July 2001 By Philip Berk
Can Hugh Jackman be as perfect as he appears.
On the three occasions I’ve interviewed him there’s always a smile on his face.
An actor without guile, envy, or attitude
His latest triumph: a Golden Globe nomination for Kate & Leopold.
At his press conference for that film, he was the perfect gentleman, a role he played so effectively in the film, you’d think he was to the manner born.
The only time he lost his composure was when he was asked, unexpectedly, Does he have a dark side.
For a moment he’s flustered, blaming the breakup of his parents’ marriage, acknowledging his good fortune in finding a perfect soulmate.
But finally he responds, “Wow. Of course, we’ve all got everything within us. Is my life all roses, no. But you’ll have to ask my wife about the darker sides. She’s been witness to a few, that’s for sure.”
Dark side or not, Hugh’s still riding the crest of a wave that has taken him from anonymity to sharing billing with the likes of Ashley Judd, John Travolta, Halle Berry, and in Kate and Leopold, Meg Ryan.
Having survived a year of turmoil involving another Australian, Meg must have had some doubts.
How did they get along?
“She’s so down to earth, it’s amazing. She’s a very real person, very genuine, and we share a love for Australia. Having been there recently, she said things that were so eloquent and heartfelt, I was like ‘Damn, I’ve lived there all my life, but I couldn’t have put it as well.”
Speaking of which, when was the last time he was there?
“You’re right, we’ve been away from home for three and a half years. My wife and I have counted eighteen house moves that we’ve made in that time. And half way through that, we had a baby, and if anybody’s moved with a baby you’d know how hard that is. So it’s time to get a little more settled and spend more time back home. But first I’ll be doing a movie with Gavin O’Connor in New York, and then April 23 I’ll be back for a little while shooting X-Men 2.”
Would they consider living permanently in Hollywood?
“People have asked me if I’d give up my Australian citizenship, and I’ve told them I could never do that, because that’s sort of in my heart. That’s my home. But I love being here in L.A.”
Is he worried that success might go to his head?
“I don’t think so.The lure of a peaceful life doesn’t lie in the roller coaster of Hollywood. It lies in the relationships I have with my wife and child and my friends.”
So why the compulsion to work so much?
“No compulsion really. I liked the roles, and I accepted them.”
Spoken like a man who’s never been in a hurry.
In fact, it wasn’t until his early twenties that he first decided to become an actor, and even after making that choice, he turned down Neighbours (which had made Guy Pearce a star) to hone his craft at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
Two years later, when he felt he was ready, he accepted a role in another TV series, Corelli, where he met his future wife Deborra-Lee Furness, who at the time was a well known actress eight years his senior. They were married a year later.
Returning to the theatre, he played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Joe Gillis in Lloyd Weber’s Sunset Boulevard, the latter directed by Trevor Nunn, who brought him to the West End to play Curly in the celebrated West End revival of Oklahoma.
In all three plays he capitalized on his rich baritone singing voice, which is yet to be heard on screen.
He might have been content to work in the theatre had fate not intervened.
X-Men was about to start production, but the actor signed to play Wolverine (Fellow Australian Dougray Scott) was tied up filming Mission Impossible 2.
A replacement was needed. Hugh was tested, and the rest as they say in Hollywood is history.
Since then he’s worked non stop in Someone Like you, Sword Fish, and (opposite Meg Ryan) in Kate and Leopold.
At one time he thought about a career in journalism.
Why the switch to acting?
“I had always acted as a hobby. In fact at five I was singing Camelot in front of the school. But when I was twenty two, in my last year at college I did a show and found out I was spending more time on it than anything else. I thought this is crazy. So when we toured the production, I realized I had wasted three years of my life and ought to give acting a shot. I gave it one year which quickly became four and five.”
The turning point was meeting his wife.
Was he looking for love at the time?
“Actually at the time I was a very happy single guy. I was working for the first time. I had a bit of money. I had moved to a new city; so it was kind of a good time for me. I was very happy, and I wasn’t looking for a partner. But when I met my wife it was like ten times better.”
Was it love at first sight?
“You must remember it was my first job, and she was the star and in every scene. I developed a crush on her which I presumed most Australians had; so I kept it to myself. After all who was I to think my feelings would be reciprocated. But after a couple of months of becoming good friends it sort of turned a corner. At the time I was too nervous to even think about love at first sight. Although ironically Deb told me much later that she herself was so nervous, she could barely see anything apart from the script. But for everyone else, she appeared to to be the coolest cucumber on earth.”
Six months ago when I asked him what he remembered about the day he proposed, he protested, “I remember it well. It was a huge leap of faith. But it’s such a personal thing. All I can say is ever since she’s been my touchstone. I’d been through some scary experiences and vulnerable times before that. She changed everything. In fact, I’m pretty sure all this wouldn’t have happened without her.”
This time, when asked to name the most romantic thing he’s ever done, he forgets himself.
“She’ll kill me for this, but I can’t stop telling people. I was working in a show so I had Monday off. I thought this was when she’d least suspect it. I suggested we have a breakfast in the Botanical Gardens, at the cafe there. Two weeks before I’d gone to get the ring, which was the most frightening thing I’d ever done. I had no idea what I wanted. Would it cost 3,000, 30,0000, 330,000? I knew nothing about diamonds. I told the ringmaker, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I’m going to talk about my wife, and I want you to draw something.’ About 45 minutes later he had drawn this picture of a ring, it was so beautiful, I said, ‘Make it.
“I had it with me that morning. A mate of mine Mark Pennell had set up the table. Earlier I had given him the table cloth, the roses, the champagne. Everything was there. As we approached the table, Debra said,’ Oh my God, what is this? They’re doing a Vogue-like shoot.. This is beautiful.’ And I said, ‘Ah, surprise,” and she started to cry, which wasn’t in the plan, so I thought I’ve got to ask her now. I was going to do it halfway through the breakfast. I had it all worked out. I was going to pretend an ant had bitten me and get down on my knee. But there I was fumbling, really nervous. Up until that moment it had been raining, but then suddenly the sun came out. I said, ‘Oh look Deb the sun is out. This is almost perfect.’ And she said, ‘It is perfect.’ and I said, ‘Well, it will be if you marry me.’ I pulled out the ring, and just then forty school girls appeared from behind a tree. Mark had seen them coming and stalled them. Suddenly they’re all going, ‘What happened?’ and Deb got on the table and says, ‘I said yes,’ and they all applauded.”
What does he think makes their marriage so special?
“We bring the best out in each other. After I met my wife I felt I could be myself completely. When you meet someone that brings the best out in you, it’s a joyous thing. You don’t have to be a genius to recognize it, you know it because you just feel so great.”
Are they ever competitive?
“How could we be. I want the best for her, and she delights in every success that happens to me. She’s completely devoid of any competitive game playing.”
And becoming a parent (a year ago he and Deborra adopted a racially mixed infant.) has that enhanced their lives?
“It’s fantastic. It’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s a natural thing. We adopted our little boy. The moment you fall in love with someone you want to have a kid with them. I can’t think of anything better than sharing parenting with my wife.”
Will there be others?
“We’d like to have five more. It’s hard to imagine when you’re giving all your attention to one, but we’re thinking about it.”
As one of five, what was his childhood like?
“I grew up in a pretty big family so you kind of feel different all the time; either you’re into things or you’re not. I remember being really perplexed that I didn’t have a hobby because all my brothers and sisters (he has two of each) had hobbies. Stamp collecting, horses, you name it. I was like desperate for a hobby. I remember going to a newsstand, looking through all the magazines, and saying, ‘Right I’m going to pick one and I’m going to be more knowledgeable than them on any thing.’ So I started with car magazines. I could quote any statistic on any car, even though I didn’t really care about them. Actually I was a pretty well adjusted kid growing up, but then when my parents split up, I was pretty angry for a while, but I settled down by the time I was thirteen.”
His mother walked out on the family when Hugh was eight.They reconciled years later, and she and her family are now part of his London connection.
The school of Practical Philosophy in Melbourne that he attended, what was that all about?
“When people sit and say things like, ‘If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there, is there a sound?’ you know, terrific dinner conversation, but does it help you in life. The School of Practical Philosophy is a conglomeration of many ideas, thoughts and philosophies from Buddhism to Christianity, from Socrates to Eastern religions. It just poses questions. If you like the answer, use it; if you don’t, don’t. Basically it’s something practical. Also, unless you know something through experience, you don’t really understand it. It’s a group committed to that, and it’s great that both my wife and I are involved.”
Shades of Tom and Nicole and Scientology, but less manipulative.
Incidentally before she knew Hugh, Debora once slept on the floor of Nicole’s apartment in Hollywood (before she married Tom.)
Is he often reminded that Dougray’s bad fortune was his karma?
“The truth is, I met Dougray just before we started filming (X-Men). He came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations. It’s a fantastic script. It’s a great part, and you just go out there and get him.’ I said, ‘Look, I feel bad,’ and he said, ‘Hey things like this happen in movies. Go kick arse for both of us.’
Does it haunt him?
“I think about it every now and again, but the assumption that that piece of good fortune has been the making of my life is wrong because things happen to us every day good or bad. What I prefer to believe is things happen for us to learn from; so a role that might seem to be the most challenging you’ve ever had might also be the beginning or end of your career. You never know.”
They named their son Oscar Maximilian.
Were they trying to punish him?
“On the contrary, my wife wanted to name him Balthazar. Actually it was the first name we both liked. We just loved Oscar and Maximilian. We wanted to call him Max , but we didn’t like the sound of Max Jackman, so we made that his middle name. Later we learned that Maximilian means great and Oscar of course means spear of God. It puts a bit of pressure on a kid knowing your name means Great Spear of God!”
Was he embarrassed by his beefcake image in Star Fish?
“People have asked me why I just had a towel around my waist playing golf in the movie. And I’ve told them it was that way in the original script and followed a scene where I came out of a shower, and a girl friend walked it. We were having a discussion, I put the towel around me while we were arguing. When she left, I was so annoyed I started whacking gold balls. That earlier scene of course was cut, but to be honest, I’m so naive, I just thought that’s kind of cool. Here’s a guy who after showering puts a towel round his waste and plays golf.
“Am I comfortable with that? I never really think about it, although I do go to the gym because I know that in Hollywood it’s difficult to get a lot of roles if you’re 60 kilograms overweight.”