The latest star to sit and chat about their life in pictures at BAFTA HQ was the indomitable and delightful Aussie actor, Hugh Jackman. A fan favourite for his outings as comic book hero Wolverine, Jackman is also known for his impressive musical skills, wowing audiences in Les Misérables and singing his way through a killer opener when he hosted the Academy Awards.
Jackman’s career has also included some dark and serious roles, from The Prestige to Prisoners. And he was on hand to talk about it all: from starting out in the industry to the joy of shooting in the Australian outback and the things he’s learned from some incredible directors along the way – and always about just how much love and respect he has for the actors he’s worked with.
So settle in to hear the highlights from what Mr Jackman would now like referred to as A (Half) Life in Pictures (because it all felt a little too final otherwise!).
Jackman did not – it could be argued – have the most promising start to his acting career. Having been told early on that he’d never be in Les Misérables after a disastrous audition singing a Les Mis song, and having turned down a job in Neighbours to go to drama school, he somehow managed to forge a career… And it seems that a large part of what kept him going is the great advice he received early on and the support he’s had along the way.
He explained that some early advice from a teacher really resonated with him throughout his career. ‘You’re not here to learn how to act,’ he was told, ‘you’re here to learn how to learn. Your ability to learn about yourself, to constantly evolve, to learn about humanity, learn about society, to learn about how to do things differently…’
Early on in the evening, he discussed some highlights from the 9-month shoot for Australia. On Baz Luhrmann, Jackman said the director was ‘one of the most sensitive, incredibly accommodating directors I’ve ever worked with’, adding that Luhrmann ‘loves actors and he loves to create a [great] atmosphere’.
Despite his apparent ease discussing his work, Jackman is not perhaps as confident as he might appear. He was incredibly open discussing his own doubts about taking on the role of Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables and said he came very close to turning it down. Eventually, reason – and his wife’s encouraging influence – changed his mind. Jackman was clearly very moved by the whole experience, commenting: ‘What an opportunity to play a character who – because of circumstance, because of life – was filled with so much self-hatred and so much anger… forgiveness is almost impossible for him.’
He went on to talk about the very specific way the film was made and how much that experience meant to him. ‘I was thrilled to hear that we were going to sing live,’ he explained. ‘It was really important for the actors, for all of us, to feel we could start the songs whichever way we wanted, however the mood took us.’
As much as Jackman clearly loved to talk about his own role in the film, he had plenty of time for his castmates, too. He says that, though Tom Hooper was happy to cut after take 7 of Eddie Redmayne’s number ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, Redmayne insisted they continue and take 22 is what was eventually used.
Jackman added that he was not on set for Anne Hathaway’s iconic rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, explaining: ‘It’s the number one song [of the musical]. This character goes to such a dark place, such a vulnerable place, where you see such complexity of emotion, of pain, of hurt, of lost dreams, of anger, of hopelessness… so many things – and I thought she doesn’t want 25 people behind the monitor [applauding].’
In Prisoners, a film that was released the year after Les Misérables, there’s a very intense and dramatic scene between Jackman’s character and the police officer played by Jake Gyllenhaal. After a few takes, most of the team thought that they had the scene in the bag. However, Gyllenhaal suggested they do one more take because he thought there was something deeper there. ‘He’s just instinctive,’ Jackman said of his co-star. ‘His performance was so phenomenal. There was less on the page for the character than anybody else.’
Of course, one of the most memorable characters for Jackman is that of Wolverine – but the specific role he really wanted to discuss was Logan, the more recent film which took a much darker look at a character he’d been playing for many years already.
‘When I saw [Logan] finished,’ Jackman said, ‘all my nerves went, all my hopes… I let it all go and during the credits – we were at the Berlin Film Festival – and Patrick Stewart was there, and Jim, and I was weeping. I am so grateful to [James Mangold], the way he captured me and that character. It was finally – for me, after 17 years – what I’d felt of the character on screen. I felt we’d had moments of that but I’d never felt it so fully… I will forever be grateful to him.’
Hugh Jackman is an absolute treat to see in person. He’s so invested in his own work and clearly cares about the stories he’s telling. When talking about working with Patrick Stewart on Logan, Jackman said that ‘it felt like family’. After seeing the way he talks so fondly about his career, the lessons he’s learned and – above all – the people he’s met along the way, it’s easy to see why such a dedicated performer would be so moved by a role.
Main image by Amanda Keats.