As he breezes into our meeting with a toothy grin, Hugh Jackman looks as if he has arrived on -holiday -rather than at a junket for a big -summer film. Then again, the glare of the media spotlight is something the Australian has always been at ease in, ever since he arrived on Hollywood's radar nine years ago with his first portrayal of the comic book anti-hero Wolverine in X-Men.
This latest release, the fourth time he has played the character, is a prequel of sorts, charting the early life of Jim Logan, his encounters with his future nemesis William Stryker (played by Danny Huston), and the conflict between his desire for a "normal" life and his more animalistic instincts. Jackman also serves as producer on the film, and confesses feeling a greater connection to the production this time around.
"It was so different in many ways," he says. "I was so involved in casting that by the time we got to shooting I was excited going into it."
While the world of X-Men is one he has visited before, Jackman -experienced many differences with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, principally not being joined by the cast of the first three films. The actor says it -reinvigorated his approach.
"It was a different set of actors. It took me two months to get over not having Halle Berry on set every day," he laughs. "For three films I was playing a character who had no idea about his past. To have those blanks filled in and to have the film about those blanks was really terrific."
Wolverine is a project many fans have longed for, and fulfilling their expectations is at the forefront of Jackman's mind, as well as the -director Gavin Hood's.
"There may be a question in some people's minds about what this movie is," Jackman says. "I hate people calling it a spin-off -because it's not, but people ask: 'Is this X-Men 4 in disguise?' And so expectations are high - story wise, the character, the emotion, the humour. In every way we had to try and exceed -people's expectations. Although, that's probably just blind -ambition."
These ambitions suffered a blow, however, in March when, just weeks from release, a rough cut of the film was leaked on to the internet. It was missing several computer effects (green screen and wires were visible throughout) and large portions of the soundtrack, but was full length nonetheless and gave away the -entire plot. Fox insists the bootleg incarnation is very different from the finished article, but industry -observers predict that the leak has the potential to cost the production a large portion of its "pre-leak" predicted box office.
For Jackman, the monetary loss paled in comparison to the impact on the film's staff. "The day after the leak I was in the studio with people who had spent many nights not sleeping working on this film." he says. "What was leaked was months old. It's kind of like a Ferrari without an engine. It's heartbreaking to the people who work so hard to finish the film and to have it ready for the fans to watch on the big screen."
Born in New South Wales, Jackman got his big break outside of Australia in musical theatre, touring the world with a production of Oklahoma! as well as starring in a television version in 1999. Jackman believes this training assists him in the many stunts he does in -Wolverine, and is the reason he got the role in the first place (he was chosen by the X-Men director Bryan Singer after Dougray Scott turned the part down).
"I don't know the percentage, but a lot of it's me," Jackman says of the stunts. "I enjoyed doing that, I must admit. I'm from a sporty background - I wasn't great at it, but I -enjoyed it. I'm also from a dance background, and so much of the stunts and fighting depend on -choreography. So it's a mixture of the two." He also believes the showman aspect of his personality drove him to take the risk of doing the stunts. "I enjoy it because I think audiences deserve it. Audiences are smart. They can tell if it's a double, so whenever you can do that it helps the audience get into it."
Another new element to -Wolverine is a rival in the form of Liev -Schreiber's Victor Creed, who goes on to become Sabretooth in the comic books. As producer, Jackman immediately saw something in -Schreiber that hadn't been -captured on film.
"He was the first person I wanted cast," Jackman says. "I worked with him on Kate & Leopold and he did a stunt which was to this day the most amazing thing I've ever seen. As a person, he's incredibly strong and capable physically, so I knew he could do the role, and also was excited because people didn't know he could do that."
The only drawback was the emergence of an unexpected rivalry. "There's a competitive nature to Liev, so if I was eating steamed chicken and veggies all of a sudden he was. And if I was lifting a certain amount of weight he was, too. There was a nice little edge, so when it came to the fight scenes we'd basically be punching each other."
In the film, Wolverine and -Sabretooth are half-brothers - a contentious issue among fans. Jackman says such a move was -necessary. "To have that added family link, the tension between brothers, was essential. My character wants a normal life, whereas his brother has turned his back on the world, but they both understand those needs because they're both conflicted to that extent."
Hard-core fans may balk at a certain aspects of Jackman's Wolverine, in particular the fact that the character is afraid of flying. "It's funny. I don't know why I chose it for the character," he says. "It's not in the comic book, but I liked the idea. I think it comes from Indiana Jones being afraid of snakes. Personally I kind of love flying, so that was one of the greater acting challenges in the movie."
Indeed, fear is clearly not a -factor for Jackman, who says he has a proactive attitude towards -phobias. "When I was a kid, if we did something like I did in the film, I'd be -terrified. I had older brothers and sisters who were always doing things above my age. I remember being so upset with myself that I was afraid of heights that I went down to the diving boards at our school every day. We had a one-, three- and a 10--metre board. I started jumping off the three-metre board again and again until I wasn't scared, then the 10-metre again and again. I did this for about a month until I wasn't scared anymore. Maybe the insight to this is that I hate being frightened of something."
As for the future, a sequel to -Wolverine is already being written, and another character from the X-Men universe, Magneto, getting his own origin story. A scene at the end of the credits alludes to a -second film, but Jackman is remaining -quiet about what that scene -involves.
"Yes, we put something in there -after the credits. So if you don't need to hurry back for the babysitter, you might want to stick around. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't go into what it involves."
Jackman may have won over several million young comic book fans, but there's one youngster who wasn't at all pleased with his latest effort. "My daughter Ava, who's three, saw this," Jackman says of a film poster that shows a stern-looking Wolverine looking through his steel claws. "She kept saying 'Daddy's so angry!' and tried to iron out the anger lines on my forehead," he laughs. "So there was one young lady, at least, that wasn't impressed."