By Andrea Beattie
Hugh Jackman knew he’d done a good job in his latest film, Prisoners, when his wife stopped holding his hand during a screening, and shifted in her seat away from him.
‘‘She was holding my hand, watching the movie. Then she was like gripping my hand — I had nail marks,’’ Jackman laughs.
‘‘Then halfway through, during the bathroom scene, she took her hand away from mine.
‘‘I could tell she (had been) right there with my character, supporting him, and then she started to feel uncomfortable.
‘‘And that’s the strength of the movie — she started to question the stereotype of heroes, and vigilante heroes.’’
And up until that bathroom scene — which is one of the film’s most confrontational — Jackman’s character, struggling carpenter Keller Dover, is an ordinary guy doing his best to deal with an extraordinarily emotional and challenging situation.
While enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), their daughters, Anna and Joy (Erin Gerasimovich and Kyla Drew Simmons) are abducted. The only clue is an old campervan that had been parked in their street.
Frustrated with wife Grace (Maria Bello), who slips into a deep depression, and a lack of action from the Birchs and the officer in charge of the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dover takes matters into his own hands.
He tracks down and kidnaps the owner of the campervan — Alex (Paul Dano), who has the IQ of a 10-year-old, and is cared for by his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo). Dover then imprisons Alex in the bathroom of an abandoned building, where it all spirals out of control.
“People want movies to be a little different. They don’t want to know how things are going to end. They don’t want necessarily simple or easily packaged characters, good or bad. They want things that make them think after the credits roll.”
‘‘Those scenes in the bathroom were hard. Brutal even. I remember being amazed how (Dano) was in those scenes — he did not flinch. Obviously (Dover) and I are very different, I’m a far more moderate person,’’ Jackman laughs.
‘‘But I have a soft spot for characters like that, that you can tell that things in life haven’t come easily.
‘‘I mean, he’s a recovering alcoholic, his father committed suicide, and he doesn’t really have faith in anyone to protect his family except himself.
‘‘There was a part in the script originally that had (Dover) extremely religious, and I said to (director Denis Villeneuve), ‘I feel it’s too much and I don’t want people to dismiss the character because they think he’s a religious nut’.
‘‘The strength of the movie for me is that you watch four parents react in incredibly different ways — in a way, all of them represent all of us.
‘‘And the film asks the question of all of us — how far would you go?
‘‘I’ve had my child go missing for a few minutes a couple of times and it can bring you to your knees, even that.’’
Jackman says that even though Prisoners is incredibly intense and confrontational, he thinks audiences will appreciate it.
‘‘People want movies to be a little different,’’ he says.
‘‘They don’t want to know how things are going to end. They don’t want necessarily simple or easily packaged characters, good or bad. They want things that make them think after the credits roll.’’
Director Villeneuve, whose 2010 film Incendies was nominated for an Oscar, has been very deliberate in crafting Prisoners — the 153-minute run-time allows the audience the chance to think about how they would react in the same situation, and in parts, even makes the audience feel like an accomplice to Dover’s actions.
‘‘He (Villeneuve) manages to make things dramatically compelling but also just very true, very real, very relatable and kind of morally ambiguous,’’ Jackman says.
‘‘He doesn’t tie things off for you, and I think people want that.’’
And forget training for Wolverine — Jackman says researching for this role is one of the toughest things he’s ever done.
‘‘I actually got access to interviews, and not just public interviews. I got to see behind the scenes, I got to read real interviews with parents,’’ he says.
‘‘In this, (Gyllenhaal’s) created an unusual cop. If you think about it, on the page, he plays the protagonist for all these actors who all have big emotional stuff, and yet he really draws you into his story. I feel what he created was pretty incredible.’’
‘‘One that always stuck in my head — and I’ll never forget it — was one father talking about how maddening it was that his five-year-old kid would be waiting for him to come.
‘‘He wasn’t waiting for the police to come and he wouldn’t have been able to understand why dad wasn’t there to protect him.
‘‘That literally drove him crazy.’’
Jackman says there was some truth to the speculated bromance between him and co-star Gyllenhaal.
‘‘Jake is great — I love that guy,’’ he laughs.
‘‘He’s very self-deprecating; he’d fit in very well in Australia. He’s very brave in his (role) choices.
‘‘In this, he’s created an unusual cop. If you think about it, on the page, he plays the protagonist for all these actors who all have big emotional stuff, and yet he really draws you into his story. I feel what he created was pretty incredible.’’
He says it was important for the cast to relieve the tension during filming.
‘‘I wouldn’t say there will be a massive gag reel or blooper reel with this film,’’ Jackman laughs.
He says that in acting it is important to have the ability to switch on and off.
‘‘The more intense it gets, the more important it is to let off steam.
‘‘And that’s code for drinking, by the way,’’ he laughs.
Original article appeared in mX newspaper