Off the back of the extraordinary success of The Greatest Showman, Aussie acting legend Hugh Jackman sat down with the crew of the BAFTA’s and dished out some excellent acting advice. I have compiled the biggest takeaways here for your convenience. Get amongst it.
‘Film is the directors medium, find out who the director is.’
Hugh’s first point in this interview is about the director, trust and collaboration.
“You need to be able to trust that director, and know that the director is going to push to get the best out of you…They give you freedom in these boundaries, kind of like parenting really”
Especially in film, your character lives, breathes and dies at the hands of the director. You as the actor have to be able to trust them and trust their vision. Importantly that they need to know what they want from you and are ready to work with you to achieve it. Research the director before you take a role, look at some of their previous work, grab a coffee with them and get a vibe. If you feel like it’s weird or you don’t connect, it probably isn’t going to work out.
‘The last thing you ever want in front of the camera is doubt’
The viewing audience on the other side of the camera are like circling sharks, but instead of smelling blood in the water, they smell doubt in the performer. Jackman says the last thing you ever want in front of the camera is doubt. A performer who is unsure of themselves, who has not made choices, who cannot take direction is going to really struggle. What this comes back to is doing the preparation. It is great to be spontaneous, but not so great to be unsure of yourself.
‘Be friendly to everyone’
“In the Australian film industry everyone talks to everyone, if they’re not making fun of you they probably don’t like you… I much prefer to feel like we’re in it together”
Particularly in Australia, but I think this applies worldwide – be friendly to the cast and crew around you. No one likes a diva and in the modern industry, that sort of behaviour is just completely unnecessary. Jackman is right about Australian sets too, if the crew is treating you with too much respect it’s highly likely you’re not the most loved person on set. Being a team player is a key part of being an actor, so try and fit into the culture of your film set as much as possible. Everyone is working towards the same goal, to create a great film.
‘I always used to go into auditions like they were a first rehearsal’
“It was my way of redressing the balance of power like I’m trying to please you, but it’s more like we are trying to work together”
He tells a story in this interview about heading into a casting and having a very firm personal interpretation of how he wanted to play the character. Really approaching the audition like he was in a first rehearsal. Encouraging the casting people to work with him in creating this particular moment. Jackman also says this helped him feel less nervous, by positioning himself like he already had the job in his mind, it helped free him up in the room.
‘I spent a long time working on the physical aspects of Wolverine’
“Movement to me has always been really important, I will spend hours just walking around inhabiting a character”
Here we get a slight piece of insight into Jackman’s process. He says he would work from the feet up or sometimes the head down and spend hours working on the physicality of the character. When you see the powerful physicality he presents as Wolverine in the X-Men series his work really does shine through there. It is also a great example of heightened performance seamlessly working in cinema. Worth a look!
‘Just because it feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not good’
“We so often want to feel comfortable, but that doesn’t always bring the best results”
You will hear every acting teacher, coach and director say some version of this and it is vital to remember. Acting is not about you feeling good. It is not about you having catharsis. It is about embodying a character and telling a story. That story could well require you to feel uncomfortable, or weird or upset. It is vital that you get outside of your comfort zone. If you feel completely comfortable playing Hamlet for over three hours onstage, there is something wrong with you. It should be challenging and uncomfortable at points, and that is okay.
But don’t take it from me, that quote is from Sir Ian McKellan who said it to Jackman while working on the first X-Men film!
‘It’s okay to be nervous’
“Say it, I tried to hide it for 20 years, say it – it is usually relieving to everyone around you”
One thing that I have learnt recently is that everyone is nervous. The director, the producers, the other actors, everyone is nervous. Also clearly being nervous, and saying that you are fine just makes everyone else more nervous, not less. Speak to it. Everyone will understand and will most likely feel relieved that you are feeling the same way.
There is some of the great advice for actors from one of this century’s great actors. Hugh Jackman is an incredible performer across stage and screen and by all accounts is an absolutely lovely human to boot. If you would like to watch the full interview you can watch it below: