Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman first met when he hosted the Academy Awards in 2009, and became friends when they co-starred in 2012’s “Les Misérables” — which brought him an Oscar nomination for best actor and her a win for supporting actress. This year, Jackman drew raves for his role in HBO’s “Bad Education” as a charismatic school superintendent living a double life. In Amazon’s anthology series “Modern Love,” Hathaway played Lexi, a lawyer with bipolar disorder, whose life is a movie musical when she’s on a high — but when she’s low, she’s bedridden. During their conversation, the two exuded warmth toward each other. And when it came to an end, Hathaway suggested they have a “Zoom date” with their spouses, Deborra-Lee Furness and Adam Shulman. “Done!” Jackman said. “I’ll text you after this.” They talked to each other over video chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors issue.
Anne Hathaway: What I learned about you when we were on “Les Miz” is that you’re so charming and so unflappable, but you’re actually really serious. I think that someone like Deb is great for you, because I think you guys complement each other.
Hugh Jackman: I’m kind of a little like my dad in that way. Things can become very serious: This is what we need to do. I can just be a little serious and a little boring. Actually, Deb will kind of say that to me. She’ll be like, “Hello, hello? Come on, we can have some fun here!” She’s awesome for me.
Hathaway: I never found you boring. I remember on “Les Miz,” I feel like that made all of us stand up a little straighter and dig a little deeper. Because I feel like with musical theater, it’s so easy to get caught up in the joy of it.
Jackman: Thank you. Let me return the compliment by saying we rehearsed for nine weeks, and I remember your first rehearsal. I walked out of that rehearsal, and I rang Deb and said, “Whatever money you have, put it on Anne Hathaway winning the Oscar.” I just saw an Oscar-worthy performance.
You came to the set with all this research, which I actually found through Tom Hooper, our director. He said, “You should check out this research.” It was unbelievable because, with Amy Stevens Hammond, who’s a dramaturg by training and now does research, everything is practical. I’ve worked with her on everything apart from Wolverine movies since then, in the last eight years. I actually just got all my research books from her on “The Music Man.”
Hathaway: “On ‘The Music Man’” — now you’re just showing off. Did you use her on “Bad Education”?
Jackman: Yeah, I used her for “Bad Education.” I feel a real weight playing someone who’s alive, who’s living in the Bronx now. I’m depicting the worst time of this man’s life. I’m not doing it to tar and feather him. Obviously, we tell these stories as a cautionary tale to learn something.
That’s where Amy, to me, was invaluable. She found video from a news channel that interviewed him. The actual news piece was 40 seconds, and she had an hour and 15 minutes of the original, including the bit where they had to stop the interview for someone to go to the bathroom. They just had the camera rolling, and Frank is chatting with the camera. It was gold.
Did you work with Amy for “Modern Love”?
Hathaway: I had Terri Cheney, the woman whose story my episode was based on. I spoke with her and asked her a lot of questions. What annoys her? What upsets her? What does she feel that stories about bipolar disorder get wrong? I was asking her a lot about the physicality of it, and just her experience.
I never want to mistake my feelings for actual work. The reason I wanted to do this episode was because there’s someone in my life who I know never sees themselves on-screen. What led me to this character, and led me to want to say yes to this, was because I just wanted to show this person that I love them, and that I believe that they are worthy of love.
I don’t want to go into the reasons why storytelling has been the way it has been. I feel like it has been very based in the concept of good and bad, black and white, holy and evil. I’m sure those stories absolutely served a purpose for a time, but it feels like we’re moving out of that time and into a gray area.
That’s why I think your story in particular is really at an exceptional level. You know how much I love your work. I think this one might be your best.
Jackman: I have to say — thanks. I’m really a bad judge of my own work. When I saw this, I was, if I can be objective, I was like, “Oh, there’s some stuff in there.” I really made a conscious effort to not plan too much. I’m going a little red in the face because I feel like I’m being egotistical in my answer but — it was a film where I really enjoyed letting go more.
Hathaway: I want to congratulate you. That’s the first time in the, I think, 12 years I’ve known you, I’ve ever heard you approach paying yourself a compliment. This is real growth to you. Did [director] Cory Finley do anything in particular that made you trust him?
Jackman: Yeah. I’m taking a pause because I don’t think I’ve told anyone, but I’m going to tell you — I don’t mind telling people — I went up to him just before we started filming. I said, “I’ve spent most of my career thinking that my job, if I’m No. 1 on the call sheet, is to kind of be like the quarterback. Like, give me the ball, coach. I got this.”
Because of who Cory was, I could tell who he was as an artist. I made the choice to be honest with him. I would say to him, “I feel really self-conscious today.” Or I’d stop the take and go, “This is really bad. Can we just stop for a sec? I just feel nervous.” I would pull him aside and say, “I know this is one of the three really important scenes. I just feel that pressure.” I’ve always felt it. I’ve never said it because I thought I’m (A) a bit embarrassed and (B) that’s not going to help anyone.
He said, “I will not let you go home unless you feel great.” He said, “If we don’t have it, we’ll come back and shoot it tomorrow, so don’t worry about that. We’ve got that time.”
I think as I’ve got older, I’ve got more brave in being honest about my fears and my insecurities.
Hathaway: As someone who loves you, I’m so proud of you.
Jackman: I remember saying to you on “Les Miz,” “I’m so glad we’re doing this live because I hate recording. It’s so self-conscious.” You said, “You haven’t had enough wine.” Do you remember saying that?
I do know someone who has bipolar; I never really talked to them in depth, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people like me who are going to watch your episode of “Modern Love.” I finished — both Deb and I just went, “Oh, that’s what it’s like.” It’s that immediate and that debilitating way that within a minute, you’re in bed, and then you’re there for three days. I’d love to hear more about that.
Hathaway: One of the things that I learned after the episode aired was like me, like you, everyone has someone in their life that has either bipolar or something else — something that requires a little more space and education. That’s the thing that I can never understand: If we all love someone, why on Earth are there stigmas about it? A lot of people told me that this episode gave them an opportunity to talk about it.
I really understood the weight of walking around with a mental condition. It’s not up to people who are already working so hard just to live to make space for themselves — it has to be the rest of us. We really need more representation of mental health in art if a 32-minute episode of a rom-com anthology is speaking to this issue and making people feel seen in a way that they never have been before.
Jackman: You’ve broken my heart on-screen several times. You have that incredible ability to rip your heart open in your performance, which in the end is what it’s all about, right?
You just reminded me: There’s two directors I’ve worked with that don’t allow cellphones on set, Darren Aronofsky and Denis Villeneuve. Both of them had exactly the same reason, which is exactly what you were saying: It’s about intentionality. Both of them talk about the space being sacred. If you’re on a cellphone, it dissipates that energy.
Hathaway: I don’t want to contradict you, but you’ve worked with three directors that don’t allow cellphones: Christopher Nolan.
Jackman: Oh, that’s right.
Hathaway: Chris also doesn’t allow chairs. I worked with him twice. He doesn’t allow chairs, and his reasoning is, if you have chairs, people will sit, and if they’re sitting, they’re not working. I mean, he has these incredible movies in terms of scope and ambition and technical prowess and emotion. It always arrives at the end under schedule and under budget. I think he’s onto something with the chair thing.
Jackman: You dropped Christopher Nolan nicely, well done. Two films, I like that. Can you talk to me about playing Catwoman?
Hathaway: You know how you have those jobs and you just go, “I don’t know how I’m going to work again because this was such fun.” I’m such a director nerd. I love just seeking out the best directors I can and then just watching them.
Chris’ whole approach to filmmaking is one of my favorite ones. He’s broken it down to its most minimal, but also his movies are just so huge and ornate. That combination of really being intentional about what it was that we were doing — and also, he’s just so inspiring.
That was what he told me to get me to embrace the physical side of the character. What was it like for you as Wolverine? Because I had to do it once, and it was really intense. How many times did you play Wolverine?
Jackman: I did nine movies, but a couple were cameo-ish sort of things. Really, seven movies. I learned so much over those years. I feel so blessed to have the part, and I’m taking on a character that’s so beloved to so many. I’ll commit to that every day of the week, right? I’ll give 110%.
The last scene of “Logan,” for example, where my character is dying, I think one of the most beautiful lines written for the character, which is, “Ah, so this is what it feels like.”
Hathaway: Were you in that space where you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m me or if I’m the character right now”? Because it occurred to me that you as Hugh were saying goodbye to the character at the same time that Logan was saying goodbye to his life.
Jackman: Yeah, there were so many crossovers by the end, because I’d played it for so long. I knew it was going to be my last one way before we wrote it. I made that decision. There was a weight of expectation that I’d been carrying.
I was super invested. I felt so in it. I was working with a director that I worked with three times before, who I trust implicitly, Jim Mangold. I remember when we shot that scene, we were shooting very high altitude, and there were thunderstorms going off everywhere, and we had to shut down. He just said: “We can’t do this big stunt scene. But we’re just going to do the death scene.” I’m like, “Like, now?” He goes, “I’m just going to have you and Dafne [Keen], and if you could just do that.” I’m like, “All right.” He knew that’s best for me.
We got there and we’re shooting the scene. Dafne was 11. She was fantastic. We shot Dafne, and she turned around in two takes and he goes, “Let’s just kick out. Let’s do another.” I said, “You sure? I feel like,” and he goes, “Man, let’s just stop the clocks. Let’s not worry about everything. This is the end of 19 years.”
Jackman: Sit in it for half an hour, and he rolled the cameras. Him just allowing me that moment — because I’m like you: I’m aware of everything. Him just allowing me to just kind of, not just as an actor but as Hugh, to remember that moment. It was a luxury that I’ll never forget.
Hathaway: Hugh, there’s something we’ve never talked about, and I think we need to clear the air. You set me up badly when you asked me to appear at the Oscars that you hosted, because you made it seem easy, and it’s really, really not. You did such an amazing job and you were so chill at rehearsals, and you just made everything seem like it was so much fun.
When it came around, and they asked me to do it, I was like, “I want to be like Hugh. Yeah, I’ll give it a go.” How could you? How could you set me up like that?
What made you decide that you wanted to do it? How did you actually put the show together? Because you did it so well.
Jackman: I was on a press tour when I got the call. I just said yes, because it was Spielberg calling, right? You just say yes. I’m a kid from Sydney, Australia, right? I just asked myself the question, OK, if you’re on your deathbed and someone goes, “Yeah, I think I should have done the Oscars but I was a bit scared.” Then, you don’t want to be going, “Yeah, I really should have done it.”
I remember Deb walking in, it was five minutes later. She walked into the room and she looked at me, she goes, “Are you OK?” I said, “You’re about to get in the bed with a host of the 81st Academy Awards.” She goes, “Billy Crystal is here?” which is cool.
Then, just before I went on, I went into the vortex 30 seconds before [stage manager] Valdez [Flagg]— you remember in the dreadlocks, the event stage manager for 20-30 years or something — he’s like, “Come and stand here by the curtain a minute, 45 seconds, 30 seconds.” I just started to go into the abyss of fear. I’m looking out and I can see Meryl Streep. I was looking down like this, and we get to 15 seconds. He goes, “Good luck out there. Mr. Jackman, don’t forget, there’s about a billion people watching.”
It just made me giggle and laugh. If you ever watch me walking on, I’m looking back into the wings laughing. I actually think Valdez saved the show for me. I think I might have gone out shaking.
Hathaway: That’s beautiful.
Jackman: He just could see, this guy is going into a dark place and I need to snap him out of it. It’s frightening, and sometimes it works out.
Hathaway: Finish that sentence, Hugh! Finish that sentence, sometimes it works out and sometimes —?
Jackman: Oh, stop it. Stop. Come on. By the way, I remember visiting you backstage before you hosted and you were having just so much fun. I was like, I was not this calm and relaxed under me but you’re showing me, “Look at all these costumes I get to wear.” You remember?
Hathaway: I was focusing on the parts of the show that I knew worked. You know how sometimes your optimism tips into delusion and you’re just like, “If I’m just really, really nice to everybody, everything’s going to work out.” It did not work in that case, but I’m so happy that 50% of the people on this conversation did a really good job hosting the Oscars.