Remember when you were a kid, and you played Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, and it was awesome when one of the boxer's heads came flying off? Imagine seeing that on the big screen, aided by breathtaking CGI and one of the biggest movie stars in the world. And then, imagine getting emotional about it. That's the unlikely reality of "Real Steel."
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton in the story of a former boxer supplanted by robots in the rough-and-tumble sport. He's down and out, hustling small matches as a less-than-successful robot trainer, trying somehow to make a living, let alone get back on top. When he takes in his estranged son -- in exchange for cash payments by the aunt and uncle who can't yet adopt the child -- the pair embark on a quest of familial and technological redemption. Finding the robot Atom who has a seeming will to win, they make an unlikely run up the top of the boxing ladder, creating a sort of "Rocky" 2.0 for modern times.
The Huffington Post spoke with Jackman about the film, as well as a few of the other projects he's working on.
What was it like to have such massive, digital co-stars?
For my particular character, he was an ex-boxer, so the only game he knows is boxing, but the only boxing game is robots, so he's doing it, but at the same time, he kind of hates it. It's the very thing that took away what he loves and his livelihood I suppose, and he's doing a pretty bad job of it. Somehow, his weird belief in these robots mirrors his return to believing in himself. I like that line where I'm talking to the robot and the kid sort of echoes my line, he says, 'You know you're talking to a robot, right?' It's a sort of great moment, because we had four, nine-foot animated, animatronic robots that we were working with. And the guys that controlled them with joysticks actually built them, but they're really more like puppeteers than anything. You cannot talk to them while they have their hand on that joystick, they're fully in that mode. If you watch the background of a movie, you'll see them interacting, the robots' heads are moving responding to conversations, they really did an amazing job.
Because you think of the robots as humans, it's almost cruel to run them through these terrible fights.
Yeah, you're right. It's funny because my kids kept saying, 'Is he alright? Is Adam going to be okay?' He gets so pounded, and the design of those robots I think is ingenius, the way they did the scars on the front of their face plates, it looks faintly like maybe a mouth, and those eyes seem to have a soul to them. I know what you mean, I really kind of feel for that robot. When we tested the movie, it tested kind of through the roof. There's three sort of main characters; there's me, there's Max and there's Atom. And all three, including the robot, scored kind of in the same region. People really liked the robot.
You're pretty good at playing a chip-on-the shoulder, angry guy. You've done that before; was it attractive to reprise?
This one I thought had more charm to him. He's a bit of a hustler, he's down and out, but he's desperately trying to get himself out of that situation. So even though on one level, he's sort of resigned to life, he's always trying to hustle and move, and it felt different to me. I've never played a father, as well. And look, it's a Dreamworks movie, it's distributed on a worldwide level under Disney, and I sell my kid in the first 10 minutes of the movie; it's not what you'd expect. And yet we still needed to make the audience be with me at the end, so that was the goal. So it was a real challenge.
Did you find parallels with Wolverine?
There's some. There's certainly an impulsivity, they're both pretty impulsive. Both of them are pretty disaffected with the world and tough and I suppose badass in a way, but I suppose Charlie is obviously a lot more human in every way. In the way he talks, Wolverine is almost monosyllabic. I don't remember how many lines I had in [the first ] "X-Men," but it wasn't many. He really says almost nothing and is a complete loner. Charlie is not like that. So there's differences, but I can see where you're coming from. By the way, there's certainly a lot less hairspray.
Speaking of Wolverine, are we going to see the new movie coming soon?
Yeah, we're actually ready to go now. The problem became, all year, we had several mishaps with Darren Aronofsky and obviously, the earthquake in Japan, and we had a number of delays. We're ready to go. While we were waiting, I signed on to do "Les Miserables," the movie version of that, which I've always wanted to do. So we couldn't fit it in before [Les Mis] shoots, so we're going to do it straight after.
Can you tell us anything about "Les Mis"?
Well Tom Hooper is directing. I know Russell Crowe has signed on. I heard, through newspapers but I'm not sure, I heard that Anne Hathaway may, so I hope that's true. I'm going to go there next week to do my first real kind of run through and testing with the composers and everyone. I did a long audition a few months ago, probably a three-hour audition it was. There are several things I know Tom is working on now, and we're right into it prepping the casting.
Does that happen a lot, when you're finding out through the press about movies that you're working on?
I know Anne very well, so I want to talk to her about it, and I will at some point, but I just haven't heard from the horse's mouth if these things are true and I don't want to be stepping on Anne's toes. Sometimes yeah. I mean, God, I hear all the time that I'm doing movies that I haven't heard about.
Does that get frustrating?
Nah, whatever. Obviously, I don't really read them. At the end of the day, what matters is when you made the movie. All the other stuff, it's kind of amazing how much public interest there is in deal making, the how a movie gets made, I find it interesting obviously, but if I wasn't in the business, all I'd care about is watching it.