Hugh Jackman says he has changed his approach as a parent since starring in Florian Zeller’s new film The Son, which debuts at Venice on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference, Jackman said: “I think for many, many years, as a parent the job was to appear strong and dependable and never worried, and I don’t want to burden my child, but certainly since this movie I’ve changed my approach.
“I share my vulnerabilities more with my 17 and 22-year-olds, and I see their relief when I do. So hopefully the movie does start conversations and reminds us to never worry alone, that we’re all in the same boat. Mental health is a crisis everywhere in the world. No one is immune to it.”
The Son, also starring Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath and Anthony Hopkins, is a prequel to Zeller’s 2020 Oscar-winning drama The Father and is adapted from his play of the same name.
It centres on Peter, whose hectic life with his infant and new partner Beth is upended when his ex-wife Kate appears with their teenage son Nicholas. The young man has been missing from school for months and is troubled, distant and angry.
Peter strives to take care of Nicholas as he would have liked his own father to have taken care of him while juggling work, his and Beth’s new son, and the offer of his dream position in Washington. However, by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold on to Nicholas in the present.
“There’s a line in the script, ‘love is not always enough’,” Jackman said. “Everyone in this movie loves so much, but feels a powerlessness at some point. Because the truth is that to raise a child, for all of us, we need a village. We need more than just a mother and father. We need friends, we need support, we need community, we need teachers. There’s so many people that guide us along the way.
“This movie really does see how isolated – particularly around mental health issues – people get. There is a shame, there is a guilt, there is an intense desire to fix things, and that it’s somehow my job as a father or as a mother or as a friend to fix it. But realising our powerlessness, admitting and leading with that vulnerability, it leads to the possibility of really actually being able to understand and empathise with those people around you to walk in their shoes.”
Dern said she was grateful for the timing of the film, which comes on the heels of the pandemic. “The greatest crisis that has come through this time is the epidemic of mental health, particularly in adolescents and young adults throughout the world,” she said.
“The numbers are so shocking and I think, for me, perhaps one of the most painful parts of the journey of that specific moment is the discovery that even when you feel powerless, even when you feel alone in your shame, guilt, blame, lack of answers, you can turn to so many who may have been there before and they may advise you in your desperation … We all long to feel community in this larger conversation we must be having about mental health.”
Zeller spent the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 writing the script and has said The Son is part of a trilogy of plays that also includes The Mother. “It’s so difficult as a parent to make the right decisions and it’s fine. That fact that it’s not easy is part of the journey,” he said.
The French playwright added that while he continues to love theatre profoundly, “the dreams and the world I want to explore is really cinematic now”.