Hugh Jackman is cold. He shivers theatrically, wrapping beefy arms across his chest. The journalists sitting around him mimic his actions, unwittingly playing a childish game of Follow The Leader. But that’s the impact Jackman has: where he leads, others follow. If there wasn’t a chill in the air before, you can bet there is one now.
Ascribe it to star power, that elusive “It” factor, or sheer charisma, but it’s impossible to look away. Holding court at The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, the Hollywood A-lister deftly fielded questions from reporters about his latest film Pan.
“It’s such a big character, it’s so different,” he says of the character he plays, the villainous Blackbeard. “He’s very big and larger than life, with ruffles and the whole thing. He’s very pompous in a way.”
The film is an origin story of Peter Pan, set before he became the boy who never grew up. Living in an orphanage run by tyrannical nuns, young Peter (played by newcomer Levi Miller) dreams of meeting his mother again.
One night, he’s kidnapped by Blackbeard’s crew and becomes one of the Lost Boys in Neverland. Rounding out the cast are Garrett Hedlund as a swashbuckling Hook and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily.
In this brave new world of riotous colour and psychedelic scenery, the fearsome Blackbeard rules with an iron fist. Far from being Peter’s sworn enemy, Hook takes him under his wing.
It’s Jackman as Blackbeard, however, that astonishes: Shorn of his brunette hair, he sports earrings and a bristling handlebar moustache. He wears a deathly pallor like a powdered second skin, and bares a set of rotting teeth when he grins.
Hugh Jackman, Hollywood heartthrob, has left the building.
“My brother, until halfway through the movie, didn’t even realise it was me!” he chuckles, clearly pleased at the transformation.
And what a transformation it is. Out of Blackbeard garb, Jackman is an arrestingly handsome man. With a thick head of hair, light green eyes and an aquiline nose, he looks exactly as he (usually) does on the big screen.
If it’s not enough that he seems to have features chiselled out of granite, the man is big: burly chest, muscled arms and platter-sized hands. In casual wear – black polo shirt and dark grey trousers – he appears younger than his 46 years.
And when he trains those piercing eyes on you and flashes his People’s Sexiest Man Alive smile, well – synapses misfire and one journalist’s brain short-circuited.
But Jackman doesn’t preen; he isn’t given to vanity. While he knows his looks have helped him up the ladder, he’s spent his career trying to prove his versatility as an actor. From Wolverine to Jean Valjean, he thrives on variety.
“I do look for that. I’ve been lucky to be offered different stuff, and it kind of brings out the best in me,” he says. “I’m lucky in my job that I get to try stuff out and do different things, but it’s also stressful doing it in front of the world!”
The world has certainly sat up and taken notice of the audacious Aussie. A career highlight came in the form of an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role as Valjean in Les Misérables. Although he lost the gong to Daniel Day-Lewis in 2013, Jackman showcased just what he could do in the role.
This versatility has made it hard to pin him down; to pigeonhole or typecast him.
“It was like, ‘Are you a theatre guy, a musical guy, an action guy?’ ” he recalls. “The audience don’t know what you are. But I’ve stuck around long enough now that all of a sudden people go, ‘Wow, we really like the fact that you can do musicals, action and all of this.’ ”
He has the chameleonic ability to transform himself. Whether oozing testosterone as an enraged Wolverine, or shimmying across the stage on Broadway in The Boy From Oz, Jackman isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. He’s not your conventional leading man. His Zen-like confidence drives him to pursue any project he wants.
“The director’s a huge part of that,” he remarks of the film roles he picks. “Nicole Kidman told me that. She said, ‘You know, you’ve really got to look at the director.’ Because this is a director’s medium. So that’s very important.”
What’s also important are his kids and his family. The actor is father to adopted children Oscar, 15, and Ava, 10. When he speaks of them, there’s a perceptible shift in his bearing – he sits up straighter, his eyes glow and his voice is full of paternal pride.
“I can see my daughter getting into (acting),” he says, crossing his arms. “I can see weirdly, in their own ways, both of them being very good at it, actually. But I think my son, he’s more into art: a visual artist, painter, drawer, sculptor, that kind of thing.”
Long reputed to be the nicest man in Hollywood, in conversation with the press it takes him a while to warm up. At first, he’s more professional than personable. Perhaps it’s because of a draining press tour to promote Pan (London to New York to Hong Kong to Tokyo then back to New York), or perhaps it’s because he’s wary of the six journalists jockeying for his attention.
When asked the inevitable question about hanging up Wolverine’s claws, his voice rises just a notch: “I hate the word quit. I mean, when you leave a party, someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, quitting the party, are you?’ No, it’s been great. It just feels that it’s the right time.”
But as soon as you bring up a topic near to his heart, he softens and opens up. The piercing eyes turn pensive, trained on the table. Then those eyes swivel up and regard you steadily. For a moment, it’s as if the glare of the world’s spotlight is on you.
“You’re a great humanitarian,” you blurt out. Statesmanlike, he bows his head and shrugs his broad shoulders. He just co-hosted the Global Citizen Festival in New York, where celebrities and concert-goers pledged to end world poverty by 2030. He’s an ambassador for World Vision Australia and the founder of Laughing Man Coffee, a company committed to selling fair trade coffee.
“My father taught me that: always remember people who you can help in some way, through your job or philanthropically. And I actually think if we can spend enough of our energy helping other people, then everyone wins.
“You’ve got to understand,” he continues, “most days I turn up to do a job that is my hobby and I feel so blessed to be able to do it. So on a daily basis, I’m aware of how blessed I am.”
When the interview ends, he thanks everyone for “good questions”, and strides out of the room. The journalists grin giddily at each other.
It’s definitely not cold anymore.
Pan opens in cinemas nationwide today.