It’s a well-known fact that before Hugh Jackman, there was Viggo Mortensen. In fact, there were quite a few actors considered to play Wolverine before producers landed on Jackman, but Mortensen was their first choice. It was Mortensen’s son who helped him say no.
The history of casting Wolverine has been fraught with misery. Okay, so we may be taking that a little over the top, but there have been many names associated with the part. With Mortensen being the first and Jackman, thankfully the last, the names in between are quite eye-opening. X-Men director Bryan Singer spoke with many actors in hopes to get them to say yes to Wolverine. Those actors included Russell Crowe, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves, Glenn Danzi, and even Mel Gibson (this was over 20 years ago, mind you) but Fox pooh-poohed Gibson based on expense. Dougray Scott was actually given the job but eventually had to pass because of a scheduling conflict he had with Mission: Impossible 2 (thank you, Tom Cruise).
As for Viggo Mortensen, he was number one on Singer’s list and was offered the part. According to Mortensen, speaking on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, he went into his meeting with Singer and brought his “good luck charm” son Henry with him. Henry was an avid X-Men fan and had developed his own opinion on the script and the look of Wolverine, much to the chagrin of director Singer.
Mortensen said it started when Singer asked Henry if the boy was familiar with Wolverine in the Marvel X-Men comics. The boys reply, “Yeah, but he doesn’t look like this.” Mortensen continued on via EW, “All of a sudden, the director is falling all over himself and then the rest of the meeting was him explaining in detail to Henry why he was taking certain liberties. We walked out of there, and Henry asks if he will change the things he told him about, and I say, ‘I don’t think so. I’m not going to do it anyway, because I’m not sure I want to be doing this for years. And then, a couple of years later, I’m doing three Lord of the Rings [movies] so who knows.”
Viggo Mortensen’s mind was made up before Henry gave Singer his opinion though. “The thing that bothered me at the time was just the commitment of endless movies of that same character over and over. I was nervous about that,” Mortensen said. “And also there were some things — I mean, they straightened most of them out, but I did take Henry to the meeting I had with the director as my sort of good luck charm and guide. In the back of my mind, I was thinking he could learn something, too, because I did let Henry read the script and he goes, ‘This is wrong. That’s not how it is.'”
Henry just reinforced his father’s thoughts on the whole matter, knowing that taking on the role of Wolverine was going to lock him into something he wasn’t willing to commit to for the long haul, Lord of the Rings be damned. And if ultimately that was what he based his decision on, then it was a good one for him since Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine has put him into the Guinness Book of World Records as having the “longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero.” Jackman has played Wolverine in some fashion in 9 X-Men movies, his latest being the 2017 critical hit Logan.
As for Viggo Mortensen, was it a good decision or a bad one? He doesn’t seem to be too concerned that he passed on a possible role of a lifetime. True, he did go on to star as Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a role that gave him plenty of star power, but other than that, Mortensen has never appeared as the same character in multiple films. In fact, had Mortensen taken on the role of Wolverine, his time on Lord of the Rings probably never would have happened. Other famous Viggo Mortensen roles such as Eastern Promises, The Road, and Green Book may never have happened either. So perhaps Viggo and his son Henry knew what they were doing all along. Mortensen was most recently seen on the screen in Falling, a film he wrote and directed and has a project with Skydance in the works as well as the feature Unabomb, a movie based on the true-life hunt for Ted Kaczynski.