One Of Hugh Jackman's Best Roles Gave The Actor A 'Pit' In His Stomach

Before he was crossing box office milestones with his blockbuster "Dune" duology, Denis Villeneuve was trying to make a name for himself with smaller-scale psychological thrillers. His 2013 English-language debut, "Prisoners," went a long way to establishing the French-Canadian filmmaker as a directorial force outside of his homeland — a status which was cemented after one of Villeneuve's best films, "Sicario," arrived in 2015. But while "Sicario" is often cited as the film that put the director on the map, there are many, this writer included, who consider "Prisoners" to be just as good a film, and perhaps an even more immersive and haunting experience.

The film's appeal endures even now, with "Prisoners" topping the Netflix charts in 2023 and reintroducing itself to a generation that may have missed some of Villeneuve's pre-blockbuster films. There's good reason for that. Villeneuve's 2013 effort works on multiple levels, as both a taut thriller with plenty of twists and as a nuanced and affecting exploration of the human psyche, its capacity for evil, and the fragility of our own beliefs and guiding principles.

"Prisoners" examines the slow crumbling of survivalist Kelly Dover (Hugh Jackman) after his six-year-old daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) is kidnapped. Not content with simply conveying the devout Catholic's panic in the face of such harrowing developments, the film details the implosion of Dover's entire belief system, as he goes against what appeared to be deeply held convictions in the pursuit of his daughter and her captor. It's a tragic and haunting tale which was, it seems, enough to make Jackman uneasy even before he'd shot a single scene.

The script for Prisoners affected Hugh Jackman

Denis Villeneuve films have a tendency to unsettle the actors involved. "Sicario" star Emily Blunt has spoken about how filming a scene where her character is attacked in her own home as having "quite a lasting effect" on her, telling The Guardian that shooting the scene all day made her feel like her "skin was on fire."

"Prisoners" similarly demanded a lot from its actors. Villeneuve had to save Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Detective Loki, from a scene the actor viewed as impossible. During the climax of the film, Loki finds Anna but is forced to shield her from her captor and rush her to hospital after being shot in the head himself (the bullet only grazes his head, in case you were wondering how he's even alive after that). This was all too much for Gyllenhaal, who was rescued from having to juggle these considerations after Villeneuve chose to keep the camera focused mostly on Anna during the scene in question.

But when it came to Hugh Jackman, it seems he was affected by the film before he even agreed to star. The actor, speaking to Yahoo at the time of the film's release, explained that when he first read the script, "I had a pit in my stomach reading it. In some ways it's a classic genre movie ... but at the end of the movie keeps you thinking and talking." Thankfully, this seemed to be a selling point for him. Kelly Dover remains one of Hugh Jackman's best roles, and it's a good thing that "pit" in his stomach didn't put him off.