OUR favourite Hugh Jackman story centres around the end of a shoot in Montreal.
Energised by the wrap of X Men: Days of Future Past, he went on a spending spree, taking the cast and crew on a trip to the cinema and laying on an Australian feast which included 300 meat pies from a local company.
Meanwhile his wife Deborra Lee Furness — whom he met on his first ever TV show and has been happily married to since — attempted to fill out a form online to anonymously donate $10,000 to Montreal’s Children’s Hospital.
When she had to call the hospital instead, only then was their generous donor revealed. That’s who we’re dealing with.
It’s every bit as nice as Colin Farrell’s annual media-banned Christmas present splurge for Temple Street Hospital in Dublin, and explains why Hugh’s known as the Mayor of Hollywood. But ask Hugh about the label and the humility continues.
“My mum was at the premiere of Pan and she was asked about her son being a nice guy,” he says in his natural Aussie accent.
“She said, ‘I think we used to call that manners’.”
He laughs, continuing the impersonation with creative licence: “’If he isn’t a nice guy, I’m going to smack him!’”
Hugh’s mum clearly did something right. Despite the rugged good looks we see today and massive wealth (estimates range from $100m to $150m, but who’s counting after the first 10) he’s proved himself to be “incredibly talented, ridiculously hardworking, and unbelievably generous”, as Eddie Redmayne puts it.
The talent of which he speaks allowed Hugh to transform from Mr Nice Guy to a classic baddie Blackbeard (“or as my son calls it, Black-and-white beard”) in new film Pan, an imagined prequel of JM Barrie’s famous novel Peter Pan.
“When we talked, Joe [Wright, director] said Neverland was a child’s imagination, and all the pirates have to be as kids see adults, which is frightening and ridiculous,” says Hugh, explaining his transformation.
“You’re operating in that world, so there’s freedom to play and have fun.”
It helped his playful side that he and Deborra Lee have children aged 15 and 10, and of course there were decades of cinematic villains to channel.
“The Wicked Witch of the West is a baddie I thought of, because it the first film I saw – I remember being enthralled by that character, it’s one of those great performances,” he says.
“Also for me, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Alan Rickman in Die Hard, they’re the villains I remember.”
Yes, that is a nod to classic musical The Wizard of Oz by the man most famous for playing a ruthless action hero with terrifying claws.
Like the most reputable mainstream actors, Hugh’s roots are in theatre; the 46-year-old first came to prominence outside of Australia when he performed in London’s West End in Oklahoma.
And he’s not abandoned the jazz hands now that Hollywood has come a-calling; his continued board-treading has earned him two Tony Awards plus the opportunity to present the Tony Awards three times.
Next year, he’s staging a musical tour across Australia, entitled Broadway to Oz (geddit?).
Evidently committed to the art of acting, it’s no surprise his was quite the professional in Pan, the plot of which centres around Blackbeard stealing children, including Peter Pan (newcomer Levi Miller) to help in his quest for eternal youth. As part of the shoot, Hugh shaved his head bald, but he’s quick to dispel the idea it’s down to method acting or the like.
“It was more out of laziness,” he smiles, touching his hair to make sure it’s all there again.
“In hair and make-up, they said we could put a bald cap on every day if I’d like. I asked how long that would take, and they said 45 minutes. So I said, ‘give me the clippers’. It was 45 minutes of sleep or a bald cap.”
Despite the real motive, it’s only right given authenticity which defined the shoot.
The film displays some impressive scenes, as is only right for Neverland, These include the earth-meets-rainbow colours of Tiger Lily - played by Rooney Mara - and her Tree Village, to a 50ft forest recreated indoors with tropical plants imported from as far as Malaysia, to Mermaid Lagoon, where we see Cara Develigne cameo as all three mermaids (eat your heart out Tom Hardy).
“When you’re dealing with absolutely nothing but green screen it is difficult,” Hugh concedes.
“You’re relying on the director to tell you what you’re looking at and where it is. When I look back at that work, I wish I could have asked more questions to explore some of the space, and been more involved in the CGI surroundings, because you have to feel a connection.
“With the village, it was awesome and a playground for us. And we had the Jolly Roger and another ship which were built on hydraulics, so you’re moving with it as well and you don’t have to fake as much. The stage was an amazing thing to look at.”
His favourite part of making the movie is probably the most memorable scene, where in his cavernous lair, hundreds of his slave-children sing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit as he enters. Not quite a traditional Peter Pan film then.
“That wasn’t in the script,” Hugh explains.
“Joe likes to do a bit of improv and create the characters together to create an ensemble and a feeling, in the classical theatrical way.
"So halfway through the shoot, were handed the lyrics to Teen Spirit and I assumed it was a warm up for some kind of improv, but he was like, ‘let’s try it out, this is your entrance’, and I said ‘yes!’”
To interject with an observation, Jackman’s enthusiasm treads the line between infectious and exhausting just to witness – even after a full day of interviews in an over-elaborate hotel in London.
It’s an enthusiasm that should have faded around the time he reprised his signature role of Wolverine in X Men 2, back in 2003, yet continues in spades even though he’s a veteran of the trade now, with starring roles in the likes of The Prestige, Les Miserables and Prisoners, in addition to playing Wolverine a record-breaking seven times, if you include his forthcoming final outing in Wolverine 3.
Perhaps it’s the very weight of his career that’s caused his feet to remain on the ground.
“A lot of it is a mystery when you look back with hindsight,” he reflects.
“With Wolverine, I auditioned and didn’t get the part - the other actor was cast.
"But the actor ended up being injured in a film and I happened to be in LA at the time organising things around the adoption of my son. So it was very random, there was something there – fate, luck, call it what you want.
“Of course there are moments like that for everyone, both good and bad. So all you can do is work hard, have fun and if you do get a chance at something just make the most of it.
“I slightly regret not doing Chicago,” he continues, referring to the 2002 classic starring Richard Gere.
“I thought I was too young at the time and couldn’t play the part, and I was 30 at the time. When I saw the movie I was like, ‘make up! I should have just worn make up!’ But Richard Gere was phenomenal in it, and he was better for the part.”
We suspect, given his affinity to Wolverine, that it’s been his favourite part of his career. But what of his family? Do they prefer Wolverine, or perhaps his evil regal character of Blackbeard?
“The kids don’t really talk about it much, when I get home they just like me to be dad,” he replies.
“From my wife’s perspective she said Blackbeard is one of the sexiest characters I’ve played. It was a good summer last year when we were filming,” he says with a knowing grin.
“Here they talk about the summer of 76. I talk about the summer of 2014!”
Pan is released in cinemas on October 16
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