20 Things You Didn't Know About The Greatest Showman

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The Greatest Showman burst into cinemas back in 2017 and since then, it's quickly gone from being a brand new musical to a much-loved family classic. 

Hugh Jackman plays the role of P.T. Barnum, a dreamer who puts together 'The Greatest Show on Earth' with the help of his partner Phillip Carlyle (played by Zac Efron) and a talented host of circus acts.

So what happened behind-the-scenes during production for this original musical film? In the article below, we take a look at 10 things you didn't know about The Greatest Showman. 

Scroll down to find out why Hugh Jackman started bleeding from his face during auditions, plus we reveal the fascinating real-life stories behind some of the film's circus troupe members. Enjoy!

30. Hugh Jackman wanted to make the film for over seven years

At one point in time, it didn't look as though The Greatest Showman would ever get made.

The project was first announced all the way back in 2009, with Hugh Jackman firmly on board to play the title role of P.T. Barnum. However, it took a grand total of seven years for the movie to get started on filming! Why?

Jackman himself believes that most studio executives were unwilling to invest in an original musical. However, the changing political climate, plus an extraordinary performance by Jackman, convinced 20th Century Fox to green light the project.

Stacey Snider, CEO of 20th Century Fox, explained the decision: "It was our goal to anticipate the zeitgeist and speak to the turbulence of our era by offering something that was joyful and optimistic at the holidays.”

However, despite the nature of the film, Jackman has claimed that this movie was much harder to prepare for than Logan (2017)!

The actor rehearsed a whopping ten hours a day to prepare for his dance scenes. He stated: "I have done a lot of dancing, but this was the most challenging."

29. Zendaya did all of her own trapeze stunts

Zendaya has shot to stardom in recent years.

And she was perfectly cast in the role of seductive trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, who falls in love with Phillip Carlyle (played by Zac Efron). It turns out that the actress worked very hard to portray the character we see on screen...

Apparently Zendaya insisted on performing all of her own stunts!

That's right - everything that we see on camera is actually being effortlessly choreographed by the actress.

According to Zendaya and Efron, the hardest scene to film was the aerial duet between their two characters.

Zendaya revealed in an interview: “There’s one thing, to see it in your head, and then there’s one thing to actually deliver it and make it real."

"I could tell you what I want it to look like all day long, and we could tell you what we want to do, but at the end of the day, we have to physically figure out how to do it together."

Jackman overcame some incredible ordeals to ensure that The Greatest Showman appeared in cinema screenings.

Before the movie's production had even been confirmed, Jackman discovered that he had skin cancer and received treatment on his nose a couple of days before meeting with 20th Century Fox executives. This left him with a slight problem.

Part of the meeting was supposed to involve Jackman dancing and singing one of the film's many numbers.

However, the doctor had given Jackman 80 stitches and ordered him not to sing. The actor followed that advice...at first!

Jackman told Graham Norton: “A stand in was going to sing my part, but when it came to the big final number I was so taken up by the moment that I sang my heart out."

“When I finished it was a good showbiz moment and everyone was happy but there was blood trickling down my face and I had to be re-stitched. But, it was so worth it!”

Wow! You definitely can't fault Jackman's devotion to the movie.

27. The set burned down during filming

Remember the fire scene in The Greatest Showman?

It's one of the most dramatic parts of the movie, but things really got out of hand during filming when some of the effects went badly wrong...and a real fire broke out on set! Yep, Hugh Jackman had to be evacuated from the building after part of the set burned down.

During the scene in question, Barnum is supposed to save his good friend Carlyle and carry him out of a burning building.

Efron later described what happened and stated that while they weren't in any real danger, it was definitely a dramatic day at work for the pair.

"It started to get late, and some of the pyrotechnics got a little bit too hot. And that was when we burst out of the building. It looked great on camera. We didn’t know it, but it was pretty intense."

"I watched playback, and he saved me from a burning building. It later exploded that night. It was a set, but it later burned down."

Yikes! The pictures above and below show the aftermath of the devastation once the firefighters had managed to get to the blaze.

26. Hugh Jackman read 37 books to get into character

Hugh Jackman did a lot of preparation to become P.T. Barnum on-screen.

In fact, the actor once revealed in an interview that he read a grand total of 37 books on P.T. Barnum, to try and learn as much about him as humanly possible.

To be fair, Jackman had to wait over seven years for filming to begin, but we didn't know that he could probably write a thesis on his character.

The actor explained his preparation in more detail: "I read 37 books on Barnum, and I could make 37 different movies." We're not sure Jackman is even joking here...

The actor continued: "Let me tell you, he gives 37 different versions of his own life, and he actually said his autobiography was the second biggest-selling book next to the Bible.

"If he was not religious, he would have said it was No. 1." Barnum sounds like a really modest guy!

In fairness, Jackman's performance in The Greatest Showman was flawless as usual, but we're beginning to understand why it was a harder movie to prepare for than Logan.

25. The movie contains Zac Efron's favourite on-screen kiss!

Zac Efron once revealed a very steamy secret about his time on the movie.

During publicity for The Greatest Showman, he went on a number of interviews with his co-star Zendaya (who plays Efron's love interest in the movie).

And he couldn't resist revealing that of all the on-screen kisses he's ever had to do, his smooch with Zendaya ranks at number 1!

Zac stated in an interview with Filmweb: "This might be my favorite kiss, I think ever.

"Just because at this point for these characters, it’s so built up, the tension between them is so strong, and literally, just a glance between them is electric."

And the cute thing is that Zendaya agrees with her co-star! The actress admitted that the build-up to their kiss was incredible.

During the same interview, the actress added: "When you’re into a character, the whole time, they’re not allowed to as much as touch, talk, speak, have a moment between each other; so every moment, even if they’re just touching, is incredibly special."

Aw! These two look very cute together...and we're pretty sure they're both single at the moment, so who knows what could happen away from the cameras?

24. Rebecca Ferguson was extremely nervous about singing in front of the cameras

Rebecca Ferguson plays Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman.

Lind is supposed to be the greatest singer in the world, so the actress was understandably nervous about having to replicate that talent in front of the cameras!

Ferguson's singing was dubbed by Loren Allred, but the actress still had to belt out the tunes whilst filming to make everything look as real as possible.

The actress doesn't think she's a terrible singer but readily accepted that they needed to dub over her singing for the sake of the film.

However, whenever it came to her singing parts (which were usually in front of a full audience and crew), Ferguson would be racked with nerves. She admitted that it was only Jackman's encouragement that really helped her to perform all of the songs.

Ferguson should have drawn on the energy she used during her screen test for the movie. During her audition, the actress insisted on singing live in front of extras to get the role.

23. The movie's main tagline was cut from the film

Remember the film's main tagline?

In the scene where Barnum persuades Carlyle to join his circus, Barnum convinces his partner by saying that Carlyle clearly has a flair for show business.

Carlyle responds to Barnum by saying that he doesn't even know what 'show business' means - Barnum famously replies that this is because he just invented it.

In the final cut of the movie, we don't see Carlyle's response to this bold statement. This is despite the fact that Barnum's line was used extensively in publicity shots and trailers for the movie.

Seems like a bizarre choice to cut the most memorable line from the trailer from the actual film itself!

Still, it didn't seem to hurt the audiences reaction to the movie - the film grossed $435 million in total.

22. The real Tom Thumb never grew taller than 103cm (3 foot 3 inches)

Tom Thumb is one of the most memorable characters in the movie.

In The Greatest Showman he's played by 22-year-old Aussie actor Sam Humphrey, who is only 127cm or 4'2" tall. But did you know that there was in fact a real life Tom Thumb as well? And he wasn't anywhere near as tall as Humphrey?!

Apparently the real Tom Thumb only grew to be 103cm tall (3'3").

He was adopted by P.T. Barnum when he was only 4 years old and promptly joined the circus.

To make up for the difference in size, Humphrey had to walk on his knees to try and make himself look smaller. A special effects team were then brought in to digitally edit out his real lower legs and feet.

To try and keep the budget down though, Tom Thumb can mainly be seen sitting in a lot of his scenes.

Who would have known?!

21. It was a slow burner at the box office

The Greatest Showman didn't live up to expectations...at first.

We're pretty sure that Hugh Jackman was slightly worried about the initial response to the movie, especially in the UK and Ireland where it experienced a very slow start indeed.

However, for some reason it began to pick up steam after several weeks in cinemas...

...Something which barely ever happens in the film industry.

And yet, the film slowly but surely became a smash hit in the two countries. The movie's earnings in its 11th week of release actually increased 26% over the previous weekend!

This is basically unheard of - word must really have spread about the epic songs and performances in the film.

Nice one Hugh and co!

20. Keala Settle (aka the Bearded Lady) had to be covered in purple slime

Keala Settle was a breakout star of the movie.

Although she has been acting on Broadway for years, worldwide audiences were introduced to her talents in The Greatest Showman.

This is especially clear when she starts belting out the award-winning track 'This Is Me' as the bearded lady.

However, the actress had a hard time in hair and makeup, as you can see from the photo above!

Apparently, part of the process to achieve her look involved being covered in purple slime.

We still can't seem to find out why exactly this was necessary, but it might have had something to do with the rather large wig and beard that Settle was supposed to be sporting.

Settle hasn't had an easy time of things recently - just days before her Oscars performance of 'This is Me', the actress unfortunately suffered a mini-stroke.

Although she managed to bring the house down with her epic rendition, a few weeks after her performance the actress underwent life-saving surgery.

“I have a new brain and that’s meant starting over,” she explained. Feel better soon, Keala!

19. P.T. Barnum did actually buy a mermaid in real life...kind of

This is an interesting bit of trivia you might not have known about...

Remember in the film when Barnum's circus is struggling for money? One of his daughters says that Barnum really needs to bring in something 'sensational' to the show, like a mermaid or a unicorn.

While most of us probably laughed that off as a childish bit of imagination, apparently in real life, Barnum did actually get his hands on a 'mermaid'.

The showman bought something called the 'Fiji Mermaid' which didn't look anything like you might expect to see in a Disney film.

Instead the Fiji Mermaid was a monkey carcass that had been cut in half and sewn to a giant fish tail.

We're not sure this incident would have translated very well on-screen in the middle of a family musical but still - it would have been cool to see!

18. The Siamese twins were based on real-life conjoined twins Chang and Eng

The twins are one of Barnum's 'freaks' in the movie.

We see two Asian conjoined twins in the film (played by Danial Son and Yusaku Komori) named Chang and Eng. Did you know that these characters were based on real-life conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker?

Chang and Eng were born in Siam (which is now known as Thailand) - their home country helped to coin the term 'Siamese twins'.

They joined Barnum's circus and enjoyed international fame before retiring to North Carolina.

Once there, they got married and had eleven children and ten children, respectively. Big family! This might explain why they became destitute and went on tour again after the end of the American Civil War.

Chang and Eng died in 1874. Chang reportedly died of a blood clot in the brain, while Eng passed away from heart failure only three hours later.

Their lives have now been remembered in The Greatest Showman.

17. Jenny Lind was originally written for Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway has worked with Hugh Jackman before.

The pair are firm friends after starring in the hugely successful musical Les Miserables together. Both actors sang live during every take, an effort which earned Hathaway an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Which probably explains why she was in the front-running to play the role of Jenny Lind, before Ferguson was awarded the part.

However, in Hollywood things change quickly and in the end, executives decided to go in a different direction.

What do you think of the decision to cast Ferguson?

Personally we think she was brilliant in the role!

But still, we know that Hathaway and Jackman have a really great chemistry together too. What do you think of the choice?

16. The movie used costumes from the real-life Barnum & Bailey Circus

The film has been criticised for its artistic license in the past.

However, the costume department made sure that while they did get rather inventive with some of the outfits, they always retained the soul of Barnum & Bailey's real-life circus. How?

Many of the costumes that you see in the movie - particularly those used during the larger ensemble circus scenes - were directly borrowed from Feld Entertainment group.

Feld Entertainment are the current owners of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, meaning that the film really does draw on real-life circus costumes for its unique look.

That's some nice work from the wardrobe department!

Despite the contemporary feel of the movie in terms of its music, it's cool that the costumes are actually a real mix of old and new.

15. The music was composed by the same people who wrote the songs for La La Land

The Greatest Showman is one of the most popular musical films in recent years.

And of course - the soundtrack is really at the heart of the movie. So who was behind some of the epic music and lyrics in The Greatest Showman? You may well have heard their names before...

It turns out that Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (known professionally as Pasek and Paul) wrote the music and lyrics for the movie.

This is the talented duo who also wrote a whole host of lyrics for the La La Land soundtrack, so they definitely know what they're doing when it comes to musical films.


Pasek and Paul have also written songs for a series of Broadway musicals including Dear Evan Hansen, A Christmas Story: The Musical and Dogfight. They've definitely achieved a lot in their short lives...

Can you believe that they're only 32 and 33 years old?! We have a feeling this won't be the last time they jump onboard an epic musical film.

14. Seven of the movie's lead actors have appeared on Broadway

The movie has plenty of talented actors singing and dancing on-screen.

While some of the faces would have been familiar to cinema audiences around the world (Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams), there are other actors who have been quietly making a name for themselves on the stage instead.

In fact, did you know that a whopping seven members of the main cast have starred in Broadway musicals over the years?

As well as Jackman and Williams (who have both treaded the boards several times), the following co-stars have acted on Broadway: Keala Settle (Lettie Lutz), Austyn Johnson (Caroline Barnum), Will Swenson (Philo Barnum, P.T’s father), Byron Jennings (Mr. Carlyle, Phillip’s father) and Eric Anderson (Mr. O’Malley).

It was this kind of experience that really helped to bring The Greatest Showman to life for cinema goers.

Many of the dancing and singing scenes have been praised and we're guessing it has something to do with the Broadway element within the cast.

13. The Greatest Showman is Michael Gracey's directorial debut

Ever heard of Michael Gracey before?

No, we hadn't either until The Greatest Showman arrived in cinemas in 2017. That's because this movie was actually Gracey's directorial debut. Wow! His appointment raised a few eyebrows at the time, and it looks as though Gracey's fellow Aussie Jackman might have helped get him the job.

Yep, before joining The Greatest Showman as director, Gracey had worked for over two decades as an animator, FX supervisor and digital compositor...

...not the usual career path for a director.

So how did he get the job? Apparently Jackman met Gracey on the set of a TV ad and instantly decided he wanted to work with Gracey as an actor.

Jackman sent Gracey a script of the movie to try and tempt him to work on the project. In the end, Gracey flourished in the role.

Despite being a complete newbie, he always had a strong creative vision for the movie: "The whole film is this mix between musical theatre in a more traditional theatrical sense and more contemporary pop."

12. One of the set designers inserted his own name into the movie at several different points

Did you notice this first time around?

Apparently one of the set designers, Eric Sundahl, decided to have a little bit of fun during his down time and inserted his name into the The Greatest Showman at several points during the movie.

In some of the street scenes, you can see a tailor shop with the name 'E. Sundahl' above the window.

It turns out that this reference is a little joke played by one of the set designers, who must have wanted to have his own five minutes of fame!

We can't really blame him - if we were busy working on a film then we'd love to do something like this.

Now every time you watch this film you'll be looking out for E. Sundahl! We love it when the crew members manage to insert a little reference to themselves into a film.

We'd definitely be up to the same tricks if we were working on The Greatest Showman.

11. Hugh Jackman turned down the James Bond franchise to play P.T. Barnum

No, we're not joking...

The Bond franchise could have looked very different indeed, if Jackman hadn't been busy working on The Greatest Showman.

The Aussie actor has been offered the role of James Bond before, but has previously stated that he felt the films had become too 'crazy' and needed to go 'grittier' again.

Cue Daniel Craig! However, rumour has it that Jackman once turned down the franchise because he was desperate to appear in The Greatest Showman instead.

The franchise hasn't yet made the grand announcement regarding who is going to replace Daniel Craig as 007.

However, we're not sure that Jackman is among the bookies favourites anymore. Instead it's more likely to be Richard Madden (fingers crossed) or maybe Idris Elba.

10. The 'Tattoo Man' had to wear a full bodysuit

The 'Tattoo Man' is one of the most interesting characters in the movie.

He was actually based on a real performer from Barnum's circus who was covered from head to toe with hundreds of different tattoos. So how did actor Shannon Holtzapffel achieve the look?

Rather than making a radical life decision and going to the nearest tattoo parlour, the actor had to wear a full bodysuit every time he appeared on screen.

Holtzappfel has previously described the process that helped to create his epic costume, which sounds as though it required a lot of time spent in the hair and makeup department.

The actor explained: "My tattoos were applied to my face every shoot day and we knocked my preparation down to around two-and-a-half hours consistently."

Wow!

"I had to have semi-permanent tattoos on my neck and hands, which were reapplied every two weeks."

"This dedication saved, what would have been, another two hours in the chair. I lived with these tattoos for around four months!"

9. The romance between Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler is completely fictional

Fans loved the on-screen romance between Carlyle and Anne.

The two actors really had a great chemistry which brought the doomed love affair to life.

Carlyle and Anne had to deal with disapproving families, as well as a largely racist American society, in a romance which left fans wanting more for the two characters.

However, in real life, Barnum's circus didn't feature a trapeze artist named Anne Wheeler - her character was designed specifically for the movie.

This means that the romance we see on screen between Anne and Carlyle is completely fictional. Despite not having a historical source to base her character on, Zendaya really enjoyed being part of the movie.

On her co-star Hugh Jackman, Zendaya stated: "He’s just so cool, so nice. He works so hard, and the amazing thing is to be at that success level and still be the person that he is. That’s gold right there."

She also made sure to choose her next film role after Spiderman very carefully: "I wanted to do quality projects, cool things that made me excited, and I didn’t care if I only had one line. Saying no is as important as saying yes.”

8. It originally had a different title


Like most Hollywood movies, The Greatest Showman had a different working title.

Apparently the film was originally supposed to be named 'The Greatest Showman on Earth', which is the title that real-life P.T. Barnum gave himself during his rise to fame as a circus entertainer.

However, executives decided to cut down the title before its cinematic release.

Despite the title change, it looks as though the musical is set for further success in 2019.

Late in 2018, Jackman announced that the show would be going on a worldwide tour. Jackman himself will star in the shows, which span across Europe, the UK and America.

The live show will be called 'The Man. The Music. The Show' and Jackman will be performing a number of songs from the film during the act.

The 2019 dates have been announced, so if you want to catch a glimpse of the Aussie actor in action then you better buy a ticket fast!

7. Jenny Lind was a real person

Like many of the characters in the movie, Jenny Lind was a real person.

She was supposed to have the greatest singing voice in the world and her talents could reportedly 'make grown men cry'. Lind was Swedish, just like Rebecca Ferguson (the actress who plays her in the movie).

However, most of the similarities end there. Lind retired very early on in her career at the age of 28 years old, after one final performance in front of Queen Victoria.

And while in The Greatest Showman, we see an affair between Lind and Barnum beginning to open up, in reality the two never had a romantic relationship. On top of that, Lind was never well-known for her good looks.

Instead, Lind was praised for her humble nature rather than her beauty, with the singer telling friends that she had a 'potato nose'.

Apparently the singer took little interest in the long line of suitors knocking down her door - instead Lind preferred to focus on her career.

6. The Greatest Showman is Zac Efron's fifth musical film

Zac Efron is no stranger to singing and dancing.

He's performed in plenty of musical films over the years - in fact, The Greatest Showman is his fifth musical film to date. Nice!

Efron gained worldwide fame thanks to his starring role as Troy Bolton in the High School Musical trilogy alongside Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale.

After the success of the Disney musical, Efron continued to star in all-singing, all-dancing feature films with a notable performance as Link Larkin in Hairspray.

After several years away from the musical film scene, which saw the actor star in several comedies and rom-coms, the actor returned to his roots.

He definitely hadn't forgotten how to sing and dance - the actor has been widely praised for his performance in The Greatest Showman.

5. There's a really cool story behind the 'wishing machine' device

he wishing machine is a famous scene in the movie.

Barnum makes his daughters a makeshift 'wishing machine'. Whenever he spins it round the candle, the device throws up hundreds of lights around the room.

When Barnum himself stares into these moving lights, he begins to see circus animals appearing in the lights and the shadows, which leads to his inspiration for the circus.

But did you know this scene has a real-life source?

Apparently in reality, the idea of the circus came to Barnum when he and his wife Charity were younger.

The couple used to watch the chandelier as it cast shadows on the walls and Barnum began to see animals in the movement.

That's such a cool story!

Film producers decided that they just couldn't leave this out of the final cut of the movie.

It's a really nice scene in the movie and the wishing machine definitely captured the imagination of fans around the world.

You can now buy the devices online or watch make-your-own videos on Youtube.

Or you could just try making your own instead.

4. There's a crossover with Les Miserables

Hugh Jackman fans will definitely have noticed this one.

In a flashback scene in The Greatest Showman, a young P.T. Barnum (played by Ellis Rubin) can be seen trying to steal a loaf of bread from a market stall. However, the young boy gets caught (and gets away with an apple instead).

The loaf of bread in question is probably a reference to Jackman's role in Les Miserables, when he played the lead role of Jean Valjean.

Valjean is famously jailed after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's family.

Did you notice this link the first time around?

Any Les Miserables fans will surely have enjoyed watching Jackman back on the big screen, singing and dancing.

He does love a good musical after all.

3. P.T. Barnum's relationship with Jenny Lind was fictional...

There's one particular moment in the movie that isn't great viewing for Charity Barnum.

We're thinking of the scene in which Barnum is snapped by the cameras, kissing his leading woman Jenny Lind on the stage in front of an entire theatre audience. Oops!

However, this relationship didn't actually exist in real life at all - Jenny Lind was known for her professionalism.

But Barnum was involved in one embarrassing scandal when a photo was taken of him in a studio, staring at a young dancer named Ernestine de Faiber.

Although it's unclear whether the pair were actually in a relationship, the photograph does make Barnum look like a bit of a lecher.

Whoops!

2. The use of contemporary music was a deliberate creative choice

We didn't know this before!

Apparently the hip-hop and pop music you can hear in the movie was a deliberate creative choice by musical duo Pasek and Paul. Why?

They wanted to stay away from Victorian-era music and instead bring some contemporary tracks into the mix because of Barnum's amazing vision.

The songwriters wanted to focus on how revolutionary Barnum was.

The musical duo really felt that a soundtrack of modern music would better convey this idea.

Pasek later explained in an interview: "The choice was to express not just the characters’ feelings, but also how ahead of his time P.T. Barnum was.

"He wasn’t bound by the world in which he lived; he wanted to create one."

1. Both Zendaya and Zac Efron started their acting careers with Disney

There was more than one Disney alumnus on set!

Both Zac Efron and Zendaya both started their acting careers with Disney, which is a great advert for the entertainment group.

Zac is almost ten years older than his co-star, and burst onto screens back in 2006 as Troy Bolton in the hugely popular High School Musical series.

Meanwhile, his Greatest Showman co-star started her career on Disney's Shake It Up. Zendaya played the character of 'Rocky'.

What a coincidence!

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