I got to sit down with Hugh Jackman the day after he was named “The Sexiest Man of the Year” by People Magazine to talk about his upcoming role in Baz Luhrmann‘s epic Australia, coming to theaters today (November 26th). It’s a hard job, but I was more than happy to do it.
Jackman seemed if anything a touch embarrassed about his “sexiest” man title, but was more than willing to joke around on a variety of different topics including his looks.
Hugh talked about how becoming a father has changed his outlook on his work and home life, fainting on a horse during the first day of filming Australia, kissing his good friend Nicole Kidman and working on his upcoming film, Wolverine.
Check out the interview below…
Congratulations on your new title.
Did you get a copy of the magazine? I had them put on all the seats… (laughing)
George Clooney said that he was behind the campaign for Matt Damon to get his title as “Sexiest Man of the Year” but that you managed to steal it out from under him. Was there anybody behind your campaign to get this honor, and also were there any thoughts that the drover should be shirtless for the entire movie?
I had Baz and CM (Catherine Martin) on my side, and we ran a very strong campaign, and I’m not proud of it, but I can admit it now. [laughing] We’re the first to run a negative campaign and we spent years bringing Clooney, Damon, McConaughey all down to size, and then I was prepared to do absolutely anything. In terms of movies there is ‘a kind of great moment when we were shooting the scene with the showers, its called now the “outback shower”– which by the way historically is absolutely accurate that’s exactly the technique. But of course in the movie, Baz was going for a movie that has high comedy and high tragedy, it has romance, swash buckling moments, it has action, it has adventure, which has everything.
I remember shooting that scene, and I remember saying, “Are you sure this is not too much, are they going to laugh, or are they going to think I’m a wanker?” He said if we’re strong enough and we can really commit to the moment, then the comedy of it will rise. There were a couple of members of the crew who took their shirts off after the first little break (during that scene), one of which oiled himself up. Trust me I got a lot of hell about that scene when we were down there.
But, it might have been a lot cooler having my shirt off [laughing] for a lot of the movie, because it was hot. I remember the very first scene we shot we had to bring CM into this was the scene when we bring the kettle to Darwin. It was at the end of the drove and I had what is called a dry-bone, which is a all weather coat, and inside this coat which goes down to your knees, is a lining, a thick headed lining, and I had warm shirt on and leather pants. I almost fainted, the first day of filming! And poor CM who obviously designed it so I would need to be wearing this coat. Because were shooting the end that meant I supposed to be wearing it then for the rest of the movie. Thank goodness [she] decided to adjust my wardrobe for the rest of it so thank you.
Were they able to change the coat and were you okay?
It was a little little bit of pride and fault to be honest because we were shooting out in Darwin, in a place where it’s the real deal out there and as an actor you don’t want to pouncing about with the umbrella above your head, asking for Evian. So the first day on the horse the First A.D said “Baz will be ready in about five minutes you want to come off the hose?” and I said “Nah, man I’m fine. I’ll stay on the horse. ” Then about a half hour later he said “Listen, it might be another five.” “No problem.” After about another half an hour, I felt this hand on my back and I said, “What are you doin’ mate? I’m fine.” And he says “No, you’re not. You’re at a 45 degree angle to the horse.” He was kind holding me up. I said, “I might need ten minutes and CM, can I talk to you about this coat?”
Hugh, can you talk about working with your good friend Nicole? Is it easier to do romantic scenes with a friend or is it more difficult for you?
I’ve known Nicole for a long time but, to give you some context, when she first came to Hollywood, she lived with my wife. My wife was living here already so she moved in and until she lived with Tom. So they were very close friends, still are close friends and my wife’s really good mates with her. I’ve seen her at parties and all that. But, it wasn’t until this film that we truly got to know each other and become, independently of my wife really, good friends. Nicole is an amazing person to work with. She has a very mercurial quality and, in the best sense of the word, there’s a kind of danger about Nicole. No matter how much you know her, there’s always going to be something surprising. There’s always going to be something a little unpredictable and keep you on your toes. She’s also very generous, incredibly hard-working, very funny actor. I think, on the kissing thing [pauses] Baz quite likes sunsets and kissing [laughs].
So we ended up kissing quite a lot and the true answer to that is it was not the toughest day at the office, however it’s never particularly comfortable making out with someone in front of seventy people. That’s not really something that turns me on. I know it does for some [laughs] but, in terms of the intimacy, what was important, Nic and I talked about it separately from Baz. We said, “Okay. We need to really take this seriously. We need to really portray this romance and the passion and the heat between the two.” And even though we know each other, that’s the biggest trap, really for actors. Sometimes you can know someone too well and all the heat goes out of the room and you’re too familiar. I won’t give you the details of that conversation but it was a really kind of adult and very open discussion and, thankfully, when I saw the movie for the first time, my wife is next to me, and after that very first kiss which is quite a lingering, slow kiss, Deb leans over to me and goes “That was great!” [laughs] So, if your wife can give you the thumbs up, I thought, we’re on the right track.
Well that first kiss does have the longest buildup I think I’ve ever seen. Is there an extended director’s cut where it takes even longer?
Slow motion [laughs]. The other thing I should mention about the kiss is that it’s really amazing for me to kiss someone where I don’t have to have my shoes off, or be in a ditch, or the other actor is on a box, which is not sexy. It was really lovely. I think Nic said the same thing. She said, “I get to look up.”
How was it working on Wolverine with Gavin Hood, and without all of the other X-Men?
Not as much kissing, I’ll probably be talking to you guys about it in a few months, so I won’t go on, but it was fantastic. Gavin Hood is a great director. He’s very strong, and has a great understanding of the journeys and the arcs of characters. These movies are bound by their attention to the characters and the story. All the other stuff, like those powers and all that stuff that’s terrific, is not at the heart of it. It’s themes and it’s characters and the struggles. That’s the heart of it. Gavin is terrific. I did miss Halle Berry, though.
There was a lot of horse back riding in the film and it looked like you did most of it yourself. Had you ever ridden before or did you learn for this film?
Baz and I talked about the horse riding, early on. There were some descriptions of the horse riding in the script. I remember one, “Drover thunders across the Outback, chasing a beast, a scrub bull. He catches up to the scrub bull, leaps off his horse, grabs the beast by the tail, wrestles it to the ground, pulls out his knife and cuts off its balls off.” At which point, I thought, “I’ve got to get some lessons here.” Actors lie about horse riding. That’s the old joke. They ask, “Can you ride a horse?,” and you say, “Oh sure, absolutely! Since I was a kid.” But, this was something where the character’s name was The Drover. If the movie was made here, you’d call him The Cowboy. They’re defined by where they are and by what they do, this character in particular. For me, when I watch a great rider, there’s something beautiful about watching them. Their comfort, their ease and the feeling that they’ve been on that horse all their life. In a way, they’re more themselves and more at home on that horse than anywhere else. The key that Baz and I talked about was time in the saddle. Yes, we did everything, from jumping to cutting cattle, or whatever it was. All those different things were really a by-product of just feeling at home on the set.
Just to follow that up, how did you create that relationship with the horse?
To be clear, there were four main horses that I worked with. When you work on a film, they’re required to do different things. There’s not really one horse that can do all that. So, one horse is for rearing, and one horse is almost stoned, in personality, because when things are blowing up, you need a horse that can actually just stand there, but that kind of horse is not going to be able to do a stampede and chase. So, the main horse that we did the work with and did the laying down and all of that, I spent a long time with that horse. It starts with bareback riding. The only way you can really develop a relationship of trust with a horse is to not put a saddle on it because horses can sense it. I learned a lot about parenting from riding a horse. It’s the same thing. You can whack a horse, I’ve seen people do it. They whack them, they kick em’, and they do all that, and you can get a horse to do something. But, I was very lucky to have two trainers who taught me how to make the horse feel it’s their idea. I’ll tell you, as a parent, it is the greatest thing I’ve ever learned.
But, when you get on a horse bareback, the horse knows that you trust them. And then, for days, you have to go wherever they want to go, whatever it is. If they want to ride up a hill or jump over a fence, you just go with them and say, “It’s okay. Whatever you want to do, I’m there.” And then, just very gradually, you make little suggestions like, “How about we go here?,” or “How about leading off with this hind leg. And, now, let’s switch and lead off this side.” And, the horse kind of wants to do it. When you have that, it’s exhilarating.
So, you’ve learned to stop kicking your children?
No longer did I have a bit between their mouth. It’s amazing!
Hugh, it says something about having kids just makes you learn about yourself, do you feel that you’ve learned some things from having children?
Yeah, it makes you also learn about your own parents because. I found myself and my wife quite often telling me I sound exactly like my dad which I never imagined. You kind of have to learn about yourself, and you learn about your own relationship with your parents and how you want to parent. Also I found that your marriage also goes to a new level, because not only do you kind of fall in love with your wife in a whole different way, but you’re also forced to kind of pull together your own philosophy about parenthood even though you may have grown up in a completely different environment, and somehow you have to become this united front. I’m a big believer that the best way to learn or improve is in a relationship. You have to go outside of yourself, whether it’s acting, it’s your partner, your director; really who your working with, that’s who you have to trust and be open to, it’s not a singular experience. When its with children, they are just the most pure reflection of the truth at any given moment. For example, not that I’m trying to bring it up, but this thing happened to me yesterday, where I was labeled something I never thought would happen (referring to the fact that he was named sexiest man of the year) My son Oscar he’s 8, he goes “you, you gotta be kidding me.” I thought, it’s the truth [laughing].
How do you physically and mentally prepare for a role?
We were just talking about this when we came in, I go to the gym in the morning, as much for a state of mind as a physical state. However, when you work with Baz, you may be doing close-up kissing, or you may be jumping over a six-foot fence with a horse. You don’t know what, and that is the great thrill of it, and that is something that I love. Early on in my career, I made the mistake of turning up to shoot a master of a scene and then all of a sudden I’m really waking up at 11 o’clock, you think, “I can’t believe I made that choice and that decision.” It’s mainly about having the state of mind where, the very first frame, you’re ready to go. In terms of physicality and what you eat, it’s very important because you have to understand that what we know as a protein diet is pretty much what these drovers lived on. When they were out there, they would not eat a lot. They were lean, but they were very strong and muscle-y. I ate a lot of steamed chicken. It’s also important before you train and these guys would do that too. When you wake up, you’ve got to have some food in your belly before you work.