By Pauline M. Millard
Audiences have seen Hugh Jackman as a Wolverine, a 19th century gentleman and even a monster hunter, but the Australian-born actor takes another career twist in “The Prestige.”
Jackman has a knack for keeping audiences guessing. He appeared on television for several years before being cast as the Wolverine in the X-Men trilogy in 2000. This led to numerous leading film roles, including the romantic comedy, Kate & Leopold, opposite Meg Ryan and the blockbuster Van Helsing. In 2004 he won a Tony award for his portrayal of 1970s singer-songwriter Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. His latest project, The Prestige, takes him into the world of Vicotorian-era magicians and the quest for the perfect trick.
The Prestige is a thriller about two magicians who develop a rivalry after one of their tricks goes horribly awry. Jackman plays the sophisticated Rupert Angier. Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, a rough-edged performer who, although he is a creative genius, lacks the panache to showcase his magical talents. The Prestige also stars Michael Cane as the ingeneur, the man who designs illusions behind the scenes. David Bowie plays the eccentric but historically accurate Nikola Tesla, an inventor and engineer who agrees to help Rupert outdo Alfred.
“His main strength as a magician is as a performer,” Jackman recently said about his character in an interview with the film studio. “He simply loves being in front of a crowd. He has an ease and a great sort of way with the audience. In fact, to be somewhat critical of him, you could say that his style is sometimes far greater than his content.”
Jackman said that he was initially drawn to the script because of the innate mysteriousness of magicians.
“There is something about magicians that makes them different from non-magicians,” he said. “They do everything alone, because they don’t want to share their secrets, and they are intensely competitive. They’re fascinating people which makes them great characters.”
Although the movie takes place during the Victorian era, director Christopher Nolan didn’t want it to be a stuffy or demure film. The late 1800s were a golden age for magicians and they were essentially the rock stars of their times. Apart from Harry Houdini, very few are remembered, but back then many magicians had the chance to become household names.
“The Victorian Era is often mischaracterized as stuffy and repressive—when it was actually an incredibly exciting time in human development,” Nolan said.
“You had the second Industrial Revolution, the birth of electricity, the birth of cinema, the start of widespread international travel and science being turned on its head by new theories. It was a period of great adventurousness with changes that are still being felt today.” Nolan and his brother Jonathan may best be known for their work on Memento, the backwards-moving thriller about a man trying to avenge his wife’s murder.
Although this fall there is another magician film in theaters, The Illusionist, studios can sometimes be shy about approaching the subject for film. Some feel that if you’re not seeing magic live, you’re missing its true effect. The production team behind “The Prestige” felt that filmmaking is already a kind of a trick, and concentrated on what goes on behind the scenes and what drives the performers.
“Just as scientists are obsessed with the things humans can’t yet understand, magicians tap into that,” Jackman said. “What’s great about “The Prestige” is that it melds the mystical, the magical and the idea of the impossible with elements of science and reality,”
• Born in Sydney, Australia, 1968, the youngest of five children.
• Married to actress Deborra-Lee Furness. They have two children.
• First appeared in two Australian independent films, Paperback Hero and Erskineville Kings.
• Had leading roles in Someone Like You, Swordfish, Kate & Leopold, Van Helsing, Scoop and The Fountain.
• Played Logan/The Wolverine in the X-Men trilogy.
• Won a Tony Award in 2004 for his portrayal of 1970s singer-songwriter Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz.”