Is there nothing Hugh Jackman can’t do?
As he celebrates his birthday, revisit our 2018 interview with the Australian star about being the ultimate box office triple threat
Hugh Jackman can do anything. He can act. He can sing. He can smoulder. He can deadlift over 400lbs. In fact, there’s a flat white in my left hand, and he made that too.
Well, not so much made it, as made it happen. It was actually brewed by a beardy barista in Tribeca’s Laughing Man Coffee Shop — an establishment Jackman himself opened after being unable to find the traditional Australian coffee he loved anywhere in Manhattan.
“That was incredibly selfish of me,” laughs Jackman, as he barrels off down the corridor ahead. “But there are eight or nine Australian coffee shops in the city now, so it’s obviously caught on!”
It would appear that Jackman has had a few cups already. It’s almost noon and the actor, busy as ever, is preparing to screen his latest film, The Front Runner, tonight. He couldn’t be more excited. Clapping his hands and grinning his way through high-rise New York, Jackman is all caffeine and urgency, wrapped up in his signature Australian twang.
But he’ll always find time to discuss Laughing Man Coffee. Founded in 2011, the innovative coffee bean brand invests globally in farming communities, and is just one of the many enterprises that make up Jackman’s philanthropic blend — a mixed bag including causes from humanitarian aid and global warming to microcredit and poverty. And all that as an Oscar-nominated actor? As we said, Hugh Jackman can do anything.
“Laughing Man, Global Citizen, GOOD+” Jackman counts on his fingers. “I’m involved in so much because I think the biggest issue facing the planet is the planet. And not just the environment — humanity, too. So I put my time and energy into all of these efforts.
“It’s how I prefer to change things,” he adds. “Because, in general, I feel that you can effect more positive long-term change that way than through the political process.”
Jackman’s view is one that increasingly resonates in today’s world and, for The Front Runner, he had to undertake a crash course in the American political system. Telling the true story of Senator Gary Hart, a Democratic presidential candidate in 1988 who was caught up in a scandalous extramarital affair, The Front Runner saw the actor tasked with tackling a meaty subject — not to mention a particularly exotic wig.
“I’m a lot more aware now,” confesses Jackman. “I sort of assumed that everything political was slick. When you see the ads or hear the sound bites on the nightly news, that’s how it seems.
“But, when you really look,” he says, gesturing hectically around the room, “you see how chaotic it all is — it’s all happening on the fly. And it’s still just a bunch of human beings — so they’re all still going to make mistakes.”
Senator Hart, another in a string of Jackman’s critically acclaimed roles, indeed made mistakes. He was unusual and enigmatic, and the actor tells me that US statesmen of both political leanings have described him as the most intelligent politician of the last 50 years.
“He was kind of a rockstar within Washington,” laughs Jackman, “but it is frightening. A real responsibility. I take every job seriously, but telling real-life stories is different. When you’re depicting somebody’s legacy, their life, it’s very complex and potentially painful for everyone involved.”
To get it right, Jackman reveals he listened to Hart’s speeches in the gym every morning, and even met the man himself — the first currently living person Jackman has played. According to the actor, Hart is enigmatic and elusive.
“I’m not like that,” Jackman says, fiddling with the neck of his polo shirt. “Pretty much what you see is what you get. So I had to withdraw. Close things down. It was a kind of calibration that I’ve never had to do before — never having that feeling on set of ‘nailing it’.”
He needn’t have worried. Hugh Jackman can do anything, after all. The Front Runner is another gripping, acutely observed entry in the actor’s oeuvre. And what an oeuvre it is. From marvelling superhero fans as Wolverine and fighting demons as Van Helsing, to crooning his way through musicals such as Les Misérables and The Greatest Showman, Jackman isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
But does this “do anything” approach ever get him in trouble? “Sometimes,” he grins. “I have heard directors say: ‘Yeah, Hugh’ll be fine doing that.’ And I have to say: ‘Erm, I’ll try, but I might not know how to do that.’ That said, tequilas and axe throwing was a lovely change of pace on this movie. For many years, I was used to getting up and working out — way before I started my day filming. So it’s lovely now to be able to get up at a normal time. It’s nice. I’m settling into my mid-career lethargy.”
He says that, but there’s nothing lethargic about the all-singing, all-dancing Jackman – or the promotional tours he embarks on before the release of each new film. “We’re in showbusiness, man!” exclaims the actor, arms in the air. “In the end, I have to help the movie. And, as an actor, I’m always self-promoting. I have a small business — and it just happens to be called Hugh Jackman. So yes, part of the campaign is promoting Hugh Jackman because I hope he stays in business.
“But I know things aren’t completely over for me yet,” he adds, with the slightest flash of a frown.
Quite so. Jackman’s list of award nominations (and wins) is extensive – most recently recognising his 2018 portrayal of J.P. Barnum in the unexpectedly meteoric The Greatest Showman. His one previous Oscar nod, for Les Misérables in 2013, rewarded the actor’s commitment to a role for which he underwent liquid fasts and a minimalist diet. According to Jackman, however, that was just another day at the office.
“I try to say yes to most things,” he reasons. “If they scare me, I see that as a sign that I should do something rather than not do it. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and go: ‘I should have done that. I wish I hadn’t been so scared.’ I mean, I’m still scared of things, but I do believe that you should go for it and try. You never know what’s going to happen, right?”
And try he has. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, as the actor lists the skills he’s amassed over his career, it would appear that Hugh Jackman really can do anything. For Swordfish, he trained as a stunt driver. For The Fountain, he became an expert in T’ai Chi. He’s learned to speak in countless different languages and accents for roles. He can play the piano, the guitar and the violin. And, despite the New York rainstorm hammering outside, he’s still beaming that excitable, infectious smile.
So what, if anything, could possibly scare Hugh Jackman? “Probably dying, for one,” the actor laughs, eyes jokingly wide. “I mean, I’m not terrified of it. And ageing has never bothered me. I’m in my 50s and I’m not frightened of that — I’ve got no mid-life crisis planned. Although I’m sure I’ll feel my age the morning after the next big party…
“I certainly have worries and fears concerning my family, my children particularly. But there’s not a parent on the planet who doesn’t feel that.” But Jackman insists he hasn’t always been so fearless.
“I was a very fearful kid. I was scared of everything. Heights. Going too fast in a car. The dark. Just loads of things. I used to jump off the diving board in my high school, over and over and over again, until I wasn’t scared anymore.
“And I very rarely feel the burden of my fame,” he adds, flicking a strand of movie star hair from his face. “Let’s put it this way: If I was to hand you the keys to a Ferrari, and tell you that there were going to be some traffic jams occasionally, you’d still take those keys — every day of the week! I’m doing what I love, so if there is the odd ‘traffic jam’, I just try to put that into perspective.”
The traffic jams haven’t been that bad. True, there’s been the odd misstep — don’t mention X-Men Origins: Wolverine — but the rest of Jackman’s minor delays aren’t anything more than momentary red lights. He turned down the chance to take on the role of James Bond before it was offered to Daniel Craig, and may have once embarrassed himself in front of the late, great David Bowie. But his career still continues to evolve — and he feels that any mistakes made have shaped him professionally.
“I used to think that my job was like a quarterback’s,” says Jackman, “to take any pressure off the coach. To say: ‘Don’t worry, I got this’.
“But I no longer do that,” he adds, hands up in admission. “I’m always very honest with my directors. I tell them if I’m feeling nervous about a scene, or if I’m not sure about this or that. I realised that everyone feels doubt sometimes, and it’s easier just to share it. They don’t mind if they hear that from their quarterback.”
Jackman loves a metaphor – particularly if it’s a sports metaphor (which is no surprise, as the actor who can do anything is a keen cricketer, rugby player, swimmer, basketball player and footballer). Even when discussing The Front Runner, he likens Senator Hart’s downfall to that of Tiger Woods.
“The ugly side of humanity is that we get a perverse pleasure out of watching people collapse,” says Jackman. “Watching things fall apart. We like to gossip about other people. And things can — especially if you’re a public figure — come down really, really quickly.
“For politicians, especially, you have no choice. Particularly in the modern day — every aspect of your life is up for grabs. Nothing is ever private. So it’s no wonder people don’t run for public office.
“And sometimes that’s good,” he adds, with the arch of an eyebrow, “because some people are hiding very dark, sinister things. Yes, I get asked questions about my life and people make their judgements about who I am. But, in the end, all that changes is whether they’re going to spend $12 to see a movie. The President of the United States is in charge of your kid’s education, how the planet’s going to look in thirty years, your taxes. Very real, very important things.”
But scrutiny has never been much of an issue for Jackman. He admits that there may be a “microscope” on his life in some ways, but he’s come to a way of life that works for him. If anything, he says, he shares too much. “Just ask my publicist how often she rolls her eyes!”
Jackman admits that his secret weapon in balancing personal and professional life is social media. As one of Hollywood’s most prolific posters, he has over 57 million collective followers (that’s over double the population of Jackman’s native Australia) and uses the platforms to lay his life open to fans.
“When I started with social media,” considers the actor, “I remember thinking: ‘Do I want to get into this relationship?’ It felt like it might be a relationship I couldn’t leave. But I’m so grateful for it.”
And Jackman knew the value of controlling the story way before social media came on to the scene. As he springs up and darts off down another corridor, the actor reveals that he majored in journalism at university in Sydney.
“But I couldn’t have done it,” he laughs, walking backwards on the balls of his feet towards the lift. “I just accept what everybody says. I’d have ended up getting an interview with a third world dictator and just believing everything he said. I think I would have found it really, really difficult.”
As the lift doors slide shut on the actor’s smile, he once more claims: “I couldn’t have done it.”
But it’s likely he could. After all, Hugh Jackman can do, well, you know…
This interview is taken from the Winter 2018 issue of Gentleman’s Journal. For more cover stories from the archives, here’s why Ryan Reynolds is a serious businessman…
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