Jackman learns from Mandela

2012-12-16 10:00

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Actor Hugh Jackman knew just who to draw inspiration from while preparing for “the role of a lifetime”.

Cast to play one of literature’s most memorable characters, Jean Valjean, in a film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jackman looked to South Africa – and to Nelson Mandela.

And it worked for him: Jackman was this week named as a Golden Globe nominee in the best actor (musical or comedy) category.

Speaking before Mandela was hospitalised late last week, Jackman said the former president’s life set an example for him to draw on.

“Nelson Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom, to me, was a great resource for this because in a way, Mandela is the real-life Jean Valjean.”

He believes there are parallels between the protagonist of the 1862 novel – who is imprisoned for 19 years after being accused of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children during a time of economic depression – and Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years in his fight against apartheid.

“Jean Valjean is a fictitious character but, like Mandela, he was coming from very difficult beginnings, overcoming them and becoming this really loving leader – a man of his word,” said Jackman.

The actor has long admired Mandela: he contributed his voice to the audio book Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales, which helped raise money for Artists for a New South Africa.

He also visited South Africa in 2005 with his wife Deborra-Lee Furness and his son, Oscar.

“We love South Africa,” he said. “We went to Cape Town, Johannesburg and on a game drive at Singita Private Game Reserve. We would love to go back.”

The actor also toured Robben Island, calling it an emotional “high point” of the trip, and lauding Ahmed Kathrada, Mandela’s comrade and one-time cellmate, for the stories he told

of the anti-apartheid movement, saying he found them “incredibly moving”.

Jackman said he had the chance to meet Madiba during an event in New York a few years ago. “It was one of the great privileges of my life.”

The hotly anticipated film has been adapted for the big screen by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper, who picked up the best film gong last year for The King’s Speech.

Les Miserables opens in South Africa in February and sees Jackman cast alongside Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

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