The Wolverine star tells us about his new role in The Greatest Showman
Phil de Semlyen
Things are pretty rosy in the world of Hugh Michael Jackman just now. Suited and booted in London’s Claridge’s Hotel, he’s reflecting on a year in which he downed claws as Wolverine with the hugely successful Logan, then picked up a cane to introduce his long-time passion project, a musical about circus founder PT Barnum, The Greatest Showman, to the world. Oh, and the topper? His beloved Australian cricket team has just done Logan-like things to the English team in the Ashes (though he’s too polite to mention it to us Brits). “It’s definitely been a banner year for me,” he grins. As PT Barnum overseeing a circus of talented oddballs – think Moulin Rouge with elephants – and battling protestors along the way, he’s ending the year on a high – an all-singing, all-dancing note.
How long has it taken you to get The Greatest Showman made? Seven and a half years. No-one had made an original movie musical for 23 years, but the studio was prepared to take a risk. There was a time when I thought we had a one in ten chance of making it.
What cracked it? The music, because we already had a good script but no music to go with it. I haven’t even told this to the songwriters (La La Land composers Pasek and Paul), but I sent four or five of their songs to Baz Luhrmann. He wrote back and said, “You’ve really got something.” He said that we had three hooks, and you only need two for a hit.”
Why do you think musicals such a good genre for celebrating diversity? I think [PT Barnum’s story] resonates now more than ever – this idea of what makes you different makes you special, and owning who you are, no matter how distasteful it is to someone else. But you’re right, musicals do lend themselves to that, because it’s an emotional subject, it’s personal and every single person can relate to it. Having said that, it’s pretty much the same theme as X-Men and I wouldn’t advocate X-Men: The Musical. Although everyone has told me I should do a Wolverine musical.
You can almost imagine Wolverine in Barnum’s circus. There certainly wouldn’t have been too many protesters left if he was. “You called me what?” [Laughs].
Does the idea of showcasing diversity naturally appeal to you? Yes. I’m 49, and I feel that I’ve only been fully accepting of what I like and who I am in the last three or four years. I’ll admit to you, even seven or eight years ago someone asked me my favourite type of music and I just came out with an answer that wasn’t my favourite, but seemed a good thing for that paper. In the end it was simpler, easier. And that’s a 40-year-old man doing that. This movie relates to teenagers who are genuinely going through that. That’s a horrible time to stand out, a horrible time to be different.
Do you see any similarities between Barnum and Donald Trump? I’m going to let a lot of that stuff go through to the keeper, but you can definitely see a real understanding of what people want [in them both]. It’s an instinct, and I think Barnum had it. I don’t know what Barnum would think of [the parallel]. His was all in the spirit of fun. He used to say: “Without promotion something terrible will happen – nothing.”
How do you look back on this year? It’s definitely a good time. When I saw Logan for the first time I wept with relief and happiness, because for 17 years I don’t think we’d ever really nailed the character. I thought, okay, that’s it. And I love the juxtaposition of that with a musical. I’m at a point in my career where at least those two movies are getting made because of me, and I’m taking that responsibility very seriously.
Are you disappointed your Wolverine never got to team up with The Avengers? A little bit. When Iron Man first came out, I remember thinking how much I’d love for Iron Man and Wolverine to be in something together – and then with Mark Ruffalo as Hulk. I could just see that working. But I think that ship has sailed.
You were in the running to play Bond before Daniel Craig. Do you think that ship has sailed, too? I don’t know. It didn’t make sense at the time, but if it came back my way, I’d definitely consider it. It’s one of the great roles. But I am turning 50, so I don’t know. Daniel Craig is a mate and I think it’s his for as long as he wants it.
Why did you turn it down? I felt it was getting a little silly and needed to get grounded again. To be really clear, my agent called me and said that they wanted to know if I was interested. I asked who was directing it and if I could have a look at the script and the message came back that I just had to sign on, so I wished them luck with it. I was bout to do X-Men 2 and I was worried what I’d be saying to the industry making that my life for five years. I’ve done the same show 400 times in a year, so that didn’t bother me, it’s more that I’d be saying “that’s what I want to be”. By the way, I saw Casino Royale and it was exactly what I’d been thinking would be good. [Laughs]
The Oscars is crying out for a bit of Barnum magic. What do you think he’d do? Something that had never been done before. Virtual reality? Allow people at home to sit in the front row. But I think he’d be working in Silicone Valley now – making money! The Greatest Showman is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday December 28.