“Logan” may mark the final appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but it contains a rather massive debut in the introduction of Dafne Keen as X-23.
Since the character’s first appearance in a 2003 episode of the animated series “X-Men: Evolution,” the clawed clone Laura has grown from a guest star in the pages of “X-Men” comics to a leading character in her own right with a massive fanbase. She’s held down ongoing series as X-23 and, currently, Marvel’s resident Wolverine. Seeing Laura come to life on the big screen is a big deal — and finding the right actor for the job was also tough.
The “Logan” team found newcomer, 11-year-old Dafne Keen, a young actor capable of pulling off the physically and emotionally demanding role. In “Logan,” Keen has to not only be every bit as ferocious as Jackman’s iconic Wolverine, but she also has to convey a wide range of emotions while remaining mostly silent.
In an interview with CBR, “Logan” director James Mangold revealed how Keen came to his attention. “The first introduction was this tape I got of her climbing around on bookshelves at their house and prowling around lounge chairs and doing a somersault or two,” said Mangold. “And then she did some scenes from the movie and all I can tell you is, I felt like I had written with my writing partners a stool with three legs. I knew one leg was Hugh Jackman and one leg was Patrick Stewart, but I had no idea who was going to be this third leg and they needed to be between 10 and 12 years old, bilingual, physically talented and an amazing actress.”
After seeing that taped performance, Mangold had Keen and her parents flown to New York City where they met with the director and “Logan” star Hugh Jackman. Keen, now 12, spoke about her first meeting with Mangold and Jackman.
“I remember when I went and the first day I met him and I didn’t really know who he was until after the first day I met you [James] and I went to the hotel and they were like, ‘So what was the director like?’ And I was like, ‘That guy was the director?’ And then, Hugh was really nice to me the first day. I was very nervous. I was jumping around the hotel room,” Keen recalled with a laugh.
That energy no doubt came in handy during Keen’s audition with Jackman. It turns out one of the scenes used to test out their dynamic was one where Keen punches Jackman square in the face. “That was one of the scenes we did in New York and I kept encouraging [Dafne] to get crazier and crazier in that scene, and I think Hugh ended the day with a giant bruise on his shoulder.”
While Keen may not speak for the majority of “Logan,” she’s definitely not silent. The character communicates through looks as well as a frightening and guttural growl. It took some encouragement, but Keen said she eventually felt okay with cutting loose vocally.
“I remember when I got to the stunt training, I was really shy of shouting and they were telling me all the time, ‘Why don’t you shout?’ And then one day I remember I was on the wirework and I decided ‘Why not?’ — and that’s how it all started, the shouting,” said Keen.
“Daf’s really intense and she’s very focused,” said Mangold of his young star. “It’s also not unlike in martial arts, you release oxygen and you yell when you make a gesture or a strike. I think that the moment I heard Dafne kind of making that sound…”
That sound helped bring X-23 to life, rage and all. It also made Mangold confident in regards to what he viewed as one of the main challenges posed by Laura. “The biggest question to me, was will you believe that this little girl is capable of doing what the comics have proposed she can do — and at the same time, will she seem like a cartoon or will she seem real? I think in many ways, that’s Dafne’s amazing achievement is holding it all together and yet with a reality.”
Directed by James Mangold, written by Michael Green, Scott Frank, James Mangold and David James Kelly, and starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen and Stephen Merchant, “Logan” is in theaters now.