'The Greatest Showman's' Sam Humphrey Talks Using Acting to Overcome Skeletal Dysplasia & Having Hugh Jackman as His Mentor

If you've seen the Golden Globe-winning The Greatest Showman any time since its release a month ago (and subsequently belted out the entire soundtrack in your car on the way home), the name Sam Humphrey may ring a bell — and if not, it's a name you're going to want to know.

The 23-year-old Australian actor plays Charles Stratton, a.k.a. Tom Thumb, in the musical about the life of P.T. Barnum alongside Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya — but at just over four feet tall, he had to overcome a lot to get there. Born with a rare genetic condition called skeletal dysplasia, Humphrey isn't about to let his disability get in the way of his acting career.

"Being diagnosed with skeletal dysplasia means that I’m very short, and also along with that came a lot of health issues," Humphrey tells Her Campus. "When I was about 13 years old, coming into high school, that was when a lot of my challenges came. I suffered with very low self-esteem — I had no confidence at that point."

But as it would turn out, Humphrey found a way to use acting to overcome his struggles with confidence and self-esteem. "I suppose I sort of developed those acting skills throughout high school because I always put on a front," he continues. "I didn't want people to see the real me and how much I was hurting and how depressed I really was."

Considering the ways in which fans have praised The Greatest Showman for its messages of self-acceptance and being totally and unapologetically yourself (listen to "This Is Me," just once to know what we're talking about), Sam's attitude basically made him a perfect fit for the movie — even though he says he didn't realize the personal connection he had to the film's story until a few weeks into filming.

His character, who is asked to by Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman) to join his show due to his short height, initially responds by asking, "What, do you want people to laugh at me?" to which Barnum responds, "They're already laughing, why not make some money off it?" Later, when protests erupt outside Barnum's show, he tells performers, which also include a bearded woman, played by Broadway alumn Keala Settle, and Siamese twins, "Don't listen to them. They don't understand it. But they will."

"I sort of realized that I had a lot of the same experiences as the character I play. Not feeling like he was worth anything, not feeling that he had anything to offer the world. I think that’s true with a lot of the characters in this film," he says. "So one of the most important messages that I think The Greatest Showman tries to send is that everyone is unique and everyone is the way that they are. The song of 'This Is Me,' which is the anthem of The Greatest Showman, is exactly that. You know, you are who you are and it doesn't matter the way you look, the way you sound, the color of your skin."

Oh, and in case the role wasn't already enough of a dream-come-true for the actor, he also now calls Hugh Jackman (a childhood role model who he says originally inspired him to act), a mentor — NBD or anything. According to Humphrey, he was having trouble getting into character and calming his nerves on the first day of shooting (I mean, who wouldn't?) when Hugh took him aside and reminded him why he was there.

"He [Hugh] basically put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry about anything else, don’t worry about your character,’ and he basically went into this speech where he was like, ‘Sam, you are unique, you are special. Out of thousands of people that auditioned for this role, you got cast. They chose you, you came from Melbourne, you’re here in New York, you’re on the set,'" Humphrey says of Jackman. "He just kept repeating that to me over and over. Eventually, it broke me down and I started crying."

This was only the start of their close friendship, as even though filming has wrapped, Hugh acts as Sam's mentor, often offering acting and career advice. "For me, I feel like he’s my acting dad," Humphrey says.

So what advice does Humphrey have for anyone else struggling with a disability looking to get to where he is today?

"No matter what you’re facing, persistence is key," Humphrey says. "You might be facing mental and emotional challenges, which I went through, but if you stick at it, you can overcome those challenges. Keep pushing yourself and keep challenging yourself. Get those mentors around you that will constantly be able to support you."

Catch Sam Humphrey in the sing-along version of The Greatest Showman, which hits theaters today, Jan. 12.

About The Author

Caroline Pirozzolo is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is majoring in Journalism. In her free time, Caroline enjoys buying more fashion magazines and books than she can ever possibly read, being an art history nerd, consuming mass amounts of coffee and Chipotle, and fawning over pictures of French Bulldog puppies. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @c_pirozzolo.