Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard talk about working with Denis Villeneuve.

Terrence Howard may have starred in Oscar-nominated films and worked alongside Hollywood’s elite. But according to the Prisoners actor, it took a little-known Canadian filmmaker to fully realize his potential.

“Last night I watched the film for the very first time and I didn’t see me,” Howard said during a press conference Saturday morning at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I felt like an actor was born under these hands.”

The hands in questions are those of Denis Villeneuve, a director known in Canadian film circles for his depiction of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, Polytechnique, and the Middle Eastern mystery drama Incendies, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

But after getting his hands on a copy of Aaron Guzikowski’s morally ambiguous abduction thriller, Prisoners—which had been making its rounds in the American film market for over three years—the independent filmmaker decided to go south of the border to create his first major motion picture.

Prisoners tells the story of a pair of fathers—played by Hugh Jackman and Howard—who take justice into their own hands after their children are abducted during a Thanksgiving day celebration.

The result, according to Jackman, is one of the more dynamic offerings in the thriller milieu, thanks in part to a plot that shied away from the cliché-riddled storylines generally associated with the genre.

“In the DNA of Aaron (Guzikowski)’s script was a more ambitious film,” Jackman said. “Not just one that grips you and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but one that actually makes you contemplate it for days after.”

All of which proved especially difficult for Jackman and co-star Maria Bello—who plays his wife in the movie—during preparation for the film and long days on set.

“We have kids the same age,” Bello said. “I couldn’t even use my 12 and a half-year-old boy in my body while I was acting…because that depth of pain, I can’t imagine what the families who are going through this really go through every day.”

But according to Jackman, the success of the film lies in its ability to allow viewers to confront their own personal anxieties about the situation from the safety of their own seats.

“This touches on really elemental fears that we all collectively have, which is why the film was cathartic to film and cathartic to watch,” Jackman said. “There’s a reason we don’t just go to see comedies. Somehow as humans we also need to touch on the real elemental fears we push down everyday of our lives.”