It's been almost two years since The Greatest Showman was released, but Hugh Jackman is continually surprised by its impact.
"I've done a bunch of projects that might have appealed – like Wolverine appeals to a certain group of people, and it's a big group of people," he says. "(But) this has, of all the things I've done in my career, connected with people from all different ages, different sexes, different genders, everything. It's just astonishing to me how it has connected."
Jackman is taking the songs of the record-breaking musical on tour this September with The Man. The Music. The Show., which will mark Jackman's first live New Zealand performance. The Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy and Tony nominee will be performing songs from throughout his career, while Māori singer and actress Keala Settle joins him off the back of her star-making turn in The Greatest Showman.
"When something connects and you are live, and you're all together, it always astounds me," says Jackman. "It seems miraculous to me that you can get 10,000, 15,000, 1000 strangers together, and at the end of two hours, you feel an intimacy that then sometimes you don't feel in life.
"That's why we go to the theatre. We want to have that moment where we can just put down the phone, we can forget about the babysitter, or (the) school test tomorrow, and just remind ourselves that life, ultimately, is about people. That's really in the end what we're going to remember."
The Greatest Showman was a runaway phenomenon of late 2017, becoming the fifth-highest grossing live-action musical of all time and winning the best original song Oscar for This Is Me. But it was no sure-fire success.
"I honestly thought it had about a 10 per cent chance of getting made," says Jackman.
"I ride my bike across Brooklyn Bridge every day from home to rehearsal," he says. "I got an official letter from 20th Century Fox two weeks before we started – so we're seven weeks into rehearsal – saying, 'Your film was greenlit yesterday, you are no longer allowed to ride your bike [for] insurance [purposes].' I'm like, 'Greenlit yesterday? We've been rehearsing for seven weeks!' – so it really was the last second."
Despite the film's eventual success, its premiere weekend was not promising. "We were the second-worst film in terms of wide releases in Hollywood history," says Jackman. "So not only was it not working, but I did not get one email from anyone in the studio. Normally you'll get a, 'You did a great job!' – crickets. Nothing."
But soon, Jackman began to notice it was catching on.
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"I went to my daughter's dance class, which I've done for four years, and when I go there, no one really recognises me – a couple of the mums or dads maybe, but none of the kids," he says. "So I go in there, and I got mobbed by 6-to-9-year-old girls, all in their tutus: 'Greatest Showman, Greatest Showman!' I was like, 'Hmm, that's weird.' They went back into their class, and two of the dance studios were playing Greatest Showman songs that they were dancing to, and that's the first time I thought this might kick in."
Settle had similarly set her expectations low. "When we were doing all of it, it's like, 'Well at least we had fun.' And then that would be the end of it," she says. "And, nah, then it blew up, and it's still blowing up. And I'm going, 'what happened?' It's unreal."
But on set, she knew they were brewing something special. "We were still filming the end of the show in initial photography, and they had shown the first trailer for the film," she says. "Hugh pulled me aside and played me the trailer, and I realised it was my entire song [This Is Me]. And I was crippled. I nearly fell to the floor, and I went, oh my gosh – I'm getting goosebumps talking about it now. That's when I knew something was going to happen."
Settle is grateful to Jackman for inviting her to perform with him in New Zealand – a place she wishes she's able to return to more. But even this fleeting visit home to announce the tour, she says, has stirred something within her.
"Hollywood… is very different from anything really, and I don't look like everyone else," she says. "To be in that world is one of the most challenging things ever. But the times that I've come home, and opened my window [shade] on the aeroplane and seen the Waikato mountains, I realise that I'm not an ugly duckling anymore, because I'm coming home, and I look like everyone else. That's when I get strong and I remember where I came from, and that it is okay to be who I am where I live, and that makes me stronger.
"The beauty of Māori women is that they have a way to connect to the human condition, and also other indigenous people," she says. "That's their beauty, is that they know how to connect to a human, right to the heart. I hope that that's what they get and that's what they see… and that I can be a small part of that."
Settle says her journey of self-love was "Hugh Jackman's fault".
"I said [to him], 'If I'm going to do this, you have to be here, cause my mum's not here, my family's not here, you've got to look after me,'" she says. "And he promised me that he would, and he has. He continues to."
Jackman hopes his tour connects with all kinds of people, but especially that it untangles old-fashioned stereotypes of masculinity – particularly for audiences who may recognise him from his blockbuster work as Wolverine.
"I think now we're embracing this idea that real masculinity includes vulnerability," he says. "It includes asking for help, includes saying, 'Yeah, I'm struggling. I'm not okay.'
"I really believe passionately in that, that we have to just drop any artifice of what it is to be a man and just be ourselves. And in a way, I suppose that's what I want to get out during the show. I'm going to share stories about myself that I've never really told people before. People may come thinking, 'He's that guy, he's that guy,' – hopefully by the end they'll go, oh, 'I learned something new about him, something different.'"
Who: Hugh Jackman and Keala Settle
What: The Man. The Music. The Show
When: September 6, 7
Where: Spark Arena