*Film traces childhood of mutant
*Star Jackman followed regimen to get in shape for film
LOS ANGELES, April 28 (Reuters) - Hugh Jackman on Friday slashes his way back to his starmaking role as a razor-clawed mutant in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" after his glitzy turn hosting the Oscars and starring in romance "Australia" that flopped at U.S. box offices.
The change is good for the Aussie star because of the exposure it brings, but despite the box office appeal of the "X-Men" movies, Jackman said these days he leans more toward starring on Broadway, where he won a Tony.
It's Jackman's fourth turn as tough-talking Wolverine, a role he won in the 2000 film "X-Men," fresh from starring in a London stage production of the musical "Oklahoma!"
"There's no doubt that as soon as this movie came out, that my career was like a Great Dane dragging me down the street," Jackman told Reuters about the last nine years of his career.
The 2000 "X-Men" made $296 million at worldwide box offices and helped usher in the latest wave of comic book movies. The 2003 "X2" topped that with $408 million, and the 2006 "X-Men: The Last Stand" burst past it at $459 million.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media by Numbers reckons "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" could fetch from $85 million to $100 million at U.S. box offices on its debut weekend -- the first weekend of Hollywood's summer season.
Jackman, 40, said playing Wolverine has been a challenge because of the "sustained energy" he needs while shooting.
"Underneath you've got to feel he's ready to explode all the time," he said of the character.
BACK TO ITS ROOTS
True to its title, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" focuses on the early years of Jackman's character, leaping back to his childhood discovery of claws that spring from his knuckles.
The film introduces moviegoers to the Wolverine that comic book readers know best, when the U.S. government grafts the indestructible metal Adamantium onto his skeleton giving him the razor sharp weapons he wields naturally from his arms.
Wolverine believes his brother Sabertooth killed Wolverine's girlfriend and vows to hunt him down. But along the way, he gets caught in a secret U.S. program and eventually faces a twisted enemy to super-powered mutants like himself.
Jackman said that to get in shape for the movie, he worked out, drank protein shakes and ate meat at every meal, chowing down every three hours and waking up at 3:30 a.m. for more.
He did all that during the shoot for 2008 epic "Australia," which got director Baz Luhrmann worried as his star actor started looked bulkier from one scene to the next.
"Baz came to me and said, 'Mate, I need you to kind of back off a little bit. I'm struggling to edit the movie,'" Jackman said with a chuckle, chewing on a toothpick.
"Australia" was a hit internationally, making $162 million in that market and only $50 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Jackman splits his time between Australia and New York, each one a "base" for him, his wife and two children.
The actor said he wants to do a movie musical, and he expects to soon star on Broadway after his role in stage musical "The Boy from Oz", about gay singer Peter Allen, earned Jackman Broadway's top honor, a Tony.
But would Jackman consider melding his love of musicals with his biggest role in the movies: a Wolverine musical?
"There's a couple of outtakes that exist which, if they ever got out, I'd be absolutely killed," he joked. But as any fan of Wolverine will tell you, that's not easy to do. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman)