Hugh Jackman Recalls First Time Seeing Bill Nighy on Broadway: ‘It Brought Me to Tears’

Hugh Jackman said there were two times in his life when he saw a performance that was so good it actually made him depressed.

The first was when he watched Michael Gambon in “The Singing Detective” while he was in drama school. The second time was seeing Bill Nighy perform in “Vertical Hour” on Broadway.

“I saw an actor with such command of the stage and I was so blown away,” Jackman recalled on Monday night. “It brought me to tears and also simultaneously depressed me because I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’”

More than 15 years later, Jackman is starring in the Broadway revival of “The Music Man” — and he spent his one night off moderating a panel discussion with a real-life hero of his. 

Nighy stars in Sony Pictures Classics’ “Living,” a reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru.” Directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the film follows a bureaucratic cog who’s galvanized to make an impact in his community after receiving a fatal diagnosis.

“[The story] has a very unusual structure, which is extremely successful,” Nighy told Variety on the red carpet. “It’s a brilliant way of assessing a man’s achievement by having him die halfway through the movie — there’s a spoiler alert! — and then having different people have different responses to past events.”

Anna Wintour hosted the intimate screening at the Crosby Street Hotel in lower Manhattan. Guests were treated to champagne and a robust candy bar, a staple of the venue’s private events, before entering the screening room to watch “Living.” Attendees spotted at the cocktail reception included David Harbour, Lily Allen, Andrea Riseborough, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Annie Leibovitz and David Rasche.

Jackman playfully excused himself for fanboying out while discussing dancing, workout routines and theater with Nighy. The Wolverine actor recalled that he’s only worked with Nighy on one film: DreamWorks’ “Flushed Away.” 

“My daughter reminded me that you were Whitey,” Jackman laughed. “And her favorite line in films is — I need you to say it.” Jackman whispered into his ear and Nighy repeated one of his lines from the animated film, “I’ve got a bum like a Japanese flag.”

Jackman clarified, “It was after a bad dose of food poisoning or something your character had. I hope someone recorded that because my daughter says it’s her favorite line in all of movies. And she repeats it a lot.”

Another highlight of the conversation was when Jackman asked Nighy if there are any playwrights he’d like to work with. Jackman was taken aback when Nighy bluntly answered, ‘No,’ which garnished a huge laugh from the crowd. Nighy explained how theater is the scariest thing he’s ever done and hinted that he may not return to the stage.

“I am completely romantic about theaters — I love empty theaters, I love them when they’re full and I love them after the show,” Nighy said. “Whether or not I’ll ever do another one, I don’t know.”

Many Oscar pundits, including Variety senior awards editor Clayton Davis, are predicting that Nighy will receive a Best Actor nomination for his performance in “Living.” Nighy said he’d be honored if this nomination attracted more attention to the film.

“Independent movies — it’s hard to introduce them to the world,” Nighy told Variety. “And we don’t have a million bucks to do that, so awards are our only avenue. It would be a great honor for everyone involved in the movie.”

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