In the world of show business, Hugh Jackman (1968, Australia) is renowned as being the nicest guy in Hollywood. It is known that every time he arrives at a shoot, he makes an effort to learn the first names of all the members of the technical team, makes donations to local hospitals and, when he leaves, he invites everyone to eat Australian meat pies. The truth is that Jackman, who we’ve spotted on a terrace of his hotel in Barcelona eating with his wife and children, is simply charming. This would explain why he’s cast into different projects, starring in diverse roles such as Les Misérables, X- Men and dramatic thriller Prisoners. He has also been praised for his hosting prowess at both the Tony Awards and the Oscars.
After his long-running signature role as a Marvel superhero in X-Men, Jackman changed gear, donning a pair of dancing shoes in the 2017 musical The Greatest Showman. The film, which took seven years to make, celebrates the birth of show business and stars Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya. Jackman plays PT Barnum, a circus entrepreneur who sets out to create the greatest show in the world.
When Jackman and director Michael Gracey started selling the project, the idea of a very expensive musical with no known script seemed suicidal. The closest a millennial had been to a choreographed number was a school montage of High School Musical. But after the phenomenon of romantic-comedy musical film La La Land and the blockbuster Beauty and the Beast, there seemed to be a hunger for singing and dancing. A win-win for Jackman.
This project has been your passion, your baby. Did you think it come to fruition? I thought we had, at most, a 10 percent chance that this movie would come into existence. The director, Michael Gracey, is like a shaman. He took a 45-minute speech out of his sleeve and repeated it a thousand times in different parts of the world. Actors, musicians, producers, studio heads… and everyone who saw him said: “I want in”. Me included.
An entire generation discovered with La La Land that there are films in which the actors are talking… and suddenly they start singing. I always think it was Moulin Rouge that turned the situation around. The idea that something cool, young and modern could be commercial changed everything. Then there were a few more musicals, such as Les Misérables. But, yes, La La Land was the first time for many people, including fans of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It was also like an ode to the classical era. And the writers won an Oscar for that movie.
In the middle of filming, you had to return to complete Logan. How did the mind and even the body prepare for such a change? In the end it was good, but musicals are exhausting.
You’re always asked to chart your diet and exercise regimen to become Wolverine, but are you now saying that preparing for an action movie is a picnic compared to a musical? It is much worse. Dancing for 12 hours a day is much harder than doing action sequences for 12 hours straight because you also have to do everything with a smile on your face.
Nine movies later, you say goodbye to the character of Wolverine in Logan. They still ask me all the time if this is the last one? “But yes, yes it is. I do not know if we got it, but we wanted to do something deeper, more raw and emotionally more satisfying. I did not know how the audience was going to receive it. It was a very risky decision to make it unfit for children under 17 because you are excluding many 12-, 13- and 14-year-old fans.
There must have been a good reason for it. We did it for the story. We raised the level of aggressiveness because that is one of the themes of the film. Having a more adult treatment made everything deeper; we did not have to worry about being understood by a 12-year-old child.
You have two very different sets of fans: those obsessed with musicals and comic book fans. Who treats you better? Both are equally difficult! When I was 23 years old I thought I was going to do Shakespeare all my life to pay the rent. I thought I’d do some TV work, but I did not think it would be Wolverine, a tough guy. I used to say that one day it would be James Bond, but not a superhero. And the same with the musical theatre. They called me to play Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and I had to put in my contract that they would pay for my singing lessons for the duration of the editing.
You left dance classes when you were a child, right? I did not even start them. My school teacher recommended that I go to a dance studio, but I didn’t go because someone called me a sissy. I regret not trying dance classes.
You have suffered several skin cancers and talk openly about your struggles with it. I am an Australian with English parents, so the genetics were not great, but I went to the beach without wearing sunscreen and all the sun damage is from 25-30 years ago. I’ve had five or six episodes and I’ll have more. None endangers my life, but I have to go for checkups every three months. I think young people should know the importance of wearing sunscreen and getting regular checkups. If they see that Wolverine is wearing sunscreen, they will hopefully also wear it.
Are you still involved with the School of Practical Philosophy? [An organisation that borrows from Eastern and Western philosophical principle.] Yes, it’s great. For me, it’s like what the Church is for other people, a place where to find light. It is not so much about discussing esoteric ideas, but practical things, from day to day. We study texts of all kinds, from the East, from the West, from Plato, the Bible, Shakespeare… It is an atmosphere that encourages you not to accept anything but also not to reject anything. It’s easy, practical, simple … and very powerful for me. I grew up in the Anglican Church and my father is a very religious person. I was young, but there came a point when I saw all this as a very narrow way of thinking.
You mention your father. He raised you and your brothers alone… How has that experience affected the way that you parent? My mother left when I was eight years old. If your parents are separated and you are a child, years later you feel the need to make sure that your marriage works. Deb [Deborra-Lee Furness, his wife of 21 years] and I have worked on that, we have focused on the family going ahead of everything. Sometimes I have done three jobs at the same time, but I try to make sure that the family always comes first. I’m a mix of my parents, I think. My mother is optimistic, explosive, creative and is always dealing with people abandoned by society. My father is very, very disciplined. He never says anything bad about anyone, he is very strict, but an amazing guy. I am a bit like that.
You’re reputed to be the nicest guy in Hollywood. But I am an actor, it’s all just lies and I have been deceiving them for years. I always try to serve others, or help, or offer to do something. I do not like it when someone acts in a strange way in front of me because I’m famous; it’s not very Australian and it makes me uncomfortable. When I’m working, I also respond better when I’m being criticised. James Mangold, the director of Logan and Wolverine Immortal , is the best. When we shoot, he’s always telling me “trash”, “I do not know who you want to impress”, “I see too much theatre around here” and I think that’s why they are two of my best performances.
Have you enjoyed getting old with the character? Now I love him more than ever; I’ve grown up with him. When I saw Logan, something broke my heart. I have always seen the tragic side of the character, and finally that part was within the reach of everyone. I really like the movie The Wrestler and what Mickey Rourke did in it. That was a bit like what I wanted to achieve. A being who makes mistakes is not a great person, he may have thrown in the towel, but in the end he is trying.