The Academy Award-winning actor sits down with marie claire Australia ahead of the release of his new film The Son to talk mental health, working with Laura Dern and being a clown.
marie claire: You scored a phenomenal hit with The Greatest Showman in 2017. How does that feel looking back on it?
Hugh Jackman: The end result is beyond anything I literally could have imagined or hoped. I have to give it to Michael Gracey, the director: everything that happened he predicted. He’d say, “I’m telling you, this is going to be that movie you’ve got to watch!” I used to say, “Dude, tone it way down! Lower your expectations!” But he was absolutely right. And I’m thrilled. I see what it means to people – to parents who watch their kids [perform it]. It means a lot and I’m thrilled.
MC: Your new film The Son is such a devastating story, dealing with teenage depression. How draining was it to make?
HJ: I think it’s still working its way through me – as we talk about it and relive it and understand it. And when I watched it, I found myself very emotional. I’m not just talking about the story. I think it was a process that required a lot of, I guess, trust and revealing [of oneself].
MC: Has it changed your attitude to mental health?
HJ: Oh certainly. And to other people; it gave me a lot more empathy. It made me understand. Also things in my family from the past…it really made me think a lot about a lot of these things. But ultimately what I feel [the writer-director] does so well is take you out of any feeling of judgement about people going through [depression] and realise there’s just so much unknown, and that we need to walk in the shoes of people going through things rather than judging.
MC: How did you feel when you learnt you were co-starring with Laura Dern?
HJ: I was talking with a good friend of mine – I’m gonna out him here – I was talking with Bradley Cooper. And we were saying that Laura is probably the greatest living actor we have going. So if all I was told was there’s a movie with Laura Dern, I’d probably say yes, right there.
MC: There’s a scene where you get to dance. How did you approach that?
HJ: I ran it with my daughter. She’s a really good dancer. And I said, “I’ve got to do the sort of bad dad dancing, like embarrassing. And there’s something in the script about a hip sway.” I said, “How about this?” And she goes, “You don’t have to worry about being the nerdy dancer. Just roll the camera and you’re good to go!”
MC: As a parent, are there ever phrases you’d hate to hear yourself saying to your kids?
HJ: I don’t ever want to say, “I’m very disappointed in you, young man.” I remember getting that one. But my dad was very English. He had a bunch of others like, “Buck your ideas up!” Things like that. Just really English.
MC: Is it true you were a birthday clown?
HJ: Yes, and I can tell you – an eight-year-old’s birthday party is the toughest audience I’ve ever had to face. A kid once yelled out, “This clown is crap!” to his mum, who was drinking out the back with the other adults. I brought out this carton of eggs, I smashed one and the kids laughed … I just gave them eggs and let them chuck ’em at me! That was it. I took off my red wig, which I’d hired … I still haven’t given it back. And I never did it again. I said, “This isn’t worth $50!” That was my low point!
The Son is in cinemas now.