As Hugh Jackman reminded us with his dazzling song-and-dance turn on the Tonys, he has achieved legendary success on stages in his native Australia as well as America and England, playing everyone from Curly the singing cowboy in "Oklahoma!" to gay entertainer Peter Allen in "The Boy from Oz."
He's actually had less luck on-screen. Sure, he's been game. He's taken a shot at everything from sleazes and sorcerers to lady-killers and superheroes. Once a pillar of the smash "X-Men" series as the team's angry, furry young man - Wolverine - he made a terrible debut when he broke off into his own Wolverine series (though he has a terrific cameo in the X-Men reboot). He may be a poor reader of scripts. What star on the rise would have thrown his weight behind "Deception?"
But there's good news for Jackman fans -- and for those of us still waiting for him to seal the deal that makes him a true superstar. James Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma" ) is bargaining to direct Jackman in "The Wolverine" from a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects"). I'd guess Jackman brought Mangold into the production -- and that's a good sign of good taste. Mangold directed Jackman in his most poignant and charming romantic comedy, "Kate & Leopold," the love story between a contemporary New Yorker (Meg Ryan) and a 19th century aristocrat (Jackman).
Jackman is also in discussions with Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") to play the role of Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables."
Jackman is 42, the age when even a late bloomer like Humphrey Bogart found his defining roles in "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon." I've long said that moviemakers who need a fellow hungering to fill out larger-than-life (or just full-of-life) roles - parts that aren't just romantic in a hearts-and-flowers way, but romantic in their spirit of awe and wonder - should get on the horn to Jackman. (He even has a romantic height: 6 foot 3 inches.) And unlike celebrated predecessors from John Wayne to Laurence Olivier (both of whom took years to break through in the movies and fully inhabit heroic parts), nothing about playing virtuous protagonists has ever fazed or embarrassed him.
With Mangold's help, Jackman's Wolverine should come into his own as a solo act. And with Tom Hooper's help, Jackman could create the most memorable screen incarnation of Jean Valjean. In most versions of "Les Miserables," the Javerts -- from Charles Laughton to Geoffrey Rush -- have given the best performances. Jackman could reverse the trend.