In the robot boxing drama Real Steel, actor Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who is forced to hustle for robot fights wherever he can get them, in order to earn enough money to survive. In a world where 2000-pounds, 8-foot-tall hunks of steel rule the ring, the stakes are brutal and the arenas are no-holds-barred. Already verging on rock bottom, Charlie reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a discarded robot that he believes could be a championship contender. You can watch some clips here.
At the film’s press day, Hugh Jackman talked about establishing the father-son relationship at the core of the film, how both he and his kids would love to have a robot of their own at home, and that he thinks it would be fun to explore Max’s teenage years, if there’s a sequel for the film. He also talked about his thoughts on Eddie Murphy as the next Oscar host, preparing a one-man show for Broadway, returning to the Wolverine character, and taking on Les Miserables, which even prompted him to sing a bit. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
For the audio of this interview click here.
HUGH JACKMAN: I actually didn’t read it until about the second week of shooting, and it was Don Murphy who gave it to me. He said, “You’ve read it right?” I said, “Actually, no, I haven’t, but I’ve seen The Twilight Zone episode.” So, it was great to read it. I should have read it before I started. There’s some good stuff in it. It’s terrific. He was a great writer. I want to read more of his stuff.
What was it like working with Sugar Ray Leonard?
JACKMAN: Of all the things that he told me, and there were many, the thing that really affected me the most was his insistence about the importance of the corner man, which is effectively what I play. Not as much the fighter, but the corner man. And, he talked a lot about Angelo Dundee, and how he was the difference between winning and losing in some fights. He’d be behind the monitor for some scenes doing, endlessly doing right left. He looked over and said, “They will only believe these fights, if you and the corner are connected. You have to be the emotional strength. You have to be the wisdom. You have to be the spine of that fighter.” It was a great bit of advice.
JACKMAN: After a few days, (director) Shawn [Levy] actually pulled me and Dakota [Goyo] aside and said to both of us, “Look, Dakota, you’re a very well brought up and polite kid. Hugh, you genuinely like children. You’ve got to stop that, immediately. Go further. Keep going. I’ll tell you, if you’ve gone too far.” There were several times when he’d call cut, and I’d see Dakota look over to his mom, like he was going to get into trouble. “They told me to say this. It’s okay.” Because it obviously goes against the grain. Having said that, I do have two children and there are times you want to say things that you are not allowed to say, right? It was nice to be able to let them rip for three months. It was good therapy.
Have your kids seen the movie?
JACKMAN: They love the movie, oh my god! It’s the first one of my movies they’ve seen. If you think about it, there’s been nothing else, really, that’s applicable for them, apart from a couple animated movies I’ve done. They can’t wait to see it again. My son did say, “So, I’m allowed to drink sodas for breakfast now, am I?” But generally, for them, they just fully got into the story of these robots, and were cheering for them. I saw both of them have a little tear in their eye. My mother-in-law was in the same screening and she was crying, and my wife. They all loved it. I was like, “This is a great thing.”
JACKMAN: They would love to. I would love to have a robot at home. I want Atom. I tried to smuggle it out. It’s difficult. It’s very heavy and hard to put in the boot of the car – the truck of the car.
What is the appeal of robots to kids?
JACKMAN: I think they represent power. First of all, in our movie, you’re controlling [the robots] and they have all the power that they lack in real life. And so, with kids, particularly in this movie, and as we say in the movie, the leap of their imagination, to them being real and alive and autonomous, is not far. For us, obviously, it’s a long way to make that leap. I think that’s part of the reason.
Your son and your character’s son are the same age. How do you interact with your son, on your days off? What kind of dad are you?
JACKMAN: Well, a buddy of mine had a rule, which I stole, which is no screens during the week, so no TV or computer, or anything like that. Really, kids nowadays, unlike us, have very little time. They seem to be at school longer. They have after school activities. By the time you’ve eaten, showered and dressed, it’s over. So, there’s not much time for it, anyways. I’ve got to be honest, I know a lot of my son’s friends are right into it, but he’s a natural born artist. If I was born now, I would be fully hooked on every video game going. I have no doubt. He sometimes reminds me. I’ll ask him, “Hey, you want to play on the Wii?” I love the Wii tennis. I’ll say, “Do you want to play me?” He’ll say, “Dad, it’s a beautiful day. Let’s go outside.” And, I’ll go, “All right, yeah.” I don’t worry for him, so much. Ava, on the other hand, is different. She’s only six, so she’s not really into video games, but Ava is the only kid that I’ve seen that, when she watches a movie, she has tears running down her face because she doesn’t blink. She’s so drawn into it, she’ll have tears running on her face. So, I think I’m going to have to have stronger rules for her.
Has fatherhood influenced the types of roles you choose?
JACKMAN: Truthfully, not really. It’s icing on the cake. Sometimes those animated movies, absolutely. I do that because I know my kids will love it and it’s nice, but no, not really. My kids are not that interested in my movie career, by the way. My son, in particular, never talks about it. He just wants me as his dad. I’m never in that position where I’m like, “Oh, this is going to make him happy.” It’s almost like I’m fully aware that they want to push that to the side. But, it was a great moment to be able to sit with all three generations, loving that movie.
Can you talk about you work out regimen for this film, and how your body changed, as a result of it?
JACKMAN: I was going to do a movie called Selma with Lee Daniels, where I had to put on a lot of weight, and it got cancelled at the last second. That got cancelled about three months before we started this film, so I was big. I was overweight. I had been training with a lot of weights, but more like a sumo-wrestler would. I was eating a lot, and [doing] no cardio. I was getting bigger. I had a paunch. The film got cancelled and I thought, “You know what? This is going to work for Real Steel. I’m playing an ex-boxer.” You need to believe that he could have been in the ring, but he’s not training. So, I rang Shawn and he said, “That’s a brilliant idea. That’s fantastic. In that first scene, when you fall out of bed, you’re going to be there with that paunch. It will immediately tell people this is not Wolverine. They’ll love it. It’s going to be perfect.” And, I came in for the fitting, a month before, 20 pounds heavier than I was in the movie. It’s not easy for me to be that weight, by the way. I was eating a lot and pushing a lot of weight with low reps and heavy weights. They hadn’t told the costumer that I was coming in heavier, so it was literally like I was putting on my son’s clothing. I could barely put the jeans on. I really looked big. And, I remember Shawn going, “It’s too much. Let’s pull back on the realism. You know what? We really don’t need that.”
JACKMAN: Well, there’s something about that part, where you need to fall for him before he’s said a word. That’s the magic that [Steven] Spielberg was talking about, when he was talking to Shawn about the casting. In a lot of the movie, he’s trying to be tougher than he is and older than he is. He’s trying to be a tough guy. But, you instinctively have to know that that’s all a front. So, Dakota just has that. In the room, as I was auditioning with him, I remember looking over to Shawn, and going, “This kid’s a great actor,” but that other little x-factor, I was not 100% on. You could see on the video and it all looked good. On every film, you do a lighting test. You go into a location and it gives the DoP a chance to see what lights work on you, etc. You don’t act, or anything. You just sit there, stand and move around. They said, “Okay, Dakota, go out there.” It was at the Crash Palace site. So, we went out there and there was one point when he looked up and they were filming, and the camera was just pushing in very slowly on his face, and Shawn was talking with the lighting guys, so you could see Dakota was just drifting off a little bit, just thinking about something, and I looked over and this woman by the monitor started to cry. He wasn’t even acting. It was just something about him. He has an old soul quality to him. He has a soulfulness, like a purity. You see the innocence of a child. You can imagine him believing in that robot, and yet there’s an old soul quality to him. That’s when I was like, “All right, thank you.”
JACKMAN: I really thought I was going to have to do a lot more with Dakota. Shawn is a master of directing younger actors. He’s done it all his life. He has four kids himself, and he really mentored him through this. The very first day, he was doing everything right and I said to him, “What do you think of this scene?” It was the scene at the Crash Palace. He said, “Man, when you’re doing that, I should say, ‘It’s a headset. You talk into it and you tell him what to do.’” And, I was like, “Shawn, I think we need another take. Can we just do another take?” And, he goes, “What are we doing?” And I said, “Just do that line. Do that line.” And, he did it and it’s in the movie. Sometimes I would encourage him to ad-lib, even if it was a bad idea, and I would say, “That’s awesome!” And, Shawn would encourage him to. Very quickly, I wanted to give him that feeling of, “Hey, this is my set, as much as yours. We’re in it together. There’s no delineation of power here. We’re all just actors.” Very quickly, he caught onto that. And, the other thing was playing with him and never feeling like an adult. That’s not dynamic in the movie. So, I would do practical jokes with him, all the time, and just muck around. On weekends, we would hang out together. I knew that it was important for him to feel comfortable. Dakota is a very polite boy. Literally, when I met him, it was, “Hi, Mr. Jackman, how are you?” And I was like, “This dynamic is not going to work for this film.” I know he’s a good actor and all, but for chemistry on film to work, it has to be beyond acting. There has to be something really tangibly there, and he needed to feel real comfortable. My God, within a month, all that stuff was just all him ad-libing. He was giving it back, very well.
JACKMAN: Always. I find that kid actors are great reminders of the simplicity of acting. As you get older, you can sometimes complicate things a little more. You can become too aware of, “Okay, this is the scene emotionally. This is where we need to be. We’ve got the climax coming up.” You can start to analyze it too much. And, kids are just happy to be and they have a real natural ability just to listen. Dakota is a very natural actor. It was so easy to be in scenes with him.
Is Wolverine 2 your next movie?
JACKMAN: No, Les Miserables. I’m doing that. Tom Hooper is directing that. That’s going to be at the beginning of next year. Before that, I’m doing a one-man show on Broadway, and then Wolverine. So, it’s an eclectic year.
Are there any aspects of Wolverine that you get to explore this time, that you didn’t get to with the previous films?
JACKMAN: Absolutely. Every time, I feel. This time, more than anything, I think we’ve really nailed down that character. I think the audience and myself and the writers were like, “Enough of the [missing] memory with ‘Who am I? What happened in my past?’” That’s enough. I think we’ve explored that a lot. Now, it’s this great backdrop of Japan, which is going to be fantastic for this character. It’s a very rich source material with the comic book. And, there’s more ladies in this movie, which is a nice change from the last one. It was very testosterone heavy.
Are you impulsive, like you character in this movie?
JACKMAN: No, I’m not. I’m married to someone like that, though, and I’m attracted to people like that. As my wife says, “You’re just even Steven.” I’ m a bit of a pack horse. I don’t really understand the lure of gambling. I’m like, “The game is pretty boring. It’s not that good a game.” I don’t understand working hard for your money, and then just giving it away. I don’t get it. That’s not my personality. Even when I was younger, if I’d go out with my mates and we’d going out drinking or something, I’d be four or five drinks in and be like, “Eh, diminishing returns.” And, all my mates were like, “C’mon!” I just never really had that in me, which I’m grateful for, actually. But, my wife is totally like my character, Charlie. She brings that out of me.
What are your faults?
JACKMAN: There are many. If you ask my wife, the biggest fault is my inability around the house. She says the only thing handy about be me is that I’m close by. And, I have a terrible memory. I’m bad at saying no. I often double-book. There are a lot of things. Trust me, actors are very good about their faults. That’s why I don’t read reviews.
Once you had read it, was there anything in the short story or the Twilight Zone episode that you wanted to incorporate into the film or your performance?
JACKMAN: No. Maybe because of the Wolverine thing, I think people get too caught up in the inside of it all. It’s fun to do that, and it’s nice to do that, but I instinctively think of the person who’s just come to have a good time at the movies and knows nothing about it. If you get too heavy with the nods and winks, people get a sense that they’re excluded from something. If they’re in screenings and everyone’s laughing, and they don’t know what the hell it’s about, somehow you feel excluded from the party, or like you’re not in the inner circle. As a performer, that’s the worst thing you can do to an audience. It’s fun, but you have to be very careful with it.
JACKMAN: We were both on Broadway, around the same time. He was doing Tom Sawyer on Broadway, so we met there. We are kindred spirits. He’s a great friend. I think he’s one of the most under-rated, talented actors in Hollywood. People haven’t even begun to see the extent of what he can do. I just found out last week that he was the stand-up comedian of 1994, in Canada. He won that. I was like, “You’re a freak man.” I already thought he was a freak. He said, “Yeah, I used to do stand-up.” I said, “You used to do stand-up? That’s the pinnacle, right?” I’m happy to be in any movie with him. You can see, in this film, he made a character that could have been uninteresting, really memorable. Personally, as a fan of his, I was to see him with name above the title. I think he’ll get there, too.
How do you feel about being shirtless again?
JACKMAN: It’s funny because I said to Shawn, “I just promoted a movie and everyone was asking me, ‘Is it in your contract to take your shirt off in every movie?,’ and it really took me back.” So, he said, “Yeah, you’re right. No tank-tops, just T-shirts. When you’re boxing, you’ve got the hoodie on. This is not going to be about that.” That scene was always in the script, but neither of us thought about it. I remember the big print saying, “Charlie changes in the boxing ring because he’s got one bag of clothes and he lives in a truck. He has no bedroom, no house, no nothing.” We were like, “That’s a great story point.” I blew it again!
So, is the shirt remaining on for Les Miserables?
JACKMAN: I actually told that story to Tom Hooper, because one of the first scenes actually shows him in the prison camp that he’s in, being punished and whipped, and stuff like that. I said, “I can tell you right now, if you have me with my shirt off, people are going to say, ‘You were just doing what Jackman demanded in his contract.’” And he said, “I don’t think we need to do it without your shirt,” and I said, “Good.” So, when you see the movie, you’ll see.
JACKMAN: Yeah, but that is the fun of it, exactly. It’s intimidating, and that’s the fun of it. I feel, you have to be a little bit intimidated or a little bit nervous. The percentage is probably 80/20. If 80% of you is really, really confident you’re going to nail it, and 20% of you is genuinely, really not so sure, that’s the kind of percentage you need to push yourself on, to do better than you’ve ever before. If it’s 100%, then I feel the audience can feel it. I feel like Jean Valjean is one the great literary figures in musical theatre. It’s one of the most famous characters of all time. Whoever is playing it, it should be them at their best, you know? That’s why I’m singing everyday and have been for awhile. And, that’s why I auditioned for the part. I rang Tom Hooper and I said, “Tom, I’m coming in and I’m auditioning for you.” He said, “Well, I actually haven’t made my deal yet.” I said, “I don’t care. I’m coming in now.” That audition was three hours. This was not one where I was going to sit back and wait to see if it came to me or not. I chased it.
How many times have you seen the musical?
JACKMAN: Three times.
Is there a difference in your approach to theatrical work, as opposed to movie work?
JACKMAN: Not really. Obviously, on the day there is a difference. As an actor, you have many tools – your body, your voice, your emotions, mentally. In film, you have your eyes because they communicate your thought process. In fact, generally in film, what you don’t say is more important than what you say. That’s not so much the case for stage. However, if you haven’t done that work and you don’t know what’s going on internally, particularly for a musical, and there’s not real thought behind the song, then no one will feel anything. But, essentially, acting is acting. It’s the same thing. So, I’m forever grateful that I did theater first. I think it’s much easier to be able to distill the technique from theater. It’s not like, “Let’s just add water to film.” There are genuine muscles that you need on the stage, that you don’t develop in film.
In your one-man Broadway show, will you be singing?
JACKMAN: You bet! I have an 18-piece orchestra. I sing. I dance. I tell some stories. I ad-lib a bit. Peter Allen, who I did in The Boy From Oz, makes a comeback. It’s genuinely my idea of a really good time. I figure, if I’m not having a good time, no one else will.
You have a pretty full schedule coming up, but do you have any thoughts about what you would like to see in a sequel for Real Steel?
JACKMAN: The first thing that really intrigues me about a sequel is that Dakota is now 12, and he’ll probably be 13 [before we did a sequel]. That’s a whole different human being from a 10 or 11-year-old. How great would that be? Rather than hiding from the fact that he’s getting older and going through adolescence, what will that add to the mix? You have success. You have a very fragile bonding, if you think about it. They’re coming together, but it’s still fragile. It’s the same thing with Evangeline Lilly. It’s not like they’re at the altar getting married, at the end. There’s a lot sort that’s unresolved. Let’s see what happens with the pressures of success. Who knows where it’ll go? I hope we do another one. But, let’s not think about that for awhile. It’s like asking a team who’s about to be in the Super Bowl, “Do you think you’ll make the Super Bowl next year?” Let’s not think about that.
Has Brett Ratner asked you to do any musical numbers for the next Oscars?
JACKMAN: No. I did email him to congratulate him on what I think was an inspired choice of Eddie Murphy. I said, “I don’t know what you did. I’m sure they’ve asked Eddie for the last 25 years, and I don’t know how you got him across the line.” As an Eddie Murphy fan, particularly with his stand-up, and he’s a big movie star, I can’t wait to see what he does. Nobody knows, and that’s always the most exciting thing about the Oscars. You never really know what’s going to happen, and I think having Eddie will exacerbate that.