by Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
When it comes to growing mutton-chop sideburns and ripped biceps in record time, Hugh Jackman is second to none.
For The Wolverine (in theaters Friday), the Australian actor dons the claws of the Marvel Comics mutant superhero for the sixth time in 13 years - including three X-Men movies, his first solo adventure, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and a memorable cameo in X-Men: First Class.
He's wasting no time before the seventh: X-Men: Days of Future Past (due May 23), which is currently filming, re-teams Jackman with Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart and joins him with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender.
The one guy who may be most surprised that Jackman still is playing Wolverine is Jackman.
"Gosh, I never thought past the first, to be honest," the actor says. "It has been kinda crazy, and luckily, apart from this next one, it's been interspersed fairly equally in my life. There always felt like a break. I can't remember the last time I had literally a clean-shaven face for more than a week." (His best guess? Hosting the Oscars in 2009.)
Directed by James Mangold, The Wolverine takes Jackman on an Asian adventure where the man also known as Logan is trying to escape the life of a hero yet is thrown back into it when honor, a new love interest and a whole heap of bad guys become involved.
While most actors have to jump into some sort of colorful costume to be a superhero, "Hugh can pull this off without a shirt on or even without the claws out," Mangold says. "With the slightest tease of the hair above each temple, he becomes this guy.
"It speaks to a miraculous transformation of an actor synthesizing an iconic character into his own skin."
Jackman's superheroic physique also helps. "He is one hell of a specimen. If there's one thing Hugh is doing more often in this movie than anything else, it's basically being shirtless and muscle-bound," says Mangold, adding that many thought some of the first Wolverine images were Photoshopped to make Jackman look even more buff.
Not so, says the director. "The guy is just in incredible shape. We can't possibly doctor every frame."
Jackman credits weight training, of course, but also the constant consumption of steamed chicken. He figures he has three more months of poultry on his plate, "then I need to go vegan just to get my karmic debt paid."
One reason he keeps coming back to Wolverine is "he's the coolest kind of guy I wish I was when I was growing up. I didn't grow up to be him, but at least regularly, every two or three years, I get to pretend."
He considers the fact that there is a shelf life involved with the character - the actor is 44, but the Wolverine character doesn't age (because of his awesome mutant healing factor). So Jackman figures there will inevitably be someone else who plays the hero.
While Jackman has that mantle, though, he's not taking it lightly.
"You never know who's going to close that door. It might be the fans," he says with a laugh. "If they start spitting on me in the street, I'll know it's time."
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