ONE slight problem with the world domination of The Greatest Showman?
Hugh Jackman hasn’t been able to slip under the radar at his daughter Ava’s dance classes.
“I used to go every week,” Jackman says.
“Nobody really cared. Her dance school was not your classic Wolverine fanbase. Now I go there and songs from The Greatest Showman are playing in nearly every dance class, so it’s a bit different.”
Released at the end of 2017, the film received a lukewarm critical reaction, but word of mouth saw it became a box office monster, taking in over $600 million.
Not only was the soundtrack (of all original songs) the No. 1 album in Australia last year (spending all year in the Top 10), it even spawned a second volume of covers by the likes of Pink, Kesha and Kelly Clarkson.
“I knew we were selling a family movie,” Jackman says. “I think people thought it was a drama, but we were making a family movie. Of course some of the themes might seem, for some people, a little on the nose — it was wearing its heart on its sleeve too much. But these ideas of being yourself, being authentic, following your dreams and not living somebody else’s life really resonate with people.
“I’m OK if critics don’t get it. I’d much prefer to have a movie that everybody loves and critics don’t than the other way around.”
Ten years ago, when Jackman hosted the Oscars, he performed a tongue in cheek number — with Beyonce no less — called The Musical Is Back.
It was prompted by Mamma Mia leapfrogging Titanic’s historic success at the UK box office at the time, but Jackman says it may have been prophetic, given the major success of Showman, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born over the last year.
“It’s so great, it makes me so happy,” he says. “It was wishful thinking at the time, but we were probably right. The musical is back. The Greatest Showman, when we were greenlit, we were the first original movie musical in 23 years. It had been a long time. Hollywood has become very risk averse. Unless you’re a brand people know or are using songs people know nobody wants to hear about it. All of a sudden things have really opened up and musicals have become some of the most bankable theatrical experiences in Hollywood, which is thrilling to me.”
The Greatest Showman’s director Michael Gracey has said there will be a sequel. Jackman is cagey when asked if he’s up for it.
“I’m not a sequel guy. I will only do nine movies in one franchise, let me make that very very clear! Look, I heard someone pitch something, but hearing a pitch in Hollywood is like having breakfast in the morning. Who knows?”
However the superstar isn’t ready to put The Greatest Showman to bed anytime soon. He’ll dedicate May to September taking his The Man. The Music. The Show. tour around the globe.
The live show features songs from Showman, as well as tunes from Les Miserables, The Boy From Oz, plus some of his other favourites, as well as anecdotes from his career.
He’s already started intense training and the 50-year-old is finding it “surprisingly easy”.
“I sing and dance every day. In the past I’ve always been so busy doing other projects I’ve come to it last. This feels easy because I’ve had more time to prep. The old rule is train harder than the show and then everything goes OK. I know in my bones that nothing can be harder than doing eight shows a week for The Boy From Oz, which I did for a year. That gives me a lot of confidence to know I can pull it off.”
While he’ll have dancers and an orchestra, Jackman will be joined by a special guest on tour — Showman co-star Keala Settle.
The pair bonded instantly on set, with Jackman instrumental in convincing Settle to take on the role as bearded lady and sing the movie’s key song — This Is Me.
“I had to learn something about myself before I could sing that song,” Settle says. “I didn’t want to be ready for that. That meant I had to face a lot of demons to get that song out. To be fair I face a lot of demons still every day. What made me realise the song meant something was when it was realised and the whole entire universe responded. It made me realise that in my feelings of being afraid to face those fears, I was not alone.”
Settle, 43, came from a Broadway background with roles in Priscilla, Les Miserables and Hairspray. Even after filming The Greatest Showman, she wasn’t prepared for the profile the movie would give her.
“I told Hugh I was going to do a Greta Garbo, I said ‘I will hide, you will not find me. Don’t try and track me down!’ But I realised I didn’t even have enough time to go and get lost. All of a sudden the trailer for the film came out and the damn song was in it! Are you kidding me? Now I’ve really got to face it.
“It’s been a long journey, but such an important one for me, I can’t even imagine what it means for the rest of the world. I see it. I see it in children’s eyes. I watch them become empowered. I don’t have children of my own. I haven’t had that opportunity. To watch it happen in children’s eyes and see them learn, see that light get sparked in them other than a video game on their phone or PlayStation, see a song that makes them come alive, it’s one of the most humbling things I could ever see. I never asked for that, I was just trying to figure myself out enough to sing the song.”
Settle recently marked one year since singing This Is Me on the Oscars — which also marked one year since she had a stroke a week before that key performance.
She’d lost half her body’s motor functions due to a ministroke, with doctor’s diagnosing her with a rare cerebrovascular disorder known as Moyamoya disease.
Settle had a 10-hour double-bypass brain surgery last April and will be on medication for life and has changed her entire lifestyle.
“I had to learn how to talk again, write again, walk again. It took about two and a half months to get to a good place and work from there to get it to a great place.”
Jackman and wife Deborra-Lee Furness Facetimed Settle every day during her recovery.
“Every day, on two different phones. They were there for me. Being in this industry, whenever I’m with Hugh and Deb, and their kids Oscar and Ava, and the dogs, I’m safe. I know that. I can be whoever I am and be whatever I want. I know that I’m OK. You have your real family and your chosen family. They’re my chosen family. He started that, not me. From day one, in the first seconds we met, he said ‘Let’s go out, have some wine’.
“When it was the anniversary of singing at the Oscars the other day Hugh looked at me and said ‘Look how far you’ve come’. I was already crying, so I said ‘Stop it, there’s no more room on my face for more make-up mate’.”
Settle’s original album was put on hold during her health battle — she’s now finishing it with producer Greg Wells, who has worked with Adele, One Republic, Pink as well as the Greatest Showman soundtrack.
“It’s starting to become the story of how I even got here, what it took to get me here and what I learned by getting here,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a soul/RNB/rock situation.”
Would she be up for a Greatest Showman sequel?
“I wore a beard and a double corsetted dress which felt like a kilo! I have permanent set injuries from that show. It was a lot of hard work. I’d have to see.”