Hugh Jackman in ‘The Front Runner.’
Despite credits in 30 movies and multiple stage shows, Hugh Jackman was a bundle of nerves as he prepared to film the most crucial scenes in Sony Pictures’ The Front Runner.
The director Jason Reitman asked Jackman, who was playing US Senator Gary Hart, whose presidential campaign was derailed after allegations of an extra-marital affair, if he was all right.
He said yes but Reitman looked sceptical, forcing the actor to make a first-ever confession: “I’m not 100 per cent. I’m nervous, man.”
The tightness in his chest soon vanished after the director admitted he feels nervous every day and assured him he would never let him go home until every scene was the best it could be.
Jackman related that story today in a webinar with Actors Centre Australia CEO Dean Carey and ACA chairman David Chiem.
After working in restaurants and petrol stations, at the age of 23 he studied at the ACA for a year followed by three years at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
In between he auditioned in vain for NIDA and turned down the offer of a role in Neighbours, against his agent’s advice as he had set his sights on working for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre or Sydney Theatre Co.
Eternally grateful for that training, Jackman, who is the ACA’s patron, said on the line from New York: “I never missed a day. It felt like home. I gained a love of the craft.
“It was fun and made us realise this is a very honourable, worthy and challenging path to take, and it should have a supportive atmosphere for everybody. You learn to look after each other.”
In his early years in the profession it was surprise to hear he felt self-conscious on camera and it took him a while to get comfortable.
At the outset he made a five-year pact with himself which involved working seven days a week, never saying no to auditions, volunteering to do free readings with casting agents and writing constantly to producers.
Director Michael Gracey and Jackman on the set of ‘The Greatest Showman.’
In the US he is sometimes asked why Australia produces so many world-class actors. His reply: “Most have studied acting for three years. In America, most haven’t.”
Chiem referred to his reputation as the “nicest superstar in Hollywood.” In response Jackman said he tries to forget his brand or label and acknowledged: “I’m capable of being a really not nice guy.”
As the producer of such movies as The Greatest Showman, he acknowledged that directors and producers feel even more stress in auditions than the actors.
“When you walk in the door they want the weight lifted off their shoulders of finding the person for that part,” he said. “They want the person to scream at them, ‘I’m Wolverine, this is mine and I’ll do a great job.'”
Jackman also related his experiences filming one scene in director Denis Villeneuve’s crime drama Prisoners, in which his character Kelly interrogates Paul Dano’s Alex, whom he suspects of abducting his two daughters.
After a few takes the director told him, “I need you to go there,” meaning a different place metaphorically. “I didn’t know what else to do and that freaked me out, but somehow it freed me up,” he said.
Asked by Chiem for his advice to actors, he offered: “Be the best version of yourself. Don’t be held back by fear. Play your part well and contribute to the storytelling. Never stop learning.
“When things get back to normal it’s probably the golden age of acting. There is more product happening and more opportunities. Everyone is making product.”