Superhero cinema has come a long way, baby. And if there’s two dudes who would know all about it, it’s Hugh Jackman and Willem Dafoe, a pair of performers who jumped on the comic book bandwagon its early days of 21st Century box office dominance — and who are still engaging with the genre to this day. Jackman, of course, has spent the last seventeen years in the role of Wolverine throughout Fox’s X-Men universe, beginning with X-Men in 2000 culminating in this year’s stunning send-off, Logan. Dafoe made his superhero debut two years later as the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man and returned to the realm of superheroes this year as the Atlantean mentor Vulko in DC’s Justice League (though the scene was ultimately cut) and the upcoming Aquaman.
With awards season upon us, Variety is rolling out their Actors on Actors interview sessions, and during a wide-ranging conversation between Jackman and Dafoe, the actors addressed the evolution of superhero movies since they got their start nearly twenty years ago.
Dafoe shared his thoughts on the genre’s enduring popularity, citing international appeal as a key factor.
“A whole industry has grown around Marvel and DC. They’re movies that get exported in a successful way, so I think that’s what drives them very much. They’re stories that cross across cultural conditions, so it can work as well in Asia as well as it can in the United States because the stories are muscular enough and the set-pieces visually exciting enough.”
The Florida Project actor also noted that, while superhero movies may be the order of the hour at the box office, that wasn’t always the case.
“When Spider-Man was proposed to me originally it was like, ‘Really, you’re going to make a movie from a comic book?’” Dafo said. “It was like I was slumming it, you know? I didn’t see it that way, but some people were like, ‘Really?’”
Jackman also talked about the shifting perspective on superhero movies, and how X-Men played a key role in turning attention to a “humanistic” approach to the genre.
“Ten years ago I remember hearing people say, ‘I don’t think this will last much longer,’ and it’s just continued to grow. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. I think X-Men did a lot, particularly when it opened up in a concentration camp and the idea that we were taking it seriously in terms of more humanistic rather than superhuman. Then I think Nolan really just raised the bar to a whole new level and made people see beyond just any kind of genre. It’s not just a genre film.”