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Jackman, Craig Put Star Shine in ‘Rain’

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - On a late-August afternoon, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman are sitting in a sparsely furnished, sun-filled room at Steiner Studios, a 15-acre site just outside Manhattan where high-profile films such as American Gangster, Revolutionary Road and Sex and the City have been produced.

Craig, 41, and Jackman, 40, indisputably two of Hollywood's most admired and bankable leading men, are here working on their first project together - but it's not a movie. For the past four weeks, they've been ensconced in rehearsals for the Broadway premiere of A Steady Rain, a two-man, 90-minute drama by Chicago-based playwright Keith Huff.

"It's very raw - there are not many plays like it on Broadway," Jackman says. "I suppose the roles are different from others we've done, but that's what you want. To be remembered for different things is something that motivates both of us."

When Rain had its pro debut at Chicago Dramatists in 2007, few would have guessed that a new staging on Broadway - beginning previews tonight at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in preparation for a Sept. 29 opening - would offer the highest celebrity quotient in a fall season boasting such marquee names as Jude Law, Carrie Fisher and Sienna Miller. The gritty account of two Chicago policemen whose lives are upended by shattering events, some inspired by a real-life case, marks Huff's Broadway debut, as well as Craig's.

@Neither Jackman nor Craig has seen Rain staged; nor has John Crowley, its new director, whose last Broadway outing was Martin McDonagh's dark masterpiece The Pillowman in 2005. But all were drawn to Huff's script, initially presented to Craig by producers Barbara Broccoli (with whom the actor had worked playing James Bond in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) and Frederick Zollo.

"I just was fascinated by this great piece of writing, very emotional and disturbing but quite funny at points," says Craig. It was Crowley's idea to bring on Jackman, who like Craig had an extensive background in theater. Prior to winning a Tony Award for his Broadway debut in the 2003 musical The Boy From Oz, Jackman acted and sang on stages in his native Australia and London. Craig, a Brit, has earned acclaim for his work on the West End, appearing in modern classics such as Angels in America and Hurlyburly.

"We both come from places where the movie industry isn't something you can walk straight into," Craig says.

"Or make a living in," Jackman adds.

"In drama school," Craig recalls, "we'd have one day a term where someone brought a camera in, and we'd film each other mucking about. That was it, basically."

Just like old pals

Chatting during a rehearsal break, the two actors have an easy, jovial rapport, sharing casual anecdotes and occasionally volunteering to clarify or complete the other's thoughts. Asked if they had known each other previously, Jackman pauses, then says, "I remember - I think we met . . ."

"While a little drunk, at parties," Craig interjects.

"Oh, yes," Jackman says. "Oscar parties."

"About as show-bizzy as you can get," Craig notes, ruefully.

"I don't even know if I've told you this," Jackman says, turning to face his co-star. "But remember that movie where you played Ted Hughes (2003's Sylvia, in which Craig appeared as the English poet opposite Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia Plath)? I really wanted to do it. I met with the director. That's the first time I heard your name, and I attached it to - well, some swear word that I won't say now. But then I watched your performance, and I was like, touche. You were great."

The tough-talking characters in Rain share their own irreverent camaraderie, one that's subject to excruciating tests. Craig's Joey and Jackman's Denny have known each other "since kinnygarten," the latter tells us, and are now police partners, each thrice denied promotion to detective. Joey at first appears as a booze-addled loner whom Denny solicitously invites to family dinners. But Denny has his own demons, which figure in the incidents informing the play, recounted from both men's perspectives.

"You have two people who are as close as brothers," Craig says. "And their lives take this tragic tumble. They're at this stage where the wheels are about to fall off."

Huff, who earned Chicago's prestigious Jeff Award for best play with Rain, was keen that Denny and Joey "not be whitewashed or stereotyped cops." The author had personal incentive to protect their integrity: "My wife's father was a policeman his whole life, eventually a commander, and my brother-in-law's a retired detective. I wanted these characters to be human beings who happen to be policemen, and just get pulled into extraordinary circumstances."

Real police say the play is 'real'

To get acquainted with the play's turf, and with each other, Craig and Jackman took what Huff describes as "a field trip" to Chicago. "We met a lot of cops there, and a lot of them had seen the show," says Jackman. "I wasn't sure if they'd be offended, because it doesn't necessarily paint cops as the most angelic of creatures.

"But they loved it, because they thought it sounded and felt real. And these guys were tough. I mean, if you asked them about most cop shows on TV, they would just laugh. Except for The Wire. That's the one show that they thought was realistic - to the point where it's been a problem, because it gives criminals a bit more understanding of how they work."

The actors also studied the Chicagoans' accents, of course, and are further honing their own with dialect coach Jess Platt. "And we're just running and running the play," says Craig. "That's what the process is. You've got to shore it up so that when we're six weeks in, we can refocus and remember how it all works."

The work is not unremitting. "Rehearsals have been fun," Huff says. Director Crowley installed a ping-pong table, "and then one day Daniel showed up with a baseball and two gloves." The ball sits on a table behind Craig, who explains that he and Jackman "go out and throw it around for about 10 minutes, to liven ourselves up for the afternoon."

Jackman nods. "Normally, right about now, we'd be throwing it at each other's heads." Huff reveals, with some pride, that the two movie stars "got yelled at by a security guard" during one of their parking-lot breaks, "because they were playing while facing the windows."

Great actors, but regular guys

New York Drama Critics' Circle president Adam Feldman suspects that the actors' regular-guy credibility will serve Rain well. "I imagine these roles were originally played by less glamorous-looking people, but these aren't your average Hollywood glamour boys. They both have a certain roughness, which is why they've been successful in action movies."

Craig, for his part, downplays perceived differences between the medium where he and Jackman learned their craft and the one that made them household names. "People say that acting in theater and film are different disciplines, but I can't agree completely. The only thing that matters in acting is truth. It's all about making the audience believe you."

In fact, three of the show's producers (Broccoli, Zollo and Broccoli's Bond collaborator Michael G. Wilson) have purchased film rights to Rain. Neither Craig nor Jackman has yet signed on for that project. Craig just wrapped Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and will work next on Jim Sheridan's Dream House. Jackman has a number of films in development, including the comedy Avon Man and several movie musicals, among them a new version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.

But through Dec. 6, when their run at the Schoenfeld is set to end, they'll be just another pair of Times Square troupers, albeit conspicuous ones.

"I love New York," Jackman says. "I have a home here; my kids go to school here. And Broadway audiences are different from any others that I've experienced. They're on your side to begin with. You can lose them quickly, but they've come to have a good time, and they give you the benefit of the doubt. That's part of the fun."

So, both actors agree, is having a good partner. "I don't know how much smoke I should blow up his a--, but Hugh's tremendously talented," says Craig, as Jackman laughs, again.

"When you're on stage, you want to be looking at someone who's intelligent and who's got your back. It makes my job that much easier, lazy actor that I am."

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