Hugh Michael Jackman’s daredevil grin has lit up silver screens the world over, but his lesser-known work in theatre and musicals has earned him widespread respect as an actor, singer and all-round performer. He may have cavorted with the biggest names in Hollywood, but he has also received plaudits for his choice of roles in theatre.
Jackman was born in Sydney to English-born parents, the youngest of five children. His father Chris was a strict person with inflexible English views on manners, and the children’s friends would often stay away. In spite of this, Hugh discovered acting at a very early age, appearing in ‘Camelot’ at the age of five and a string of musicals and plays. When he was eight, his mother Grace returned to England, leaving Chris to bring up their five children. He did so with particular emphasis on their education – Jackman was given extra school tuition as well as music classes on violin, guitar and piano.
Jackman attended the prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney, and later Sydney University of Technology, earning a BA in Communications. Although he trained as a journalist, he went through a number of jobs (including being a “crappy” clown and a marathon running marsupial) en route to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University in Perth, where he acquired an all round theatre education. He says of his catholic education, “When I trained at acting school you do fencing, Shakespeare class, modern dance, circus school, all before lunch.”
Upon graduation in 1994, he played Gaston in the Australian production of ‘The Beauty of the Beast’. After this successful stint, he turned to the world of Australian soap operas and miniseries. He appeared in episodes of ‘Blue Heelers’ and ‘Correlli’, where he met his future wife Deborra-Lee Furness, a successful Australian actress eight years Jackman’s senior. They married in February 1996, adopting a son (Oscar Maximilian) in 2000 and a daughter (Ava Eliot) in 2005.
In 1996, Jackman also made appearances (as Duncan Jones) in five episodes of the fourth season of ‘Banjo Paterson's: The Man from Snowy River’ [‘Snowy River: The McGregor Saga’ (US and UK)], a hugely popular Australian show revolving around the hardships of the McGregor family in the late 1800s. Venturing back into musical theatre, Jackman took on the Australian production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Directed by Trevor Nunn, he played Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter charged with reviving the fading career of the silent film star Norma Desmond (played by Debra Byrne). For this performance, he received the prestigious ‘MO’ Award for Male Musical Theatre Performer for 1998.
Teaming up with Trevor Nunn again in 1998, Jackman took the lead role in the UK production of ‘Oklahoma!’ at London’s National Theatre. He played Curly McLain, a role he would later reprise in a 1999 TV version of ‘Oklahoma!’. For the stage role, he received a nomination for an Olivier Award.
1999 was the year Jackman turned full attention to movies. First was ‘Paperback Hero’ (1999), where he played Jack Willis, a macho train driver hiding an embarrassing secret – he has just become the author of a best-selling romance novel! ‘Erskineville Kings’ saw Jackman play one half of a pair of brothers suffering under their abusive and drunkard father. Jackman’s character Wace reacts badly when his brother Barky returns after their father’s death, having run away leaving Wace to look after the old man and suffer his wrath daily. This was an emotional and challenging role for an actor so new to the art of film. For this performance he won the 2000 Film Critics Circle Australia (FCCA) award for Best Male Actor, and was also nominated for the 1999 Best Actor by the Australian Film Institute.
The new millennium saw Jackman break into the big time. Dougray Scott was originally signed to play Logan/Wolverine in ‘X-Men’ (2000), but was forced to cancel his appearance as ‘Mission: Impossible II’ (2000) had over-run by two months. Bryan Singer, director of the big budget adaptation of the popular comic book, was forced to look for someone to play Wolverine, the feral, hot-headed mutant with an adamantium skeleton, razor claws and a confused passion for the beautiful Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).
After lengthy auditions, the unknown Jackman landed the role, bringing a smouldering temperament and confused sensitivity to the complex character of Wolverine. He was amply rewarded with an extended fight scene with Mystique, played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in her birthday suit. ‘X-Men’ starred big names like Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Ray Park and did extremely well at the box office.
Jackman wisely wanted to avoid being typecast into the Wolverine-type action hero roles that were inevitably rolling in after his strong performance in ‘X-Men’. He took on the role of an incorrigible womaniser in ‘Someone Like You’ (2001), starring alongside Greg Kinnear and Ashley Judd. Jackman then reunited with Berry once more in the hacker heist movie ‘Swordfish’ (2001). He played a jaded super-hacker who is recruited by a criminal genius (John Travolta) to write a program that would steal 9.5 billion dollars from the US Government. Falling for the sexy Ginger (Berry) was inevitable, especially with the much-publicised baring of her breasts in the movie. Despite such star power, the movie did poorly at the box office and critics panned the over-the-top pyro-happy direction of Dominic Sena. Jackman escaped major criticism, putting in a solid performance.
Another solid performance followed in ‘Kate & Leopold’ (2001). Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber) finds a gap in the space/time continuum, leading him back to 1870s New York. There, he finds Leopold (Jackman), an impoverished English baron who follows Besser back to modern day New York where he meets the shallow and self-obsessed Kate (Meg Ryan). His charming English manners and upright moral stance create both romance and tension alike. For his performance, Jackman received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy).
In June 2002, Jackman briefly returned to the stage. He sang the role of Billy Bigelow in a special concert performance of ‘Carousel’ at Carnegie Hall, opposite Audra McDonald. His star would have shone more brightly had he accepted the role of Billy Flynn in the movie adaptation of the musical ‘Chicago’ (2002); the role eventually went to Richard Gere, and the movie snatched six Academy Awards. Jackman maintained, and still maintains, that he was too young for that role.
Jackman reprised his role as Wolverine in ‘X2’ (2003), leading a coalition of mutants against the mutant-hating General Stryker (Brian Cox) in a spectacular ending showdown. Next came his Broadway debut in ‘The Boy from Oz’ between 2003 and 2004, where he won a Tony Award (2004, Best Leading Actor in a Musical) for his sensitive and flamboyant portrayal of Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli’s first ex-husband who eventually died of throat cancer. Jackman also found time to appear in a short film directed by his wife, ‘Standing Room Only’ (2004), which also starred Sir Michael Gambon, Sophie Dahl, Joanne Lumley, Mary Ann Mastrantonio and Andy Serkis.
Jackman took the lead role in ‘Van Helsing’ (2004), playing the famous vampire hunter, and pairing up with the exquisite Kate Beckinsale to fight against an assortment of fictional monsters. This was not one of Jackman’s finest hours, as the poor writing, silly plot, overuse of (poorly done) special effects and lack of chemistry with Beckinsale undermined his talent.
Having adopted his second child Ava Eliot in 2005 and being considered for the next James Bond (which eventually went to Daniel Craig), Jackman returned to his now-familiar role of Wolverine in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (2006), taking on Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut in a Team Professor X vs. Team Magneto battle royale. He then appeared in Woody Allen's ‘Scoop’ (2006), a dark and fantastical comedy/thriller. This film was almost universally panned by the critics, and as of 1st September 2008, its Rotten Tomatoes rating stood at 38%.
His next film was Jackman’s most challenging yet, playing three characters in Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Fountain’ (2006). Spanning almost a millennium, he plays a conquistador, a research scientist and an astronaut at different points of human history – all in search of the secret of life. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were originally supposed to star, but Pitt left after major creative differences between himself and Aronofsky. Aronofsky, on a smaller budget, then cast Jackman and Rachel Weisz.
The ending to a prolific year for Jackman was a major role in ‘The Prestige’ (2006), telling the story of the rivalry between a pair of magicians obsessed with performing the ultimate trick. Jackman stole the show in a quality cast including co-star Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie and Andy Serkis. Just to enhance his reputation as an all-rounder, Jackman lent his voice to two animated films: ‘Happy Feet’ (2006) and ‘Flushed Away’ (2006) which also starred Sir Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Kate Winslet and Andy Serkis (a favourite of Jackman’s it would seem).
In 2007 Jackman produced and guest starred in the “mystery drama musical” ‘Viva Laughlin’. It was cancelled after only two episodes were aired on CBS, while Australia’s Nine Network cancelled it after only a single episode. He co-starred with Ewan McGregor in ‘Deception’ (2008), a dark thriller that barely stays on the right side of soft pornography. Jonathan McQuarry (McGregor) is an accountant with no life, until he meets the mysterious and dashing Wyatt Bose (Jackman). Suddenly, strange women start calling him to set up casual encounters for meaningless sex, no emotions, no strings attached. Reactions to the film were lacklustre and generally apathetic.
Following the disappointing turnout of the movie, Jackman went on to team up with fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman in director Baz Luhrmann’s romantic blockbuster ‘Australia’ (2008), which landed him a Teen Choice Award nomination. Although the movie received mixed reviews, it was a commercial success and went on to become the second-highest grossing Australian film of all time after 1986 outback comedy ‘Crocodile Dundee’.
Even greater box office success was achieved with Jackman’s next movie, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, which also starred Liev Schreiber, Will.i.am and Ryan Reynolds. He was a producer for the film, which was the fourth in the X-Men series and served as a prequel to the tale, going back to the Marvel Comics’ fictional character Wolverine’s beginning.
He has also recently starred in ‘Real Steel’, ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’, ‘Butter’ and ‘The Wolverine’, a continuation of the X-Men series in which his character travels to Japan to train with a samurai warrior, as well as the latest entry in the 'X-Men' franchise - 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past'.