Hugh Jackman believes that the success of La La Land has opened the door for more original live-action musical films as his own P.T. Barnum musical is set to bow later this month.
The X-Men and Les Misérables star discussed his forthcoming Fox feature The Greatest Showman, which is set to open over Christmas, as well as his love of the genre and working with directors such as Baz Luhrmann and Chris Nolan at an event at BAFTA in London. The actor also revealed that he turned down a part in cult Australian soap Neighbours.
Speaking at the BAFTA: A Life In Pictures event hosted by film journalist Edith Bowman, Jackman, who stars alongside Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson in the Michael Gracey-directed Greatest Showman, said: “Thankfully musicals are coming back. I’m thrilled that La La Land did so well, I think a lot of people saw La La Land who may not normally have seen it… when we first approached the studio about doing this [in 2009], there had not been an original movie musical in 23 years. It was considered just too risky. So anyway, it’s a great thrill to be in it.”
Jackman added that when the producers hired Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, writers of the La La Land lyrics, to write the music for The Greatest Showman, they had to lie “that they had won the Tony Award because they were literally out of college.”
“We were going to every single big recording artist out there to record stuff, the studio said ‘We need big names’ and they were like ‘who’s this Justin and Benj?’ ” Jackman said. “The director, Michael Gracey, said ‘They’ve just won a Tony Award,’ ‘For what?’ ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ And the Hollywood exec goes ‘Oh OK.’ Of course, there’s never been a Broadway production of James and the Giant Peach.”
Jackman said one of the keys to his successful career has been to surround himself with people, including his London agent Lou Coulson, who “encouraged” him to say no where applicable and go on “gut instinct.”
“They have always encouraged me to keep learning, take risks, do the thing that feels right to me, even if I say ‘I really love this,’ and Lou will say, ‘Yeah, I don’t but good luck.’ But [they’re] always there for you and I think that is really, really important,” he said.
The Prestige star added that he was happy to have worked with directors including Nolan, Luhrmann, Jason Reitman, Darren Aronofsky and James Mangold who have “such discipline about their storytelling.” “They allow you to be free as an actor,” he said. “Because they know exactly what the scene’s about, they know what story they’re telling, and they’re not frightened if you go off to the right or left, and if you go too far they can easily bring you back.”
Jackman also revealed why he turned down a role on iconic Australian soap Neighbours at the start of his career. Actors including Russell Crowe, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Guy Pearce, Alan Dale, Kylie Minogue and Margot Robbie all got their start on the daytime soap.
“I got the offer for the drama school the same day I got the offer for Neighbours. I ended up taking the drama school, mainly because in my heart of hearts, my dream, my goal, would be one day to be at the National Theatre, to one day be in the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“I really firmly believe the reason I went to study and not do Neighbours is because I felt I want to feel when I go into the industry that I’ve educated myself. I’m not going to stop, I still have an acting coach today, I still learn, I still have a singing teacher— you never stop learning, but that when you go out that you feel like you deserved to be in the industry. Whatever it takes you to walk in to that audition feeling like you deserve to be there; because as nervous as you are that director, that casting agent, that producer is way more nervous. And all they want is for someone to come in and for them to go ‘Oh great, I don’t have to worry about Wolverine, now let’s worry about Cyclops’.”