By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Australian actor Hugh Jackman says his background in musical theater and action films made him feel "like all the stars were aligning" when he took on the starring role of Jean Valjean in the new movie version of "Les Miserables."
Jackman, 44, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Wolverine in the "X-Men" movie franchise, spoke to Reuters about the demands of the role in British director Tom Hooper's adaptation of the musical sensation that opened when Jackman was still a teenager.
Q. This role seemed tailor-made for you.
A. "It certainly for me felt like the biggest challenge I have had. I have never been on the front foot so much for a part. I was quite aggressive going for it.
"It felt like the right time. Once I got the part I will admit to you there were times when I went, 'Oh maybe I have bit off more than I can chew here,' because it is a pretty daunting role in every way - physically, vocally, emotionally."
Q. Has all your Broadway experience - and movies - led you to this role?
A. "I never expected this trajectory of having movies, action movies, which was such a weird thing for me, and musicals, which was also a weird thing for me. I was a theater graduate ... . So I have for a long time wanted to put the two together. And I waited for the right thing - and when this one came up I was like, 'Oh my God, I didn't have to think twice about it.' So, I suppose it does feel like all the stars were aligning, and thank God it took them 27 years to make it."
Q. Most actors downplay the Oscars, and this movie is getting some buzz. What do you think?
A. "Of course it is every actor's dream. In our business it is the highest currency there is. It is a dream.
"For me, I didn't grow up thinking I was going to be an actor, let alone hoping one day to win an Oscar - that was never part of my reality. I went to acting school when I was 22. I don't even remember thinking about being a professional actor until I was 30 and in drama school."
Q. What did you have to do to convince Tom Hooper to give you the part?
A. "What I needed to convince him (of) was that it is possible for the lyrics of the song to feel natural. I know he was skeptical of that whole feeling and was nervous, rightly, about whether a musical could really move people and make non-musical lovers feel things, and feel at home with the sung form, because it is highly unnatural right? ... . I knew I needed to convince him that the emotion and the story, the thoughts of the character, could feel natural."
Q. You had that much pressure while in rehearsals?
A. "Your voice had to be as good on the first as the ninth (take). Because, say he (Hooper) got the camera move, or the acting was right on the ninth. You can't pull the vocal from another, or cut to the second one, because the rhythm would be different. So I think he was testing stamina as well. And pitch I am sure, to see if people could sing in tune."
Q. Do you feel the responsibility to the 'Les Mis' fans?
A: "Completely. I am part of that musical theater world and I know there are some roles that are held up there. And there are people who play those roles who are right up there. It turned out I was acting opposite one of them, Colm Wilkinson, who originally created the role and was astonishing. It actually was really great having him there because there is probably, in terms of the ghosts of Valjean, no one more powerful ... than him."
Q. You are known as being one of the most sincere Hollywood stars. Who is your role model for this humble quality?
A. "My father has a lot of very humble qualities. He is more humble than I am. He is very quiet. If I think about it, there are many Jean Valjean qualities about my father. He has never said a bad word about anyone, he is a religious man in the more traditional sense, and yet he will never really talk about it. He is a man of action."
(Reporting By Christine Kearney; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Xavier Briand)