Justin Paul and Benj Pasek Interview: ‘The Greatest Showman’ composers
The past year has been a whirlwind for lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek. After prevailing at the Oscars for “La La Land” and the Tonys for “Dear Evan Hansen,” they’re now nominated at the Grammys for both projects. We recently spoke with Paul and Pasek about their upcoming film, 20th Century Fox’s whimsical musical “The Greatest Showman,” which stars Hugh Jackman as P. T. Barnum. At its core the movie is about “celebrating wonder and magic,” declares Pasek about the storybook beginnings of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Pasek was drawn to the project because of Barnum’s belief that “the world is not as it is, but it’s what it could be.” He continues, “So for us it lends itself to being a musical in the sense that he has a larger-than-life view of what the world is. There’s a big opening number called ‘The Greatest Show’ where it sort of introduces us to the world of the circus.” In addition to that opening them, another song to watch out for at the Oscars is “This Is Me,” a rousing anthem performed by breakout star Keala Settle.
Paul details more about the plot of their latest movie musical, telling us, “You meet him at the height of his showmanship and you see him in the circus and you’re sort of introduced to that world. And then the story takes you back and you see his roots and his humble beginnings and what was driving him and what was motivating him.”
The guys readily admit that Jackman had “a lot” of impact in helping them create the songs for “The Greatest Showman.” Paul explains, “The film is all about a charismatic, dynamic figure and his larger-than-life vision and so Hugh is just perfect. He is insanely, annoyingly charismatic, on-screen and off. He’s the song and dance man of our time.”
Pasek recalls the moment when he thanked his mom at the Oscars and she jumped up and down from her seat in the audience. “She’s a Jewish mom! She was very, very excited. I didn’t tell her that I was gonna say anything about her, so she was really surprised and I’m really happy that we got to share that moment together.”
Pasek and Paul are on their way to being the youngest EGOT winners ever. They won Best Original Song at the Oscars along with composer Justin Hurwitz for the “La La Land” song “City of Stars.” They prevailed at the Tonys in the category of Best Original Score for “Dear Evan Hansen.” Looking ahead, they have a pair of 2018 Grammy nominations for both projects, and they’ll be on the 2018 Emmy ballot for Fox’s upcoming “A Christmas Story” live musical.