (I hope they keep it for the film- worked beautifully).
I really love all the choices he’s made. I mean we’ve sort of been collaborating for a long time on the script and feel we both know the character and I have a lot of faith…and I said this if you weren’t here…Shawn’s just…
Shawn Levy: Should I leave?
…but I’m sure I could. Actually Dakota. He’s had a few…he said why don’t we play….what was that? Slipknot.
Shawn Levy: He wanted some Slipknot.
He said let’s play Slipknot. And there were some real bikers out there and they were all like…
Shawn Levy: For days I was playing Guns and Roses and one of the biker dudes was like if you play Kid Rock this place will explode. So we played some Kid Rock and it exploded and if you put down some Eminem this place will go nuts. So I’ve been mixing it up for the home town. The home town musical choices.
Being as you’re playing a boxer in the film, did you work with Sugar Ray Leonard as he helped choreograph the fights? Because you look like you could be a boxer.
Yeah, yeah. Good man! (laughter) Yeah, well I mean of course working with Sugar Ray was unbelievable. He was great not only from a boxing point of view from a mentality point of view, because I play an ex-boxer who is now controlling the boxers. So it’s his job, in a way, to assess the fight not from a boxer point of view but from a manager—corner manager. Assess where he’s going and control his fighter. And he was really amazing talking about that. And he told me he used to hire a guy two-weeks after a fight who was just a genius at being in the corner. And this particular instruction he gave me that that we really took to heart for the end of the film, which I don’t want to give away, but the psychology of boxing and fighting and where you’re at mid-fight, end of fight, beginning of fight.
Shawn Levy: The way the corner man connects with the fighter in the ring. He spoke a lot about that.
And that was great. Plus it’s Sugar Ray, man. He’s a very…for someone who’s been hit a lot, he’s very happy isn’t he?
Shawn Levy: Yes. Happy and still pretty.
Yeah, I mean so pretty you can’t kind of believe the guy was such a killer. He was just very happy-go lucky.
Did you guys do any sparring? I don’t know if anyone gets to do that.
We did a little. We did a little because the EPK was there and when the cameras were on, he hit a little harder let me tell you.
Shawn Levy: We did…in that bible that I told you about, that 400 page…we did well at set dressing at Evangeline’s gym. We had a photo shoot of Hugh like four months ago Hugh was even bigger than he is now and had longer hair. So we did a photo shoot of Hugh boxing a few different opponents and because later in the movie when Evangeline is talking about what he was like as a fighter, she kind of points out some of these old boxing pictures. So Sugar Ray came for that photo shoot and we put Hugh in the ring and he sparred with him. I mean fully, you know, like he didn’t haul off on these people but we got some great shots of Hugh boxing which supposedly is his character 10 years ago.
Yeah. Yeah. And he choreographed the fights and a guy called Michael Ollerjay in New York, he used to be a contender…you can look him up, he's a big guy. He was sort of helping me learn day to day some of the fighting stuff and jumping rope. And he looked at…we showed him the fight with Sugar Ray and he goes oh a lot of lefts. That’s so Sugar Ray. It’s a lot of lefts. Which was his signature, you know? So boxing fans will see in there and go oh yeah, that’s signature Sugar Ray.
On the difference in training regimens- with him being much slimmer, and scaled-down in REAL STEEL as oppossed to WOLVERINE.
Well, I think was not to look Wolverine but to look like yeah, the guy could have fought but not in tip, tip top shape which sounded really great for me. But I’m quite a skinny guy so I still train. Heavy weights, a little less cardio and I get a few more treats than I normally would, so it’s all good.
Shawn Levy: I’m also trying to avoid the shot where he comes out of the water in slow motion.
Trailer only. (laughs)
Shawn knows more about it than me. I’ve been to see animated 3D and Avatar is the only sort of live-action thing I’ve seen. I haven’t seen Prince of Persia or any of them so I don’t have a lot of opinions on them. Of course we’re open to it. We discussed it a lot. I think for my money this film feels timeless. There’s something about it, the look, the story, emotion. Everything about it even though we’re set in the not too distant future, I mean it’s only like 6 years-8 years in the future, there’s something about it that feels timeless. So for my money, whatever supports that. Whatever supports that and we’ll probably know that in probably 12 months.
On his reaction to the dailies.
We shot a sequence the first week and 2 days later…so 7 days into shoot Shawn just sneakily showed me a little mini version—6 minutes of the first and I was just amazed. I’ve never seen anything that quick, that good and that engaging. It’s the first scene that I’m in. So I didn’t have glasses on. I didn’t need to see it to me I was right there. So I don’t think you need it to engage an audience. I don’t think you need it to make them suspend their disbelief. It can be fun but what I love about this movie is it’s very much story driven. This is really about the characters in the story, so whatever supports that best I’m sure is what we’ll end up doing.
On the lack of physical action got Jackman- wth most of the fights involving the robots.
Me? There’s one little scrap, right?
Shawn Levy: Yeah, I mean he does get in a fight with….
I get in a fight like a street scrap which is really not much at all.
Shawn Levy: I’m saying there’s not even a 2nd unit on this movie, which I can’t remember the last movie that had no 2nd unit.
I remember my stunt double from Wolverine came over and goes awesome…big film. When do you start? And I said, dude I don’t know how to tell you this but not that you’re not great, but we don’t need you, unless you can look like a robot. So it’s kind of great for me.
On the more story-oriented approach being taken with REAL STEEL.
You know the way I’ve described it to people is Rocky 1 to 6 or whatever it is. Remember ROCKY 1, that was like 70/30. If you saw it, there wasn’t not that many fights in it. And we’re sort of in the same world here. It’s really character story driven. The fight are unbelievable and very not just wow, that’s cool but very engaging and very emotional. There’s some fights at the end, I’m guessing there won’t be a dry eye in the house. So there’s really some amazing stuff, but I would say that’s absolutely accurate 70/30.
Did you look at any classic boxing movies to kind of get some inspiration?
Yeah, right now I’ve got RAGING BULL going, which I just nicked off Shawn, so yeah of course. And now we’re waiting to go to the Packio/Mayweather fight. So when we shut down filming come and see it for research.
At this point, Levy had to take Jackman back to filming, and the set visit more or less wrapped up. Before long, I’d be back on a plane to Montreal, my first set visit having come to an end. Overall it was a fascinating experience, and I was lucky that my first visit happened to be this MASSIVE FX movie, that also had a lot of cool, practical effects to feast my eyes on. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in October 2011!