Hugh Jackman on His Surprising Hollywood BFFs and Mother's Abandonment
Despite these friends and a seemingly idyllic life, Jackman admits rumors about his sexuality have taken a greater toll than previously acknowledged, especially on his wife. "Just recently, it bugs her," he says, blaming the Internet, which she frequents more than he does. (Jackman largely sticks to cricket sites and The Economist.) "She goes: 'It's big. It's everywhere!' "
His X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner shrugs off the gossip. "I have seen him with Deborra since the beginning of their trip to Hollywood, and I've been on five movie sets with him and have never seen him stray, have never seen him eye anyone. I met him when he did Oklahoma! [at London's Royal National Theatre in 1999]. He was genuine, hugely talented. He was in love with his wife that day and still is."
The actor took his first extended leave from their family (the children were adopted after Furness suffered two miscarriages) for Les Mis, which started shooting in March 2012 in England. Until then, he says they had never spent more than two weeks apart.
He had heard the long-in-the-works musical might be coming to the screen from Whitesell, who loved it from his youth. "Patrick has seen every version of Les Mis," says Jackman. "It was the only video they owned. And his family -- six boys -- used to watch it every year. He said, 'That's it! We're going to get this!' "
After an informal chat with director Tom Hooper, who hadn't committed to the project at that point, Jackman offered to do a proper audition when Hooper signed on. Following an hours-long interview that landed him the role, he embarked on seven weeks of rehearsal before the shoot began, living in Spring Cottage, a storied residence on the grounds of England's Cliveden House, the very place where call girl Christine Keeler began a scandalous affair with British Secretary of War John Profumo in 1961.
Jackman turned to Robbins for guidance. "I said: 'I want some help. I got this job, and sometimes in front of the camera I can't feel as relaxed as onstage' " -- though he says he has grown more comfortable with film over the past couple of years. "He said it's not about denying the character within you who feels nervous. That fear serves you to work hard. It's not about going, 'F--- you, I wish you weren't here, get out.' It's about embracing that. He goes: 'Man, you're playing Jean Valjean. You should be scared!' "
Jackman pushed himself to the limits for the role. After weeks on a crash diet, before he began shooting the movie's opening sequence -- where he is seen waist-deep in frigid water, hauling cables attached to a great ship -- he gave up fluids altogether.
"I didn't have anything to drink until late in the day when we did the opening scene with Russell Crowe," he says, explaining the dehydration gave his skin a gaunt, haggard look that makes his initial appearance as Valjean so shocking. "You lose up to 10 pounds of water weight, mainly from the exterior of the body. But it was really brutal. About 20 hours in, a headache came. Then I wanted to drink water out of the ocean! I see the scene now, and I look really thin, really sunken."
Admits Hooper: "I was worried. I thought, 'This is probably the kind of thing I should discourage.' I said, 'Have a sip of water.' But he was very determined. He'd obviously consulted doctors, but I do remember he eventually got very cold, really cold."
Throughout, his star "never said a sharp word. I don't know how he remains so calm. He really is an extraordinary man."
Jackman wasn't always like this, especially during the years when he grappled with his mother's absence.
"To be in Australia at that point, with my father working hard, I think Mom just felt incredibly isolated," he says. She did not have an easy transition with the relocation from England. "Fairly soon, she had difficulties. She was in the hospital a long time after I was born. She had very bad postpartum depression. I'm guessing it lasted years because I remember she used to go off for little periods. I think she was feeling trapped."
When her own mother fell ill, she went back to the U.K., leaving the children with their father, an accountant and Cambridge graduate. Jackman remembers him praying that his wife would return, but she never did.
Christopher's commitment to work -- an ethos Jackman has inherited -- did not help: "My father could only come to one [school sports] game a year because he had five kids, and on Saturday he had to shop. If my father was there, it would be 50 percent greater. Having his approval is something that still drives me."
His father's devoutness also influenced him: "I was involved with so many things in the church. It was my social group. It was where I met girls. It was sort of my life out of school. Then around 16 or 17, I started questioning. 'How come all these nonbelievers are going to hell?' "
His beliefs evolved when he attended Sydney's University of Technology and focused on journalism before stumbling upon acting through a drama course he had to take in order to graduate. Later, he continued his acting studies at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth, learning about meditation at the nearby School of Practical Philosophy. "That really started to change my life," he says.
Upon graduation, he landed his first professional job on Correlli, a prison-set TV series starring Furness, who at first held off the 26-year-old Jackman's romantic advances.