I Owe Hugh a Clarification

In my review of The Greatest Showman, I included this aside regarding Hugh Jackman:

“[He’s] technically playing P.T. Barnum, but c’mon…Hugh Jackman is always Hugh ‘I project depth instead of playing depth’ Jackman, which is why we love him.”

Since the piece had already stretched over 1,000 words, I felt it unnecessary to unpack this sentiment, hoping it sufficiently spoke for itself. But after Jamie —one of my wonderful readers (shout-out to Jamie!) — quite fairly pushed back on this generalization, I figured it’d be best to share my explication with all of you, lest anyone doubt my undying love for the Male Wonder from Down Under:

He definitely has a particular sort of talent, one that I do love (as I mention in the piece!). From a completely subjective personal perspective, I just tend to prefer more introspective performers. He seems to access characters externally, easily switching types of roles without really changing his inner essence (which is why he’s so great in Broadway musicals and all the big spectacle movies he almost exclusively stars in). I’m just always aware that I’m watching Hugh Jackman, no matter the part. That can be used effectively in a wiiiiide range of work — for instance, as Barnum! — but I’m not sure he can play a non-theatrical, uber-realistic character.

Then again, he rarely chooses those roles, either because he’s not interested, they’re not offered to him, or he knows the limitations of his own talent (Eddie the Eagle is the closest he’s come recently, but that was more whimsical than realistic). Though I NEVER want him to leave behind the world of musicals, I’d love for him to take a break from superhero land to flex his acting muscles in a more gritty, minimalist, stripped down-and-dirty independent film. I guess his turn in Prisoners would be the closest to that, but there I feel like he’s OVERLY EMOTING to the balcony even though the camera is inches away from his face. As soon as I witness him dial it all the way back, I will issue a formal apology for questioning the depth of his skillset!

6 thoughts on “I Owe Hugh a Clarification

  1. Hi! First, I want to say I appreciate your positive reviews of The Greatest Showman. This is a movie I loved that filled me with a lot of joy, as well as all of my loved ones. That said, I have to disagree with you completely on Hugh Jackman’s acting. I feel somewhat the opposite to you. Hugh Jackman’s acting is a breath of fresh air. He is one of the few actors today that reminds me of the great actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age whom I admired. Today, so many actors and audiences get so caught up in realism and nihilism that when I watch their performances, I have difficulty connecting with them. I can acknowledge that they are good from a technical standpoint, but I’m left feeling cold. Christian Bale and Daniel Day Lewis are good examples of this, but I feel this way about the majority of actors in Hollywood. Excellent actors, but I have never once connected with them in a role because when I see them on screen, I cannot feel their humanity. Hollywood elitists may praise them, but this type of acting does nothing for me.

    By contrast, Hugh Jackman has something special and it comes from within. He ever changed to become more like what you want, I would be saddened. He is one of the only actors who emotes in such a way that it draws me in and makes me feel exactly what he is feeling. It feels so sincere, so genuine. I feel like I am looking into the character’s soul. He has so much charisma, but also so much substance. When he cries, I want to cry. When he smiles, it’s so infection that I find myself smiling. When he’s angry, I feel angry. He doesn’t have to say much, and I can always read how his characters feel by looking at his face. His entire performance in Les Miserables made me his fan because it touched my heart to the core. I did not see Hugh Jackman at all in this performance. Before watching Les Miserables, I remember thinking to myself, “Wolverine better not screw this role up. Jean Valjean is my favorite literary character of all time.” I had always liked him as Wolverine because he was fun in the role, but I wasn’t yet his fan. I came out of Les Miserables stunned. He had completely transformed into my favorite literary character of all time. I did not see Hugh Jackman. I did not see Wolverine. I only saw Jean Valjean – the Jean Valjean I had loved since childhood. Not even the stage performances of Jean Valjean had done that for me. Their voices are arguably more beautiful, but Jackman’s portrayal moved me more. This was the first time I had felt so connected to a performance in decades.

    Then he did it to me again with Prisoners. His scene in Prisoners where he is looking at the bloody sock that he believes is his daughter’s, is one of the best acting performances I have seen in recent years. His crying is more heartfelt and genuine than any other male actor I see in the movies, and I watch a lot of movies (I’m very into film). Hugh Jackman’s performance in ‘Logan’ was just as powerful. Logan in that movie is the complete opposite to Hugh Jackman in real life, but I saw the character’s humanity and could relate to him on such a profound level. And now, Hugh Jackman did it again in The Greatest Showman. He is the most charming actor I have seen on screen in decades, but again, the humanity he brings to his roles is so heartfelt. I believed with all my heart he loved Charity Barnum while watching. I believed he had lost himself when he got caught up with the Jenny Lind tour. I felt the connection between Barnum and his children deeply (Jackman is amazing with children on screen – no other actor portrays a father as well in recent times, in my opinion). And when Jackman sings “From Now On”, the emotions on his face are so palpable, so real. When he apologizes to Charity on the beach: “I brought hardship on you and our family. You warned me, but I wouldn’t listen. I just wanted to be more than I was”… it was so heartfelt, so beautiful, so sincere — that I felt like I was Charity, and inwardly thought, “I forgive you, PT. I forgive you, sweetie!” In summary, Jackman is amazing and I hope he never changes his acting style. He will keep improving because he works so hard, but the aspects of his acting that you criticize are the aspects of his acting that I love the most and something I hope he never changes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off, congrats on writing probably my favorite reader comment in the history of this website! So thoughtful, so well-considered, and so eloquently, passionately expressed. You should start a blog of your own…

      I completely agree with your assessment that Jackman harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood (in truth, I actually mentioned that in a previous draft, but subsequently deleted it for some unknown reason). I TOTALLY understand how you and many others can prefer that style of acting…it just doesn’t do as much for as me as the work of people like — since you brought him up — Daniel Day Lewis. It takes all kinds!

      To reiterate: I really do love, Hugh. I just find myself sometimes wishing he could control the radiance of his stardom a bit more. Tom Hanks is a good corollary; he also comes off as a Golden Age of Hollywood actor, but he can equally get completely lost in roles that call for resonant minimalism (ala PHILADELPHIA). To my eyes — which of course may be wrong — Hugh hasn’t shown me that same amount of fluctuation. He probably came the closest in LOGAN, so I shall hope it’s a sign of what’s to come. But even if he never changes from his current style, I will still happily line up to buy a ticket for all of his movies (and shows!). Because again, I really do love him.

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  2. Thank you for the shout out. Tresa4Love did express the sentiments well. There are certainly differences in preferred acting styles. When I go to a film I want to “feel” about the characters. The feelings can be positive or negative, but I want the actor to take me where they are and care about what is happening to them. For that reason, I loved Hugh’s Jean Val Jean and didn’t like DDL’s Lincoln. So let’s see if Jackman comes up with a role that can keep us all happy.

    Liked by 1 person

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