Big Down Under
Hugh Jackman has always relied on the kindness of strangers. And the instability and fragility of other actors. If it wasn’t for Dougray Scott doing himself an injury, Jackman wouldn’t have landed his breakthrough role as Wolverine in the lucrative comic book franchise X-Men.
And if wasn’t for the fact that Russell Crowe is such a cantankerous prat, Jackman wouldn’t be the drover in Baz Luhrmann’s $130m would-be blockbuster, Australia.
"This is pretty much one of those roles that had me pinching myself all the way through the shoot," says the 40-year-old Sydney-born actor.
"I got to shoot a big-budget, shamelessly old-fashioned romantic epic set against one of the most turbulent times in my native country's history, while, at the same time, celebrating that country's natural beauty, its people, its cultures... I'll die a happy man knowing I've got this film on my CV."
We're at London's Claridges Hotel, with director Baz Luhrmann and costume designer Catherine Martin in the room next door. Their high-pitched exclamations are sounding increasingly defensive through the wall.
The simple truth is Australia hasn't proven to be the all-conquering blockbuster it was designed to be. Sure, it opened at No1 down under, its $6.37m setting a record for a home-grown film. But it still wasn't close to the expected figure. In America, Australia took $20m, which landed the film at the No5 slot. Not impressive. On rottentomatoes.com, it scored an average review rating of 53%. On metacritic.com, it scored 52%.
"The business side of the equation will fade away gradually," says Jackman. "And you'll just be left with the show. And I think people will appreciate this film more and more as time goes by. It happens again and again, especially with Baz's films. There was a mixed reaction to Moulin Rouge too, but that film just keeps on playing, keeps on selling. Baz knew he was setting himself up for a beating when he called this film Australia."
Talking of the business side, Jackman has recently set up his own production company, Seed, and has a batch of movies heading our way over the coming year, including the highly-anticipated X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
"Producing gives you the comfort of putting movies that you really believe in into production," says Jackman. "I've been lucky so far, often getting a role because someone else dropped out, but I don't want to rely on other people's misfortunes or indecisiveness, for my career choices. I'd rather create my own."
Amongst the many projects currently in production at Seed is an adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's If You Could See Me Now. Don't hold your breath though -- it's been in pre-production for well over a year now.
Has has our man made it to Ireland yet? "To my eternal shame, I haven't made it over there yet. When I grew up, like so many of my friends, if someone would ask me about my British heritage, I'd slam the table and say, 'No, I'm Irish!'"
When Jackman does finally make it to sunny Ireland, he plans on bringing his wife, fellow actor Deborra-Lee Furness, and their eight-year-old son, Oscar. And just to set the record straight, despite the fact that Jackman is regarded by many as God's gift to musical theatre (his big breakthrough coming with an award-winning 1998 West End production of Oklahoma!), he is, and always has been, a raving heterosexual. Something he's had to reaffirm of late, even though he's just been voted People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.
"There's this very narrow-minded assumption that, hey, if you're into musical theatre, you must be gay," says Jackman. "These whispers in the media, this constant snickering that surrounds any man involved in musical theatre -- it's just a nonsense..."
So, before the media decide that he's the new Tom Cruise, Jackman wants to remind everyone that he's long been hailed as the new Clint Eastwood. Who is way cooler to emulate. "I've lived with the Clint Eastwood comparison for a few years now, and I'm both flattered and embarrassed by it," says Jackman. "His work as an actor is incredible, and his work as a director is equally stunning."
Sounds like you love Clint Eastwood, I quip.
"Well, you know what us musical theatre guys are like..."
Our time is almost up so I decide to end with a zinger. Doesn't Jackman feel that the last six hours of Australia drag just a little?
"Well, you've got to remember that, the first eight hours are so magnificent, you really need to calm the audience down a little before they leave the cinema. The heart can only take so much excitement..." HQ
Australia hits Dublin cinemas December 26th