Temperament wise, Hugh Jackman doesn’t have much in common with his most famous screen role.
As the embodiment of Wolverine — a mutant blessed with miraculous healing powers but cursed with a bad hairstyle and existential angst — Jackman is the face of the character. But off screen he is as gracious as his cigar-smoking X-Men alter ego is testy.
His Prisoners co-star Terence Howard told me Jackman was, “a sweet man,” while director Josh Rothstein said the actor “leads with smiles and warmth.”
Doesn’t sound much like Wolverine to me.
When he isn’t playing Wolverine he devotes his time to charitable causes like World Vision and Laughing Man, a coffee company he established that sells fair trade coffee and tea, products farmed using ecologically friendly methods and sold for the benefit of the farmer and consumer.
This weekend he stars in Logan, the third solo Wolverine film. In the new movie the X-Men antihero makes tracks to the Mexican border to set up a hide-out for ailing mentor Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart.
This installment marks the ninth time Jackman has slipped on the adamantium claws, and will be his swansong in the role.
Having played the character for almost 18 years Jackman owns the part, bringing real humanity to the mutant in a powerful and accomplished performance.
But, as he told me in a friendly, wide-ranging and informative interview, he wasn’t always as self-assured.
“When I started acting I was the dunce of the class,” he reveals. Success in school, he says, came because of his work ethic, a trait he picked up from his father.
“He never took one day off in his life,” he remembers. “He had five kids he was bringing up on his own. If anyone deserved a day off it was my old man, but he never did. I learned that from him.
“There’s always that feeling of, ‘I have to work harder than everybody else. I’m not born Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve got to just work harder and I’m prepared to do it.”
Being the youngest of five children also contributed to his outlook.
“I always wanted to do stuff and not be left out,” he says, but adds, “I was quite a fearful kid, which I hated.
“I’ve always had a fear of fear. It’s weird to think back now but drama school is a pressure cooker situation. People get kicked out of drama school. You are constantly being judged on how you are doing; are you progressing, are you not?
“Almost everyday you had to get up and do a monologue. Sing a song. Do it in front of everybody. I noticed I was always first. I never wanted to sit there waiting. I’m not saying that out of courage. It was too uncomfortable to sit, stewing. I don’t think I’ve told anyone else that.”
Later, fear of unemployment pushed him to expand his talents.
“When I came out of drama school I was like, ‘I’m going to do anything I can just to keep working.’ In drama school you do Shakespeare to movement to circus skills to singing all in one morning. I know a lot of people hated it but I revelled in it. I loved it.”
Seems hard work and confidence is the X-factor that made Jackman the most famous — and friendly — of all the X-Men.