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Opinion | Why Hugh Jackman is the most versatile actor in Hollywood

Jackman is the best actor to never win an Academy Award, but he's dazzled audiences with an array of roles, "Bad Education" being the latest.
Credit: HBO

ST. LOUIS — Dancing on Broadway. Sticking metal claws into a bad guy's chest. Stealing money from a prestigious school. Hunting down his daughter's kidnapper. Singing in France. Performing magic on a stage.

Hugh Jackman has done all of this, either on a stage or set. He's inhibited so many personalities and different souls in a movie that you can't really place him in one genre. The man has come a long way from fighting John Travolta's bad haircut nearly 20 years ago.

X-Men fans know him as Wolverine, aka Logan. Jackman played the part nine different times, most notably in James Mangold's beautiful send-off a few years back, "Logan." Jackman deserved award recognition for that role, but he didn't due to the Academy and other award groups failing to see a great piece of work if it has any type of superhero wrapping paper on it. Watch some of "Logan's" deeper cuts, where Jackman is a tired, weary, and depressed former crimefighter who just wants to stop fighting and killing. Watch him unable to speak words over another character's grave. It's heartbreaking, soulful, and mesmerizing.

Let's shake the glass up a little bit, and look at his work in HBO's recent original film, "Bad Education." Jackman plays Frank Tassone, a superintendent for a high ranking school in New Jersey, someone who gained the trust of kids yet was privately shaving cash from the school budget. Tassone looked perfect from the outside, handling tough problems and showing up to all the extra functions. Wearing a suit too shiny for his position's budget with skin that was treated by hands that didn't belong to him, Tassone was a walking wax figure with too many secrets, including the fact that he was having an affair.

An openly gay man who thought he was on top of the world but was actually sitting on the backs of others, Tessone was broke down brick by brick by Jackman. A performance that is diabolical, sickens you with his shame, and doesn't allow the guy an easy way out. Get the shiny figure ready, Emmy Awards.

One cannot possibly forget about "Prisoners," where Jackman played Keller Dover, a man driven to find out who kidnapped his young daughter. Denis Villenueve's film was lean and mean, showing a good man broke bad by injustice. With a strong cast including Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, Jackman dominated the film. One scene stands out. Dover starts to drink more as he rumbles around the town looking for the perpetrator. Gyllenhaal's detective, who is in also in charge of tracking down the bad party, starts to figure out Dover is taking the law into his own hands. He follows the dad to a nearby liquor store, but is spotted by Dover. He gets into the cop's car and unleashes a tirade that Jackman just slays.

If the younger actor seemed scared or shocked, it's probably a real reaction. Jackman was a force to reckon with in a role that most actors would have chewed to bits. He just simmers and simmers, occasionally exploding. It's something else in a film that will take a piece out of you.

While I am not a big fan of musicals, one couldn't help but appreciate Jackman's Oscar-nominated work in arguably the greatest remake of "Les Miserables." Playing a reformed criminal who becomes a symbol of hope for a city, Jackman stood out once again in a strong cast that included Anne Hathaway (who won an Oscar for her work) and Russell Crowe. The whole cast did all of their singing live on the set, an unconventional method championed by director Tom Hooper.

Jackman showed off his versatility in a different light in Neill Blomkamp's "Chappie," an under-appreciated science fiction drama that pegged the actor as a ruthless military officer who wants to despises the droid population that includes the police force and a black sheep robot named Chappie. Jackman got to use his native Australian accent in the role and really leaned into the bad guy role. It was something different.

Jackman's work as the tragic political figure, Gary Hart, in Jason Reitman's underrated "The Front Runner" was understated yet strong work. The kids and their parents will love him for his crowd-pleasing performances in "Eddie The Eagle" and "Real Steel."

You can't forget about Christopher Nolan's 2006 film, "The Prestige." Co-star Christian Bale and Jackman were rival magicians with completely different training and presentations way back in 1890's London. In classic Nolan fashion, the thriller isn't exactly what you think it is and doesn't play out like an ordinary mystery. The acting has texture and layers to it, keeping the audience off-balance. Jackman, playing the everyman easy-to-please performer of the two, experiences a real tragic arc but gives it humility and conviction along with the right amount of compassion.

Something different is a common thread with Jackman. You can't place two characters right next to each other on his film resume, which dates back to 1994 in mostly television work. 2000 is where he broke in with Bryan Singer's "X-Men" and the mediocre "Swordfish." He takes chances, challenges himself, and puts all of himself into these roles.

I wish there wouldn't be another Wolverine, due to the fact of how well Jackman embodied him and where it ended. I would love for him to remain a threat in the drama category and potentially direct a feature film. He seems to have that George Clooney multiple hat potential, but acting needs to remain the focus. Heck, watching the man teach Jimmy Fallon how to make bread was riveting television.

Jackman may be the best actor to never win an Academy Award. He deserves one very soon. He's been that good for so many years in different roles. He may not be as daredevil-like as Joaquin Phoenix or hold a near-flawless record like Daniel Day Lewis, but Jackman has done things both of those men could only dream of. I bet Jackman could even rap. He is the real deal.

What is your favorite Hugh Jackman role?

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