Hugh Jackman became a movie star with Wolverine in the first “X-Men” movie more than 20 years ago, slashing his way to blockbuster visibility with a role that continues to dominate his career. Part of that is because even fans of Jackman’s musical talents closely associate him with a scowling mutant, and rather than dispelling that perception, he simply invented another persona alongside it as a song-and-dance man. He’s played Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz,” P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman” and, most recently, Professor Harold Hill in the hit new Broadway production of “The Music Man,” but he’s never played Hugh Jackman.
“When I was getting into this business, the playbook for being a movie star was being mysterious,” the 53-year-old actor said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “Don’t let anybody in. Leave them wanting more. Don’t reveal things. Project a certain image.”
Recent shifts to the culture landscape have led him to reverse course. “Now I think there’s a responsibility for someone like me to discuss the fear of talking about vulnerability,” he said. “Of course I’d rather go through the things that everybody goes through rather than projecting some idealized version of myself. I am trying to do that more publicly.”
That requires him to confess that he lives at odds with the world-weary tough guy he’s played in nine movies, with his tenth gig as Wolverine opposite Ryan Reynolds in “Deadpool 3” around the corner. Jackman still lives with the rascally anti-hero, but he’s ready to set the record straight. “Spend five minutes with me and you’ll know that couldn’t be further from who I am,” he said.
Instead, Jackman said he has much more in common with Peter Miller, the divorced parent who struggles to parent his emotionally distressed teen in “The Son.” The bleak followup to writer/director Florian Zeller’s Oscar-winning “The Father” finds Jackman opposite Laura Dern as a former couple who can’t seem to figure out why their alienated kid (Zen McGrath) is so downbeat. It’s a wrenching melodrama, but Jackman treats it like Shakespeare.
Sony Pictures Classics
Peter makes a lot of bad decisions in “The Son,” all the way through its tragic conclusion, as the actor melts into a puddle of profound sadness and remorse unlike anything he’s done before. Say what you want about the movie, which has divided critics with its schematic march to utter devastation, but there’s unmistakable power imbued in the intimacy of Jackman’s performance, and it stands a world apart from the larger-than-life confidence he typically projects.
“This role brought up mistakes I made and regrets that I have,” he said. “I think one of the great messages of the movie is that love isn’t always enough. When you go into raising a kid with a little more humility and understanding, you probably come in with fresher eyes. You understand your own upbringing and predilections as a parent.”
Jackman’s mother abandoned his family when he was eight; he has two adopted children who are 17 and 22. “My kids are launching into the world and I’m like, ‘Oh, if I could just start again, if I could have another go around now, I would know a lot more,’” he said.
His children attended the premiere of “The Son” in Venice this fall. “It was very intense,” Jackman said. “Afterwards, we were in the car driving back and my wife said, ‘What do you guys think?’ My son said, ‘I think I need a little more time to think about it.’ That night, we probably sat there and talked for two hours. I’m incredibly impressed with my kids — and maybe their generation as a whole — that they’re totally open to having discussions about this. Mental health is something that they’re very fluent with. They have a lot of acceptance and knowledge of it beyond just having discussion.”
“The Son” distributor has teamed up with the National Alliance on Mental Health to promote the release, and Jackman has been squeezing in promotional opportunities for the movie during his off-nights from “The Music Man,” which he has starred in all year. That’s no easy feat for a demanding musical performance in a Broadway megahit that has grossed as much as $3 million in a week.
Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster perform a number from “The Music Man” during the 75th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall
Getty Images for Tony Awards Pro
Jackman has played two-faced charlatan Professor Harold Hill over 300 times, and recently agreed to extend the run by two weeks, into mid-January. That finds him in the curious position of oscillating from lavish stage maneuvers, tap-dancing his way across a 46-person ensemble sometimes multiple times a day, to spending his off-hours talking about depression. “I’m good at compartmentalizing,” he said. “When I have bad days, I find that you have to incorporate that into the work. Put all that at the door, go in, and put on a brave face.”
But that’s not say that Jackman could have acted in “The Son” and “The Music Man” at the same time. The show was initially set to open in 2020 and got delayed twice. In the meantime, Jackman sought out “The Son” and threw himself into the project even as his personal life grew unstable.
The film production itself was minuscule due to capacity limits. “We were all sort of isolated,” he said. “That’s all I could focus on.” His father grew ill and died during the production, three days before Jackman shot the climactic scene. “There’s no chance I could have done ‘The Music Man,’” he said. “It was emotionally a very tumultuous time for me. I was struggling to sleep. I was a bit of a hot mess.”
It was that level of turmoil that brought Jackman closer to a revelation about what it takes to put more of himself onscreen. “I haven’t had many roles with that emotional demand,” he said. “The intensity and depth of this one is much closer to who I am.” He insisted that he hasn’t faced a mental health crisis of his own, though he’ll acknowledge that he’s still sensitive to the way he’s perceived, and stopped reading reviews years ago. “I’m too thin-skinned for that,” he said.
Though Jackman’s investment in the conversation around mental health may be sincere, it doesn’t hurt that he’s having it during awards season. Despite his global stardom, the actor is so well-known known for hosting the Oscars in 2009 that it’s easy to forget he’s never won one. He was nominated only once, for Best Actor in “Les Miserables,” 10 years ago. But playing Jean Valjean was more organic fit for Jackman three years after he danced all night on the Oscar stage as the master of ceremonies. With “The Son,” he’s working to convince audiences that he can expand his range. “The thing I love most about acting is the variety of it,” he said.
Jackman has played against type before, from the introverted scientist in Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious sci-fi opus “The Fountain” to the underrated “Bad Education,” where he played an embezzling high school principal not too far removed from Harold Hill territory. But the former was a commercial dud and the latter wound up only qualifying for Emmys after it went straight to HBO Max.
Despite the mixed response to “The Son,” respect for Jackman and his efforts to remain visible at such a busy time could help him sneak into a competitive Best Actor category. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Jackman said he was embracing the discomfort of working through a sensitive topic within the framework of his stardom. “I think it’s important for me to be pushed into areas where I don’t know if I can pull it off,” he said. “I’ve never felt safe as an actor.”
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in “X-Men: The Last Stand”
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection
In his early days as Wolverine, Jackman was frustrated by the roles that came his way. “I didn’t want to do the same things,” he said. “You know, the role of the hero action star. I mean, it was the meat-and-potatoes of a lot of American film, that archetype. It was all various forms of heroic guys in tough situations. I was like, ‘Uh, no. This is a problem.’” When the inevitable inquiry about playing James Bond came his way, “I had a look at it,” he said. “I was like, ‘If I’m doing that and Wolverine, I’ll have no time to do anything else.’ I clearly find it more interesting to play people who color outside the lines.”
Yet even as Jackman attempts to engage with his most authentic self, he’s constantly forced to interface with the version of “Hugh Jackman” that people imagine. He experiences that disconnect most nights on Broadway, peering into a crowd that scrutinizes his every move, but it follows him offstage as well. And in the glare of the spotlight, he can only reveal so much.
On a recent Monday night, Jackman arrived at a preview screening of “The Son” at the Walter Reade Theater a few minutes before an audience Q&A. As he watched the last scene of the movie from the back of the room, heads swiveled in his direction; as soon as he hit the stage during the credits, the phones came up.
Exiting the theater backstage at the end of the conversation, he obliged a selfie request from the elevator operator and made his way to a car waiting for him outside, taking two more selfies along the way. He was told that it was remarkable to see him in promotional mode in the midst of a major Broadway show, that he didn’t need a night to himself. He smiled. “Oh, I do,” he said, then ducked into his car and vanished.
Sony Pictures Classics releases “The Son” in select theaters on Friday, November 25.
Source: Read Full Article