Back in his Australian homeland, Hugh Jackman might still be best known as a song-and-dance man, as the stage is where he initially gained fame, and there was plenty of Aussie TV work to keep him busy between plays. But shortly after the 1990s turned into the 2000s, Jackman found international fame, nabbing the big screen role of Wolverine (or Logan, if you prefer) in “X-Men,” a part that he was still revisiting just last year in the film “Logan.” In the midst of the ensuing busy movie career, Jackman was Oscar-nominated for his lead role in “Les Misérables,” and has found a comfort zone in everything from comedy (“Flushed Away”) to grim drama (“Prisoners”). In related news, although it’s been 15 years since People magazine placed Jackman on its “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” list, and a decade since the same publication dubbed him “Sexiest Man Alive,” it makes sense that he was also awarded the lead role in “The Front Runner,” playing the strikingly handsome former Senator Gary Hart, a man who most likely would have become president in 1988 if his serial womanizing didn’t catch the attention of the American press. Jackman spoke about the new film, directed by Jason Reitman, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: You were a college student in Australia when the Gary Hart story happened. Were you aware of it at the time?
A: I was on a gap year in 1987, when all of this happened. I was turning 19 and was probably drunk most of the year, so I remember very little of it. But now, as an outsider, as an Aussie, I took to the story as something very fresh and found it somehow relevant to what was happening today. I’m also a massive fan of Jason Reitman, and I was a journalism major, so I was very interested in the story. So, story, director, story ... I’m in.
Q: How heavy is the responsibility of playing a real person, someone who’s still around to see how you portray him onscreen?
A: It’s a great responsibility, one I’ve never had the opportunity of doing before. I’ve played a couple of real people who had passed, but never anybody alive. We did a lot of research before filming. I spoke to a lot of Gary’s former campaign team before I went to his home in Troublesome Gulch, Colorado, and stayed with the Harts for a few days. When I was talking with the campaign people, the one thing in common with almost every one of them was the word enigma. And that is an exciting but frightening word for an actor. But I wanted to sit there and be with him and understand what it’s like to be around that sort of mysterious enigmatic quality, and I saw that. He’s as sharp, I imagine, as he’s ever been, and very knowledgeable about any subject going on today. I’d say we have a friendship now.
Q: Do you believe he would have made a good president?
A: Again, I’m an Australian. I’m seeing this from an outsider’s point of view. But while I was spending time with him, he shared with me his 100-day plan if he had made it into office. And I can tell you categorically that it would probably be a very different world today if that had happened.
Q: Did the experience of speaking with him, then making the film, give you any political aspirations?
A: No, after looking into that world, it made me want to run ... even further. What I love about the film, which shows this cauldron of a campaign, is that really important decisions were being made on the fly, under immense pressure. And now, post-Watergate, every single journalist, every voter, is assuming there’s a flaw that needs to be found out.
Q: So, do you see any hope in the political system?
A: I believe everything is fixable because I’m an optimist. I love the line my character has, when he says that he believes in the sanctity of the process. So, yes, it’s broken, however the democratic process is something worth fighting for. What I love about it is I think people are arguing about which parts of the process do we keep. Which are worth fighting for, what is important, what is not?
“The Front Runner” opens on Nov. 16.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.