Greatest Showman: Interview with Star Hugh Jackman

Fox will release the musical biopic-adventure, The Greatest Showman, directed by Michael Graves and starring Hugh Jackman, on Christmas 2017.

Musical Theater

Hugh Jackman: I really love it.  When I was at drama school I did a theatre course and a musical theatre course and I do remember thinking in the back of my head oh, one day I would love to maybe be like in the ensemble.  Just once, you know, to try it, and then like the second job I got out of drama school is my Gaston in “Beauty And The Beast,” and that’s when I really sort of fell in love with it.  When it works, song and dance, there’s nothing greater.  When it’s bad, there’s nothing worse.

Feeling Natural on Stage

HJ: When I was about 5 or 6, I was doing “Camelot” on stage at school.  I just remember feeling very natural, although halfway through, the crown they put on my head was too big and it slipped down and covered my entire face and for a second I was like oh, this is a disaster and then I heard uproarious laugh. That’s when I kind of fell in love with it and I’ve been doing it ever since.  I never really thought I’d do it as a job but it was a hobby of mine from when I was young. Being on stage thing for a lot of actors is very nerve-wracking.  For me, that always felt kind of easier for me or more natural for me than being on a sound stage to be honest.  It took me a little while to get more comfortable.  The thing about film is you very rarely act for longer than like 2 minutes, very rarely.  That’s a rare take to do the 2 minute take so it’s a lot of stop and start.

Going to the Circus

HJ: My earliest memories of going to the circus are the Circus Oz which I believe was the first circus in the world to not use animals, and it was their calling card. So to me that’s natural–like I don’t ever remember going to a circus with animals in it.  That was in the discussion from the very beginning for 7 years.  But we do have a horse that Tom Thumb rides on, and we did have a dog yesterday that sat with the Queen but apart from that there’s no animal because to me that just felt natural. Circus Oz was more based on human performances and that kind of entertainment.  I was went with my dad, and I do remember the clowns.  I remember thinking they should have been funnier but they were kind of sad.

DeMille’s movie ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ as reference

HJ: I may have seen it as a kid but I haven’t seen it recently.  From the moment that Michael Graves sort of shared his vision–and he’s a visionary–the movie is very different to anything I’d ever seen.  I think it’s going to surprise people.  It’s in the same way that what Baz Luhrman did with “Moulin Rouge.” Michael’s doing with this from costume down to how he handles his story. I did a lot of research into Barnum and we are basically telling the story as if  Barnum was directing it.  That’s been our template.


Live Singing

HJ: I am more comfortable singing live than in a recording studio, but I’ve spent hours in the recording studio.  We even built a recording studio during our 10 week rehearsal process so that if at any point anyone felt comfortable to go and sing, we’d just go up and record.  I have no idea how many takes those poor engineers have gone through, but, you know, I worked with Liz Caplan, a different singing teacher, to get a slightly different style because we cross over between a pop world and a theatre world.  It’s somewhere in between and we wanted the style to reflect that and it is a lot more work than you think.

In some ways “Les Miz” was frightening in that you’d wake up in the morning and look at the pillow and go wow, I’m going to put my head down there tonight and I’ll never sing that song again so I’d better be on it today.  There is some security obviously in having recorded it but you have to still sell those words and the thoughts and all of us are still singing at the same time so we sing as we go because I think that’s the best way to sell it.  I think a lot of people think oh, this is a movie about the circus but it’s not really.  This is a story about a man who believed in the power of imagination.  I really think it was the beginning of modern America, the idea of a meritocracy that the world he was born into was a quite dour, Calvinistic sort of a little bit boring America at the time, and he believed he was driven by making people happy, seeing people smile and that you weren’t limited by your class in particular back then.


HJ: He was poverty stricken.  When his father died he was really in charge of 10 kids and the shoes were taken off his feet as he walked home from the funeral so this is a man who was born into great poverty, who through hard work, imagination and thinking outside the box built a world for him like no-one could ever have imagined when he was born.

Making People Happy

What we really highlight in the movie, and his quote is the noblest art, is that of making others happy.  He also had another quote, life is what you choose to make it and his belief was what makes you different makes you special is the thing to be proud of and not the thing to be ashamed of.  Oddities as you’ve all seen from the movie “Elephant Man” in that era, in 1850, was not only something to be ashamed of.  Many were locked up in basement.  It was considered by religious people as they were cursed, they were God’s mistakes, it was something to be ashamed of and he said no, I’m going to put you out in the spotlights.  Some people criticized him for that but Tom Thumb was the most famous person in America at the time and beloved, not just stared at and gawked at or snickered at.  The great tattooed man had the equivalent today of $10 million himself so he made these people who were shunned, hidden, derided, into massive stars.  Tom Thumb and his wife used to live in Barnum’s house. He really believed in a family and in bringing everybody out.  It’s not dissimilar to the world of “X-Men,” the idea of what makes you different is not something to be ashamed of.  You can be discriminated for that but if you own up to it and we start to embrace everybody then it can be what makes life special and fantastic.


Tale Begins like a Museum

HJ: You see some of the trials and tribulations of him working to get at this formula.  It started as museum—there are like stuffed animals, taxidermy, wax works. And then he gradually realized that it needs to be a show, it needs to be something happening live that they couldn’t see anywhere else.  He’s got a secret.  I know what’s going to happen and the crowd are like I’ve never seen anything like this.  And he’s going to make them not just stare and gawk and be shocked but actually laugh, smile and enjoy these people.


Feeling like Outsider

HJ: In my early teenage years, 12 or 13, you think you’re special but every kid around that age feels that and when I first began acting weirdly, first 3 months it was – it took me I don’t know maybe 6 months before it started to click that I was someone who always did acting and then I went to a drama school and just didn’t really had one of those teachers who was just really tough on me and no matter what I did every time I got up, I had on my head I’m going to stuff this up, you know, so I would try no matter what I tried seemed to go wrong and of course I learned that lesson that the moment you start worrying about what that teacher thinks is the moment you start acting so but those 6 months I remember feeling a bit sort of lonely and separate.  Everyone feels that at some point.  I think it’s a rite of passage and you know for my kids I just drum into them to believe in themselves, to trust themselves, to not give a toss about being cool, that being cool is a complete waste of time, that just to do what they love and be proud of it and don’t apologize to anyone for anything.


Barnum as Genius of Marketing

HJ: Barnum is in the Steve Jobs realm because most of his money was made in real estate up in Connecticut.  He had an ingenious way how to do that.  He invented marketing on milk bottles.  He was the master of spin.  The world of marketing started with him.  I mean, the word circus was actually in the worst review you have ever read for anybody and was written about his show and it said criminal, degrading a circus and he looked at that and said love it.  I’m going to use this so how to spin what was an absolute sort of criticism into a positive, that was his thing.  He’s the definition of the glass half full and also the definition of thinking outside the box.  There is always a solution and why accept the status quo.  Why accept class structure?  Why accept oh, it’s cold, it’s winter, I’m going to be miserable.  Why?  Maybe that’s the best time of your life like he questioned everything, how to do everything, he spun everything and was constantly evolving.  That’s why I would think more in the Steve Jobs arena.  I think that’s a good – because he was a great showman.  We have a little homage to him actually in our opening number because what he used to do when he would do a product launch is pure Barnum.  Barnum was about you need that audience to be fever pitch excited by the time you start so you win the battle before the show begins.


Versatility as Actor

HJ: I was told that was a problem when I first came to Hollywood too tall.  I was also told it’s not good to be doing a lot of things like people won’t understand what it is you do so you either choose, you know, what are you?  Are you an action hero, are you a movie star, are you “Boy From Oz” theatre, what’s your thing and I don’t know when it happened.  Somewhere maybe 10 years in people went oh, that’s kind of cool that you can do all that stuff but there was a while where I remember people saying man, it’s like it’s my thing was open as many doors as possible, you know.  That’s what I tried to do at the beginning.  It’s not really an oddity.

Being in Shape

HJ: I got to be able to dance.  Some of those dancing days I tell you, we rehearsed for 10 weeks and we were dancing a lot but no, I’m eating.  I’m eating the same lunch as you.  There’s no steamed chicken in my days right now.

Too Tall

HJ: When I first came, they were like, you’re too tall for movie star—I am 6’2”–and they listed all of the stars that are shorter.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because of the girls.  I remember that when I began I was shoes off the first 5 years doing a half squat people in, and my first movie was “Wolverine.”  He was in the comics 5′ 5” so everybody was on planks around me and the rule in that movie was only the kids could be shorter than me.

Product of divorce

HJ: I definitely remember growing up without getting too serious about it, when my parents split up and my mom left I remember feeling very like embarrassed because that was just not – I didn’t know anyone at the time who had been like that and I felt people looking at me like oh, that’s the kid whose, you know, and I tell you this story because I’ve tell it with my mum here like we are totally cool so there’s not a headline there but I do remember that very distinctly that thing of people looking at me going that’s sort of weird and I remember very distinctly being uncomfortable with that like almost the embarrassment of being different when you’re younger is really is powerful.

Most Embarrassing Audition

HJ: I did an audition for Coke–for a soda company.  And I’d just come out of drama school and, you know, I was I remember just going into a room and this woman who was a casting director but just so not into it and it was all improv and you’re in the jungle and you’re fighting through and there’s snakes and this and I’m doing really sort of bad acting.  It’s hot.  I went phew and you’re thirsty and you listen and you’re going through and it went for like 2 minutes and but all of a sudden under this rock there’s a can of Coke and you reach and if that tape ever appears…That was pretty bad and she said – I didn’t actually finish drinking my fake can of Coke because it was all fake.


Fox Studio

HJ: Fox were always really into the idea. Larry Mark brought the idea to me two months after we did the Oscars and so we had a great time doing the Oscars.  That’s 8 years ago.  So we read the script, and I asked about the music, and it was maybe 2 years before the first 3 songs. Michael came in very early on.  Michael is a very successful commercial director, particularly with dance and music and he said oh, actors quite often would come up to him at the beginning and say, man, you’re great, we should do a movie together and he said I used to go home going my God, you know, like DiCaprio wants to do a movie with me.  He said it took 5 years before he realized that they were just being nice and so by the time I said dude, we should really do a movie together.  He goes, yeah, whatever, Jackman.  I said no, seriously.  He is an Aussie, and we’re the same age.  We got on very well, and so when he got the call from me like 4 months later, he was like, ‘holy shit, Jackman is actually serious.