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Some stars play it safe, but not Hugh Jackman, who keeps pushing himself in new directions. After a string of wide-ranging roles (“Prisoners,” “Les Miserables,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Logan”), he again shows his versatility by playing politician Gary Hart in Sony’s “The Front Runner,” which opens wide Nov. 21.

Do you always seek out challenging roles?

Yep. I was as scared of this as anything I’ve done. The weight of playing someone who could have been president — and who was mercurial and enigmatic, and who I knew would see the film — all made this very frightening. But I’ve learned if you’re going to be scared, make sure you’re working with great people who will catch you, like [director] Jason Reitman.

Part of the complexity is that Gary Hart didn’t open up.

I made five bound books of research about him, his background and politics. I also spoke with those who worked with him; they said Gary would draw you in, but just as you’re getting close, the shutters would close. I related him to my father, who’s very smart, very ethical, principled, but a hard man to get to know. That’s partly the generation, partly personality. Also, my brother, who’s a Rhodes scholar, is a dizzying intellect. I figured being around Gary must be like being around my brother, where you’ve got to gallop just to keep up.

You’ve been a star for almost 20 years. Have the boundaries of privacy changed?

The biggest single change is that everybody now carries a camera. There used to be a sense of “I probably shouldn’t bother him.” Now it’s “Sure, I’m going to talk with him.” For me, it doesn’t feel like a burden, and the benefits far outweigh the negatives in what I get to do for a living. For Gary, it’s really difficult; he was always struggling with it.

The movie seems to be saying that in 1987, politics suddenly became more showbiz.

As an actor, you’re a brand; your film is a brand. We understand that in show business. Gary rejected that idea. At that moment in 1987, politics changed forever.

Talk about some of your philanthropies.
Global Citizen: Being involved with Global Citizen and the annual festival means being involved in politics at a macro level, where you see the world in totality. This is the generation who see the future and they’re trying to adapt for that. Global Citizens are building a real movement, and the momentum is massive; they’re making major changes.
Laughing Man Coffee: Paul Newman is my hero, onscreen and off. The jobs we create, the good we do for the people who grow the coffee and who drink the coffee, that will outlast me.
MPTV Fund: Working in the industry makes a lot of demands, long hours and hard work. Every one of those people deserves to be looked after. I love being part of a community that supports everyone in the business. I believe in an egalitarian world.

Things You Didn’t Know About Hugh Jackman

AGE: 50 BIRTHPLACE: Sydney FAVORITE CHARITIES: Global Citizens Festival, Laughing Man Coffee, MPTF TWITTER FOLLOWERS: 12.8 million OM RUN: Practicing T.M. since age 20 FIRST JOB: Gas station attendant, graveyard shift