Hugh, just like Wolverine, Real Steel is a highly physical part. How do you stay in such great shape?
I love boxing — I grew up doing it. I do a lot of training still. I train at this gym. They train you as if you are preparing for a title fight, but you don’t get hit like a big fighter. That’s a perk.
We hear you worked with one of boxing’s all-time greats, Sugar Ray Leonard. What’s he like?
I was starstruck when I met Sugar Ray. He’s so good looking. He’s very open as a person. I really wanted to find out what it’s like to celebrate a comeback. He was open about how lonely it was as a fighter. He talked to me about the relationship between the corner guy and the boxer. You have to get that look, he kept telling me.
Real Steel deals with fatherhood. We always see pictures of you playing with your kids. You’re setting the bar pretty high for all the dads out there…
I don’t know if I am the perfect dad but I am kind of a big kid myself. And as an actor I have permission to play. I like to think I am a better father than my character in this film — I mean, Charlie [Kenton] wasn’t even there for the first ten years of his kid’s life.
It’s well known that your father raised you [in Wahroonga] after your parents’ divorce, but did he have a lot of time for you?
There wasn’t a lot of deep talking and discussions when I grew up. My dad worked full-time as an accountant. For most of the time he was a single parent with five kids. He was an amazing man. On holiday he would camp with us on the beach. Five kids in a tent on a beach! It must have been brutal for him. How did he do it? I appreciate it a lot more today, what he did for us.
How do you spend the holidays with your kids?
Much fancier! [laughs] We are going to France, to Provence. We are renting a house down there. I like to get away from it all. I still like to go camping — but not on a beach.
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It’s midmorning in a Brooklyn restaurant overlooking the East River, and I’m waiting for Hugh Jackman. Leading up to our MF interview, I had read articles, watching interviews, and spoken with former co-stars about the actor-singer-dancer-do-it-all and learned that, in an industry replete with jerks, Jackman give Tom Hanks a run for his money as Hollywood’s most likable leading man. He’s never chased starlets or stormed off a set because there were red M&Ms in his trailer’s candy bowl. Instead, he’s known for breaking into song and dance on movie sets and planning his workday around his kids. Although Jackman earned a reported $20 million for his next turn as Wolverine, the 43-year-old still troves his son to school every morning. “He’s easily the nicest guy in Hollywood,” says Shawn Levy, who directed Jackman in DreamWorks’ new robo-boxing movie, Real Steel. “And it’s not an act. There’s no on-off switch. He is an open, gracious, generous human being all the time.”
And yet I’m wary of Mr. Nice Guy. As a cynical native New Yorker, I am convinced that an A-lister like Jackman doesn’t ascend to uberfame by being completely and utterly kind. Since we’re about to spend the day together, perhaps I’ll catch a few seconds of celebrity ego.
Jackman shows up to breakfast sporting a fitted gray T-shirt and a two-day beard. He immediately displays nonsuperstar characteristics. He is prompt, arrives alone, and, perhaps most surprising, does not wield any sort of phone/handheld device. He melts the waitress with his supernova smile. Then, after ordering hot water with lemon, grapefruit juice, and an omelet with “loads of veggies,” he stars chatting as if we were old frat brothers.
Since Real Steel centers on boxing – Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck former boxer and deadbeat dad who train robots to fight – the first topic is sports. Jackman grew up in Sydney, a city of sportsmen. He was swimming before he could walk and banging bodies on the rugby pitch till he bled. “I’ve always loved to play,” he says. “It’s the lifestyle I’ve always known.” While he still maintains a variety of outdoor pursuits – kayaking with former Australian Ironman surf champion Guy Leech, swimming with a triathlon group, body surfing, and golfing – a superstar can only do so much. “[Actor and director] Ed Burns told me how he plays tennis all the time,” says Jackman. “I’d love to do my cardio on the cout instead of on the treadmill, but it’s not easy to arrange these days.”
What does come easily for Jackman, however, is his ability to converse about all kinds of topics. Concerned with today’s sedentary habits of American children, he explains that his two kids, Oscar, 11, and Ava, 6, are “not allowed to watch any screens” during the week.” A typical “good day” is lunch with Deborra-Lee Furness, his wife of 15 years, a walk, an hour of singing, and a visit with friends. A mention of his 2008 People magazine “Sexiest Man Alive” crown elicits self-deprecation. “An old friend of mine e-mailed me and said he had cowboy boots sexier than me,” he says. He discusses his extensive charitable projects, inquires sincerely about my career and life and, perhaps most surprisingly, he’s not on his iPhone when I return from the bathroom. Instead he’s by the front door waiting for me. “Ready, mate?” he asks.
READ MORE IN THE PRESS ARCHIVE.
Hugh is currently on the cover of a couple of magazines, including Time Out Sydney and Men’s Fitness. HJF is happy to provide scans of his feature articles, which can now be viewed in the gallery and the press archive. Many thanks to Jenny for scanning TOS and to Claudia for bringing the MF’s scans to my attention!