Hugh Jackman: Kids “force you to be real”

When Hugh Jackman strides into a room, everyone takes notice. After all, it’s hard to ignore the angular frame, the neon smile, and the electric elegance of a man who is as strikingly handsome as he is talented. He’s also known for being one the nicest guys in Hollywood. But “nice” is hardly adequate to describe the 44-year-old Jackman, who has proven himself to be one of the most versatile performers on stage and screen. In addition to his work in films like The X-Men and The Prestige, the Aussie heartthrob has also gained fame for his highly acclaimed one-man Broadway shows as well as for hosting both the Oscars and Tonys. Now he’s about to enjoy one of the best years of his career, playing the part of Jean Valjean opposite Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables” and for reprising his X-Men role in the long-awaited “Wolverine.”

Jackman and his wife, former actress Deborah-Lee Furness, live most of the year in New York with their two children, Oscar, 12, and Ava, 7. Hugh likes to get up at dawn each day to do 45-minute workout sessions that helps him maintain his fabulous physique.

Q: You seem to have such a natural gift as an actor and as a song and dance man. Where does that spirit come from?

JACKMAN: I love performing, it’s in my blood. I like being adventurous in life. In Australia, we have a saying, ‘Have a go,‘ and I’ve always lived by that. You need to take risks even if that means falling flat on your face.

Q: Your big new film is Les Miserables. How satisfying is it to be part of a production like this?

JACKMAN: It’s the high point of my career. I’ve been trying to do a movie musical for the longest time. I really have. When I hear that the movie version of ‘Les Miserables’ was being made, I immediately threw my hat in that ring. This was a part I wanted very badly and I feel in some way that everything in my professional life has pointed to this moment. I love acting, and I love doing musicals, and I’ve always wanted to combine those two interests and now it’s finally come true with “Les Miserables”. It’s such a great feeling to be part of one of the most uplifting stories ever told about the human spirit.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing about your character, Jean Valjean?

JACKMAN: It’s this extraordinary journey he takes in life. You first see my character as a convict in a forced labour camp where even though he is thin he has a reputation for his physical strength. Then you see him 9 years down the road and he’s become successful, he’s the town mayor, he’s more robust physically and then you see him years later and he’s gained weight which was actually good for me since I needed to go from the set of “Les Miserables” and start preparing to work on Wolverine.

Q: How do you balance the commitment required to spend several months at a time shooting movies with finding time for your children?

JACKMAN: I have a career, but Deb and my kids are who I live for. I’m very lucky to have had my wife Deb be there for me and whose love kept me going when I was struggling and feeling down. My success wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I wouldn’t have her and our kids. They’re the real centre of my world. I am always searching myself to see whether I could do something more and be more patient at times. Kids also force you to be more evolved and less selfish. They force you to be real. You can’t put up masks and you can’t think only about your work because your children will pick up on that and you have to be very conscious of your role as a parent. I never want to give them the impression that I am ever putting them second.

Q : How do you compare your own approach to being the father of two children to your growing up without a mother after your parents divorced ?

JACKMAN : I’ve been lucky to have a beautiful and generous wife to help me raise our children. It’s worlds apart. My dad had a hard time and it wasn’t that easy at our house. I was constantly fighting my next oldest brother and we were all living in chaos. Dad would come home late, usually not before 7 at night, and there was always some trouble going on. It wasn’t the best way to grow up, but it taught me to look out for myself and be very independent and disciplined. But I always wanted to create a very loving and caring environment for my own children. It’s my greatest accomplishment. There is no greater joy in life than watching your kids play and enjoy life while they grow up in front of your eyes. I can’t tell you how much I love taking my kids for walks and exploring the world with them when I travel. Deb and I have been blessed to have them in our lives.

Q: Does being a good father and husband enable you to have the kind of solid home life that you didn’t enjoy after your parents divorced ?

JACKMAN : It’s very satisfying and comforting to be able to lead a happy life. My father had to raise five children basically by himself for the longest period and it was really miserable for a while. Dad was not home till 6:30 or 7 at night, so lots of stuff would happen. I was constantly fighting with the next oldest brother…We were sort of fending for ourselves. And Dad was just so stretched. Often we’d get in trouble for something you shouldn’t be in trouble for. My brother would hit me, and I’d start crying, and Dad would say, ‘Stop crying, the pair of you. Stop crying.’”

Q: What are your memories of growing up under those circumstances ?

JACKMAN: I remember I just wanted to be normal. Of course I wanted my mom back, and for a long time I thought she was coming back. When I was 12, they tried to reconcile, which was short-lived. When that fell apart, I was very angry….Divorce wasn’t common then and it was uncommon for the mother to leave, and I had a real feeling of embarrassment. I remember people being very sympathetic and I just hated it. I didn’t want the attention… You learn to go on with your life. But the bottom line is, I never felt that my mum didn’t love me and I was never angry with her. Now that I’m an adult and have talked to her, I can see there was no other way she could see to solve it at the time. And we’ve been able to have a good relationship.

Q: Was acting and showbusiness a way of expressing yourself and getting rid of anger in any way?

JACKMAN: My friends tell me that I always had a pretty sunny disposition growing up so even though maybe I had reason to be angry about things, I’ve found out over the years, even with acting coaches that tried to get you to draw out those buried emotions, that that was never the case. I feel I have a lot to live for and to be happy about.

Q: You grew up suffering from a lack of affection from your father. Yet you’ve managed to reconcile with him. Was that hard?

JACKMAN: My dad wasn’t very emotionally giving. He’s very English in that way. I remember coming back from being away for a year when I was 18 – I’d been overseas working as a teaching assistant (at prestigious Uppingham School) in England, and my dad met me at the airport and he put his hand out to shake my hand. I was like, “Dad, can I get a hug?” But that’s his English upbringing. But later on we were able to get closer and Chris (he often calls his father that) is a very sweet man who always supported me when I went into acting and has always been very proud of me. When you have your own children, you finally figure out what a tough job it can be and as a result I came to have a much greater empathy for my parents.

Q: You and your wife ultimately decided to adopt after she suffered two miscarriages. Did you ever worry that you wouldn’t get the chance to be a father and create the kind of close-knit family life that you didn’t have as a child?

JACKMAN: It was the most difficult and painful time in our lives. We were so anxious to have children and then it turned into such a struggle…There was a lot of disappointment and anxiety that you experience in that kind of a process. At a certain point we gave up on IVF (in-vitro fertilization) and decided to adopt and we couldn’t have been happier. Oscar and Ava are every bit our children as much as they would if they were our biological children.

Q: Who is the stricter parent, you or your wife?

JACKMAN: I’m definitely stricter than my wife. I’m more like the bad cop at home. But I still feel a hell of a lot more lenient as a father than my dad was. I’m one of five kids, so it was a lot more regimented for me growing up. But my wife is caught up in a loosey-goosey, kind of ‘whatever’ vibe.

Q : You have a very direct and easygoing manner in the best sense of how most people feel about Australians? Does it get tiring to be seen as a nice guy, though?

JACKMAN: I’ve always valued the notion of being a gentleman and treating people with respect. I find it so much more enjoyable to try to embrace the kinder and gentler sides of one’s personality. I lose my temper very rarely, and when I do I really feel miserable afterwards. But never with Deb and never with my kids, although when they misbehave, there are days you want to say things to your kids and just don’t. Talk back to them, tell them how annoying they are. But you zip it up, and walk out of their rooms frustrated. Repressing the urge to yell at your kids when they’re driving you crazy – that’s where my greatest acting skills come into play! (Laughs)

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MY LOVES

THE THEATRE

“As an actor, I still think of the theatre as my finest means of creative expression and all my best memories come from moments I’ve spent on stage in front of an audience. I have vivid memories of playing King Arthur in “Camelot” when I was 5 years old and how the crown kept slipping down over my head and nose. I fell in love with musicals right then. Years later, I must have been 8, my dad took me to see a performance of “The Man of La Mancha” and I remember (Australian actor) Hugo Weaving starring in that and he had studied at the same high school that I was about to enter. That was a very inspiring moment in my life.”

SUNDAY BREAKFAST

“It’s a tradition with us that I prepare Sunday breakfast. I usually make pancakes and the kids just love it. They’ll even help me prepare the batter. Those are the everyday moments in life that I cherish and when I think that the world can be such a beautiful place.”

THE OCEAN

“I love swimming in the ocean. That’s the thing I miss most when I’m away from Australia. You find this incredible peace of mind when you’re able to run on the beach on a hot day and then just dive into the waves, cool off, and enjoy the sensation that comes with being a little closer to nature.”

SINGING IN THE RAIN

“Gene Kelly was an extraordinary dancer and when he does that song and dance number (of the title song) it’s one of the most perfect moments in the history of cinema. A great musical like that transports you into this magical world and time just stops. So whenever I watch it I find myself hopelessly carried away by the romance of it all.”

SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE

“My dad’s spaghetti bolognese is divine. There’s no better meal on earth and I still crave the stuff to this day. Although it’s vary rare he’ll come over and cook – whenever we meet or when he comes to see on of my shows immediately afterwards we’ll head out and find the best Italian restaurant and order spaghettu bolognese.”

MY HATES

DOCTOR’s OFFICES

“Deb and I spent a lot of time going to doctor’s offices when she was trying to conceive. There was a lot of frustration and anxiety involved in that time of our lives and I get the creeps when it comes to clinics or waiting rooms or anything related to doctors.”

ANGER

“My father always taught me that being angry or aggressive was a lack of self-discipline and basically a way of indulging your emotions. Often we get angry because of tension that builds up inside of us and we can learn ways of not allowing that to happen and not losing our tempers. I take a lot of satisfaction if I’m able to deal with difficult situations as calmly as possible. Even if you’re justified to reacting angrily to other people’s stupidity or lack of sensitivity there are always better ways of handling those situations.”

CHICKEN

“I’ve eaten so much plain chicken meat over the years while training for a role that sometimes I can’t look at the stuff. But I still eat it.”

SCREEN FIXATION

“Children today are too wrapped up in staring at screens. Whether it’s the TV, the computer, or cellphones, it’s too much. We try to put strict limits on how much time the kids spend watching TV or being on the computer in the case of our eldest. I’d rather have them do sports or read a book than sit in front of a TV for hours at a time.”

MOBILE PHONES

“It drives you and the audience nuts when cell phones go off in the middle of a performance. I was doing a play with Daniel Craig on Broadway (A Steady Rain) a few years ago and this one guy’s phone kept ringing. So I kind of lost it and stopped my performance and went over and pointed towards him: ‘You wanna get that? Come on, just turn it off. Unless you’ve got a better story. You want to get up and tell your stories?’

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