Hugh Jackman has always been a triple-threat, with his singing, dancing and acting chops. But in the modern day movie business, even he struggles to get an original, big budget musical made.
Now, after seven years of battling, Jackman plays legendary, controversial circus impresario P.T. Barnum in the dreamy, dazzling musical The Greatest Showman.
“It is notoriously one of the hardest things to do in Hollywood,” Jackman tells PEOPLE editor-in-chief Jess Cagle — during the latest edition of The Jess Cagle Interview (streaming now on People TV) — of bringing a major musical to the big screen.
In the past, Jackman says, “I think just the climate of Hollywood was like, ‘There’s just too many risks. There’s too much to do. It’s too much, let’s not do that anymore.’ I mean, there’s been musicals, obviously: Les Mis, Mamma Mia. But an original movie musical is really hard. So that was, yeah, seven years ago, and here we are.”
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While he describes musicals as a “difficult” and sort of “weird art form,” having music written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for La La Land, made things easier.
“[They] are the heartbeat of this musical,” Jackman says of Pasek and Paul. “Their music is so good … It has a modern sensibility.”
Following in his character’s footsteps helped guide Jackman and the filmmakers in creating the musical numbers. “We asked ourselves,’What movie would Barnum want to make?’ Now, he’s not gonna do a stuffy period piece with music from the 1850s. He wants my daughter Ava to go, ‘Oh, loved that song.'”
The Greatest Showman hits theaters Dec. 20.