If there’s a nicer guy in Hollywood than Hugh Jackman I’ve yet to meet him.
In the 16 years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard a disparaging word about anyone from him. On the contrary he’s the first to sing the praises of anyone lucky enough to have worked with him.
His latest movie, Logan, marks the end of an era for Jackman. After 17 years and nine movies, he’s finally saying goodbye to Wolverine, the role that brought him international stardom.
Unlike most actors, Hugh has never been in a hurry to get to the top. And in fact, he was way past his teens when he first decided to become an actor. And even after making that choice, he turned down a TV series, Neighbours (which spawned so many Aussie stars), to hone his craft in drama school.
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.
After that, he returned to the theatre, where he played Gaston in Beauty And The Beast and Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, the latter directed by Trevor Nunn, who recognising his potential brought him to the West End to play Curly in the celebrated revival of Oklahoma!
The turning point in your life was meeting your wife. Were you looking for a relationship 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 wasn’t looking for a partner. But when I met my wife it was like 10 times better.
So it was 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 be the coolest cucumber on earth.
So when did you decide to pop the question?
I was working in Oklahoma! in the West End so I had Monday off. So knowing 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. I told the ring-maker, “I don’t know what I want, but I’m going to talk about my future 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 Marc 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, “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 40 schoolgirls appeared from behind a tree.
Marc 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.
Why do you think the marriage works so well?
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 recognise it; you know it because you just feel so great.”
(Jackman recently underwent surgery for nose cancer. It was his sixth operation and he assures us he’s fine. And he has his wife to thank for first detecting the problem.)
You have two adopted children. Are you planning to have more?
The problem is when we travel. With one, you can get away with it. But if you have two, you have to have a nanny as well; all of a sudden you become a family of five.
Were you trying to punish your son when you named him Oscar Maximilian?
On the contrary, my wife wanted to name him Balthazar. 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!
How does it feel closing the chapter on something that has been a part of your life for so long?
Surprisingly peaceful really. But it wasn’t always that way. Once I knew this was going to be the last one, the stakes tripled for me.
As I told James Mangold, the director, I won’t make the movie until we have a script that is going to really tell the real story of this character. There is a depth to him.
This is a man whose greatest fear is intimacy and love.
He bears the scars of his life both emotionally and physically; everyone he has ever loved has died, so how do we get to the depth of that character?
So what will stay with you?
Everything. It’s been 17 years of my life; so it will always stay with me. It was the foundation of my career. I am forever grateful for it, and I am really proud of my involvement. It’s not an Australian thing to do; normally we try and underplay and self-deprecate, but I will tell you, we worked really hard, and I fought very hard for the title.
I didn’t want it to be called “Wolverine” because I didn’t want his special powers to define him. I am so proud of what we have done, which made it a lot easier to leave the party. I knew it was the right time, and I remember that last day of filming I felt very much at peace with it.
But being a Marvel character isn’t there a likelihood that he will come back?
He will come back, but not with me. I am done with it.