We saw “Les Misérables” with Hugh Jackman today. We don’t mean we saw the movie and he was in it. We mean, we saw it and he was there.
Jackman, who is here to film the movie “Prisoners” with Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Paul Dano, stopped by a private screening of the movie held at Regal Atlantic Station exclusively for local SAG-AFTRA members.
Afterward Atlanta director Kenny Leon conducted a brief Q&A.
“This is one of the great American directors,” Jackman said of Leon, who is the head of True Colors Theater Company. His long list of credits include the recent remake of “Steel Magnolias,” which aired on Lifetime.
Leon, on the other hand, marveled that Jackman collected a Golden Globe trophy on Sunday night and was standing before an Atlanta audience less than 24 hours later.
“It was a thrilling night. I think I still have a slight bruise here from where my wife grabbed me,” he said, rubbing his arm.
He is also nominated for an Academy Award.
“It’s still sinking in,” he said of the Oscar nod. He then told an amusing tale of growing up in the suburbs of Sydney, where his dad worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. On Oscar night (the night after its American broadcast) back in the day, the most thrilling moment for his family was when PWC accountants briefly appeared to authenticate the results.
“That’s as close to the Oscars I thought I was going to get,” he said.
Jackman also related an amusing tale regarding his leading role as Jean Valjean in “Les Miz.” He’d planned to ride his bike to the audition but someone stole his wheels (nice, huh?) so he hefted the frame and jogged, arriving breathless.
Once the role was his the real hard work began. First, he lost 25 to 30 pounds. Then, to achieve the gaunt frame of his character in the first scene, when Valjean is still a prisoner forced into backbreaking labor, he literally went without food or water for 36 hours and dropped 10 pounds of water weight (something he does not recommend).
“Twenty hours into that I really regretted it,” he said.
Performing on Broadway helped him prepare his voice for the role. Leon asked him to discuss the differences of acting in front of a camera or in front of an audience.
“Really, acting is an emotional truth,” he said. “The foundation has to be the same.”
Leon asked why Jackman feels “Les Misérables” is so universally appealing.
“First, Victor Hugo wrote this incredible novel,” said Jackman, who read the classic ahead of filming. “The story is relevant today. The line, ‘To love another person is to see the face of God,’ that’s universal. To show grace, love, redemption is what spirituality is about.”
Leon asked how Jackman achieved the anguish of Valjean’s final scene. Answer: Being away from his wife and family throughout the movie left Jackman with real longing, and he drew on that.
“This is the first time I have ever done a film away from our family,” he said. “I left my wife with the kids. It was really difficult. It really is the most inconvenient job. Very rarely do you shoot right down from the road where you live!”
Before departing, Jackman said he embraced the message of his movie.
“It is cathartic. It does take you through a lot of emotions. Playing Jean Valjean reminds me of how much further I have to go as a man.”