'Wolverine' Director, Hugh Jackman Digging Their Claws Into 'X-Men' Spinoff

Gavin Hood says movie, which starts shooting later this year, will focus on character's transformation prior to meeting X-Men.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — Ask fast-rising director Gavin Hood a question about "Wolverine," the high-profile "X-Men" spinoff that he's currently preparing to shoot, and you might get an answer similar to the one he gave when we asked if Brian Cox would be in the flick.

"Who knows?" he playfully shrugged, referring to the veteran character actor who tormented Hugh Jackman in "X2" and has said he'd like to play the villain again (see "Hugh Jackman Says Script Is Ready For Wolverine's 'X-Men' Spinoff"). But the fact is that if one person knows the answers to fans' questions about when and how our adamantium-clawed hero will return, it's the 44-year-old South African filmmaker.

"What I love about Wolverine is his dry, wry humor, and what I also love is the fact that he's a great antihero," Hood said of the big-budget gig he'll use to follow up his Oscar-winning foreign film, "Tsotsi," and this month's Reese Witherspoon drama, "Rendition." "He has a great line where he says, 'I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do isn't very

nice.' "

Whatever it is that he'll be doing, Jackman and Hood will begin capturing it on camera in just a few weeks. "We start shooting towards the end of the year," the director said of the first spinoff from the hugely successful (and supposedly concluded) "X-Men" film franchise. "I've been talking to Hugh. He's a wonderful guy, a very hardworking guy with a wonderful wit and intelligence and commitment to this character, [as well as] the inner struggle that this character goes through."

As fans of the comics and recent films know, that struggle began when James "Logan" Howlett was grafted with an indestructible skeleton made from adamantium metal, dramatically transforming the gruff mutant. In "X2," Cox's sinister William Stryker was portrayed as a mutant-hater intricately involved in Wolverine's origins. He revealed just before dying that Logan had volunteered for the adamantium add-on and had despised mutants before his amnesia.

"We're doing more of a prequel," Hood said of his plans to portray a time expanding on those early flashbacks, up until when Logan first meets Professor Xavier's crew. "We're going to tell you a little more about Wolverine before he became involved in the X-Men. Even before he got those steel claws."

Although Hood wouldn't confirm or deny Cox's involvement (the actor has said he'd like to employ the same age-reversing techniques used on Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart at the beginning of the third "X-Men" film, "The Last Stand"), Stryker is believed to be a main character in the script. "How much of his violence should [Wolverine] embrace? How much should he set aside?" the director said of the themes he hopes to tackle in the summer 2008 release.

To those who might think Hood is too art-house to take on the big-budget superhero flick, the director said, "As a director who's always been very interested in human drama and human nature, Wolverine appeals to me because it's a character who is constantly engaged in a battle to define who he is. You're dealing with somebody who is engaged in a moral questioning of his own nature. ... It's a grand, operatic debate about human existence over who we are.

"I think the 'X-Men' [film] series was an extraordinary and brilliant series, but I think we don't want to be seen as 'X-Men 4,' " Hood added, separating his flick (and possible sequels) from the blueprints laid out by Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner. "We want to be seen as 'Wolverine 1,' and hopefully there will be a series of the 'Wolverine' story."

After the release of "Rendition," Hood will turn his full attention to filming "Wolverine" before the impending Hollywood strike and getting it into theaters in a relatively brief amount of time. "We want to see it in and of itself as a new way of conceiving [Wolverine], and bringing you his world, as opposed to the world of the X-Men," Hood concluded. "[The script's theme will be] animal, bestial nature versus our higher nature. And at the same time, it's all wrapped up in an exciting adventure with great visuals."

Check out everything we've got on "Wolverine."

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