Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Hugh Jackman on overcoming his fear of being called a poof

How the Wolverine star came to embrace musical theatre

Hugh Jackman doffs the claws in favour of a mic and an 18-piece orchestra for Hugh Jackman in Concert, July 5-17. Credit: Paula Wilson

I think it was his eyes that got me at first: piercing blue with long, seductive lashes and just the right amount of crinkly bits in the skin surrounding them. Sure, I’d admired him on the screen before, but now, in person, I was struck anew by the truly fine specimen of masculine beauty that is Hugh Jackman.

He’s confident without seeming cocky. He’s well versed in current events without seeming arrogant. And he’s got an ass that would make a grown man weep — I know, because I did. Hugh (he asked me to call him that) is in town promoting his upcoming concert series with Mirvish Productions.

It’s quite a departure for those familiar only with Jackman’s action roles, in films such as Van Helsing or the X-Men franchise. Let’s face it: it’s hard to imagine Wolverine spinning around the stage belting out show tunes.

But Jackman actually got his start in musical theatre back home in Australia. Early childhood roles in plays like Camelot sparked an interest in singing and dancing — a curiosity that was quickly squashed when he announced it to his family.

“I would love to say I was Billy Elliot, but I wasn’t,” Jackman says. “My dad was like, ‘Terrific,’ but my brother was like, ‘Ah, you poof!’ I was only about 10 or 11, but I remember thinking that this is not a good thing.”

It wasn’t until his 18th year that Jackman’s theatrical interest was resuscitated by an unlikely source. His family had just attended a performance of 42nd Street, inspiring his brother to have a change of heart.

“My brother came up to me and said, ‘Man, I want to apologize. I’m such an idiot… you should be up there doing that. It was really a kind of sweet thing for him to say. I joined up the next day.”

Despite this newfound encourage-ment, Jackman still didn’t consider performing a viable career choice. But fate intervened when a supposedly easy drama class became a challenge that changed his life.

“I was studying to be a journalist, but in the last semester I had to make up two units. Our university had this drama class, and the teacher was famous for just having to turn up to pass.”

Jackman was dismayed to learn that the class would be doing a production of The Memorandum, a particularly dense play by Václav Havel.

“I got the lead,” Jackman says, with a wry smile. “I begged him. I said, ‘I’m in my finals; I can’t do this play. But I loved it.”

“Ever have that feeling where you’ve found your people, your tribe? In that week I felt more at home with those people than I did in the entire three years [at university].”

Despite the professional camaraderie, the appreciative audiences and a growing sense of conviction, Jackman remained cautious about the future.

“I was tentative,” he admits. “When I graduated I said, I’ll give it five more years and then go back to journalism. I’m currently two years into my fourth five years.”

Catapulted to fame by the unexpected role of Wolverine in X-Men (he landed the part after Dougray Scott pulled out at the last minute), Jackman is now a bona fide movie star. He’s slain vampires, made out with Kate Hudson and hosted the Oscars, but the theatre stage still exerts an inexorable pull. A much-lauded run on Broadway as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz landed Jackman a Tony and proved he could juggle action cinema with song and dance.

His concert series is a labour of love, born not only out of a desire to fill the gap between film projects, but also with an eye to the future.

“The goal was to make something I could do for 30 or 40 years,” he says. “I wanted to have a way of being onstage and doing things I love. And it feels like a massive indulgence — an 18-piece orchestra playing my favourite music.”