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Hugh Jackman and Shawn Levy talk robot rumbles

Real Steel
10 October 2011

With the impending release of Real Steel, on October 14th, The Fan Carpet were fortunate enough to be in attendance at the film’s press conference – with Hugh Jackman, the lead role in attendance, alongside director Shawn Levy.

Joining them were producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford, and executive producer Jack Rapke, as the filmmakers discussed the exhilarating and unique action thriller.

Real Steel is about boxing robots, and the impact the said sport has on a father and son whom are in need of repairing they’re damaged relationship.

Hugh Jackman and co. discuss what it was like working with real-life robots, amidst much high praise for one another, in what appears to be a film made in a somewhat happy environment.



Don, let’s start with you. You seem to be drawn to franchises with giant robots, can you tell us the differences between these types of robots and the other ones you work with on a regular basis?

Don Murphy: From the beginning the team wanted to do everything as realistic as possible, so unlike the Transformers movies where the robots are all CGI rendered, whereas in Real Steel we actually built ten-foot tall versions of Atom amongst others, and of course they were limited in what they could do, but they existed and were something to look at and for the actors to actually relate with, which was way different to just looking at a giant peg up in the air.


Hugh did that help?

Hugh Jackman: Absolutely. The robots were limited in that they couldn’t walk, but when still, they are exactly as you see them in the movie. They are incredible and we believed they were real. Imagine what it was like for Dakota Goyo, being an eleven-year-old, just extraordinary, and exactly as you see in the movie – a dream come true. We had the Avatar team working on this movie, taking it to the next level, as opposed to being in a green screen room for Avatar, we were in real locations and we knew exactly what was going on, and Shawn directed every visual effect.


Susan, Real Steel is based on a story by Richard Matheson and also a Twilight Zone episode, can you talk about adapting that into a feature film?

Susan Montford: We absolutely fell in love with the story and the Twilight Zone episode, and originally we envisaged it being a little more hardcore, but then we ended up with Dreamworks and after a very long development process, of around seven years, Steven Spielberg found Shawn and brought him in, who immediately took the screenplay to a whole new level, as he found that beautiful Rocky moment, that moment that had been missing in every single script, and we just knew at that point that we were in the hands of the greatest director.

Shawn Levy: I love how you worded that Steven found me, I feel like Atom in the junkyard of comedy, discovered in the mud and muck of comedy, dragged out of the earth… Although I actually feel that’s true to some extent!


So you weren’t interested in going down the hardcore route Shawn?

Shawn Levy: I was actually interested in two things that are often not combined, but I was and I am trying in the movie to combine them, which is robot fights that are legitimate and visceral and violent, but to do that within a movie that is primarily humanist and really more of an underdog redemption movie, than just robot spectacle.


Hugh, was one of the appeals to this film was that for once someone else got to do the fighting for you?

Hugh Jackman: Yeah it was kinda nice not to do all the action, I must admit. I rang Shawn and said, “Shawn, I play an ex-boxer, I think we should go for it. I’ve met Mike Tyson and he still looks formidable but he looks a little softer and … Don’t tell him this please – but anyway I turned up a month before shooting, twenty pounds overweight, and Shawn said, “That realism thing, let’s just pull that way back.”

Shawn Levy: I just felt that audiences are not ready for a paunchy Hugh Jackman, in a robot boxing movie.


Shawn you mentioned that you have a comedic background and this is obviously a drama – was it a deliberate decision for you to break away that genre?

Shawn Levy: Yeah I had been waiting for an opportunity and it came in the form of this phone call from Dreamworks from Steven, and I really feel privileged that the success that I’ve had with the comedies lead to this opportunity, and it was a radically different experience directing a non-comedy, but very very gratifying.

Hugh Jackman: I always remember our first conversation because he said, “Look, Hugh, if you look at all the movies I’ve done, nothing will tell you that I should be making this movie, but here is my vision…” And I was so blown away by it, I knew 100% that Shawn knew how to make this movie, and he took it from what was already there to another universe, let alone another level, so from that moment I felt complete trust in his hands and he is one of the greatest directors I’ve worked with on all fronts…

Shawn Levy: I don’t know where to look – I’m just looking at this bottle in front of me, because I totally don’t want to make eye contact.

Jack Rapke: Too much love.

Don Murphy: But Shawn it’s the truth. I’ve been doing this for 19 years and usually somebody’s a dick on the movie…

Hugh Jackman: Don’t talk about me like that.

Don Murphy: Hugh would show up every Friday with 500 lottery tickets and just give them out to the crew, the nicest actor I’ve ever worked with. This was really the best collaborative, fun experience I’ve had in 19 years.

Hugh Jackman: What I was going to say quickly was that one of the revelations of the movies which I’m sure you’ll agree is Dakota. He was phenomenal in the part and so great to work with, and I really love the boy, he’s such a great kid and actor, and I am so happy for him that his first movie is with Shawn, because I’ve never seen anyone work with kids like Shawn.

Dakota finished this film, I know, forever different and forever the better version of himself because of Shawn.

Jack Rapke: Shawn was very generous to Dakota, very generous.



Hugh, in preparation for this movie did you spar at all, and how would you fare in the ring, if you had?

Hugh Jackman: I’m an actor, I may make it look like I can do it, but I would be crying like a baby. I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit Wolverine-like – I haven’t got a temper but if you hit me in the face anywhere I can go into a blind rage, just a warning.


You’ve mentioned before the importance of chemistry between yourself and Dakota, how much did the fact that you’re a dad yourself help you in creating that chemistry, and are there any real life parallels between your relationship in the film, and your own relationship with your son?

Hugh Jackman: I certainly hope I’m a better father than my character Charlie is. In fact, I hope everybody is a better father than Charlie. Shawn and I talked from the beginning that really the spine of the movie is that relationship between Charlie and Max and the success of that relationship on film and their bond over the sport, allows us to care about the robots as well, so it was something we really worked hard on and I just told you a lot about how Shawn really mentored Dakota as an actor, which allowed me to just be with him and play with him and I have an eleven-year-old boy so I had to keep reminding myself that I had to make a very different relationship in the film as there’s a role reversal as Max is almost more like the father and Charlie the kid.

Shawn Levy: It was interesting because your are a super nice guy and Dakota is a well-mannered, nicely raised boy and you had to both play characters who are really not particularly well behaved and on a few occasions I had to really encourage you and Dakota that it was okay to go harder on each other, as it’s just not how you naturally approach the world.


Shawn, the film seems to pay tribute to quite a few boxing movies from the past – is there a particular one that influenced you? And as Real Steel is for a younger audience, was it also to throw in any references for adults watching?

Shawn Levy: Yeah, I didn’t go into it thinking of it as a homage to any single movie, I love sports movies and I always have, specifically the Rocky movies. Not only the first one, where as a filmmaker I am supposed to revere and do – but even the pulpier, slightly crappier ones, like three and four – I love them too! You can laugh about it, but that rousing, escapist, underdog story, I loved it when I was a young teenager and I love it now. I re-watched all of them when preparing for this movie, and it still works for me. So in that regard, I really do believe that a well-made, engaging, underdog sports movie can be as compelling for adults as it can be for kids, so the goal was to make a movie that would appeal to both of those levels.

Hugh Jackman: My favourite boxing movie is a documentary called When We Were Kings, which I would put in my top ten of all time, but I’m exactly like Shawn, I love all the Rocky movies. I’ll be honest, and I know it’s corny, but I listen to the Rocky theme when I’m training.


Hugh – Don let something slip and I’m interested about it… 500 lottery tickets every Friday? What’s that all about?

Hugh Jackman: It’s my way of paying taxes. The very first film I did in America, I was embarrassed to say that two months in that I didn’t know half of the crews names. So I thought that on a Friday afternoon I’ll whip by and buy lottery tickets for everyone and hand them out saying it’s an Australian tradition, and it’s not…

Shawn Levy: Really!? I thought it was. You were completely convincing.

Hugh Jackman: I buried myself, because from that moment on I have never had a Friday off from filming. If I’m not called, they find a reason to call me. They were terrified that if I don’t turn up, half the crew won’t turn up either!


Hugh is just so unlike Charlie – what was it about him that made you all want to cast him in this role?

Jack Rapke: Hugh is an extraordinarily charismatic actor and person and he has a great deal of depth and experience as a human being, and Charlie is a an extremely complex role that calls upon different complex emotions and when you think of casting a particular actor and you look at the inherent qualities of that human being and their work, it’s a very, very easy decision and sometimes a very difficult decision and in this particular case, Hugh Jackman was always our first choice and it all worked out as we thought it would work out. Hugh is just amazing to work with and an amazing human being and an incredible artist with a great deal of talent. So for us it was a privilege to have worked with him and he’s on the top of my list for anything.

Susan Montford: It’s going to be very difficult to work with anyone else after Hugh, because he’s such a prince.

Hugh Jackman: She had a winning lottery ticket by the way.


Finally, just wondering if Real Steel is a franchise and if you had given it any thought to where it could go?

Jack Rapke: We hope that it’s a franchise – the first movie has to work and be very well received and then we’ll worry about sequels to come. But there is a lot of unresolved business, even thought the movie stands alone, it has closure onto its self – there is still unfinished business and we certainly would like to take the audience on that ride and make a few more of these.

Shawn Levy: The short answer is that we really frickin’ hope so.



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