As Sir Ian McKellen so often and so rightly reminds us, the gay population are not well served by Hollywood. Gay stars hold their tongues and stay in the closet, straight stars shy away from gay characters. Paranoia rules, a terrible fear that fame and fortune could be suddenly snatched away if you’re tarred with the wrong brush. It’s amazing, then, that while X-Men 2 and Van Helsing were turning him into one of the biggest, toughest action stars in recent memory, Hugh Jackman should be onstage in New York, nightly wowing audiences in The Boy From Oz, a lavish musical biography of Peter Allen, a super-camp dancer and lounge singer who married Liza Minnelli and later died from complications from AIDS.
This is not to say Jackman is an activist interloper on the world stage, or even that he’s much of an activist at all. But what it proves is that he’s talented and courageous enough to ignore Hollywood paranoia, popular bigotry and the macho imperatives of his homeland Australia. By making such a choice, Jackman has stepped aside from his peers and shown himself to be one of the world’s most unusual and potentially important superstars.
He was born Hugh Michael Jackman on the 12th of October, 1968, in Sydney, New South Wales. His parents were English, father Chris being an accountant from Cambridge, and he’d be the youngest of five kids, having two brothers and two sisters. Growing up in the Jackman household was not always easy. Chris was vehemently English in his demands for good manners at the table and elsewhere, and the kids’ friends, disliking the strictness, would often stay away. Aside from this, though, Hugh enjoyed an active life outside the home, spending much time on the beach, feeding his action figures to the squids. He also discovered acting at a very early age, appearing onstage in Camelot at the age of 5, and continuing through a string of musicals and plays, pupils being strongly encouraged by the school to both contribute to official productions and put on their own.
At the age of 8 disaster struck when his mother, Grace Watson, decided to return to England. She’d work there as a psychologist, and bear another daughter, but her relationship with Hugh would be forever strained. So Chris was left to raise 5 children on his own, and did so in his own uncompromising manner. Very keen on education, he would pay for extra classes, musical tuition and instruments (Hugh would learn piano for six years, also studying guitar and violin), but if anyone wanted mere fripperies like new trainers they could damn well get a job and buy them themselves. Thus a strong work ethic was born, and Hugh would later spend years pumping gas from midnight to dawn at a Shell garage, chatting to visiting insomniacs. This lasted till a fellow worker was held up with a shotgun, Hugh figuring that $10 an hour was simply not enough.
A good student, Hugh would attend Knox Grammar School, an elite all-boys establishment in the Wahroonga district of Sydney. On graduation, he’d attend the city’s University of Technology, earning a BA in Communications. The idea was to become a journalist, but he quickly realised he had neither the passion or the skill for the job. Instead, while studying for three days a week at Sydney’s Actors’ Centre, he took on a series of odd jobs. At one point he and friend Stan were clowns at kids’ parties, Hugh being Coco and Stan Bozo. They had no tricks or talents (though Jackman later learned to juggle), they’d simply jump into dustbins and throw eggs at each other, eventually being revealed as imposters by cheated children and fired. He’d also work for the National Parks and Wildlife Foundation, handing out leaflets, half the time dressed as a ranger, half as Kooey the Koala. Clad in a huge furry suit, he would often pass out from the heat and, when expected to run the city’s annual City To Surf marathon dressed as Kooey, he slipped down a side street and drove to within sight of the finishing line. Coming 600th out of 40,000 he remains the highest-placed marsupial in marathon history.
Now in the early Nineties and, as said, acting part-time at the Actors’ Centre, Hugh would face a spooky encounter and his first major career choice. Told by a white witch that he should concentrate on performance as he was going to be a big star, the very next day he attended an audition for Neighbours and was offered a year-long contract. At last realising that he could actually make a living at this, and while waiting for the Neighbours contract to arrive, he applied to WAAPA, the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts in Perth, and was accepted. With one weekend to decide, what was he to do now? Take the money and the immediate fame, or take the risk?
Deciding that he wanted to be a serious actor, he turned down Neighbours and spent three years at WAAPA, gaining an all-round theatre education in the likes of Romeo And Juliet, Translations, Barbarians and Tonight We Improvise. Graduating in 1994, he walked straight into the Australian production of Beauty And The Beast, playing Belle’s super-macho and unwanted suitor Gaston. It would be a tough run. At one point Jackman began to suffer terrible headaches and was advised to drink plenty of water. The headaches disappeared but, when approaching the climax of his signature tune, he realised that to hit the final high note he was going to have to relax more muscles than was going to be socially acceptable. Nonetheless, he did it and was relieved (ho ho) to find that no shameful wet patch was showing. Unfortunately, back onstage ten minutes later he realised that all that water was just taking its time soaking through his thick red tights. And everyone could now see it.
Following this first stage stint, as most Australian film stars have done, he decided to gain experience in the world of soaps, miniseries and cop dramas. He’d appear in episodes of Blue Heelers, Law Of The Land and, more importantly, Correlli. This featured Deborra-Lee Furness in the title role as a Cracker-style psychologist. Hugh would feature as Kevin Jones, an intense and charismatic armed robber who’s pretending to have been brain-damaged in order to avoid a maximum-security lock-up. He and Correlli would have a distinctly dangerous mutual attraction.
This mutual attraction would spill over into real life. Eight years his senior, Furness was a successful actress in Australia, educated at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, who’d appeared in the likes of rape drama Shame, Meryl Streep’s A Cry In The Dark, Patrick Bergin’s Act Of Betrayal and, naturally, Prisoner: Cell Block H. Appearing onstage in LA, alongside Ed Harris in Scar, she’d scored a major part in the cop drama Street Legal, with Brian Dennehy and Bill Paxton, and then travelled Europe when filming Voyager with Sam Shepard and Julie Delpy. Just before meeting Hugh, she’d hit big again when starring in the TV series Fire, Australia’s version of London’s Burning. She and Hugh would marry in April, 1996 and, in May, 2000, they’d adopt a son, Oscar Maximillian. Later still, Deborra would move into directing, helming the Harvey Weinstein-financed short Standing Room Only, featuring such luminaries as her husband, Michael Gambon and Andy “Gollum” Serkis. Directing would now remain her profession of choice.
Hugh would move on to appear in five episodes of the fourth season of Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, a hugely popular show following the trials and tribulations of a Western Australian family in the late 1800s. Hugh would show up as Duncan Jones, a childhood friend of Rob McGregor, who pops home while his ship is in dry-dock and steals the hearts of teenage Danni McGregor and Rob’s sweetheart Montana. Fortunately for Jones, Rob’s away, otherwise the world would surely have been treated to a fight between two future Hollywood stars – Rob being played by Guy Pearce.
Next he concentrated on movies back home. First up was Paperback Hero which saw him as the tough driver of a road train (a truck with several trailers) who lives out in the outback and secretly loves tomboy crop-duster Claudia Karvan. On the sly, he writes a romantic novel under the pseudonym Ruby Vale and, when it’s a success, has to persuade Karvan to pretend to be the author. Of course, complications arise. It was a sweet movie and Hugh was impressive, particularly with his rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. His next effort would be very different. This was Erskineville Kings, an intensely emotional drama about two sons of an abusive father. When the father dies, Hugh, having stayed with him to the end, reacts violently to the reappearance of brother Barky, who has earlier done a runner, just as their mother did years before. Most of the action takes place in a dingy pub as the brothers battle for status and the truth as their beliefs and memories are dragged mercilessly out into the open and battered beyond recognition. Again, Hugh showed real promise as the physical and thoroughly hostile Wace, being nominated as Best Actor by the Australian Film Institute.
But it wasn’t these plaudits that brought about his big break. This was due to chance and Oklahoma! Over in the States, Bryan Singer was six weeks into shooting X-Men, a high budget comic adaptation, when it was discovered that Dougray Scott, signed to play Wolverine, could not take the role as Mission: Impossible 2 had over-run by two months. The producers, having seen Jackman in Oklahoma!, pushed him forward. Singer was unimpressed with this tousle-headed cowboy but, after lengthy auditions, Hugh was finally accepted as the feral, cigar-chomping Wolverine, with his razor-packed hands and problematic feelings for Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey. The movie would see Professor Xavier’s good mutants battling Magneto’s baddies as inter-racial war threatens. But much of the interest would be generated by Wolverine, a tough and cynical newcomer at Xavier’s mutant academy.
The movie went down a storm, mostly for its extraordinary SFX. But Hugh was noted for his efforts (deservedly, as during filming he’d been gouged by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and had his privates crushed in a harness while falling from the Statue of Liberty), and the action hero roles came flooding in. Hugh, though, had decided, along with his agent, that he wasn’t after this kind of instant fame. To keep his options open and avoid over-exposure, he would vary his roles and, for now, keep it low-key. So he took on Someone Like You, based on Laura Zigman’s hit novel “Animal Husbandry”. Here Ashley Judd plays a staffer on Ellen Barkin’s chat show who writes a well-received column theorising that men are like bulls (that is, unwilling to service the same cow twice). When her relationship with a married Greg Kinnear breaks down, she’s forced to move in with Hugh, a serial womaniser who quite happily proves her theory to be true.
With such a good-looking cast, the film possessed a charm that outweighed its script. But Hugh was on his way, now taking a lead role in Dominic Sena’s Swordfish. Here he played a brilliant computer hacker, just released after two years in jail for breaking into FBI files. In the meantime, his wife has taken away his beloved daughter and Hugh now lives in penury. Enter Halle Berry, a sexy temptress hired by mastermind John Travolta to seduce Hugh into joining a fiendishly clever plot to claim billions of lost government dollars. The plot was complicated, the effects marvellous and Berry famously revealed her breasts but the film was not a big hit (it was actually withdrawn from cinemas after three months as its exploding buildings were made inappropriate by the events of September 11th).
Nevertheless, Hugh had put in another solid performance, and did so again in his next venture, Kate & Leopold. This was a warm-hearted rom-com that saw Liev Schreiber discover a hole in time on the Brooklyn Bridge and pop back to 1876. Returning to the present, he’s followed by Hugh’s curious Duke of Albany, a man of meticulous manners who must now learn to live in 21st Century New York, his predicament being complicated by the attentions of a shallow and self-obsessed Meg Ryan. Could they possibly find true love across the ages?
It was a cute but slight movie, yet still Jackman’s star continued to rise as he was nominated for a Golden Globe. In June, 2002, he moved on to make his New York stage debut, playing Billy Bigelow in Carousel at Carnegie Hall, opposite Audra McDonald. It was a sign of great things to come, though worldwide musical stardom could have come that same year had he not turned down the role in the movie adaptation of Chicago that eventually went to Richard Gere. Hugh felt, and still feels that he was too young for the part.
Still, massive fame was on the way and it came when, in 2003, he returned to Wolverine and Bryan Singer with X-Men 2. This saw Brian Cox’s General Stryker leading an all-out assault on Xavier’s mutants, and Wolverine, on a quest for his roots while battling the bad guys, was most definitely the star. Again it was a tough shoot. Hugh’s razor fight with Kelly Hu’s Deathstrike took three weeks to film on its own. Then there was a fabulously embarrassing moment when, nude, backlit and running down a corridor, he turned a corner to find the entire female cast hooting and waving dollar bills at him. It was a far cry from co-star Halle Berry’s Swordfish scene, where Jackman had personally ensured a closed set. His father’s insistence on good manners had clearly worked well.
Now came that step into the unknown with a Broadway debut in The Boy From Oz. As said, this was the tale of Peter Allen, an Australian singer and dancer spotted by Judy Garland at the Hong Kong Hilton in 1964 and taken on tour with her. Three years later, he’d marry her daughter Liza Minnelli, quickly divorce, and then move on to songwriting success, penning “I Honestly Love You” for Olivia Newton-John and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” for Melissa Manchester, as well as supporting shock-rock band The Tubes and winning an Oscar for “Arthur’s Theme”, before dying in 1992 of AIDS-related throat cancer.
It was a hell of a life and made for a hell of a show. Adapted from the Australian original by Martin “Bent” Sherman, it saw Hugh take on extravagant new life as Allen, singing, dancing and bouncing out into the audience to flirt with both woman and men. It was a huge hit, prompting renowned screenwriter William Goldman to write in Variety “I have been going to the theatre for 60-some years. I was there for Brando in Streetcar. But nothing prepared me for Hugh Jackman”. Despite his now burgeoning film fame, Hugh would continue in the role till September, 2004.
This film fame came to a new peak in mid-2004 when he made his debut as a Hollywood lead in Van Helsing. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, this was an all-action follow-up to his hugely successful Mummy movies, and saw Vatican-sponsored vampire-hunter Gabriel Van Helsing teaming up with beautiful and deadly Kate Beckinsale to scrap it out with Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster in a gothic SFX wonderland. Oddly, Hugh did not win this title role through his work as Wolverine. Rather, Bob Ducsay, Sommers’ long-time producer and editor, had been another in the audience at the National Theatre during Jackman’s run in Oklahoma!, and had put his name forward before a script had ever been written. Interestingly, Frankenstein’s Monster would be played by another Oklahoma! veteran, Shuler Hensley, who’d played Jud to Hugh’s Curly. Where Hugh had been barred from Broadway, Hensley had travelled with the production and won a Tony to boot. As Van Helsing, Jackman must surely have enjoyed kicking his re-animated ass.
Van Helsing and The Boy From Oz placed Hugh Jackman right at the top of his profession, both on stage and screen. He’d follow them by taking the multi-part lead in Darren Aronofsky’s sci-fi drama The Fountain, concerning the search for the fountain of youth. It says much for his status that he was drafted in as soon as Brad Pitt dropped out. As for the future, it can only hold more surprises from this most unusual of actors. Becoming the next James Bond would surely be too constricting.
Biography retrieved from Tiscali.co.uk