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The Prestige - Hugh Jackman interview

Hugh Jackman in The Prestige

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HUGH Jackman talks about magic, magicians and The Prestige, as well as juggling fatherhood with his work as an actor and producer…

Q. Was part of the appeal of The Prestige finding out how these illusions were done? And, as director, were you concerned about how far you went in revealing the mechanics of a trick?
A. I was fascinated and there is a lot of material about how tricks are done, but it really spoils magic for you after you know that. As Cutter says in the movie “You don’t really want to know.” It’s very tempting.

Reading a little bit about this world, what was fascinating to me was how far magicians would go to perform the trick. In the world of our film, the magicians were the rock stars of their day. It was the golden age of magic. Magic have changed a lot now but Houdini used to literally cut himself open and hide lock picks inside his flesh and sew himself up, so he could reach inside himself if he needed them, and he’d regurgitate things. There’s a lot of amazing things that people did to try and pull off a trick. That is fascinating to me.

Q. Your character is more showman than magician, essentially. You’ve also been known to tread the boards. Was that something you could relate to? Were you familiar with this world at all?
A. I’m not familiar with the world of magic at all. I went to Vegas and met a number of magicians and it was fascinating to me. In terms of being on stage, the role seemed fairly tailor made for me. For my part, Angiers is a very good magician but he’s not the world’s best, in terms of the craft of magic, but he is a great showman. Ultimately, the audience will decide who’s the greatest magician but he knew how to sell a trick. I’ve done a lot of stage and I’ve always felt quite at home on stage because that’s sort of what my background is. If I can be honest about my film career, it’s probably taken me a few years to feel as at home on a set as I have on a stage.

Q. Did you notice many differences between being an actor and a magician while doing your research?
A. Having met a number of magicians preparing for this role, I realise that the huge difference for me is that it’s a very solitary profession. Even Penn and Teller, who have a double act, are very different in their styles and have comedically worked out how to go together. Most magicians pretty much mortgage their youths to work in front of a mirror doing sleight of hand because it takes years of practice. An actor can’t do it on his own. They’re very much dependent on each other for their work, which is something I like.

Q. Was the rivalry that exists between your characters ever replicated on-set by yourself and Christian?
A. No. Acting doesn’t work like that. I’ll be really honest with you and say that I’ve seen it on sets. I’ve seen people try and upstage people. I’ve seen people try and sabotage. But it actually does a disservice to both people because acting, by its very nature, is in relation to somebody else. It’s very boring otherwise to watch and to do and so you need the other person. Truth be told, we got on really well. I’ve always had great respect for Christian. That’s one of the things I love about acting – you are, in a way, at the mercy of your other actors and how much they’re prepared to work with you. That’s why it’s so great working with someone like Michael Caine, who’s so generous in every way. He’s always there for you. The way I know acting, you can’t do it on your own.

Q. Do you have any fond memories from the time you spent researching magicians?
A. Very briefly, Christopher encouraged me to go and see David Copperfield’s show. Afterwards he took us from Vegas in a car and said: “Come back to my place.” We went to this street on the outskirts of Vegas, to this sex shop! I was with my wife so there were the three of us, at a sex shop, and he pulls out his keys and opens the door. We walked in and I’m thinking “Alright what have we got into here?” Then he says: “Push the nipple on the manekin over there.” I pushed the nipple and these doors open and you enter this museum, the size of four football fields, of magic memorabilia. It was 12.30 at night and he did a 90 minute show for us, until two in the morning.

Q. Did David Copperfield reveal any of his secrets?
A. Nothing! He has that museum of memorabilia and he showed me exactly how Houdini got out of his water escape thing and how old tricks were done. But he’s the consumate showman and there’s no revealing secrets whatsoever. But he’s a fascinating character.

Q. It’s the ultimate comic book geek’s dream – Wolverine Vs Batman. Is that something you took on board?
A. We just recently made a commitment to each other, Christian and I, that when our careers are in the toilet in 15 years, we’ll go on tour with pot bellies, in tights, with the WWF and wrestle each other. We spent more time talking about our baby girls because we both have daughters the same age, so that was more of a fascination. We fought at lunchtimes but that was about it! [laughs]

Q. What appealed to you most about working with Christopher Nolan?
A. When I met Chris, I instantly knew that he’s incredibly communicative. There’s not a person in Hollywood, or the film business, that doesn’t love Chris. I’m not only talking about actors, but also props departments and business affairs at the studio. Everyone loves him because he’s incredibly prepared, the script that we shot was pretty much the script that I read. There’s not a lot of changes. It’s very clear on the page. He also leaves it open to you to interpret the role for yourself. I remember my agent saying to me: “He says we’ll shoot until April 11th.” And he did – we finished on April 11th. It’s amazing how precise he is and at the same time creates this real freedom on set.

Q. You all seem like a big family, especially those of you who have worked on Batman. Is it like that?
A. I don’t want to overstate this, but in terms of the movies that I’ve done there was an atmosphere on the set that was very easy, very creative, low-key. For a film that ultimately is quite complicated, and which had a lot of thought and preparation going into it, the filming seemed to run very smoothly. Every Wednesday was kids’ day and it was almost like the set was a day care centre at times. It was a real pleasure.

Q. Did you pick up any tricks that you could use as a kids’ party in the future, for your children perhaps?
A. I started off as a clown at kids’ parties about 15 years ago and I retired when a six-year-old got up in the middle of my routine and said: “Mum, this clown is really crap.” [laughs]. That’s word for word. That’s a bad thing for a clown to hear. So, when I came to do this, I thought it was great because we had Ricky Jay and Michael Weber helping us with our routines, only to find out that their byline to their business is ‘on a need to know basis’. So, they’d teach us what we needed to film but Christian and I came out really under done on tricks. We had a couple.

Actually, the very first trick I had to do involved me having a flower that I had to make disappear. I was working on it for a while and practised on my son the night before filming – he was five at the time – and he said: “Daddy, it’s in your other hand.” It didn’t bode well for filming and it’s been cut from the movie. I’ve never been so nervous acting, by the way. My hands were shaking. I said to Chris afterwards: “How did it look?” He said: “Not spectacular!”

Q. What was it like working with David Bowie?
A. I’ve got to say, he’s probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s surprisingly nice. You think of so many things with David Bowie and the whole crew was on set the day that he turned up. I mean, some of these people had worked in the industry for years but they were all a little bit star struck by him. He’s got that charisma.

Two days into shooting, we were sitting together and I thought we were getting on really well, so I decided to share a story with him. So, I told him when I was 13, the first concert I was ever going to go to was a Bowie concert and so I bought the tickets for $20. I’ll never forget it because it was the first time I was allowed to go out without my parents into the city. So, it was about six months worth of pocket money and I went to school that day and someone offered me $50 for the tickets, because it was sold out. His face then started to glaze over a little bit at this point and I was wishing I could take the story back. He said: “And…” I had to say I sold them and from that moment on he called me “the scalper”. He wanted at least 50% of my profit!

Q. You mentioned earlier that kids were allowed on set at different times. Does being a father make you think harder about your choices in film and where you’re going to have to be?
A. Oh definitely. That’s why I have a production company now. I’ll be honest, the main reason is controlling content and doing things that I really like to do. But it’s terrific to have control over where it’s shot and when it’s shot within the constraints of the budget. I’m shooting a movie now with Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams called The Tourist, which we’re producing. We’re shooting it in New York City.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about your production company?
A. It’s called Seed and it’s largely based in America, in LA. We have a first look deal at Fox. We also have a division in Australia that’s dedicated to making films for an international market but drawing some money from Fox and other places to make films for under $10 million in Australia. We also have a TV deal with CBS; we probably have two pilots we’re going to shoot early next year. So it’s busy at the moment.

Q. Do you live in Australia or America at the moment?
A. Well, really between the two. Last year, I was probably in Australia for about five or six months. I was in LA at the beginning of this year, I’m now in New York and I’ll be home in Australia – and there’s a good clue – probably all of next year.

Q. How challenging do you find it to balance your work as a producer, as an actor and as a father?
A. It’s probably one of the greatest challenges for anybody. I think it’s probably harder for women working who have families. I think just mixing social life, family life, work life is a great balancing act. It’s one I enjoy – sometimes I get it wrong but hopefully most of the time I get it right. I’ll be able to see by the therapy bills my kids have later in life [laughs].

Q. Are you able to reveal any more about the film you’re doing with Nicole Kidman and Baz Luhrmann?
A. Yes. It still doesn’t have a title as far as I know. I just received the latest draft. We’re shooting all over Australia. It’s set in 1935 through to about 1942 mainly up in the Northern Territory. Nicole plays this English woman who comes to this huge million acre cattle station, which she’s inherited, ultimately to sell it. In the process of sorting out what she wants to do with it, she goes on a big drive and I play the driver.

Q. And how was working with Woody Allen on Scoop?
A. It was fantastic. I loved it. Speaking of easy sets, my God, my kids didn’t know what was happening. I was coming home at 3pm. It was one of those things that you can’t really wish for in your career, so when it happens, it’s great.

Read our review of The Prestige

Read our interview with Michael Caine