Even Hugh Jackman has doubts.
After all his success on stage and the bigscreen, the Oz native started to wonder, midway through an intense two-month rehearsal for “Les Miserables,” whether he was the right guy to play Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the hit musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 19th century novel.
“I was feeling a bit of the pressure, the weight of the famous literary role,” Jackman confesses to Variety. “I told my wife, ‘This may be too much for me.’ She told me, ‘It will probably demand more of you than anything you’ve done before, so it should feel frightening and uncomfortable.’ ”
Jackman, who receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, calls the role “probably one of the most challenging parts to play vocally, physically and emotionally. Emotionally, it took me to places that I’ve never been before. It was definitely the most challenging role I’ve ever had.”
The Universal movie, which bows in U.S. theaters on Christmas, has already sparked awards talk for Jackman, still best known Stateside for his role as Wolverine in the “X-Men” superhero franchise.
Jackman went to extraordinary lengths to prepare for his role. He shaved his head, restricted his diet to lose 30 pounds and lifted weights and exercised so that he would look as if he had been doing hard labor like Jean Valjean.
“Hugh understood that for the audience to have any sense of what this man had gone through, he had to do his own physical journey to approximate that kind of suffering,” Hooper says. “He even visited prisons in London and spent time with guys there so he was able to capture that haunted look prisoners have.”
Jackman looks so gaunt and worn at the beginning of the film that audiences may not recognize cheery song and dance man that hosted the Oscars a few years ago. That’s fine by Jackman.
“Tom (Hooper) said, ‘I need you to get to where your friends stop you and ask, “Are you okay? Are you sick?” Until you get to that point, you haven’t gone far enough,'” says Jackman.
Since Hooper shot the actors singing live, “it was like being on stage,” Jackman says. “Singing live allowed us to go to emotional places that felt real, not forced.”
The star, who next plays Henry Houdini in the Broadway bound musical about the master of escape, has defied typecasting from early in his career. A trained stage actor, he was playing a prisoner on a TV show in his native Australia when his agent suggested he audition for a stage rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“I thought my agent was on drugs when she put me up for ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ” he jokes. “Then after doing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when I auditioned for a film, the director didn’t want to audition me because he thought, ‘Oh, he’s in musical theater. He’s not a real actor.’ ”
Since his Hollywood debut in the mega-successful “X-Men” series, Jackman has managed to bounce back and forth from theater to film, starring in films by directors such as Darren Aronofsky (“Fountain,”) Christopher Nolan (“The Prestige”) Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”), and James Mangold (“Kate & Leopold”). In 2004, he won a Tony for his performance as Peter Allen, the sequin-wearing singer-songwriter in “The Boy From Oz.”
“I always loved variety in acting, that you could be doing Shakespeare one day or be in an action movie or play a clown the next day,” says Jackman, who has hosted the Tony Awards in addition to the Oscars. “I’m happy that I’ve been able to have a musical career, and a Broadway career, and a film career. I always wanted to open as many doors as possible.”
This year he returned to the Great White Way for the one-man show, “Back on Broadway,” and won a special Tony.
His “Les Miserables” co-star Amanda Seyfried, who plays his adopted daughter, Cosette, says he never complained despite the intense physical and emotional demands of Jean Valjean. “It’s hard making a movie in the conditions that we had to work in, but I’ve never seen him frown or worry or seem anxious,” Seyfried says. “If he ever is, he hides it well.”
Jackman brushes aside Oscar talk, saying he still can’t get over the fact that he’s been to the ceremony, let alone hosted it in 2009.
“When I first got invited to attend the Oscars, I was on the red carpet taking pictures because I thought it was the only time I would ever be there,” Jackman says. He said he can’t even “mention” the idea of being nominated, let alone winning. “But, fingers crossed!”
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