Hugh Jackman in San Sebastian Photo: Amber Wilkinson
Hugh Jackman may be getting something of a reputation lately for gruff and intense roles but in person he is the polar opposite. He happily mixed with fans when he arrived in San Sebastian on Thursday night, posing for photos and throwing himself willingly into the publicity machine for Prisoners, which opened in the UK this week. He talked, among other things, about the day when he might hang up his Wolverine claws, the Spider-Man cameo that never was and his move to darker roles.
The 44-year-old was also in town to collect a Donostia Award in recognition of his lifetime in film and was clearly honoured to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen and his idol Gregory Peck when he spoke about the gong at the press conference.
"It is so amazing to be here in San Sebastian," he said. "You make us feel so at home. So much so that even the translator here is an Australian."
Encouraging the translator, Luis - who, I might add, does a terrific job every year for those of us who can't keep up with the Spanish - to take a bow, he added: "Luis... in Australia that's Lewis."
Speaking about the Donostia itself, he said: "I can't tell you how humbled, how grateful, how surprised I am. It means a lot to me for many reasons. It's a rare thing for an actor to look back. I'm someone who believes it's always better to try to be awake where you are. Maybe you think ahead to the future and what could be challenging. To have a moment to think back and receive this honour from such a prestigious festival - and, of course, I know some of the other names who have won this award - it humbles me completely. And I have to remind you that my wife Deborra-Lee Furness won the Silver Seashell here in 1991 [for Jackie McKimmie's Waiting], so we’re going to call it the Jackman-Furness Family Film Festival if that’s okay with you."
Hugh celebrates with his award Photo: Garkoch
In Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners he plays Keller Drover, a man who finds himself morally compromised and driven to extremes after his young daughter and her friend are kidnapped and the cop in charge of the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) releases the chief suspect (Paul Dano).
He said: "I think this one of the great things this film does is to remind us all how easy it is to judge morally what somebody does in life. But how almost impossible it is to know unless you're in the shoes of someone going through something so tragic.
"It doesn't answer questions, it allows the audience to make up their own mind - if they can make up their own mind.
"I often ask myself, why don't we just go watch a comedy? Why do humans go to horrors or thrillers? I think we do have collective fears that we push down. And it's cathartic to make it, it's cathartic to act in it, it's cathartic to watch it."
But when quizzed about whether it is difficult to relax after a long day with this sort of dark role he said: "The job is to pretend as convincingly as you can. A lot of people assume that you have to dive into yourself. But my experience is quite different. It's more about diving into the actors opposite you, that includes the crew and the director. And not being afraid of opening up your own defences as a person and showing your heart and vulnerabilities and fears. The act of doing that is tiring and draining but it's also cathartic. I go home at night and it's like I've played a game of rugby but I've had a bath and I feel fantastic. The same way as in life you can have a cry and an hour later you can feel fantastic.
"There's two things that happen when you get older. You have less ability to do the action and you get grumpier. So it's easier for me to move away from action into these darker roles."
The press conference was a mixture of darkness and light - at one point the star even accepted a caricature picture of himself from one of the journalists - and he had fun gently mocking the idea of his sexy image.
"Here’s the thing about the 'sex symbol' thing," he said. "I never believe it because when I was 18, nobody was saying, 'He's the sexiest man alive'. Why doesn’t it happen when you really need it, when you're 18, 19 or 20? Not when you’ve been married for 15 years. I can't wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, baby,’ [Hugh makes the international gesture for get a look at me, I'm God's gift at this point]. She says: ‘Put the garbage out.'"
And he also recalled the moment he was asked to host the Academy Awards.
"The night I found out about the Oscars, I was on a press tour and I was in London and it was about 1am after a premiere," he said. "I got a phonecall from Steven Spielberg's office saying do you want to host the Oscars and I thought it was a joke. It turned out it was for real and I hung up the phone after saying yes and sat on the end of the bed for about five minutes stunned, in shock, wondering why I'd said yes. My wife walked in and she could see I'd gone white. She said, 'Are you ok?' and I said, 'Babe, you're about to go to bed with the host of the 81st Academy Awards. And she said, 'Billy Crystal's here?!'
Inevitably, Wolverine also formed a big part of the questioning and Jackman was happy to talk about the comic book character, going so far as to imagine a world with someone else playing the role he has held down for 14 years.
"I'm fully aware that Wolverine is one of the greater characters," he said. "It was the only part I was offered at the time, so I was going to take it regardless. But I feel so lucky that I had that part.
"And, of course, the rule is - great parts always outlive the actors who play them. If you forget that, that's at your peril. There will come a time. I feel it's coming, although I'm not quite sure when it is. I haven't made a decision beyond the X-Men movie that's coming out next May. I genuinely haven't... but it would have to be a very compelling reason for me to do it again."
He also talked about a missed opportunity for a bit of comic book crossover.
"One of the really cool things about comic books is they way they throw Batman in with Wolverine or The Hulk with Wolverine," he said. "People ask me all the time, 'Do you think Spider-Man can beat Wolverine?' It's part of the DNA of the comics. Of course, I watched The Avengers and I thought it would be really cool just to turn up as Wolverine. Marvel wanted me to do a mini cameo without telling anybody on the first Spider-Man. They couldn't find my suit because it had been stolen from the first X-Men, so I couldn't turn up. So it might have happened without anyone knowing about it. But now, there's so many people involved and so much politics. I hope it can happen one day but, who knows?
That may be a matter still up for debate but when it comes to directors he still wants a job with, Jackman is quick to reply.
"Peter Weir," he said. "He's one of the people who just makes movies when he feels the inspiration. I'd dearly love to work with him."