LONDON, ENGLAND. The Nicest Man in the World is strung up on a wire, hovering above an enormous pirate ship and yet entirely engulfed in the vastness of the studio at the Cardington Airship Sheds outside of London.
The Nicest Man in the World is actually in the process of being decidedly less-than-nice. Aboard a ship dubbed the Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard and his gang of nefarious pirates have been fighting off a slew of Indians, including Rooney Mara's Tiger Lily and he who fights with Tiger Lily must surely face the audience's wrath.
Over and over again, Blackbeard is hoisted up into the air and comes swooping down, sword out-stretched. It's a threatening and, frankly, badass entrance, made all the scarier by Blackbeard's raw scalp, a scar that gets touched up between shots. It's clearly one of the key scenes in Joe Wright's revisionist Peter Pan epic “Pan” and there's little doubt that Hugh Jackman is having a ball being terrifying. Even if the frequent ascending and descending might get on a different actor's nerves. Each time, though, Jackman's intense glower remains alive and intimidating.
It's quite a feat for a man who is, by all accounts, The Nicest Man in the World.
Unknown Aussie actor Levi Miller, plucked by Wright to play Peter Pan, only knew Jackman from his Oscar nominated and blockbuster resume, but he now considers him a friend.
“I had heard from people that he was very lovely,” Miller admits.
“He”s more lovely than people have said, so that”s quite nice.”
“Quite Nice” is enthusiastic, but it doesn't quite rise to the necessary level of hyperbole.
Jackman's scene adversary on this August day in 2014 gets a bit closer.
“We”re still in the midst of it but… he”s one of the nicest people I”ve ever met in my entire life,” says Rooney Mara.
Now we're getting closer.
“I mean first and foremost when everybody that you know who”s worked with Hugh always says he”s the nicest guy around…” muses Garrett Hedlund of his expectations about working with Jackman. “And it”s so refreshing to see that that is completely true. And he”s the nicest guy you”ll ever meet. One of the hardest workers, I mean on and off. And we”ve been sharing the same trainer on this and it”s just great to see somebody who has been doing it as long as Hugh and has such a strong work ethic and is just all about the work and within this environment, it”s something fun and refreshing for all of us to be on the set where you”re not dealing with characters that are losing their family members to this or that disease or their sons being kidnapped.”
While it's nice that there's agreement that Hugh Jackman is The Nicest Man in the World, but it's far from necessary. The entertainment industry is full of tremendous actors who have never been called the nicest men in their own extra-wide trailers, much less the world. Some of them are spectacularly hard workers on-set, and bastards in their everyday lives. Some are bastards in their everyday lives and won't commit to their craft, but when the cameras roll, magic happens, guaranteeing employment in perpetuity.
Because of his big stunt scene, Hugh Jackman is the major “Pan” cast member who isn't able to speak with the press that afternoon. This is disappointing, both because he's the top-billed star in the movie, but also because it's not often that you have the chance to talk to somebody who has achieved a pinnacle of anything, much less niceness.
Still, just as Rooney Mara is about to settle into her seat and stare down a row of microphones, Jackman sneaks over to shake hands and say “Hi,” repeatedly apologizing for taking Mara's time. He's taller than you might expect, but his handshake is as firm as you'd imagine. These aren't the pieces of world-beating niceness, but it's something.
“He”s so hard-working,” Mara affirms. “[T]hank God I”m fighting against him because he”s so lovely and generous and he”s a great person to try and model yourself after.”
That's perhaps the key to why it matters how nice Hugh Jackman is.
“It just means that everyone”s relaxed,” says Joe Wright of the advances of having The Nicest Man in the World at the top of the callsheet. “And I think people are at their most creative when they”re relaxed. I don”t believe that tension is good for creativity. And so yeah, everyone”s relaxed and therefore can feel able to express their own individual creativity and lots of ideas come in and it”s a joy like that.”
Hedlund agrees, “[I]t”s something that Joe and us, we”ve all worked on very serious projects where we sit in the trailer and… you have a headache all day because that”s kind of what you”re going through. And for this it”s sort of been asked of us to sort of have as much fun as you possibly can to be as insanely goofy as you possibly can and that”s what”s being craved of you.”
One last testimonial comes from Sarah Schechter, longtime producing partner with Greg Berlanti.
“We were so lucky to have him,” Schechter says. “I've worked in film for the past 15 years and I've heard for probably the last 10 years that Hugh Jackman's like the nicest guy in the world and I just didn't believe that anyone could actually be that nice and he truly is. But what was so great is that he's not just nice. He's such a good actor and what's so fun about seeing him in this role is he gets to do something that he hasn't done before and he's really having fun with it and he's worked so hard.”
Jackman's stuntman is off to the side, ready to go in if necessary, but the “Les Miserables” veteran keeps at it, snapping into calculated menace at each call of “Action.”
He only breaks once.
Dangling in the air, waiting for crew members to reset the scene, Hugh Jackman notices that the small group of reporters observing production on “Pan” is departing.
The grimace of world conquering determination melts away.
Suddenly, swaying a bit precariously, Hugh Jackman breaks out a big smile and starts waving “Good-bye” to us, sword still in hand.
The Nicest Man in the World.
“Pan” opens on July 24, 2015.