Australian actor Hugh Jackman, a married father of two, says he felt a tremendous responsibility to the real-life families of kidnapped children as he made his new thriller "Prisoners."
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, the film co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello and Viola Davis. The story follows a distraught father who holds captive the troubled young man he believes kidnapped his 6-year-old daughter and her 7-year-old friend while they were playing outside on Thanksgiving.
"The research we did ... you know, as an actor, you do everything you can to convince yourself, to pretend to be somebody else and dive into their shoes and their experience and bring that to life," Jackman said during a recent press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"Of course, part of the research was looking into really what happens in this situation, so you can get information on what happens on Day 1, Day 2. Do you print flyers? How do you react? What happens emotionally, mentally?" the 44-year-old actor explained.
He then recalled how he realized while reading some real-life stories and watching video clips of heartbroken families, "This is happening now."
"There are many, many people who have gone through this, are going through this," he emphasized. "And I left not so much with information about how to play the role, but I left with a weight of the responsibility that all of us had to treat this subject seriously. To treat it with respect, to know people are going through this and not just glorify it in any way or titillate an audience, but to actually make them think about the realities of this. This touches on real, elemental fears that we all collectively have. I think that's why it was cathartic to film and cathartic to watch. There's a reason we don't just go to comedies every night. Somehow, as humans, we also need to touch on the real elemental fears that we push down every day of our lives and collectively delve into it and discuss and think about it and feel. So, this film, there is a responsibility and, hopefully, we did do it justice."
The "X-Men" star said he first read the screenplay for "Prisoners" before he made "Les Miserables," the movie musical which earned him a 2013 Oscar nomination. "Prisoners" wasn't made earlier than it was, however, because its producers wanted to make certain they hired a director who could weave the story into the complicated, dark and fascinating tale they felt it had the potential to be.
"The script came towards me probably a year before Denis came on board and I loved Aaron's script and [producer] Keira Davis loved Aaron's script and it was the kind of script that could have been a more generic thriller [in the wrong hands,]" Jackman noted. "It could have veered that way and Keira was like, 'We've got to find the right director.' And it was a year later when Keira came to me and said, 'You have to see this  film -- "Incendies,"' which I had embarrassingly not seen. And [she said,] 'You've got to meet Denis.' And, bang, that was it. In the DNA of Aaron's script was a more ambitious thriller. Not just one that grips you, keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you go, 'Whoa, that was great!' But one that makes you contemplate and think for days after. On many levels, I think.
"So, hats off to Keira and Alcon Entertainment in making a more ambitious thriller and, thank goodness, they introduced us to this man," he concluded, referring to the director at his side.
"Prisoners" opens in North American theaters Friday. The R-rated movie is earning rave reviews from critics, according to the aggregate website RottenTomatoes.com