It’s been a good 12 months for Hugh Jackman. He voiced the boomerang-slinging, Australian-accented Easter Bunny in “Rise of the Guardians,” was Oscar-nominated and won a Golden Globe for his Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” and got rave reviews from fans and critics for his sixth screen appearance as Logan in “The Wolverine.” He actually plays a contemporary character in the new thriller “Prisoners” – Keller Dover, the concerned, angry, vengeful dad of a young girl who’s been kidnapped and who is convinced that the detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn’t doing enough to find her. Jackman, definitely one of the nicest guys in the business, spoke about the film and his approach to his character at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.
On the page and even in the trailer, “Prisoners” looks like just another entry in the kidnap-revenge movie genre. But it’s much more than that.
JACKMAN: The script came to me about a year before [director] Denis Villeneuve came onboard, and I loved the script. It was the kind of script that could have become a more generic thriller. It could have veered that way. But in the DNA of the script was a more ambitious thriller, not just one that grips you and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but one that actually makes you contemplate and think for many days after.
You have kids. How hard was it to make a movie with this theme?
JACKMAN: As an actor, you do everything you can to convince yourself to pretend to be someone else, and dive into their shoes and their experience, and bring that to life. Part of the research I did was looking into what REALLY happens in this situation. Like what happens on day one, on day two [after a kidnapping]? Do you print fliers? How do you react? What happens emotionally? This touches on really elemental fears that we all collectively have. That’s why I think the film is cathartic to watch. There’s a reason we don’t just go to see comedies. Somehow as humans we also need to touch on the real fears that we push down every day of our lives.
Did you speak to any people that have gone through the experience of a child being kidnapped?
JACKMAN: I read something from a father whose kid was gone, and he said the most maddening part of the whole thing was the powerlessness of a parent knowing that the child was waiting for YOU and can’t understand why you’re not there. The movie takes place over eight or nine days, and part of the research I did was on sleep deprivation for my character, because the idea of to sleep is to fail your child.
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the most intense scenes are between you and Jake, and the sometimes furious disagreements your characters have over the handling of the case.
JACKMAN: The relationship between our characters is very important to the story. We talked about that a lot. We only had four or five scenes together, and we wanted to make the most of them. It was one of those occasions where as actors neither of us wanted to leave the scenes. We wanted to dive into them and investigate them.
Viewers are going to be divided as to the vigilante nature of your character, especially when the film gets into his relationship with the kidnapping suspect (Paul Dano). Please share your own feelings about whether he does too little or too much.
JACKMAN: I can’t make up the minds of audiences, and I’m thrilled that Denis and [screenwriter] Aaron Guzikowski made a film that forces that moral ambiguity. It is uncomfortable, and that’s what I like about it. It almost subverts the genre. You think, OK, we’re going down this path with this guy and, yeah, let’s enact some rightful justice. But all of a sudden you feel uncomfortable, and what that forces you to do is to question why, if you went along with him, why you so easily go along with that way of thinking. And then you ask, what would I do in that situation. That’s where the film’s power lies and where it transcends the genre.
“Prisoners” opens on Sept. 20.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.