Cover Story

And now for his sixth act...

After three X-Men movies and a spin-off (plus a cameo), Hugh Jackman's Wolverine heads to Japan, where he fights samurai, falls for a rich girl, and eats a whole lot of chicken

THE WOLVERINE • JULY 26

Friday afternoon on the Sydney set of The Wolverine means one thing: Hugh Jackman is passing out lottery tickets. The actor made this an end-of-the-week tradition on his shoots years ago — and not just to show off the egalitarian ethos of his native Australia. It's penance, he says, for never remembering crew members' names.

Of course, Jackman has never been known as the type of actor who slinks off to his trailer at ''Cut!'' And today is no exception. In a nondescript back alley that's been transformed into a bustling Japanese street filled with sushi joints and strip clubs, he seems to be everywhere: glad-handing guests, consulting with director James Mangold, breezily giving tips to costar and first-time actress Tao Okamoto, and occasionally paying mind to boggled residents of surrounding high-rise apartment buildings. ''Ah, party flat!'' he yells to one sozzled group, vamping from above in hopes of a wave. ''What's for dinner?''

A few hours later, after the sun has set and the locals have gone inside, Jackman films a scene in which his character, Logan, falls from the balcony of the Love Hotel, a seedy stopover where he and Mariko (Okamoto) — a sheltered Japanese rich girl who ends up on the run with him for much of the film — are hiding from criminals. He's suspended over the street from a wire and dropped repeatedly to the ground, where thugs pummel him and a rain machine remorselessly sprays him with cold water. It doesn't look like fun. In fact, it looks like it hurts. Movie stars need the crew on their side in these kinds of situations. Now that lottery handout makes sense — it's like a wise karmic insurance policy.

The Wolverine (not yet rated) — and the immortal, self-healing mutant at its center — could use some good fortune too. The last time Logan flew solo at the multiplex, the result was 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and we all know how that went. The first stand-alone feature and origin story in Fox's phenomenally successful X-Men series was no box office dud, but fans and critics had their (non-adamantium) claws out. The story was weak, they complained. The casting was off; the mythology felt muddled.

In short, says Jackman, ''I had something to prove, and we could have done better. Somehow the first Wolverine movie ended up looking like the fourth X-Men — just with different characters. I left unsure if we'd achieved our goal, which was to make sure people understood my character. This movie will really get to his core. So...'' He sighs dramatically. ''Fingers crossed we've done it this time. I'm pretty confident we have.''

He has reason to be. Fox gave The Wolverine a coveted summer-superhero berth and an Oscar-caliber director in Mangold. Could this franchise — which, if not battered, is most definitely bruised — heal as spectacularly as Logan himself?

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