Hugh Jackman on His Surprising Hollywood BFFs and Mother's Abandonment
This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Hugh Jackman's image long has been that of a sunny-side up Australian -- a singing, dancing, easygoing actor, husband and father who can instantly transform from Academy Awards host (2009) to biceps-bulging heartthrob (Wolverine). But on this late-January morning, the movie star -- a first-time Oscar nominee for his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables -- drops surprise after surprise. First, he tells this reporter he is friends with self-help guru Tony Robbins, who helped Jackman, 44, prepare for Les Mis by finding ways to cope with fear and anxiety, which bedevils the performer more before the camera than a live audience (as in his acclaimed show Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway). Robbins suggested the strapping 6-foot-3 superstar name the secure and insecure sides of his personality. “Frank was the more confident, and Charles was the other,” says Jackman.
"I always thought strength came from getting rid of that fear," he adds. "And Tony said: 'Charles is your sensitivity. Charles makes you question. Charles makes you work harder. When you walk on set, thank Charles for everything.' " He pauses. "Tony really transformed my life."
Another unexpected friendship is with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who even asked Jackman to be his daughter Chloe's godfather shortly after her birth in 2003.
"I met him first in a family situation," says the actor of their decade-old connection. "[Murdoch's wife] Wendi and Nicole Kidman were very good friends. It was Nicole's birthday, and we all went to Soho House in New York, and we were in the pool. He was holding his daughter, and I was holding my son, and we became friends."
He says many people have the wrong impression of Murdoch: "He loves having friends and family around. A lot of people in his life are there for a long time. He looks after them and appreciates them. He's very caring and thoughtful and incredibly respectful of everybody around him."
Sitting at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills, Jackman reveals himself to be a far more complex and far-ranging figure than many of his peers realize. As he gobbles down a breakfast of oatmeal, wheat toast and a five-egg omelet -- muscling up for his next movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which he returns as Wolverine for the sixth time -- he adds to this impression by discussing a turbulent past that still lingers with him.
Open and immensely likable, he describes being 8 years old when his mother, Grace, abandoned him and his four elder siblings, leaving them in Sydney with their father, Christopher. His mother's departure never was fully explained to him, and indeed Jackman only realized it was permanent when he was 13 and his father's attempt at a reconciliation failed.
"Dad went off to England to bring her back, but by this point she was married to someone else, with a kid," he says. "It was really complicated. So when Dad arrived back -- not three weeks later, as planned, but five days later -- I just knew. I was old enough to go, 'This is not happening.' "
With his mother an ocean away in her native England (both parents had immigrated to Australia in 1967), Jackman remembers being too frightened even to enter his house alone. "I was terrified because I was the first one home every day," he says. "I used to walk home from school and wait outside. I just wouldn't go in."
He recalls growing up in a deeply religious family, his parents having been converted to conservative Protestantism by Billy Graham, after which they strictly adhered to the Church of England's tenets; and he also recalls breaking away from their beliefs in his late teens. Today, he is not particularly religious and says he never prays, though he believes in some form of God and afterlife and meditates twice daily for 30 minutes. "It is about quieting that part of the brain and just seeing and being," he explains.
But meditation and his growing success, which has reached a climax this year with Les Mis, have only paved the way for a life that is centered just as much on Jackman's wife, actress Deborra-Lee Furness, 57, and their children, Oscar, 12, and Ava, 7, as on his work -- which might create conflicts in the wake of the career-transforming Les Mis.
"I told my agent [WME's Patrick Whitesell], 'After Days of Future Past, I need to be home [in New York's West Village],' " Jackman says -- particularly to support his son, who has certain learning disabilities like dyslexia.
All this leaves a question about whether he will return to X-Men once he completes the time-spanning sequel that starts shooting mid-April in Montreal, after Jackman wraps the crime drama Prisoners, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. He hasn't ruled it out, but for now he says simply, "I need to be home."
In addition to his family, Jackman has surrounded himself with friends, including 11 high school buddies who accompanied him on a reunion trip to Japan four years ago and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (whose micro-finance campaign Jackman actively supports).