If you hadn’t been watching the 2003-2005 Tony Awards, it may have come as a surprise when Hugh Jackman was asked to host the 2009 Academy Awards. The X-Men star wasn’t known as a comedian like most other actors selected to host the big show, and he wasn’t a nominee (missing out on a nod for his buzzy role in the way-too-long Australia). But despite how it may have looked on paper, it worked.
Jackman opened the show with an opening number on a budget that was universally praised and introduced the (non Broadway-loving) world to the vocal talents of Jackman and Anne Hathaway. According to a Vulture oral history, the team behind that casting decision have taken credit for Les Miserables (why anyone would want to take that credit is a mystery), and say that the success of the evening led to the creation of The Greatest Showman (another film that, while financially successful, maybe you’d not count as a feather in your cap).
Jackman’s triumph is the discussion topic on this week’s episode of The A.V. Club’s podcast Push The Envelope. Editor-in-chief Patrick Gomez and video host and producer Cameron Scheetz discuss the Wolverine stars talents before editorial coordinator Gwen Inhat chats with Paul Reiser. Check out the full episode here, or read a small excerpt below.
PATRICK GOMEZ: Billy Crystal was always known for doing a little song and dance and that kind of stuff, and it seems like it would be a fool’s errand to try and do that if you’re not Billy Crystal. But Hugh Jackman just came in there and was the ultimate showman and really, really blew it out of the park.
CAMERON SCHEETZ: It felt like they were already very aware that, year after year, viewership was…and they wanted to try something different. And that’s a big reason that Hugh Jackman was brought in.
PG: Hugh Jackman wasn’t the only new element to to this Oscars. Behind the scenes, you had Bill Condon and Laurence Mark producing. But the writers that they had come in to write this this part of the show were writers that had not had a lot of experience doing awards shows. They were out of the box ideas. You have Dan Harmon, Rob Schraub and Ben Schwartz…they brought a new energy to this that I thought was super exciting.
CS: There was this whole emphasis on not coming off as too elitist with the recession going on. So it’s like, “Okay, let’s let’s say there isn’t the budget for the opening number.” The whole conceit was, “Well, there’s not a budget, but dangumit, Hugh Jackman is going to do it himself.” And so that leads to any number of really, really, really funny bits.
PG: The lyrics are super tongue in cheek. I think that they struck just the right tone for the reverence with which you need to address things at the Oscars, but also kind of bringing in…just a little bit of irreverence, too, which was a nice balance. And I think you get to that perfectly with the the Reader section…. He just plain on says, “Nobody saw The Reader.” “I didn’t see The Reader.” It’s actually something that is said in my household randomly all the time. Although, I will say there was there was a Mandela Effect for me, because in my head it was Billy Crystal that performed that. I always did it with a Billy Crystal voice whenever I did it.
CS: Obviously this is the centerpiece of the opening number. It is kind of tapping into this whole irreverence, certainly. And and I think it’s so interesting, for it to be The Reader specifically. The Reader, there’s no other way to put it, The Reader is just pure Oscar bait. It was like, let’s finally get Kate Winslet that Oscar. Like, who, really, was a fan of it? Especially nowm thinking about the themes of it. I mean, Kate Winslet was playing a Nazi. But that aside, I think it’s so fascinating that that’s the one they chose to lampoon this way. It was just so funny. All of the writers won an Emmy for this, which is just the nice cherry on top of making one of the best opening numbers of all time, I would say.
PG: We apparently could either thank them or chastise them for giving us The Greatest Showman…. They apparently started the conversations about how great it would be to see Hugh Jackman playing P.T. Barnum, and that transformed from the idea on set with Laurence Mark, the producer, saying “this would be a great idea” to the script getting put together, to Bill Condon working on the script, to getting it fine tuned. And then years later, we end up with “This is the greatest show.”
To hear the whole converstation—including how the writing team could have been sued for one of the songs and a Sarah Jessica Parker Easter egg you may have missed—check out the full episode of Push The Envelope. And if you’re a fan, remember to subscribe, rate, and comment.
New episodes of Push The Envelope are released every Thursday.