Was Hugh Jackman born to be a movie star? Dressed in low-key black jeans and T-shirt, his hair running down the nape of his neck, the Aussie actor can barely sit still as he waves his hands in the air while talking about X-Men 2 (or is it X2 or X2: X-Men United? Fox execs will hopefully make up their minds before the film hits the box office on April 25). With a slow grin and smiling eyes, he blushes a bit when talking about his life as a bonafide action hero and sex symbol.
"I’m not sure I look at Wolverine and go ‘God, you’re a good looking guy, especially with that hair!’ But maybe that’s a criteria of being a mutant, you have to be good looking."
In fact, Jackman won’t comment on his stud status and is simply bored with theorizing on what makes a good movie star. "My whole time in Hollywood, people want to put a stereotype on what it takes to be successful," he says. "And it’s not beauty; there’re plenty of beautiful people who are just boring as anything on screen. There’s got to be something attractive about you beyond the physical."
Jackman is more focused on impressing X-Men’s very discerning fans.
"X-Men fans are the kind of fans who will come up and spit on you if they don’t like it," he says. And has anyone dared to hawk a loogie his way? "Maybe behind my back, but not in front of me," he laughs. In fact, he’s confident that demanding X-Men fans will like the sequel more than the original.
But do those X-fanatics know their Wolverine got his start as an all-singing, all-dancing cowboy? Most American audiences are oblivious to the fact that Jackman stared in national Aussie productions of Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard. But it was his turn as Curly in the Royal National Theater’s production of Oklahoma that earned him numerous awards and a second look from Hollywood. "I don't know whether to describe him as a brilliant singing actor or a brilliant acting singer because he is so strong in both disciplines," director Trevor Nunn has said of his pre-Wolverine leading man.
And despite his big screen success, Hugh Jackman is still a man of the theater. His face lights up when asked what musical he would most like to see on screen in the coming musical Renaissance (just in case Tim Burton is reading this, the answer is Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly dark Sweeny Todd. Nudge, nudge, say no more.) Of course, he notes, musical theater experience wasn’t always a plus on his resume.
"When I first started in films, being in musicals is like the plague," he says. "People don’t think of you as an actor, but as a performer. And it’s probably the toughest acting of all. Making people believe you’re singing and communicating thoughts is very hard. It was frustrating as all hell."
Jackman says he had to audition three times for a bit role in his first film (Erskineville Kings, shot on a budget of about $25,000 US) because the director wouldn’t see a musical performer.
"But now, people can see a musical like Chicago and recognize it and applaud it. It’s bizarre, but it’s wonderful."
Jackman is currently filming Van Helsing, a loose adaptation of the young life of Dracula’s famous hunter directed by Stephen Sommers of the Mummy series. In a strange twist of fate, actor Shuler Hensley who plays Frankenstein in the pic, played Judd Fry to Jackman’s Curly in Oklahoma.
He’ll also be seen as infamous song-and-dance man, Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, which will be the first Australian musical on Broadway. That sidewinder smile creeps across Jackman’s face as he describes the flamboyant songwriter and cabaret performer Allen as "the polar opposite of Wolverine."
"Funny enough the same week this film opens, they’re got the first poster for advance ticket sales of The Boy from Oz in the New York Times. So you’ll flip one page and see X-Men and you’ll flip the next page and see me kicking up my heels."