Original movie musicals are rare, so song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman is thrilled that he got a chance to be involved in The Greatest Showman, the story of three-ring circus pioneer P.T. Barnum. Of course, there were challenges, but he was more than willing to rise up to them.
Jackman says that bringing a musical to the big screen "is notoriously one of the hardest things to do in Hollywood. I think just the climate of Hollywood was like, 'There's just too many risks. There's too much to do.' I mean, there's been musicals, obviously: Les Mis, Mamma Mia. But an original movie musical is really hard."
Jackman has had plenty of experience with musicals, both on screen and on stage. "A bad musical stinks to high heaven," he laughs. "But when a musical works, people are screaming and cheering. Nothing I've found has matched it. By the end, as you take the curtain call, there's no sense you're in front of strangers. It's an intimacy you get that's more intense than you have with people you've known for many years. It's everyone coming together and opening their heart."
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To get this movie off the ground, the filmmakers tapped songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for La La Land, a much smaller-scale musical that defied the odds and became a hit. "Benj and Justin are the heartbeat of this musical," Jackman says. "Their music is so good. We asked ourselves what movie would Barnum want to make? He's not going to do a stuffy period piece with music from the 1850s!"
The actor believes that the time is right to tell Barnum's story. "He created this world that no one had even thought possible," Jackman says. "For me, he really epitomised the idea that your imagination is your limit in a time where things were very rigid and when the social position you were born into was the one you were stuck in."
Earlier this year, Jackman said farewell to his most iconic non-musical character, Logan, better known as Wolverine in the X-Men movies. And he admits he had a brush with another famous cinematic figure. "I was about to do X-Men 2 and a call came from my agent asking if I'd be interested in Bond," Jackman recalls. "I just felt at the time that the scripts had become so unbelievable and crazy, and I felt like they needed to become grittier and real. And the response was, 'Oh, you don't get a say. You just have to sign on.' I was also worried that between Bond and X-Men, I'd never have time to do different things."