'Bad Education': How Hugh Jackman Brought "Charm" to the Role of a White-Collar Criminal

Courtesy of JOJO WHILDEN/HBO
Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in 'Bad Education.'

Jackman and Allison Janney lead an A-list ensemble in Corey Finley's dark comedy, which HBO scooped up for an astonishing $20 million after its TIFF bow last year.

Corey Finley had the Sundance experience that indie filmmakers dream of when his feature debut, Thoroughbreds, sold to Focus Features for a $5 million price tag. As a part of Finley's search for a sophomore effort, his agent sent him Bad Education, Mike Makowsky's Black List script about the fall of a Long Island school superintendent, Frank Tassone, at the center of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history.

The jump from indie teen thriller to a white-collar true crime might not seem logical, but reading the script, Finley saw it as the right fit. "I know a lot of educators — my mom is in education, my brother is a teacher, I have done a lot of SAT tutoring — so I read the script and was happy to see a lot of stuff that resonated with me in it," he explains, adding, "There are a lot of high school films, but they are all coming-of-age stories. There are not a lot of teacher movies."

The director knew that whoever portrayed Tassone needed to be able to play both beloved educator and white-collar criminal. "There are a lot of amazing actors out there who would have played him as a snake oil salesman," he says. "But Hugh [Jackman] is such a warm and lovable presence, and we are so used to seeing him as a superhero or a song-and-dance man, [so] I thought playing with his goodness and kindness and charm would be great."

Shooting at schools on Long Island and in the Bronx in the fall of 2018, the production worked with their administrators to film interiors during school hours with a skeleton crew, so as not to be a major distraction — as small a distraction as possible when the guy who plays Wolverine is standing outside geometry class.

After Bad Education's bow at TIFF last year, the movie was scooped up for just under an astonishing $20 million by HBO, which debuted the movie on its networks April 25. "I don't know if I was actually able to take it all in," says Finley of the red carpet premiere that preceded the bidding war. "But in retrospect, it was awesome."

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.