Hugh Jackman rehearsed 10 hours a day for The Greatest Showman
Movie musical The Greatest Showman has 'most challenging' dance scenes for Hugh Jackman
For people of a certain age, the circus was the greatest show on earth.
And P.T. Barnum of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which ran from 1871 to May 21 this year, is considered a visionary entertainer, a showman who brought spectacular performances to the masses.
So it is no wonder that one of Hollywood's triple-threat performers - Australian actor-singer-dancer Hugh Jackman - portrays the circus founder in new period musical drama The Greatest Showman.
Phineas Taylor Barnum, an American, was a scrappy rebel who pulled himself out of poverty to become one of the country's first self-made millionaires.
Opening here tomorrow, the movie, directed by Australian Michael Gracey in his feature film debut, tells the story of Barnum's career - mostly invented. But it tries to keep the spirit of a larger-than-life impresario who brought together "oddities" hitherto considered outcasts, gave them centre stage and, in so doing, created the enduring entertainment that became the circus.
Barnum's troupe included General Tom Thumb, the bearded lady, the giant, the conjoined twins and the albino dancers, among others.
The star-studded cast includes Michelle Williams as Barnum's devoted wife, Rebecca Ferguson as Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, whom Barnum made a superstar in the US, and Zac Efron as Barnum's sophisticated playwright partner who joins the circus and falls in love with its trapeze artist (Zendaya).
The movie is nominated for three Golden Globes - Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) and Best Original Song for This Is Me.
At the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, Jackman, 49, talked about how the project came about.
After he hosted the Oscars in 2009, the producer called him.
"He told me, 'The world knows you as Wolverine (from the X-Men movies), but now after the Oscars everyone knows you sing and dance as well. You should do a movie musical,'" Jackman said.
"I was like, 'Great.' But I did not really think it would happen because it had been 23 years since a (movie) studio had green-lit an original movie musical and that is because it is the Mount Everest of movie-making. The reason it is Mount Everest is the music. That is the hardest thing to do. It was a seven-year journey."
When Twentieth Century Fox finally green-lit The Greatest Showman, they were looking at the industry's top songwriters such as Pharrell Williams and Bruno Mars.
But Gracey wanted the young duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song for City Of Stars in La La Land this year, but were complete unknowns at the time.
Jackman said: "The studio wanted to know, 'Who are those guys?' and Michael Gracey said, 'They are really, really huge, big on Broadway. They just won a Tony award.' So that got them in the door."
Rehearsals were a four-year process of workshopping, "in the way you workshop a Broadway musical".
"You come together with whatever you have. It may have been four songs at the beginning, six songs the second time with the script that you had. We would work with the best Broadway performers we could find and work for two weeks and we would sing," Jackman said.
Ten weeks of rehearsal preceded the filming, with Jackman adding: "We rehearsed every single day on all the numbers. Ten hours a day."
The most difficult scene for Jackman was the one showcasing the song Come Alive, "because of the choreography and my 49-year-old legs and knees".
Jackman added: "Our brilliant choreographer would not accept any complaining from me. I have done a lot of dancing, but this was the most challenging."
On his non-physical preparation for the role, Jackman said: "I read 37 books on Barnum, and I could make 37 different movies.
"Let me tell you, he gives 37 different versions of his own life, and he actually said his autobiography was the second biggest-selling book next to the Bible. If he was not religious, he would have said it was No. 1."
HIS KIDS ARE IN MOVIE
Both of Jackman's adopted children - Oscar, 17, and Ava, 12 - are extras in the movie, with Ava in close-up in the opening number.
Jackman said: "I encourage my kids to really pursue what they love. If you can do the thing you love, you never work a day in your life. I believe in that saying. I am proof of it. If you actively sort of discourage, you are probably going to invite it anyway, right?"
What he really hopes for is to work with his wife of 21 years, Australian actress-producer Deborra-lee Furness, 62.
"I met her on a TV show, my first job. She was the star of it and she is one of the greatest actors I have ever worked with, so I really hope we get to work together again," Jackman said.
"But it was her rule that we would not work at the same time. She had done about 20, 25 movies when I met her and she had seen a number of marriages go (makes whistling sound)."