You’ve heard it all before, and it’s precisely true: Hugh Jackman really is a great guy.
So great that in a fifth-floor room at Claridge's, his blokey pre-interview small-talk is, regrettably, eating into our allotted time together. But damned if it isn’t pleasant.
So, two Australians talk about London and the bizarre, gorgeous summer that was – aside from the Ashes, of course.
The real urgency with getting on with the interview is to talk about Prisoners. It’s one of the best films of the year. Easily. Weaved into a gut-wrenching small-town story about family and decisions and consequences is a hell of a thriller.
Much of this is owed to Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who plays a masterful, long game of tension. He’s stingy with his jumps and twists and this, of course, injects them with proper punch. Prisoners is tense to the very death – the way all good films are.
With Prisoners, Jackman’s submitted one of the most nuanced and unexpected performances of his career – the kind of breadth you don’t expect to see for the first time in a 44-year-old.
To be sure, co-star Jake Gyllenhaal is brilliant in his stoicism, but it’s Jackman’s brutally conflicted character that leaves this film etched into your mind, days after seeing it.
What attracted you to Prisoners?
The film, for me, when I read it, was different from most Hollywood films that I get. Particularly thrillers.
It was gripping. I had no idea where it was going. I didn’t know how it was going to end up. There were so many twists and turns I thought were clever.
Emotionally, I had a pit in my stomach reading it – maybe it’s the parent in me.
I also saw a thought-provoking movie in there. The drama is beyond just excitement and titillation and whodunit sort of thing – it keeps you thinking long after the credits roll.
Needs to be said: this is a very different role for you.
As an actor, it’s a part that I haven’t really been offered, either. I was very excited about that.
It wasn’t until the director came on board – Denis Villeneuve – that I signed on.
It takes a very particular director to pull that off.
I thought it was a very subtle film, in a lot of ways.
It is subtle.
And by the way, there are many choices that [Villeneuve] made on the day to balance the film. The thriller elements: the boos, the scares…and making it realistic.
It’s difficult to serve two masters – but I think he did it very, very well.
Did anything surprise you about working with Jake?
I didn’t really know Jake at all. He’s amazingly versatile in all the things he’s done. He’s a phenomenal actor.
I learned a lot from him, actually. I find him someone who is very prepared. Incredibly prepared. We talked a lot, we rehearsed, we’d think.
Then, on the day, he has the unusual ability of letting it all go. Not letting his head get in the way. He’s very instinctive as an actor. It’s very unusual for someone who’s so cerebral when he’s preparing.
Actually, I was most shocked about what we had in common. I walked into his trailer, by accident, three times and stayed in there. The same TV channels were on…it was everything, apart from a pack of cigarettes.
The first time I was in there going…someone’s smoking in my trailer?
Jake walked in, and he’s like, “Uhhh...Hugh?”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Make decisions from your heart, not your head.
Most important thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self?
It’s okay to say you want to be an actor. I waited another six years before I did that. Did a whole degree I didn’t need to do.
Person – dead or alive – you’d most like to have a beer with?
What are you most looking forward to next, in life?
A few months off [laughs]. I need to get out of the doghouse, man.
Prisoners is in cinemas Friday 27 September.