The X-Men film franchise turns 20 on July 14. The series is widely credited to have ushered in a new era in superhero filmmaking, paving the way for the Batman trilogy under Christopher Nolan and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The first X-Men film starred Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellan as Magneto, James Marsden as Cyclops, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm, and most notably, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
On the film’s 20th anniversary, here’s the story of how Jackman was almost never a part of the film, and was cast as a last-minute addition to the project, which was already underway.
Jackman was a last-minute replacement after Scottish actor Dougray Scott was forced to drop out, after having already been cast. Scott was filming Mission: Impossible II and was supposed to jump onto X-Men immediately after finishing the film, but due to production delays, M:I 2 got pushed, and 20th Century Fox, which was depending heavily on the success of X-Men, could no longer wait for him and cast the relatively unknown Jackman as his replacement.
“The shoot has gone longer than expected, and Scott lost a few days with a shoulder injury,” a Variety report from 2000 said. Director Bryan Singer had even pushed Wolverine’s scenes till a later date to accommodate Scott’s schedule, but it didn’t work. The report continued, “Even though X-Men had begun production late last month, Fox was holding out hope until the last minute that Paramount would be able to give a stop date for Scott on M:I:2 so he could join the cast in Toronto this week. In the whirlwind casting change, Jackman’s deal was finalized late last week so he could be fitted for his claws over the weekend. He will begin rehearsals and action choreography today.”
In a recent interview to the Daily Telegraph, Scott put the blame squarely on Tom Cruise. “Tom Cruise didn’t let me do it,” he said. “We were doing Mission: Impossible and he was like, ‘You’ve got to stay and finish the film’ and I said I will, but I’ll go and do that as well. For whatever reason he said I couldn’t. He was a very powerful guy. Other people were doing everything to make it work.”
In an interview to The Daily Beast, Jackman said he’d auditioned for the part, but was offered it a full nine months later. “I actually got the part nine months after I’d first auditioned for it. I only went back and auditioned again after Dougray got caught up on Mission: Impossible II, so I had no idea who was going for it nor did I expect to get it,” he said.
Jackman confessed that he was almost fired from the role, after failing to impress the top brass at the studio. “Five weeks into shooting X-Men, I was on the verge of getting fired…” Jackman said during one of his Hugh Jackman. The Man. The Music. The Show appearances in London. “The head of the studio pulled me aside at lunch and he told me that they were worried at the studio, that they weren’t seeing on camera what they’d seen in the audition.”
He continued, “And the very next day the director pulled me aside and told me exactly the same thing…So clearly they’d been talking and I was freaking out. I’m thinking, oh, this is the talk you get before you get fired. And this was the biggest break of my career by a mile up to this point.”
The X-Men series spawned 12 instalments, with the final film, a spin-off titled New Mutants, slated for release later this year.