IOWA FALLS | A frequent question circulating Saturday in Iowa Falls was how did agent Patrick Whitesell convince his client, Hugh Jackman, to visit the Metropolitan Theater.
"It was my idea," Jackman said. "I just love the story."
Whitesell and his father, Jack, rescued the landmark from bankruptcy and then dropped about $500,000 into a renovation project.
The theater, built in 1889, holds a lot of childhood memories, said Whitesell, a native of Iowa Falls. And his father's first law office was directly across Washington Avenue, Whitesell added.
"I wouldn't be in the business without that theater. That's a fact," Whitesell said.
"When a town loses its theater, that's a blow," he added. "I couldn't see that happen, not in my town."
Jackman jumped at the chance, he said, suggesting a premiere of his film "Prisoners." The Metropolitan, though, has two screens, and Jackman and the Whitesells on Saturday also offered "The Wolverine."
Jackman greeted hundreds in the crowd who lined the street from Estes Park, where he sang briefly with the Mudpuppies, a local cover band. Jackman attempted a few lines from a song made famous in "Les Miserables," another of his recent movies.
"What are the words of that verse, something, something," he sang, then asked for help from the crowd.
"Come on, Iowa folks. You know this song," Jackman said.
The megastar asked a second favor during his remarks from the park bandshell.
"Come to Iowa Falls to the theater at least once a week," he said.
Jackman, his wife and children arrived about 2 p.m., according to City Manager Jody Anderson.
"The Whitesells and Jackmans went fishing in Foster Park," Anderson added. "I think he's just really enjoying being in a small town."
Jackman later acknowledged as much while walking the red carpet, signing autographs and posing for photos.
"I've never had my family with me on one of these, but it felt right here," he said.
Joshua and Ashley Barkey of Iowa Falls went to the park for a chance to see Jackman. Their sons, Kaiden, 9, and Kameron, 7, are pretty big Wolverine fans.
"I like the claws," Kaiden said.
And if he got close, Kaiden had a question in mind for Jackman.
"I'm going to ask him how he liked the X-men movies," Kaiden said.
Hours ahead of Hugh Jackman's appearance, excited fans were already starting to gather on Washington Avenue.
The megastar was scheduled to arrive about 7 p.m. at the theater, but Gretchen Skellenger, a Wartburg College student, and friend Jessica Payton of Cedar Rapids stacked out a spot early on.
"Probably about 1-ish," Skellenger said.
Besides introducing Jackman's latest film and re-introducing the theater, the event is also a fundraiser. An oversized check for $20,850 was displayed in the theater lobby and will go to the Ellsworth Municipal Hospital Foundation.
The community will open a $30 million hospital in the spring, according to Mark Hamilton, publisher of the local newspaper and publicist for Jackman's event.
About 300 seats were available in the twin-screen theater. Tickets sold for $100 or were available through a raffle. Tickets for chances cost $25.
Skellenger, though, was outside, hoping for a close encounter.
"Because he's a fantastic actor," she said. "I'm kind of an aspiring actress."
Skellenger also likes Jackman's reputation.
"He's supposed to be the nicest guy in Hollywood. They say you can't get ahead if you're a nice guy, and he proves that wrong," Skellenger said.
"I want to be here to meet him -- or at least see him."