How Hugh Jackman’s Risk-Taking With ‘The Son’ Paid Off

Slashing theater records on Broadway with Music Man, ramping up to reprise his iconic portrayal of Wolverine in 2024’s Deadpool 3, and receiving major recognition and praise for his film The Son, Hugh Jackman is as much on top now as he’s ever been.

“I feel different at this point in my career,” Jackman told me Tuesday, a day after receiving his fourth career Golden Globe nomination (won for Les Misérables in 2013) for his performance as “Peter” in Florian Zeller’s The Son. “It’s been, I guess 25 years I’ve been doing it. I’m super excited about everything. I have a confidence. … I’m lucky enough to not have to worry about paying the bills.

“I do everything because I really, really want to do it and I’m passionate about it. And if it doesn’t make sense here (points to head), here (points to heart), and in my gut, I don’t do it. And that’s a really, really fortunate, blessed place to be as an actor and that’s where I feel I’m at.”

As much confidence as an actor of Jackman’s caliber and range —and with his many talents— may possess, he wanted to work with Zeller, who won an Oscar last year for Best Adapted Screenplay with The Father, on The Son because the role terrified him.


Jackman knew The Son —a bold, raw, and gripping look at a family struggling during the course of their son’s mental health battle— was a risk.

“I try to find risk. I get most excited by risk— and uncomfortable,” Jackman said. “When I went for the part, I remember saying to my wife, because I went to Zoom with Florian, I said, ‘I’ve never been so scared to get a part or not get a part. I was so passionate about it, but I knew it would be really hard and scary to do, the material, what it demanded of me as an actor, everything about it.

“So, yes it makes it very, very sweet when things like this turn out, but the real gift of it was working on it and being part of something that will hopefully be meaningful and start really meaningful conversations.”

Hugh is hopeful the picture spreads a deeper understanding of, as well as vital conversations about, mental health issues the way The Father shed light on dementia.

“You can’t just assume because you’re the father or you’re the mother you know what to do and you can handle this or that, or a mental health crisis is something where we know what to do,” Jackman said. “Why would you automatically know as a parent? The answers are complex.”

The Son is bravely unique in that given Florian’s background as a playwright, it feels like theater in front of cameras. The intimacy you get from a playhouse is what one experiences with the picture.

Being so close to Peter and his family during the worst chapter of their lives may make it difficult for the audience to walk away obtaining a specific message or theme from the movie. Hugh believes, similar to The Father, Zeller’s objective wasn’t to smack the audience in the face with a single message, but to provide awareness by placing them in the crisis.

“You’re witnessing the struggle,” Jackman stated. “He just wants you to feel what it’s like to be in a situation that is so desperate where you have no idea what to do and the water around you is rising and rising and rising, and the hopelessness of it and the fear of it and the fight of it, and he wants you to viscerally feel it.

“In The Father, he wanted you to viscerally feel what it’s like to be inside Anthony Hopkins’ head going through dementia. What is that really like? So that we can empathize and we can discuss.

“You watch The Father and then you see someone with Alzheimers and you have a different feeling of what it must be like for them to be going through it and I think he’s doing the same here with The Son.”

Anthony Hopkins, who won an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for The Father, had one scene in The Son and the back and forth between him and Jackman is a masterclass in emotional expression for actors.

In just one scene and at 84, Hopkins was as strong as he’s ever been. The character’s personality and intentions ooze out of his eyes and the dialogue is all over his face before a single word is spoken. His delivery of the lines is just the cherry on top after Anthony’s unrivaled gaze and facial expressions tell the story.

According to Hugh, Hopkins put the same dedication to his craft in his single scene in The Son as he did to The Father, where he was in the majority of the film.

While making The Father, Anthony emailed Zeller everyday for six months with questions about the project. Florian told Jackman he received the same amount of emails from Hopkins regarding his scene in The Son.

Hugh also said it seemed like Hopkins had wrapped his coverage for the scene early and nailed it, but asked to keep going.

“After we did my [coverage] it was 10:30 in the morning and he turned to Florian and he said, ‘I want to do it again,’” Jackman recalled. “I knew they only had the location for one day and Florian said, ‘Fine.’ I said, ‘Why does he want to go again? That was amazing.’ And he goes, ‘He misses acting. I just think he misses acting. He wants to have another go.’”

To no surprise, Hugh’s performance in the scene was on par with Hopkins as the two Hollywood titans went toe to toe in depicting a troubling father-son relationship. At the end of the scene after Peter’s father reveals a fiery lack of remorse with his transgressions against his family, Jackman triumphs in viscerally expressing many different emotions for Peter.

“The key is to not take the temperature of what… just to feel what your feeling. And there’s a lot of different things that he’s going through, including shame,” Hugh revealed. “That he’s [weak] around his father, still. So there’s a lot of anger, there’s all this but he’s still a little bit quiet. … He is feeling stunned and the key to it I guess is just trusting what is happening is happening in his reading.

Florian wouldn’t let us watch the monitor. He wouldn’t let us watch anything back, he just said, ‘Just trust me that I’ve got this and you just play the same, just be with him.”

The Son had a limited theatrical run in the US in late November and will have a wide release on January 20.

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