LES MISERABLES - HUGH & RUSS: TWO SIDES OF THE AUSSIE COIN
For the first time, two of Australia’s international stars, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe share star billing in Les Miserables. Andrew L. Urban has known both men since their first films, and – being a film journalist - has followed their careers ever since.
Russell Crowe as Javert & Hugh Jackman as Valjean in Les Miserables
I first met Russell on the set of Blood Oath (1990), with Bryan Brown. He plays Lt. Corbett, a notable support role. But I only met him briefly – and ever since, he never misses an opportunity to remind me that I “refused” to interview him on the set. He is only half joking. The fact is, I was there to interview Bryan, the star of the film. I regret the omission, but it was not ‘refusal’. His dedication and focus were already being noted, like the passion with which he sharpened his pencils prior to the courtroom scenes .. I shoulda noticed!
We met again fairly soon, on the set of his next film, The Crossing (1990), in which he plays the lead character, Johnny, and I certainly did interview him. I remember sitting on a bench on location as he told me he was a keen muso. We crossed paths several times after that, usually on set or a location.
Notably, on the set of The Sum of Us (1994) he invited me into what was his on screen bedroom, while he was off-camera waiting to make his entrance into the set’s lounge room (for a scene with Jack Thompson as his dad) to keep our interview going. I watched as he stuffed a couple of socks down his pants before making his entrance. I suspect nobody else in the world has ever seen Russell do that.
On every occasion we had an easy professional relationship; he was always straight forward with me and trusted me. I never saw or experienced a darker side. He went to America and made some Hollywood films – notably L.A. Confidential. Others were less notable.
Then a few years later I bumped into Russell on the streets of West Hollywood; he had just come from a meeting with Ridley Scott, to talk about his role as Maximus in Gladiator (2000). It was clearly something he was excited about, but neither of us could imagine the impact it would have in making him an international superstar.
“Nothing equates to the earth shattering zeitgeist moment of Gladiator's release. That is when my life changed dramatically and it wasn't as much mine as it used to be,” he told me later, with a little chuckle.
Russell has screen authority and a raw energy he can tame at will – see him in The Insider, for example. Ridley Scott is one of his biggest fans.
My first meeting with Hugh Jackman (in 1998) took place shortly after his film debut in The Erskinville Kings, made the same year as Antony J. Bowman’s Paperback Hero, in which Jackman plays a truckie who secretly writes a paperback romance which becomes a hit – and he is too embarrassed to meet the publisher, so he gets Ruby (the feisty girl from his home town played by Claudia Karvan) to pretend she wrote it. On Location feature
We had a few laughs on location in outback NSW, and kept up a professional relationship ever since. (The next time we met was at a swank hillside villa at Cannes at a movie promo party.)
The last time we met face to face was backstage at Sydney’s Entertainment Centre, after one of his stunning performances in The Boy From Oz.
Hugh is certainly a boy from Oz; he is charming but below the charm is a fierce talent streak and he won’t compromise on his output. I think of him as the entertainment equivalent of Roger Federer - the ultimate gentleman sportsman athlete and ideal hero, mentor, role model.
Hugh is capable of playing star roles and character roles; he is a triple threat on stage, a charismatic figure on screen.
Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe represent two sides of the Aussie coin, one could say: the smooth, easy going Hugh and the darker, more intense, complex Russ. Both multi-talented with musical skills, Hugh is the ultimate song and dance man, while Russell is the guitar plucking singer with a rustic image who likes to own footy clubs.
Their contrasting styles are a perfect fit for their roles in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, the dramatic musical that works as well on screen as it does on stage – perhaps even better, with the close up delivering an intimacy the stage cannot.
When introducing the world’s first special screening of Les Miserables in Sydney on November 24, 2012, Hugh Jackman said “I've never worked so hard in all my life” – and on the depth and breadth of his performance, we cannot doubt him.
(The 1998 dramatic movie Les Miserables starred Liam Neeson as Valjean and another Aussie lad, Geoffrey Rush, as Javert. It was directed by Bille August.)
LES MISERABLES In early 19th century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is at the end of his 19 years in a brutal Toulon prison after stealing a loaf of bread and attempts to escape. On his release under the austere eye of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), the desperate Valjean is destitute and hungry; he is given food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson) – and when Valjean steals the silver he is caught by Javert – but the priest pretends to have given the silver away, an act of forgiveness that changes the course of Valjean’s life. He slips out of his parole – and some years later, he is the respected mayor of the poor town of Vigau, transforming it into a thriving community, caring for its people and workers, as the benevolent, generous owner of a factory. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is one of his employees, fired by the manager when he discovers the unmarried Fantine has a child. Fantine falls ill, and Valjean does his best to bring her back to health – with little success. When she is dying, he promises to take care of her little daughter, Cosette. Still hunted for breaking his parole by Javert, Valjean makes a new life for himself and the now teenage Cosette (Amanda Sayfried), who falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young Parisian revolutionary. But all the time, Javert is never far behind.