With his 17-year stint as The Wolverine behind him, after the blockbuster swan song Logan, Hugh Jackman is returning to his musical roots with the biopic The Greatest Showman. The beloved actor will take on the larger-than-life circus pioneer P.T. Barnum, and while we wait for the first trailer to debut, the first photos have surfaced offering a glimpse at Hugh Jackman and his co-stars Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Zendaya. Hugh Jackman and director Michael Gracey also shed some new light on this project, which was almost a completely different take on the showman's life.
Way back in August 2011, we reported that commercial director and visual artist Michael Gracey came aboard to make his feature directorial debut with The Greatest Showman. The project was initially announced two years earlier, but at the time, it was being conceived as a traditional biopic. The director told Entertainment Weekly that he suggested the project be a musical, which started an arduous development process.
"I said, 'If you're going to call it The Greatest Showman, you should play to your strengths and we should make it a musical.' That ridiculous remark cost me seven years of my life."
After years of development, we reported in November 2014 that production was slated to begin in the summer of 2015. At the time, The Greatest Showman was being touted as the first original musical in over two decades, since Disney's hit 1992 musical Newsies, but that all changed last year with the Best Picture nominee La La Land. Here's what Hugh Jackman had to say about why The Greatest Showman struggled in development for so long.
"Up until La La Land, everyone was saying there hasn't been an original musical in 23 years. So the prevailing thought in Hollywood was, unless you have a brand people know, it's not a done thing. So it just took a long time."
The story follows P.T. Barnum's rise from his impoverished background to the creation of his first circus in New York. Zac Efron stars as Barnum's business partner, who falls for a trapeze artist (Zendaya). The story takes place throughout the mid-1800s, a time where, as Hugh Jackman explains, circuses weren't exactly considered mainstream entertainment.
"This was also a time in America where puritans kind of ruled and the circus was the equivalent of some dark-alley-strip-show kind of thing."
Aside from being an original musical, The Greatest Showman has another thing in common with La Lan Land, Oscar-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who have recently been tapped to write music for Disney's new Snow White adaptation and Fox's A Christmas Story live musical event. While the story is set in the 1800s, Hugh Jackman teased that the songs themselves will feel like current pop hits. Here's what the actor had to say below.
"We were clear from the beginning that this wouldn't feel like a period movie or a historical piece. What would Barnum do now? I have an almost-12-year-old daughter. I wanted [the movie] to be as exciting for her as listening to Katy Perry's new song."
The cast also includes Michelle Williams as P.T. Barnum's wife Charity, along with Rebecca Ferguson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Paul Sparks. Michael Gracey directs from a screenplay by Bill Condon, Jenny Bicks and Michael Arndt, with Hugh Jackman also producing alongside Laurence Mark. As of now, The Greatest Showman is currently the only movie slated to arrive on Christmas Day, with four movies arriving on the 22nd, Warner Bros.' comedy Bastards, Paramount's dramatic comedy Downsizing, Universal's musical comedy sequel Pitch Perfect 3 and The Weinstein Company's The Six Billion Dollar Man, with Jumanji arriving on December 20. Take a look at the first photos from The Greatest Showman below.