Hugh Jackman on ass-kicking and high-kicking

Hugh Jackman in Toronto to promote his concert. Photo credit: Josie Di Luzio

“Is he as nice as he looks?” A friend asked me after my sit-down with Hugh Jackman.

He was a gentleman. After interviews, he would compliment the journalists on their questions, on their ability to scribble quickly, etc. During a panel discussion, he made sure everyone got a chance to ask him something. Even though he was running late for his next appointment, he took time to linger and take photos with people.

And then there is this sigh-inducing anecdote that he told about his marriage: When he and his wife got married, the priest told them: “No matter what you do, ask, ‘Is this good for my marriage?'” So they promised each other that no matter what project they took on, they would never be apart for more than three weeks.

I wrote the article below for the paper and the National Post’s freakishly talented Steve Murray drew this awesome picture of Jackman inhabiting his two words: Broadway and Hollywood.

This article was originally published in the National Post on July 5, 2011:

There is Hugh Jackman, the Tony Award-winning, singing and dancing Broadway star. And there is Hugh Jackman, the scruffy, adamantium-clawed action hero. And then there are the people trying to separate the two.

When Jackman is promoting his role as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise, for example, the marketing department asks that he doesn’t sing for journalists. When he hosted the Oscars, studio executives were nervous about his musical number. When he committed to doing The Boy from Oz, playing singer/songwriter Peter Allen, people said he was making a mistake.

X-Men was out. We were about to shoot the sequel, but I had already committed to [The Boy from Oz],” the 42-year-old Australian actor says. “People were like, ‘Are you crazy? This is your time. Don’t do musical theatre playing a gay guy. It’s going to confuse people. People won’t know what your image is.’ ”

Don’t worry, he told them; X-Men fans aren’t likely the same as those watching The Boy from Oz. Or so he thought.

Hugh Jackman in Concert arrives in Toronto for a two-week engagement at the Princess of Wales Theatre July 5. Backed by an 18-piece orchestra, his song and dance show first opened in San Francisco. One night, he asked the crowd: “Put your hands up if you’ve ever seen me do anything theatrical.

“A lot of people put up their hands. I said, ‘Keep your hands up if you were at the opening weekend of Wolverine.’ And like 30% or 40% kept their hands up. It’s not as cut and dry as I thought.”

Whether he’s ass-kicking or high-kicking, Jackman’s star power is undeniable. His turn as host of the 81st Annual Academy Awards helped the network score a 13% increase in viewership. His films, including Australia and X-Men, are huge blockbusters, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars.

But prior to his big Hollywood break in 2000, Jackman was lauded for his stage work. His earliest musical theatre project was playing opposite another kind of beast; he starred as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. His performance as Curly in the Royal National Theatre’s Oklahoma! in London earned him an Olivier Award nomination.

“I wasn’t Billy Elliott,” he says of his childhood. “I was the guy who was too scared to go dancing.”

His sixth grade teacher told him that he had talent and put him at the front of the class in shows. “I went home and I said, ‘Oh dad. I want to do this.’ My dad was like, ‘Great.’ But my brother was like: ‘You sissy. You poof.’ I actually didn’t know what that was at that point; but I knew that it was not good so I never mentioned it again,” he says.

“When I was 18, my dad took us to see 42nd Street. My brother came up to me: ‘I really want to apologize.’ ‘For what?’ ‘I remember when you were younger and I said that you were a poof for dancing. I was such an idiot. You should’ve been dancing for the last eight years. You should’ve been up there doing that.’ ”

Jackman signed up for dance classes the next day. “For most of history, you couldn’t be a sexy man and not dance. No woman would be interested in you.”

All of the dancing and singing also keeps him trim. Too trim, perhaps. “I’m getting ready to do Wolverine in October,” the clean-cut and slim Jackman says after taking a minute in between Toronto media interviews to scoop some food into his mouth. “When I do shows, literally weight just drops off of me. I’ve probably lost 10 pounds in San Francisco. So now I’m trying to put it back on again because I know I’ll lose it. Next time you get on a treadmill, try to sing a song while you’re running.”

Filming of The Wolverine was delayed earlier this year when Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky dropped out (James Mangold is now directing). So Jackman, a married father of two, asked his agent to book him a charity gig or a concert. The result was a sold-out, two-week run at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. Opening night was a learning experience. The audio/visual portion didn’t work; Jackman’s pants ripped during a high-kick and he had to change on stage; a fan threw leopard-skin fur handcuffs at him — “Tom Jones has nothing on me.”

The Toronto show — which involves Jackman sharing anecdotes and performing his favourite musical numbers — is more evolved and polished, he says.

“In terms of the hierarchy, Broadway is here,” he says, raising his hand in a kind of salute, “but Toronto’s probably second. I know it’s a very sophisticated theatre crowd.”

So is Broadway the next stop?

“The end goal is not Broadway for me. For me, the goal was to make something that I could do for 30 to 40 years that I loved doing.”

Hugh Jackman in Concert runs from July to 17 at Princess of Wales Theatre.


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