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Hugh Jackman sinks his claws into a different role in ‘Eddie the Eagle’

Hugh Jackman, left, plays a washed-up former Olympic star skier coaching an untrained underdog (played by Taron Egerton, right) who dreams of becoming England’s sole ski jumper in the 1988 Winter Games in "Eddie the Eagle."

20TH CENTURY FOX

By COLIN COVERT | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: February 26, 2016

Hugh Jackman is a man for all genres.

He sang in the film version of “Les Miserables,” performed stage magic in “The Prestige,” brutalized a suspected kidnapper in “Prisoners,” voiced a penguin in “Happy Feet,” hosted the 2009 Oscars and sliced enemies with adamantium claws again and again as Marvel’s hot-tempered Wolverine.

Now Jackman draws on his Australian roots as a hard drinking, all-around good bloke in “Eddie the Eagle.” He plays a washed-up former Olympic star coaching an untrained underdog who dreams of becoming England’s sole ski jumper in the 1988 Winter Games. The story was hard to resist, Jackman said. It’s loosely based on the life of Michael Edwards, an unlikely competitor whose Coke-bottle glasses, goofy smile and never-give-up attitude made him a British sports icon.

“The script was so emotionally touching and so funny at the same time,” Jackman said in a recent phone conversation. “It’s a blatantly uncynical film. There aren’t many of those around now. It’s sort of like a Disney sports movie.”

Jackman was also drawn into the shaggy dog story by his proposed co-star, Taron Egerton. A kindred spirit of versatility, Egerton embraced the role of clumsy Eddie after playing a young Cockney spy in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” “To go from ’Kingsman’ to this role, I can’t think of any other actor who could do both,” Jackman said.

The pair kept spirits high on the set, cracking each other up so often that they repeatedly broke character. “I laughed more on the set than I think I ever have,” Jackman said. Director Dexter Fletcher enjoyed the pair pushing their comedy to the limit, Jackman said, “but occasionally he’d say, ‘Guys, can’t we have just one take that’s on the script? Please?’”

While Jackman’s character is a composite of Edwards’ trainers, a lot of the nose-diving ski slope slips and Olympic officials’ snobbery “is completely true,” Jackman said. “But it’s the spirit of the story that counts. It’s a good yarn,” and one he said Edwards, initially nervous about its artistic license, was ultimately happy to see. “He brought all his friends to a screening and they loved it. He actually cried at the end and it wasn’t tears of desperation. He was happy.”

Jackman is pleased, as well: “It’s the kind of film I love showing my kids. Its theme, that you don’t have to win to be a winner, is one that kids need to hear more of today. We’re not all going to be LeBron James. Not everyone’s going to get there, but hey, find something you love, do your best and just don’t give up.”

Jackman’s next two film roles will see him paying tribute to legendary New York stage productions, and then to the history of American circuses as P.T. Barnum. He said he isn’t drawn to certain roles because he fears being typecast.

“I think there was a period of my career when I saw things closing in a little bit. Around about ‘X-Men 3,’ about six or seven years ago, I thought, ‘Aw, I don’t want to be seen for nothing except things that are Wolverine-like characters,” he said. “I made a really conscious choice to work with really good filmmakers when possible in different things.

“That’s the joy of acting for me. I mean, when I was an acting student one of the things I loved was you got to do something new every day.”

Jackman won’t return to the role that made him an international star in this summer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” though there is another Wolverine sequel on the horizon. He said he can’t imagine the day coming when people don’t yell Wolverine greetings to him on the street.

“And that’s just fine, honestly, it’s fine,” he said. “Occasionally there are different fans. There are ‘Happy Feet’ fans and ‘Prestige’ fans and people you meet in Broadway. So I should be so lucky, right?”

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