The actor discusses playing a magican, practicing tricks, and having certain scenes not make it into the film
Some actors get pigeonholed early into playing certain types of roles. Leading men want to be character actors, character actors want to be leading men, etc.. Hugh Jackman seems to exemplify the best of both worlds. Known to many as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, he seems poised to give audiences a different look at himself in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.
The Prestige is a twisting, turning tale of urgent mystery. Two Victorian-era magicians (Jackman and Christian Bale) spark a powerful rivalry that builds into an escalating battle of tricks and an unquenchable thirst to uncover the other's trade secrets. As these two remarkable men pit daring against desire, showmanship against science and ambition against friendship, the results are dangerous, deadly and definitely deceptive.
Were you interested in magicians prior to doing this movie?
Hugh Jackman: I wouldn't say there was a fascination with it, but when I signed on to do this film I went to see all the big acts that I had never seen before. So, I suppose it was an interest but by no means a marked interest. The problem with doing a film like this is that I didn't realize there so many books on how tricks are done. Right from the 1800s, Penn & Teller now have that series debunking so many magic acts... when you know it kind of takes the sting out of it a little bit. Which is very much one of the themes of the movie.
I went to see everything and I always fascinated with how they, regardless of how the trick is done, for me, how they perform the trick. How they entertain. How they do the show. Which was one of the great things for me doing this part. My character is someone who is a natural on stage. A good magician but not a fantastic magician, but a great entertainer. That was what really fascinated me.
Do you see a lot of similarities between acting and magic?
Hugh Jackman: I was impressed with how much acting is involved with magic. When I worked with the advisors they told me that really half of the trick is convincing yourself that the ball you just made disappear from your right hand, where's it gone? It's one thing to technically be able to do it but if you want to really amaze an audience, what you you have to do is make yourself believe, where's the ball? That focus, in fact, is what misdirects the audience. Not so much flashing lights... I suppose that's exactly the same basic premise of acting. You have to convince yourself, I suppose.
How much of that generator lightning was real or fake?
Hugh Jackman: Oh, now you're bringing out the magician in me. I feel like I shouldn't tell you anything. It was fake.
Did you learn any slight of hand tricks?
Hugh Jackman: I did. I used to practice my tricks. We learned all the tricks. Christian and I were very well prepared. Christian had more to do than I did. I have to give him credit because I think he did a fantastic job. The thing is, Chris Nolan said, "You can do a trick perfectly and everyone will presume it's a trick of the camera." That's in fact the genius of the story. It's really the plot that is the greatest trick of all.
However, I was practicing some tricks with my son who was five at the time. He said, "Daddy, it's in your other hand." So that didn't go particularly well. The very first one I did was fairly unsuccessful. I actually hadn't realized, it wasn't in the script that I had to do something. Chris had said, a couple days before, "It'd be great at the beginning, while you're just sitting there, to do a little illusion. Some sort of trick." And I was like, "Oh man, I've only learned the ones I need to do in the film." And Ricky Jay has a motto, "It's on a need to know basis," he would only teach us the things we would need for the film.
Both of us asked him, "We've got kids, we've got birthday parties for the next ten years. We've got to pull out something!" And he wouldn't do it. So it's two days before this thing that I had to make something disappear from my hand and then appear again... for two days I was obsessively doing it every minute. So I came to shoot it and I remember being more nervous than I'd been since the first time I sang in public. I was doing it and he said, "Cut, I think we got it."
So I came to work the next day and I asked, "How does it look?" And he said, "Not spectacular." And I have seen the film and it's not in there. So I redoubled my efforts on all my other tricks from that moment on.
As you were shooting the movie how did you stay oriented within it?
Hugh Jackman: Well, even when you watch the film it's not in sequence; time wise. Chris Nolan likes to jump things around. Don't worry it makes perfect sense, but it's fair to say it's a movie you have to bring your brain to. My character has a diary that he writes which ends up in the hands of his enemy and I get his diary. That is actually the diary that I wrote from when my character was about 18. I'd done it a couple of times before as an actor, but it was really an effective way for me to get into the mindset of the magician; who are intensely private people by nature.
Writing the diary was a great way for me to flesh out the inner life of this character for me. Then just basically making sense of it. So at any point I could go back and kind of read my own diary.
The Prestige opens nationwide on October 20 from Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros.