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The Real Reason Viggo Mortensen Said No To Playing Wolverine

Acting isn't as easy as reading lines in a script, getting into character, and following the director's instructions. Actors need to make sure they land the right role, because roles are what determine careers. For example, Robert Downey Jr. might not be the household name and wholesome figure he is today had he not put his heart into playing Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who's to say where Tom Holland's career would have gone if he didn't sign on to play Spider-Man in the Sony-Marvel movies? All it takes is one great role to launch an actor into super-stardom. But sometimes, actors don't realize how career-defining parts are when they turn the roles down

Take Wolverine from the X-Men films as the perfect example. Virtually everyone and their grandmother knows that Hugh Jackman was the breakout star of the X-Men movies, bringing to life the comic book character Wolverine. Jackman had come a long way from his humble beginnings as a P.E. teacher, but he wouldn't have been considered for the role if Russell Crowe hadn't turned the Wolverine opportunity down and recommended Jackman instead. (Crowe just finished filming Gladiator and wanted a break.)

But neither Jackman nor Crowe would have been given that chance if another actor didn't pass on playing Wolverine. Viggo Mortensen, who would later go on to play Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was offered the role but didn't accept it.

Why did Mortensen decline what could have been the role of his life? You don't need mutant powers to find out: The actor recently revealed the answer during an appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast.

Concerns about role fatigue, and the insight he got from his comic book expert son

During the February 3 episode of Happy Sad Confused, in which Mortensen was interviewed to promote his new film Falling, the conversation eventually turned to why he declined the role of Wolverine. At the time, 20th Century Fox (now Disney-owned 20th Century Studios) was banking on the first X-Men to kick off a superhero movie revolution. The company wanted a line of films that would star the same characters, portrayed by the same actors, in new adventures. A steady stream of work and money sounds like any actor's dream, but Mortensen said no to the offer.

One of his major concerns was repetitive role fatigue. "The thing that bothered me at the time was just the commitment of endless movies of that same character over and over," Mortensen explained to Happy Sad Confused host Josh Horowitz. "I was nervous about that."

The actor hinted that there were certain elements of the role and/or the X-Men movie plan that needed to be adjusted as well. Though he noted that studio execs "straightened most of them out," Mortensen revealed that it was his son, Henry Mortensen, whose insight really led him to reject the Wolverine opportunity.

As he shared on the podcast, Mortensen let his son take a peek at the X-Men movie's script — and meet the movie's director, Bryan Singer — because he was obsessed with comics. Who better to judge a movie based on a comic book, right? "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," said Mortensen. 

But young Henry turned out to be the teacher in this classroom. "[I] let Henry read the script and he goes, 'This is wrong, that's not how it is. [...] He doesn't look like this,'" Mortensen revealed. Henry went on to criticize Singer's script, specifically how it portrayed Wolverine, which Singer didn't like.

"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 [me] 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,'" Mortensen explained. 

The irony of passing on Wolverine partly because of concerns over being boxed into one role for several years only to star as Aragorn in three Lord of the Rings movies isn't lost on Mortensen, who laughed about it on the podcast. In the end, while he may not have been Wolverine, Mortensen still did get to play one of the coolest characters in pop culture.