GOOD TO BE BAD
Nice guy Hugh Jackman has taken a turn for the sinister in his recent movie roles – and he couldn’t be happier playing Blackbeard in Pan
Hugh Jackman is, famously, the nicest guy in Hollywood. Whether he’s charming late-night talk show hosts, walking the red carpet with his wife of 19 years Deborra-Lee Furness, visiting sick kids in hospital, or even enduring the rigours of a sausage factory junket to promote his latest movie, that megawatt smile, humility and affable approachability are always front and centre.
But lately, on screen at least, Jackman has been treading a darker path. First there was his role as Keller in the acclaimed 2013 thriller, Prisoners, who was a fundamentally decent man who did some very bad things in the pursuit of his abducted son. Then earlier this year there was the mulletsporting weapons enthusiast Vincent in Neill Blomkamp’s sci-far actioner, Chappie. And now comes, by Jackman’s own admission, the most villainous of the lot – the thoroughly black-hearted pirate Blackbeard in Pan, the bigbudget prequel to J.M. Barrie’s much loved children’s tale of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.
Jackman seems to be taking a particular delight in flipping his public perception on screen, saying that it’s “a mistake to think of yourself as a nice guy – that’s not your job as an actor”.
But the string of darker roles of late isn’t down to any conscious career shift. Jackman says it more a matter of finally being offered such parts – and he couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out, especially with Oscar-nominated director Joe Wright’s Pan.
“There was no call to my agent saying ‘I want to play a villain’,” he says.
“I know some people who do that, say ‘I want to play a comedy or a this or a that’.
“I think the first thing that attracted me to this was Joe Wright, I think he is a filmmaker of the highest order and he showed me his vision for the movie. I loved the idea of being in a family movie and it has taken me all this time to work out that it’s much easier being the villain.
“The hero gets beaten up the entire movie and then you win the last fight – just – after being beaten up more than ever before. Whereas the villain is the complete opposite. You are in about 40 per cent of the film, you get all the best lines and costumes – hey my entrance is to Nirvana’s Teen Spirit. This was just win-win.”
Jackman, who happily shaved his head and grew some seriously dodgy facial hair for the role, names the Princess Bride and Captain Blood as among early pirate inspirations. And having seen how much fun his X-Men costar Ian McKellen had doing panto in the UK – something he’d be up for trying one day – admits there is more than an element of that in his flamboyantly theatrical portrayal of Blackbeard.
Despite playing his onscreen nemesis, Jackman was at pains not to be a scary adult to young Brisbane actor Levi Miller, who plays Peter Pan. Coming from a theatre background, Jackman says it’s his responsibility as part of an ensemble to lead by example and gave Miller tips on how to eat well and manage his energy.
“I come from the world of theatre and I think with young guys, particularly Levi when I met him he put out his hand and said ‘hello Mr Jackman’ and I said ‘OK, it’s not going to work like that’.
“And literally an hour later we were doing improvs and wrestling on the mats and having some fun. I pulled him aside a couple of times but he’s a natural – I actually probably learned from him. He reminded me of how lucky we are to do what we do.”
Hugh Jackman delves into a darker character as Blackbeard in