Spectacular musical ode to entertainer visionary P.T Barnum as told in blockbuster The GREATEST SHOWMAN dazzles the eyes, ears and emotions. Nominated for three Golden Globe awards, the music alone stands a good chance of upcoming Oscar glory.
Bringing Broadway to the big screen is exactly what Australia’s own Hugh Jackman does alongside an amazing Michelle Williams, Zac Efron with scorching duo Keala Settle and Zendaya among a literal sideshow of obscure infinite talent. Aussie director Michael Gracey with one of a kind Keala Settle sat with me to talk musicals, one hour pitches and fire…a very big fire.
Resurgence of the cinematic musical Yes or No?
Both – Yes, absolutely!
Is your film the confirmation of resurgence after a few others recently?
MG – Good question. When Damien Chazelle was putting together La La Land, we were already working on Showman as we began putting together additional rewrites. We were listening to each other’s soundtracks. The excitement for me was if this is an artform that is coming back from hits LA LA to Beauty and the Beast, now my first film then dovetail to whatever comes next. Hopefully there are more.
Congratulations on your Golden Globe nominations. Were you awake as they happen quite early morning?
KS – My phone fell off the night stand as it kept vibrating and only woke up when it hit the floor. Instantly thought it cracked wondering what’s going on before flipping it over to see nothing but message after message rolling through. Because I wasn’t awake, I didn’t click on any of them until I finally realised what had happened. Totally dumbfounded.
You won’t be singing live at the ceremony as I know they generally don’t perform the songs live, or are you?
KS – I don’t know (laughs), doubt it.
How did you pitch the film initially?
MG – Another good question. I used to have an hour long pitch with sketches and whatever songs were written at that point. Video clips from read-throughs alongside clips of choreography tests we had completed in a studio or my apartment. Literally I would just tell the story as the pictures went on behind me. That pitch…I was like the travelling showman trying to move the film forward. Every year I had more songs, artwork clips, definitely resembled a high school production – people in sweatpants and T-shirts.
Was Keala always in mind, was the audition process strident?
KS – I was not always in mind, I’ll say that right now (laughs).
MG – She came to read-throughs, she was not in my mind to begin. Basically we got the best of Broadway in a room to help us find these characters reading the script at any given time. They would also sing the songs what had already been written. We would adjust things on what worked what didn’t until lightning struck, Oh My God who is that person such as Keala. There was an amazing connection that Keala / Hugh had on the very first time we did the read-through. Then heartbreakingly, she couldn’t make the second read-through until she arrived for the ultimate read-through from where we got the film green-lit.
Did you read in character wearing the beard and did it itch?
KS – No (smiles), and it didn’t itch. The hardest part was more or less keeping it on because of the amount of vinyl on my face wrapped for five – six months as well as wearing heavy clothing singing, dancing all around. They (make up crew) were just trying to keep the beard on my face for every moment of action. It’s there and the greatest thing ever.
Have you got a favouite song in the film?
KS – My favourite is A Million Dreams (Keala breaks out into several bars of the song singing it to me directly), I love that song.
Elephants and Fire feature in big moments, are they authentic?
MG – There are no real animals inside the circus, all computer generated because obviously we have very strong feelings about cruelty to animals and didn’t want to risk anything like that. Being faithful to the period where they did have animals was our point so animated works.
KS – Fire was real.
MG – Yes it was, I kept wanting the fire to be bigger as they used it from gas rod. In the last take, we went all out and burnt the entire set down. There was a weird moment where there was fake fire fighters with hoses. They began looking really worried until everyone started running while I kept yelling, keep rolling! The whole set just went up in enveloped flames, lighting rig above fell in as it burnt, all of a sudden it went dark.
KS – Which added to the scene, it was crazy (laughs).
MG – It looked spectacular because it was real and although much of it was completed in post-production, the reference was actually a towering inferno we shot.
On your next movie the insurance will go sky high!
MG – Completely no one will let me anywhere near special-effects departments.
KS – Absolutely, that’s for sure.
By Shane A. Bassett