Interview: Hugh Jackman talks The Prestige

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

The Prestige PosterIn this time when magicians were the great entertainers of their age, no one else can rivet an audience with the charm and pizzazz of the consummate showman Robert Angier. But when a stage tragedy strikes close to Angier’s heart, it pushes him to invent his greatest trick ever, one that will take him into realms of scientific discovery and magical deception no one could have imagined. To play Angier, Christopher Nolan immediately thought of Hugh Jackman, the multitalented Australian who has become a major star of both stage and screen. Jackman is known to millions of young fans for his screen portrayal of the hugely popular superhero Wolverine—an angst-filled mutant with animal-keen senses—but he is also a Tony Award winner for his show-stopping performance as songwriter Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz” and an Emmy Award winner for his hosting of the televised Tony Awards show.

It was Jackman’s unique mix of innate cool along with his sophisticated showmanship that convinced Nolan he was the only person who could bring out both the theatrical brilliance and the thirst for vengeance at the heart of Angier. He also seemed like the perfect persona to create a chain reaction of fierce competition and rivalry with Christian Bale. Says Nolan: "When Hugh gets on stage, he truly comes to life. He’s extraordinarily comfortable being up there and so knowledgeable about his relationship with the audience. That’s exactly what this character needed—and Hugh presents Angier with a sincerity that’s extremely winning.”

Upon reading the script, Jackman was hooked. He was drawn to Angier’s journey—which takes him from the bright lights of success to the darkest shadows of the human soul. "At the beginning of the story, Angier is very optimistic, hopeful and energetic,” he observes. "His main strength as a magician is as a performer. He simply loves being in front of a crowd. He has an ease and a panache and a great sort of way with the audience. In fact, to be somewhat critical of him, you could say that his style is sometimes far greater than his content.”

But then Angier meets Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale) and everything in his life changes. "It irks me to even say this, but Borden is technically a much better magician,” Jackman begrudgingly admits. "My character can sell a trick to an audience with far more skill, but Borden is a kind of inventive genius. When things go wrong between them, Angier has two conflicting responses. On the one hand, he begins to loathe Borden, to hate him, to want vengeance for what he has done, but on the other, he is driven by a competitive obsession to be better than Borden. So all of Angier’s anger and hate, all his darkness and sadness become focused on one thing—finding out Borden’s secrets.”

To prepare to play Angier, Jackman conducted his own research into the colorful history of magic, from its creative heyday in the early 1900s till now. "I found it to be an incredibly mysterious and interesting world,” he says. "There is something about magicians that makes them different from non-magicians. They do everything alone, because they don’t want to share their secrets, and they are intensely competitive. They’re fascinating people, which makes them great characters.” 

The more he learned, the more Jackman began to see that magicians share elements in common with both con men and scientists, two mainstays of contemporary society. "Great magic is all about misdirection and illusion, the same skills a con man needs,” he says. "But just as scientists are obsessed with the things humans can’t yet understand, magicians tap into that. What’s great about "The Prestige” is that it melds the mystical, the magical and the idea of the impossible with elements of science and reality.”

As for Angier, Jackman believes he is addicted to the audience’s stunned reactions. "He loves seeing that look in their faces of being fooled. For him, it taps into that human quality of hope and faith, that feeling that the impossible can actually happen. He is driven by that power,” the actor says.

Watching Jackman bring Angier, and his many different sides, to life was a revelation for Nolan, one that would be echoed again with Christian Bale’s performance. "It was really interesting to see how both Hugh and Christian took the ideas behind the way magicians really think and work, and each made these their own, reconciling them with their own way of looking at the world,” he summarizes.

At the Los Angeles press day to promote "The Prestige,” Hugh Jackman sat down with Movies Online to talk about his new film as well as discuss some exciting upcoming projects. Hugh is a great guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us:
 
Question: What was the main attraction of this film? 

Hugh Jackman: I was pretty much into it when I just heard Chris Nolan was directing it.  He was certainly on my radar of the top 5-10 directors to work with.  And then, I read the script and I just loved it.  I was kind of shocked at how amazingly close the original script I read was to the film that ended up being made.  I spent a long time working on it, but those guys are just so prepared.  The film is just phenomenal.  I had hardly any criticism when I first read it.
 
Q: Did you do a lot of research on the whole idea of illusion and magic?  Did you do any preparation for that?

HJ: I met a lot of magicians.  I saw a lot of acts.  I read a lot.  I was actually reading about Houdini, just coincidentally, when the script came.  I was interested in that era.  It’s a fascinating time, where magic was believed.  In America, at that time, spiritualism was a greater religion than Christianity, so magicians who could do seances and things were beyond just tricksters.  They were, somehow, medians with the other world.  They held this fascination for adults.  I don’t think that exists anymore.  Maybe the mind-reading stuff that some magicians do still amazes people, but more people know it’s a trick and they just can’t work it out.  But, that era is fascinating.  Magicians then were like movie stars or rock stars of the day.  The pressure on them to be at the top was so intense.  They would do almost anything to stay there.
 
Q: Can you relate to the obsession of this guy?

HJ: No.  My wife sometimes jokes that she thinks I’m a little bit of a workaholic, but my definition of a workaholic is someone who can’t switch it off.  I can easily switch it off.  When I get into the car after work, I don’t think about it.  I work hard and I really enjoy it -- I’ve always loved acting -- but, I can switch it off.  I love it!
 
Q: So, you don’t really relate to this character?

HJ: I think the roles for Christian and I were tailor made.  My character is a very good magician, but Christian’s is a great magician.  My character elevates himself as a magician by his natural ability on stage, and I’ve had a lot of experience on stage, so that’s something that comes easily to me.  The character, at the beginning of the film, is fairly optimistic.  He’s ambitious, yes, but also optimistic.  He enjoys his life and is excited by the possibilities.  There’s a tragedy that happens early on, in his personal life, and then, somehow, he’s fueled by this ambition and the anger over what happened, and it turns him into being much darker, more intense and, ultimately, very dangerous person.  I wouldn’t say that’s me, but I think the transformation was a lot of fun for me to play.  In terms of the character at the beginning of the film, it’s fairly similar to me, I think.
 
Q: What made you want to be a part of ‘Flushed Away’?

HJ: I was in drama school in 1994, I turned on SBS -- which is a television station in Australia, and not a highly watched one -- and I saw the last seven minutes of ‘The Wrong Trousers,’ and my brother and I were laughing so hard that we thought, "We’ve got to find this.”  So, we tracked it down and got a video.  We used to give it as presents.  It was our standard present to anyone.  I thought we’d discovered them.  I think they’d won an Academy Award at that point, but when I was in Perth, I thought we’d somehow discovered them.  So, when I got a call from that group, I was totally in.  I think it’s fair to say it was selfish reasons first, and then I thought of my son afterwards. [Laughs]
 
Q: Did the character develop over the 2 ½ years?

HJ: Yes.  At the beginning, he was more upper class, almost royal -- that aristocratic attitude.  He had two hamsters who were his servants.  So, the whole thing, going down into the sewer, was more, "Oh, you people.”  It was a little bit removed and snobbish, which actually made him not very likable.  And so, we changed it from being that to being more sheltered, basically.  He lives in this pampered life.  He doesn’t think of himself as a mouse, he thinks of himself as a James Bond character.  He’s having the time of his life, living the life of Riley.  And, he sings occasionally. 
 
Q: Did you work alone, or did you get to work with Kate Winslet?

HJ: Wasn’t me and Kate at all, which is a shame.  I did a little bit of work -- not a lot -- on ‘Happy Feet,’ and Nicole [Kidman] and I worked for a couple of days together.  We play mom and dad of the lead character.  It was fantastic.  It was great.  I’m very excited about doing this Baz Luhrmann movie with her.  To not be penguins will be nice. 
 
Q: When will the Baz Luhrmann film start shooting?

HJ: March 26th. 
 
Q: What’s the title?

HJ: It’s untitled.
 
Q: Where are you shooting?

HJ: We shoot in Sydney, Darwin, Bowen, which is up near the Barrier Reef, and the Kimberleys.
 
Q: It’s been compared to ‘Out of Africa.’  Do you think that’s pretty close?

HJ: I’d say ‘Out of Africa,’ ‘Gone with the Wind,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ -- that kind of world.
 
Q: It’s a romantic epic, right?

HJ: A romantic adventure epic with me and Nicole [Kidman].
 
Q: After the Baz Luhrmann film, will you be starting the ‘Wolverine’ film?

HJ: We’ve now signed off on the script.  If you know about the history of ‘X-Men’ movies, that’s a revolution for us.  We’re a year away from shooting the film and we have the script.  And, by the way, it is unbelievable.  It’s a David Benioff script.  He’s probably the hottest writer going around town, and he was beating down our door to write this movie.  It was the most amazing thing.  So, we have this fantastic script.  I’ve got a couple of movies coming out in the next month, and I might be able to tell you who the director is by then.  We’re seriously into talking about it now.
 
Q: What is this erotic movie you’re doing with Ewan McGregor?

HJ: [Laughs] It’s a movie called ‘The Tourist,’ and this is my production company’s first film.  Thursday was our first day.  It was a great thrill.  It’s a suspense thriller written by Patrick Marber, and it’s very smart and sexy.
 
Q: Who is the female in it?

HJ: Michelle Williams.  
 
Q: Going back to the ‘Wolverine’ script, it’s a prequel, right?

HJ: Yes.
 
Q: Is it going to follow the Japanese storyline that some of the comic books have addressed?

HJ: At present, no.  That is still something we really want to do.  What we need to do is establish who he is and find out how he became Wolverine. 
 
Q: So, there’s possibly a ‘Wolverine 2'?

HJ: I’m not ruling it out.
 
Q: Who would win in a fight, Batman or Wolverine?

HJ: Come on!  Even Christian (Bale) would say Wolverine.  Surely. [Batman] has got a cool belt and some cool gadgets, but let’s face it, he’s human. (laughter)
 
Q: Can you talk about kissing Scarlett Johansson?

HJ: Stop it.  I’ll be in heaps of shit because that will be quoted.  The only thing, from all day, will be about what great lips she had and how passionate it was.  She’s a great kisser, and I say that in a very respectful way.
 
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of ‘The Prestige’ for you?

HJ: Let’s just say my character has a number of disguises.  I’m playing the double, which you can’t really talk about.  That was great fun.  Creating that character was fun.  But, the most challenging scene is the ending.  Every actor wants a death scene.  The joke is always that the actors want it to be as long as possible.  When I read it, I was like, "I’m dying over five pages.  I’m dying with five pages of dialogue, and a big monologue at the end of it.”  You should be careful what you wish for.

Q: Did you get to work out at all for this?

HJ: I was working out, anyway, because I had just come off of playing Wolverine and, after that, I was going to do ‘The Boy From Oz.’  I keep pretty fit, most of the time.
 
Q: How challenging is it for you to balance your incredible career with your family?

HJ: One of the things about having a production company is to facilitate that balance.  To be shooting a film now -- and I only work about three weeks on ‘The Tourist,’ so you don’t have to worry about my work load -- I can now control where we shoot, when we shoot and what we shoot, and that’s something that is important to us.  I’m very lucky, as you know.  I’ve got a wife who, so far, has been happy to travel with me.  She’s coming [to Los Angeles] on Tuesday for the premiere.
 
Be sure to read our second Interview with Hugh Jackman, in which he talks about "Flushed Away" and even more about the upcoming "Wolverine", right here.

Hugh Jackman is unbelievably busy these days.  He’s a flamboyant illusionist in "The Prestige” which opens in theaters on October 20th. He has lent his voice to two upcoming animated features, "Flushed Away” and "Happy Feet” that will be released in early November.  Later this fall he’ll be in New York shooting a thriller, "The Tourist,” with Ewan McGregor. He also has a "Wolverine” prequel in development.  The latter two films will be made by Jackman’s production company, Seed Productions.  He’ll also play a cattle driver opposite Nicole Kidman in an untitled Australian project to be directed by Baz Luhrmann that is currently in pre-production.

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