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An Interview with Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale

May 3, 2004   |   Written by Steve Head

Article taken from IGN.

ust over a week ago at the Lincoln Square Theater in New York, director Stephen Sommers unveiled his monster magnum opus, Van Helsing. Standing before the audience, he introduced himself, gave a short introduction, and concluded with, “You’re the first audience to see this. I hope you like it.”
The lights went down, the Universal logo appeared on the screen, and Sommers adjourned to the theater’s balcony to gauge the audience reaction with members of his cast. Stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale were seeing the finished film for the first time.

The next day, speaking to journalists Sommers said, “Watching the movie last night, it was so exciting. I got all the screams where I thought I was going to get all the screams. I got all the laughs where I thought I was going to get the laughs. And I got the squirms and all. But what was really great, was the silence. I could feel the audience getting into the story.”

“I was very nervous before seeing this film because I knew how much work we had to do in marketing,” said Jackman. “And I loved it! I thought it was great! I felt this whole weight come off my shoulders because, coming into these things, if you don’t really love a film it’s ulcer inducing.”

Geared-up for Van Helsing, Jackman, wearing blue jeans, and Beckinsale, to his left wearing black jeans, together in press conference fashion spoke with journalists about the making of the film.


Q: Hugh, Stephen Sommers told us that you had some reluctance in terms accepting the role of Van Helsing because of the obvious tenuous connection with playing Wolverine. Obviously he persuaded you to overcome that. Can you to talk about how your other films relate to your choice of new roles and how you overcame that.?

HUGH JACKMAN: My reluctance was more… well, I knew from the moment I read it that the movies were very different, as you can tell after seeing it. And the characters are very different. My reluctance was more, I thought after shooting, and when I met Steve I was on my way to shoot X-Men 2 my reluctance was that I thought I was going to do a smaller independent movie after that; doing something different. I was a bit reluctant about being in another big, sort of, franchise kind of movie; a summer, popcorn movie in a way; because I thought I might just end up going down that road. And because they take so long to make, it’s like a year of your life. And then I knew I was coming to Broadway for a year. So I figured, do I really want to be doing that? And of course, if it’s successful, then X-Men 3 and then Van Helsing 2, then that would kind of be my film life, you know?

Q: Sort of like a treadmill.

JACKMAN: A little bit. And so I rang Steve and said, “Steve, the only thing I’m nervous about… I know this picture is going to be great… I love the character… but I’m a bit nervous about…” what I just told you. There was a pause and he said, “Hugh, I think you’re probably the only actor in Hollywood who is nervous about being in two successful franchises.” (Laughs) And I had a giggle, and that was about it. I mean, it took a little more convincing.

Q: And in your case Kate, obviously there was kind of a vampire connection since Underworld.

KATE BECKINSALE: I was so surprised I’m doing any of this. I’m not interested in vampires at all. (Laughs) When I first got sent the script for Underworld I didn’t read it, but then I thought, hmm, vampires and werewolves… not really my kind of thing. And then when I got the script for this, again, I thought, “Oh, it all has to do with vampires and werewolves.” But I thought my character was so different. First of all, I’m not a vampire in this. (Laughs) She’s a gypsy and she’s much more passionate. It just seemed like a very good role.

Q: Was it a just a surprise to get the Van Helsing script, or considering Underworld, did this still sort of work into your career plan?

BECKINSALE: I don’t have a big career plan. I just like to see how things come out, and I just try to keep going in different directions. And this was very much a different direction for me, especially with the cutlery. (Laughs)

Q: Hugh, I understand there is kind of an unwritten law in Hollywood that says: if you want to be in the mix you’ve really have got to have another movie that you’re working on before your next movie comes out. And you, of course, have been doing Broadway for the past year. How do you feel about your career now versus the expectations in Hollywood? Some people are saying this movie is going to make you an A-list star.

BECKINSALE: Oh, it’s over with the play. (Laughs)

JACKMAN: Over! (Laughs) There are those :rules. They only become evident when people break them, successfully. It’s a cliché to say there are no rules in Hollywood, but… look what Mel [Gibson] has just done. I think in the end, it’s choosing things that you believe in, and that you think you’re right for. I’m kind of like, hey, some actors are good at it. I don’t think many actors are the best judge of careers. I think generally we have good instincts about what we can do in terms of acting. And often they become directors, which I don’t want to be. Some actually get a really good instinct for the film itself. But I get a very strong feeling about what I can do with a role in the film. And then apart from that I have to have faith in the directors.

Q: And Stephen Sommers is someone who made you feel very comfortable in choosing the part of Van Helsing and in making the film. And he’s 100% into what he’s doing; someone you could depend on.

JACKMAN: That’s why I love working with Steve, because I immediately knew, in my gut, that he was going to make the best version of that film; that he would leave no stone unturned. I had every confidence in what I could do with the role. But… I didn’t know how to make one of those movies. I wouldn’t know for a second how to pull that together. And then more I learn about it, the more miraculous it is when I see what Steve has done. It’s an extraordinary feat to pull all those things together. If it comes to a plan, I mean this was a step up for me in terms of, you know, Kate and I above the title – and it’s kind of like I’m playing the lead character; I’m playing Van Helsing – and that’s the first time I’ve done that. And that was a deliberate choice, and I only did it with someone like Steve because I trust him. I’m not going to be one of those lead actors who are like “this is my movie and I’m coming on set. I hate the script and I’m rewriting, and I’m going to do it all this way.” I don’t want to work like that.

BECKINSALE: He was very bad.

JACKMAN: Yeah (Laughs). 

Q: Whether it’s a ten-million dollar stage show or a one-hundred-and-fifty million dollar movie summer, does your sense of responsibility change at all?
JACKMAN:
 With the stage show it’s changed in that if I’m sick, the show’s off. So, if I had a bad day when filming, I could say, “Steve, I’m having a bad day. I’m not feeling well. Can we reschedule?” But with theater it’s a discipline; you’ve got to be on every night, which is tough. But generally my experience is the film… when you’re actually filming it’s exactly the same as when I did my first Aussie film which cost seventy-thousand Australian dollars. It’s exactly the same feeling. There is anxiety, but it comes after you’ve finished filming because it’s out of your hands; people are editing it, they’re cutting it, marketing it. And it’s… part your career sort of rides on that. But when you’re actually filming it’s a team thing and it really feels good there for me. But the stage show is probably a little more responsibility in that…

Q: …No Hugh, no show.

JACKMAN: Well, also reviews affect the show. If the reviews sucked we would have closed in a week, you know what I mean? And movies, particularly summer movies, exist on a whole other level.

Q: Kate has described you consistently as the nicest guy in Hollywood; how do you feel about that label? How do you react to that?

JACKMAN: You’re going to ruin my career, Kate. (Laughs)

BECKINSALE: I’ve checked you out! And believe me, I don’t miss much.

JACKMAN: How do I react to that? Well, it’s easy to be nice around good people. We had a great time. We really did. I think it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. Steve Sommers led from the top. He’s an old-fashioned director. I always call him an old-fashioned director. He sets the tone. He walks on set. He starts the day at 7:30 with exactly the same energy as he finishes at 7:30. He never goes a minute past 7:30; he’s like the only director at all who does that. If you’re doing an action movie and it’s like twelve hours and he goes 100% all day. He pops in every day to into your make-up to see you – “How you doing everybody? Any questions?” Trust me, this doesn’t always happen. He really led the way. He made it really easy. It was an almost frighteningly kind of easy set: there were no tantrums; there were no breakdowns; every department worked well; it shouldn’t work that easily. Should it?

BECKINSALE: And that’s how we all felt about Hugh, because he arrived with this Nicest Guy in Hollywood label. (Jackman laughs) I had to hope all the cast were like these nasty English people and Australian people – “Ok, we’re going to find out what’s going on here with him. Because something is certainly going on.” Because you never hear that. They’re like, “Does he like women’s underwear? Does he have anything to do with animals?” We hoped this guy was a complete phony. We kept peering into his trailer and saying, “Hey! We just popped in!” And I mean there was nothing.

JACKMAN: Actually, Steve popped into my trailer once while I was preparing for The Boy from Oz. And I was tap dancing. (Beckinsale laughs) And I had my boots off, and they had the Van Helsing costume with tap shoes on. (Laughs) And I felt this presence behind me, and I turned around… and Steve… It was just his head, and he goes ‘Do not tell anyone about this.’ (Laughs) He was genuinely frightened. Steve thought it was the end of his movie. 

Q: Kate, you’re playing kind of an atypical damsel in distress, someone who can take care of herself. How did you get into the physicality of the role?

BECKINSALE: I had a whole training period called Underworld, thank God. I didn’t have any training for this movie, and I think that was largely because I had to start it just as soon as I finished filming Underworld. I would have been in huge trouble if I hadn’t done Underworld because we had this great stunt coordinator who really would say, “Hey, now you’re going to jump off that eighty-foot building, is that fine?” And you think “scary,” but you go ahead and do it anyway. And I thought, “I’ve done that. That was really helpful.” And there’s lots of times just being around the right kind of people with the right kind of vibe; if you’ve got friendly people that you trust, some people will throw themselves off buildings for them. (Laughs) It sounds stupid, but it felt like a very comfortable, safe set. The only stunts I ever hurt myself on were the really boring, sort of not impressive work, like running up to a window and really banging your elbow. But on all the really dangerous, difficult ones we had fun.

JACKMAN: She’s one of five kids, and all older brothers. So, occasionally you do the English Rose thing. (Beckinsale laughs) And then as soon as the action goes she’s tougher than all of us. There was one scene where, actually, I was a little bit nervous about it because I’m grabbing onto Kate’s feet and we’re on wires about forty, fifty feet up in the air. And then, as close to real speed as possible; we had to land down on this mat. And so, I land on the mat on my back and Kate lands astride of me with her knees on either side. (Laughs) So, I did it once, ah, your stunt double did it, and she missed and landed on my shoulder. And at that moment I was kind of like, “Wow, just a few inches there and I’m going to get the knee in the face.” So, with Kate, we did three takes; she stuck it every time like an Olympic gymnast, like bang, bang, bang. She’s very athletic.

BECKINSALE: And the nice thing about English girls is if somebody says “Crotch in the face” you get crotch in the face. (Laughs)

Q: There have been quite a few Van Helsings before you, on both stage and screen. Did you consciously take or not take anything from these previous performances?

JACKMAN: They weren’t really relevant. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula but Steve’s version of Van Helsing was so different; younger, more adventurous. According to Bram Stoker he was a Dutch professor and he was very enigmatic and mysterious. I did take the accent, mildly, a little bit of a Dutch accent. But really not much else, except for that the character always has a mystery about him because he is a master of the occult; and he kind of has this window into this other world that mortals don’t seem to have. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the Aronofsky film and what you’re to be doing?
JACKMAN:
 Next I’m doing a movie called The Fountain with Darren Aronofsky. So, you know Darren’s work. I’d kind of had it in my head that that’s what I would have done something like that say, straight after X-Men. But you know, the cards fall when they fall. The film is called The Fountain. I play three characters, and it’s basically about the search for the Fountain of Youth. And it’s really extraordinary. I think Darren could become, in the final analysis, another Kubrick. I think he’s an amazing director, and he’s written a script that is just phenomenal. I’m honored to be a part of it. I really am very excited about it.

Q: This is probably reaching a point of gothic exhaustion for you, but I was wondering if you could say something the Underworld sequel.

BECKINSALE: Well, were I not marrying to the director, I’m not sure I’d know anything about the Underworld sequel. (Jackman laughs) I know there is a lot of furtive reading of scripts in the bathroom while I’m supposedly doing something else. But, I’m thinking of icing it, but I don’t know if they’ll want to get me involved I might freak out about something. (Laughs) Like Hugh had said earlier, he’d never read a first draft before. And I had noticed that this script was under lock and key at the moment. So, I know that they’re definitely talking about it; which would be very fun.

Q: And Hugh, what about X-Men 3?

JACKMAN: I think X-Men 3 is… I think they’re only in discussions for that. I know they’re in discussions. They’re trying to work out schedules and things like that. But there’s no script yet.

Q: Are you in discussions for James Bond, by any chance?

JACKMAN: No, I’m just starting rumors about that. That’s all. (Laughs) I actually think I did start that rumor?

BECKINSALE: Did you?

JACKMAN: I think so. I facetiously got a mention in and all of a sudden, particularly in Australia, it’s gospel.

Q: Does this mean there’s no truth to it whatsoever, or would you like it to come true?

JACKMAN: Well, there’s always that fantasy in every boy. I mean, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a man here who wouldn’t love to play Bond one day. But there’s nothing official that I can tell you about it. I mean, they’ve made me no offer.

Q: Kate, in Van Helsing compared to the other characters, you didn’t have to go through quite the make-up process, did you?

BECKINSALE: I was in make-up and hair for three hours a day! (She kids, laughing) It was a nightmare! It was an absolute nightmare! The boots took twenty-five minutes to do up, and every tiny curl.

Q: For both of you, and for Kate in particular, when we were speaking at the Underworld press day, you were talking about how the different movies that you’ve done have taught you certain things. What different things you’ve learned from working on Van Helsing. What did you each take out of this experience?

BECKINSALE: I actually discovered something very interesting for me. I was having all kinds of issues with personal things going on during the filming of this movie. And I really did find that working with people like Stephen and Hugh and really feeling like part of the team; it just made it possible to sort of rise above everything and really enjoy it. I mean, I’m sure when the English press comes they’ll accuse me of selling out. And actually, I had such a profound experience on this film. It was almost kind of like letting go, and that comes with doing this kind of film. It is a much broader stroke, and I think that can be interpreted as No Acting Required. But actually there’s a sort of throwing-off of anything that can be inhibiting. I just found this really liberating. The next film I did was The Aviator with Martin Scorsese, and I honestly thank this movie for making me feel comfortable in that movie, which sounds really ridiculous, but it’s actually true. I really felt like we were a team. We were really kind of a family; all the ups and downs and being far away from home together. I found that it really moving for a big ol’ blockbuster.

JACKMAN: I agree. That’s what I meant when I said I had more fun. Kind of facetiously in a way, but kind of seriously, I said, “Stephen, I want to do all of my movies with you” because he’s really a great filmmaker. He really makes it an enjoyable process. And I know a lot of people say, “Oh, you must love making the movies” and often in reality there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not always fun. Fun is not always the word I would use, it’s always challenging. This was fun.

BECKINSALE: They were really good, really good people. Everybody. Steve totally created this environment and we all kind of responded to that.

JACKMAN: Steve is kind of like an innocent, you know what I mean? And it’s totally infectious.

BECKINSALE: Even when you got to look at the film with him right by the monitor. He’s watching the monitor and he’s twitching and moving and he’s saying all the lines for everybody. And you’re like, “Isn’t that extremely extraordinary that he’s so into it?” It’s like these kids with a very expensive Barbie and Ken.

JACKMAN: Yes! Well, I’m not that expensive actually. (Laughs)

BECKINSALE: Yeah you are!

Q: You’re doing the Barbie movie next, right?

JACKMAN: The Barbie movie? We’ll do that one next. (Laughs)

Q: Kate, both you and Uma Thurman have done a lot of costume dramas and you’ve also done some action films. Are these the only kind of scripts that are offered to you in general? Is there a connection between the two?

BECKINSALE: I think you kind of have to have the ability to move in a corset in both. (Laughs) I found I tried to get away from corsets and moved away from England. And then I had to get in shape to even fit in a corset, even now. I’ve done quite a few things, but whether they actually prove that steady with one kind of film or not, I don’t know. I think if you can kind of keep your hand in independent films and do the bigger ones. I think there’s enough action films involving women at the moment, and one of the reasons I really liked this one was because it was a really genuine team, with a man and a woman collaborating. And they’re hadn’t been a movie that was really fun like that. I don’t mind if I what I have to do is span the spectrum of costume dramas and ass kicking. That gives me quite a lot of leeway in the middle. (Laughs)

Q: Hugh and Kate, we’ve heard from everybody except for one member of the cast who is not here, David Wenham. I was wondering if you could talk about working with him, and how come he’s not here?

JACKMAN: Davey…

BECKINSALE: He’s doing a play, isn’t he?

JACKMAN: Davey’s doing a movie in Melbourne right now. He’s filming in Melbourne. When I heard David was cast it was bizarre because David I used to kind of compete for roles in a way. I mean, he was ahead of me, so I lost out on a lot of stuff. Stephen said, “Sit down, now, I really want to cast David Wenham.” And I said, “Which role?” And I thought all of a sudden that he was going to say Van Helsing. (Laughs) And I was… I was like… And he said, “In the role of Carl.” And I said, “David… wow!” And the thing is, David plays a leading man, as you saw in The Lord of the Rings. And David came in with his hair kind of down and did this whole… And then Stephen got his show reel about two days later and was like, “Who is this guy?” As Steve said, [David] was not what Steve had written. David played it very different. And if you can convince a writer/director that what you’re doing is ten times better than what he’s written, you’re doing great job. You can’t underestimate how hard [David’s] job was. He has eighty percent of the exposition in the movie and it never feels like exposition. I think because he plays everything so earnestly, and yet he has that kind of little cheekiness to him; he’s funny. And he works with every character, [to Kate] with your character, with my character, with Frankenstein… he’s just such a brilliant actor, and it’s such a departure for him.

BECKINSALE: And he’s such a nice guy, too.

Q: With all that’s going on right now, how do you juggle doing the play, doing interviews, reading scripts?

JACKMAN: A very understanding family.

Q: How long will you be doing the play?

JACKMAN: Through September.

Q: Do you have your Tony speech ready?

JACKMAN: As the host, you mean? (Laughs) I’m hosting. That’s all I’m concentrating on. Thanks, everyone!

BECKINSALE: Thanks, everybody!