Raise your hand if it shocks you to learn that today is the 20th anniversary of the X-Men movie franchise: X-Men was released on July 14, 2000. It’s likely it was released before some of you reading this were even born. Whereas I was in college. Remind me to sit in a corner somewhere and quietly weep after I finish writing this article. I need the reminder, you see, because of my advanced age.

Mini crisis of mortality aside, I can say that Hugh Jackman has been the X-Men franchise’s greatest gift. It’s been two decades since he first strapped on the claws, but he’s still beloved by fans in the role of Wolverine. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first movie, he shared a delightful behind-the-scenes video of a much younger him on the set of X-Men playfully trading jabs with a Wolverine action figure.

Nice Real Steel foreshadowing there, Jackman.

Those of you still in the bloom of youth might be confused by what he says in his caption there. Three weeks? He only had three weeks to prepare for the role? Most superhero castings are announced months in advance. But, famously, Hugh Jackman wasn’t the first actor cast to play Wolverine. Russell Crowe, the very first choice, originally passed on the role. He then recommended fellow Aussie actor, Hugh Jackman, but Bryan Singer wanted a known name in the role. So the spot was then offered to Scottish actor Dougray Scott, who, at the time, was coming off Deep Impact, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, and was preparing to film Mission: Impossible II. He signed on to play Wolverine, with the casting even publicly announced by Fox, and that’s where the scheduling conflict arose.

Speaking to Yahoo! a few months ago, Scott revealed it was actually Tom Cruise who stopped him from doing the role in the X-Men movie. “We were doing Mission: Impossible [II] 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.”

Judging from what we know of Cruise’s exacting reputation for diligence and perfection when shooting films, that tracks. Clearly, he wasn’t keen on Scott missing a chunk of time on that shoot to shoot X-Men, especially as it was Cruise himself who had handpicked Scott to play the villain. The original plan was for Scott to wrap up Mission: Impossible II and then head to shooting X-Men. But the second M:I movie had run into all sorts of issues that delayed the start date and it meant Scott would have been shooting both films at the same time. So Cruise put the kibosh on it. It’s somewhat understandable – Scott’s leaving likely would have required a considerable reshuffling of the schedule of the Mission: Impossible shoot, which was already well behind schedule.

Dougray Scott’s loss, however, was Hugh Jackman’s gain. Hands tied and getting desperate, the studio finally went back to Crowe’s suggestion of Jackman and they offered him the role of Wolverine after he turned in a great audition. The whirlwind three weeks that followed saw him bulking up, getting fitted for his adamantium claws, going through rehearsals and learning action choreography. The lanky actor, who had never had to bulk up for anything in his life, mistakenly thought he could be in peak Wolverine shape in just a few weeks. Later movies would see him massively ripped but before that first movie, he only had three weeks until they began shooting and two months to bulk up as much as he was going to – a near-impossible feat considering what it requires to get the “superhero” look of modern comic book movies. We take him for granted now because it’s hard to fathom anyone else in the role, but it’s hard to over-appreciate the massive amount of work Jackman did in such a short amount of time to prep for the role.

Will we ever see him in the claws again? Probably not. Logan was his swan song. Still, how lucky were we that we got to see Jackman in the role for 17 years?

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