Hugh Jackman was a 'hot mess' during filming of The Son

In an interview with Q’s Tom Power at TIFF last fall, Hugh Jackman discussed his latest movie, The Son, and why his parenting style involves "leading with vulnerability."

In a Q interview, the actor spoke about his new movie, parenting and taking career risks

Head shot of actor Hugh Jackman.
In an interview with Q’s Tom Power at TIFF last fall, Hugh Jackman discussed his latest movie, The Son, and why his parenting style involves 'leading with vulnerability.' (AFP via Getty Images)

The full conversation with Hugh Jackman is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and follow on CBC Listen, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts.

Hugh Jackman is an old school trained actor who knows how to balance his work and home life, but when it came to filming the emotional drama film The Son he said he was a "hot mess."

The Son is a prequel to the Academy Award-winning film The Father (2020), based on plays by Florian Zeller, who also directed the film adaptations. Jackman stars in the drama alongside Laura Dern and Anthony Hopkins. The film explores themes such as trauma, parenting and childhood depression. 

Jackman is best known for playing Wolverine in the X-Men film series, but the Australian actor doesn't have much in common with the Canadian clawed mutant. In a new interview on Q with Tom Power, he said the role always felt hard for him, despite having played the character in nine movies.

"You only have to know me for three seconds and I'm very different from that character," he told Tom Power. 

From singing on Broadway to voicing animated characters, Jackman said he likes to take risks and finds courage through his variety of roles.

He's received major American entertainment awards, including an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony. With only the Oscar left to conquer, Jackman's starring role in The Son may finally solidify him as an EGOT winner, joining talents like John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

WATCH | Hugh Jackman's interview with Tom Power:

Jackman sat down with Power when The Son had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. In that conversation, he touched on vulnerability, his family and his theatre background.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What did you connect with when you first read the script?

I certainly connected as a parent. The impotent feeling you have constant worry and fear. Both parents are like, "What the hell are we doing?" Particularly when things are getting tough or there's a crisis. I certainly connected to that first. 

About halfway through the film there's a great scene I have with Anthony Hopkins, who plays my father, where you realize we're all still sons and daughters and children. We carry that with us all our life and that informs our parenting. You start that journey determined not to make the same mistakes that impacted you growing up: "I'm going to be different. I'm going to do this better. I'm going to do that better."

I felt there was something very urgent about the story. It's a conversation that is so hard to have, because there's a lot of guilt and shame around it. And ignorance. What I loved is the script doesn't give answers as to why or how to solve it, it's really just opening up a conversation.

Do you connect with it as a child?

Yeah, it brought up a lot for me of my own childhood. Things that I had forgotten about or wanted to forget about. My father died during the filming, so there was a lot of stuff going on for me personally. 

As an actor I did a lot of training, and part of that training was knowing how to balance the work and home life, and how to leave your job at work and not carry characters or emotional turmoil at home, and I wasn't very successful with this one. I was pretty much a hot mess during this one.

WATCH | Official trailer for The Son:

In past interviews you talk about your family growing up, and the anger. For that to come out in this movie, I can't imagine. That's hard.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm really interested in the patterns that I unconsciously live. I don't want to keep living them or repeating them — not unconsciously. I'm on a search for all of that stuff that's within me. And acting gives you the most incredible opportunity to face it, but it's hard. I'm super grateful for it, but I'm not going to lie to you, there were times where I was struggling to sleep. There were times where I probably hugged my kids, and they were like, "What the hell is going on with dad?" I was feeling a real need to connect. And it has certainly changed me I think as a parent, for sure.

For example, things that I thought you were never meant to admit to as a parent like, I'll say to one of my kids, "Look, I got to be honest. Actually mum and I disagree on this and I have no idea who's right or wrong. I just have this weird feeling that this is not going to end well, and can we sit down and talk about it?" Now that sentence would never have come out of my mouth, we would have had a talk about it, would somehow wrestle our way to a "this is what we think." And we sit them down now "this is happening and we think it should be this." And I somehow thought that was parenting.

I didn't think it was right to share too much vulnerability — I thought that would end up being a burden for them. That they don't want to feel unsafe, like, "Oh my God, my dad is out of control." But now I will. I'll say, "Hey, guys, I know I might seem a bit preoccupied — or if I seem a bit vacant, I'm just really nervous. I've got my opening night next week, and this is bothering me, that's bothering me, and I'm worried about how it'll go." And I see their relief when I say that kind of thing. I'm ready to get letters from parenting experts going, "What the hell are you thinking?" But certainly, I feel part of the conversation has to be leading with vulnerability even if you're the parent. 

I think there's a line in the movie: love is not enough — it's not always enough. Love is the most important thing, but that doesn't solve problems. It doesn't always tell you how to handle a situation. And it can get in the way. It can make you blind to certain things. It can make you feel like I'm the one who's got to fix this. I'm the one who loves this kid more than anyone. But maybe someone who's a little more removed, or a little more experienced, or who's seen it for 40 years is a better person.

You're in a heartbreaking drama about a child suffering from depression, and apparently you're in one man shows. You're a big musical theatre dude too?

My first job was in Beauty and the Beast on stage. They made me have singing lessons every day. I'd never sung in my life before. My agent just said, "They can't find someone to play Gaston," and I said, "Well, I'm not a singer mate." They said, "Yeah, but they really have looked everywhere. Just go for it." I remember luckily reading first, for the part and I could see them all going, "Ah!" And then I sang and I can see them collectively go, "Oh."

They took a bet on me and in my contract it said, "Must have singing lesson every week." They paid for me, a lead in a musical, to have singing lessons. So the most surprising left turn of my career has been musicals — and I love them!

What's your relationship with risk in your career?

Say yes, absolutely. Try it. For me, I always had in my head, keep as many doors open. I knew that's what I loved from when I trained as an actor. When you train, you do fencing and then you do a scene, like Shakespeare class, and then you'll have singing once a week. It's all this old school acting, it's all about fight combat, but also how to use your body, voice lessons, movement lessons, circus skills, you would do literally everything. Then you're doing a Mamet play, and then you're doing a comedy, and I thrived on that. So I knew if I could have my choice, the more variety the better. And so I tried to keep as many doors open as I could.

There was a little period in there around X-Men two or three where I was like, the scripts aren't really cutting it for me. That action-y, reluctant hero sort of role. And so I just constantly looked for other things.

I was a very scared kid. Hated feeling scared, I hated that feeling that I was going to be trapped because my fear would be too great, so I would always push through. I don't think I've ever been as scared to take on a role as this. The more scared I am, the more courage I find, and the more rewarding the whole thing becomes whether it's a success or not.

So my relationship with the risk is uncomfortable. I've had to spend many years getting comfortable with that, and then realizing that if I'm too comfortable, I'm probably doing pretty average stuff.

When Wolverine happens you are the number one on the call sheet, and all of a sudden you are having to represent this franchise. I heard you say that it was very lonely, but now I understand it was pretty scary to do that.

Scary. I spent a lot of time trying to break down any feeling on set of, "Hey, I'm Wolverine, back it up. Don't talk to me, I'm doing my thing." I feel uncomfortable in that position. But I also, I think, over time I grew into that. That it's OK, it's alright to be number one on the call sheet. Rather than shy away from it, use it to set a tone on the set.

For me, the tone is I want everyone to feel appreciated and valued for their work. And I think that's where the best results come from and the most rewarding feeling for everybody is. But I had to come to terms with that feeling that this could be a bit lonely, and that's why I love going back to the theatre.

The film is originally a play, and if you don't mind me saying, the film very much still reads as a play.

Yeah! It's not very often and it's so beautiful to get a six-page scene. A six-page scene with Anthony Hopkins! A six-page scene with young Zen, with Laura Dern in that restaurant, and it's beautiful. Because normally in film, it's like a couple of minutes, but because it was crafted from a play there are these beautiful scenes, and I think actually it's so great on film to watch two characters really be able to sink into it. I think if you know anything about film or plays, you can see where it's come from. I do think Florian has found a way to make the cinematic language perfect for it. 

It was also partly to do with COVID, so no one was going out. We were all at a hotel, so we were in a bubble together, and we all were hanging out together and relying on each other. My wife was there with me and my kids, and Laura was on her own at the time so she sort of became part of our family. Even though I just met her, I felt with Laura that we'd known each other for 20 years, and that you can feel that in the scenes.

Written by Lian McMillan. Interview produced by Vanessa Greco.


Lian McMillan is a pop-culture writer, creator and consumer. An alum of the University of Toronto and Humber College, Lian is co-founder of the band ‘cutsleeve,' which has been featured in Exclaim!, NOW magazine, and CBC. She can be reached on Twitter @lian_mcmillan.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?