SEE ALSO: I’m sorry everybody… I didn’t like Logan
Singer had first approached Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential) to play the role, but he turned it down instead suggesting they look into fellow Australian actor Hugh Jackman. Though there was some interest, the studio struck a deal with Dougray Scott to put on the claws, first rumoured in May 1999 and confirmed the following month. “Bryan was incredibly demanding over who could play [Wolverine], and we needed to find somebody who was dynamic,” Fox President Tom Rothman said in a press release. “Dougray has the charisma, the physicality and the intensity.”
There was a problem, however. Scott was already in production of M:I:2, where he had been chosen by its star Tom Cruise to play the villain, and the plan was for him to finish on that film and then head straight to the set of X-Men. Sadly, M:I:2 was having numerous issues, including a delayed start date due to a finished script being undelivered on time and several key crew members quitting during production. Production had begun in late 1998, and production designer Owen Paterson left shortly thereafter, with production manager Julia Ritchie departing in March 1999 due to scheduling issues and director of photography Andrew Lesnie resigning in June. The budget had swelled beyond $100 million (which Paramount denied) and ex-crew members began referring to the movie in interviews as “The Impossible Mission” (M:I:2 would have further issues in post-production, with Paramount bringing in legendary editor Stuart Baird to ‘fix’ the film). These issues had an effect on Bryan Singer’s X-Men.
X-Men had begun production in September, but had allowed time for Scott to finish on M:I:2 with Wolverine’s scenes beginning filming on October 18th. But with that date looming, Scott was still filming with Cruise and director John Woo. “The shoot has gone longer than expected, and Scott lost a few days with a shoulder injury,” Variety reported on October 7th. “While Paramount and Fox brass have been trying to juggle schedules to get Scott free to join X-Men helmer Bryan Singer and his star-studded ensemble, it’s too big a movie and too big a role for Fox to be uncertain any longer.” As noted in the report, if Paramount could not guarantee Scott for his October 18th start date, they would need to begin searching for a new Wolverine as soon as possible.
By the October 9th, Bryan Singer and 20th Century Fox began to recast one of its lead roles of their tentpole movie that was already one month into production. On October 11th, Variety reported that Hugh Jackman would take on the role after a successful audition. “Even though X-Men had begun production late last month, Fox was holding out hope until the last minute that Paramount would be able to give a stop date for Scott on M:I:2 so he could join the cast in Toronto this week,” the report reads. “In the whirlwind casting change, Jackman’s deal was finalized late last week so he could be fitted for his claws over the weekend. He will begin rehearsals and action choreography today.”
Released on July 14th 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men earned nearly $300 million worldwide and kickstarted the comic book revolution that is still felt to this day. Not only was its success felt across the studio system, it made a global star out of Hugh Jackman who would reprise the role of Wolverine over two sequels, three spin-offs and three prequels. The character of Wolverine became so popular that the franchise’s adaptation of the popular Days of Future Past put him in the lead role over Kitty Pryde, something that caused some ire among comic book fans at the time. He would also find himself the star of other big budget tentpole movies Van Helsing, Real Steel, Les Misérables, Chappie and Pan, as well as critically-acclaimed films such as The Prestige, Australia and Eddie the Eagle. In 2017, as he hangs up his claws in Logan [read our ★★★★★ review here], Hugh Jackman is one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood.
“I’ve really enjoyed the movies I got to do and the TV work,” Dougray Scott told The Daily Record in 2013 when they asked about him missing out on playing Wolverine. “I feel very fortunate anyway. I like Hugh, he’s a really lovely guy. It wasn’t as if he stole it off me. Basically, my movie ran over and I had to pull out. It wasn’t his fault and he did a fantastic job.”
It’s one of Hollywood’s great ‘what ifs’. What would have happened to Jackman’s career had he not starred as Wolverine in 2000? Would Dougary Scott have received the same chances Jackman did, or would have he gone to work in TV where he has said in interviews he’s happier? Would Scott – who was signed on for an X-Men sequel – reprised the role as often as Jackman has? Further to that, would Scott have accepted the role as much, diving into it and protecting it the same way Jackman did over the last seventeen years? Or would the role have been simply recast down the line?
It’s impossible to answer, but it’s hard to imagine someone other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine – even though someone else nearly did.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.