Hugh Jackman doesn't blame you for thinking the idea of a robot boxing movie is silly. Actually, he shared your skepticism! At least before he read the script, which changed his viewpoint. "It's 'Rocky' for a new generation,'" Jackman proudly proclaimed to Moviefone in late September. On the surface, that may still seem like a stretch, but as the box-office results may very well verify this weekend, he could have a point.
In 'Real Steel,' Jackman plays Charlie, a deadbeat father who -- following the death of his ex-girlfriend -- manipulates custody of his estranged son Max for financial reward. Oh, also: Charlie is an ex-boxer who, now that the sport has been outlawed, earns his living by training and fighting robots. It's an occupation that might just result in some father and son bonding over a discarded robot named Atom, a sparring bot that has a chance to become a world champion. Moviefone caught up with Jackman (who already gave us the lowdown on his cameo in this past summer's 'X-Men: First Class') to discuss his new film, the mass skepticism levied at 'Real Steel' initially, why his new Wolverine movie will be a little like 'The Outlaw Josie Wales,' and how New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fits into the 'Real Steel' mythology.
'Real Steel' is my worst nightmare, spelling wise.
[Laughs] That's a good point.
I'm worried that I'm going to spell it "Reel Steal," like someone is stealing a reel of film.
Well, hang on. It is that way. Oh, no it's not. No! Oh, I do that, too. That's so bizarre. I'm sorry; oh my God. I almost made the same mistake. I totally get it.
There's your sequel: Charlie and Max go around stealing reels of film, then you can just spell it the other way.
Now there's an idea for the sequel.
I'll admit, I was skeptical at first, but I did walk out of 'Real Steel' in a good mood.
Good. You know, it is one of those movies. It is uplifting. You laugh, you cry, you have a good cheer -- I'm very proud of it.
When it was first announced, a lot of people were skeptical, to say the least. Did you just try to ignore that?
No, I shared the same feeling, I think, when I first heard about it. I remember hearing about it from my agent and going, "I don't think this is for me." It just doesn't sound like something that needs me; do you know what I mean? I thought, robot boxing in the future, OK, I know that's going to be cool. So I read it. Funny enough, I read it to my son. At the same time I was reading it, I read it to him. And he made me read it to him every night for like ten nights. Just the script, without seeing any visuals. And I was immediately ten pages in and said, "Hang on a sec, I think someone described this to me wrong." I mean, this is more 'Rocky' than a special effects, sci-fi movie. This is, I suppose, 'Rocky' meets 'Transformers.' It's 'Rocky' for a new generation.
It's interesting that you say that it resembles 'Rocky' because -- and I won't say what -- but there are some aspects of the ending that emulates one of the 'Rocky' films. Was that intentional?
Look, with a boxing match, there are really two endings. You know what I mean? So it's not like you're intentionally [saying] we've got to make it like that or we have to do it like this. But, really, he wins or loses.
Well, you can also win or lose by knockout or decision.
No, you're right. There are. There's knockout... I get it. Look, I think this was absolutely the right way to finish it. You know? It didn't feel on the nose or cheesy. Yes, there is an homage to 'Rocky' -- without a doubt. I mean, you cannot make a boxing movie in any way, shape or form without doing shades of some boxing movie that has come before. It's such a rich Hollywood history. But if we get that feeling in an audience like I had watching 'Rocky' growing up? Then I know we've done the right job.
OK, let me play devil's advocate: What's really at stake in this movie? These are robots fighting and Charlie has already gone through two robots before we meet Atom. What's one more?
Well, I think Charlie actually written off Atom, too. Charlie is surprised about him. And, really, the brilliance of this script is that you actually have three things being part of this redemption tale: there's the father, the son and this robot. And the robot represents the child, the pure innocence, you know? And heart. I don't know if you've seen the ESPN film 'The Brady 6,' which is one of my favorite things I've ever seen. There's a great line in that where they realized Tom Brady is not the most athletic or fast. He didn't have a tight spiral on the ball, but no one dared open up his chest and look at his heart. That's why he was picked 191st in the draft -- and it's a bit like that with Atom. I think that's something we all connect to. And that's why I think people resonate with that story of the thing that's been discarded. And its been discarded prematurely because no one bothered to look at his heart. Or value that.
Were any of the robots based on real fighters?
Do you know Sugar Ray Leonard actually choreographed the humans doing the motion capture? So the fights were directed by [director] Shawn [Levy]. And all the fights were done prior to our filming, so we knew what all of the fights were. What happened was we used the 'Avatar' technology with these guys in motion capture suits who would fight -- and it would be instantly converted into a robotic image that Sean was looking at. Sugar Ray was going in to make sure that each robot had a different style. So, not that I know of. There's no particular reference... except Atom definitely has some Sugar Ray moves -- if you watch it closely.
Did you read the short story, 'Steel,' that this film is based on?
Absolutely. I had never read it before, so I was really fascinated with it. And I think it emboldened our choice to make Charlie, in a way, so sympathetic at the beginning. That feeling of desperation in him.
The original story contains a much more bleak future. Why was that changed for the film?
Yes. What Shawn realized is -- he was very clear from the beginning that we needed to establish what the rues are. In the original script there were robotic dogs in that junkyard scene. So as they're trying to get out, there's a whole action sequence. And Shawn said, "This is just confusing. You've got robotic dogs, but we're still driving an old truck?" And he said, "We're not having flying cars, this is not 'Blade Runner.'" We're just saying that, in the same way when man decided to put someone on the moon, all the money and attention went into that and we made it happen. In the '70s the Concorde came out and, really, there's been nothing like it ever since because there was that desire and money. And it's the same thing with robot boxing. Robots exist. If there was a common will or people realized there's a way to make money off of it, then the sport would exist. So I think that's what he wanted to say: Robot boxing fills our ever-increasing desire for violence on behalf of the audience.
How disappointed were you that Darren Aronofsky left 'The Wolverine'?
Well, the good thing about this, and the reason Darren signed on -- I tried to get him to do 'X-Men 3' and 'Wolverine 1' -- the reason he signed on to this pretty much straight away is because I showed him the best script we've had. Now, the script is 80 percent, obviously. And the director is going to being their own voice to it.
What voice does James Mangold bring?
Jim has done some great movies. Many, many different movies like '3:10 to Yuma.' We had an image of this movie like 'The Outlaw Josey Wales,' which I love. And he has a really great take on it. Yes, it's going to be different than Darren's version, but I think it's going to be just as great from what I've seen. And he's doing his tweaks to what is already a very strong script.
'Real Steel' is out on Friday. For more about Hugh Jackman's 'X-Men: First Class' cameo, click here.
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- Regret not taking Puppeteer 101 in college with the Sesame Street documentary, 'Being Elmo'
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