Hugh Jackman - On Love, Family & His Journey

The star of The Greatest Showman opens up about his road to success – and finding his greatest role, as a husband and father

  • 27 Jan - 02 Feb, 2018
  • Ryan Buxton
  • Interview

Huge Jackman remembers a Hollywood mentor once pulling him aside and saying, ‘Man, you got a problem. You do a little bit of everything and you’re never going to get anywhere that way.’ I remember at the time going, ‘Really? That’s just no fun.’”

Years later Jackman, 49, is just about the only movie superstar who would cap a 17-year run as the most badass of action heroes, musical The Greatest Showman, in which he plays legendary, controversial circus impression P.T. Barnum. Both Jackman and the film are nominated for Golden Globes.

Offscreen, the Aussie is known as one of Hollywood’s nicest guys – a decency he credits to his upbringing by a hardworking single dad and his rock-solid family life with his wife for 21 years, Deborra-lee Furness, 62, and kids Oscar, 17, and Ava, 12. A ‘great piece of fortune’ in his life, he says, is that before his fame, “Dab and I were already set together, a team, madly in love. Our priority is our family, and we’re there for each other no matter what.”

The Greatest Showman is the story of P.T. Barnum, who founded the [modern] circus. He founded show business, basically.

He was the king of thinking outside the box. He could turn lemons into lemonade. There are a lot of quotes attributed to him: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Life is what you choose to make it. “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” He’d always had that sixth sense for what people really wanted.

How difficult is it to do an original musical? It is notoriously one of the hardest things to do in Hollywood.

It is difficult. It’s sort of a weird art form. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for La La Land are the heartbeat of this musical. Their music is so good it has a modern sensibility. We asked ourselves, “What movie would Barnum want to make?”

What about P.T. Barnum did you respond to most? He was a great entertainer, and a lot of the movie is about juggling a family and chasing those dreams.

Finding a balance in life I would still say is a great art for all of us. That’s something that Deb has sacrificed for me. I’m ambitious. A bit like Barnum. If you put my back against the wall, I will fight… that’s the Wolverine in me, I suppose. I feel I have something to prove. It’s a good motivator, but it’s not always easy to turn that off.

Let’s go back 50 years. When your family emigrated from England to Australia, it was through a program called Ten Pound Pom. What was that?

“Pom” is slang that is used for an Englishman living in Australia… You’d pay 10 pounds, you went on a cruise ship for six weeks with your entire family, you were given citizenship. My father was an accountant for Price Waterloos, and he walked straight into a job… Australia was a land of opportunity. They had three kids, and I was the fifth.

When you were eight, your mom went back to England after your parents separated effectively...

It was traumatic. I thought she was going to come back. And then it sort of dragged on and on. I was then brought up primarily by my father from when I was eight. I saw her once a year.

What do you remember about your dad during those years?

Now that I look at it, and I think it’s astonishing. He had five kids, a full-time job. He never missed a day of work, and I don’t ever remember him missing the important things for us at school. I was also aware that it was really hard for him. He was heartbroken. He worked till six, came home, cooked dinner for all of us every night, cooked breakfast every morning. He was strict. We all had chores to do… my wife’s really glad. I came fully trained by to do the time I met her.

When did you start acting?

I was five when I was onstage at school singing Camelot. From that moment on, (I did) every school play, every school musical. I was in the choir. I absolutely loved it… I went for an audition for this drama school and ended up getting the final spot. At the bottom of the letter, it asked me to bring the cheque for $3,500 on the first day. I had just finished colleges, I was like, “I can’t ask my dad for more money.” I put it in the bin, and I was like, that’s it, no more acting school. The next day I got a bequest for $3,500 from my grandmother, who had died three months before.

You got a part in an Australian TV series called Correlli in 1995. The star of the show was named Deborra-lee Furness. Tell us about the day you met her.

My first job out of drama school – it was a massive break for me. I was really scared. Deb, she was a big star. I get picked up, and Deb is in the front seat of the car. I’ll never forget it. She took off her seatbelt and turned around, put out her hand, took off her sunglasses and said, ‘Hi, I’m Deborra-lee Furness, nice to meet you.” I remember thinking, “I like this girl.”

When did you get the courage to ask her out?

Maybe six weeks into shooting. Deb and I were already best friends and I realised that I had a crush on my leading lady. This is the thing you do not do. It’s unprofessional and embarrassing. I didn’t talk to Deb for a week. Then I was like, ‘This is not a good plan’. “I invited 20 people (Over for dinner). She came over and I said, “Deb, give me a hand with the dessert.” My dad was a great cook, and he taught me how to make crepes suzette. She said, “I notched you haven’t talked to me in like a week, what’s going on?” I tell her and she goes, ‘Oh? I’ve got a crush on you too.’” I never in a million years thought she reciprocated my feelings.

Did you have to keep (the relationship) a secret?

Mmm. Which we thought we did successfully for about three weeks, but I found out later that the entire team already knew.

You were in your late 20s, Deb was in her late 30s, you were a newcomer, she was a big star. How did people treat you when you went places together?

For people who don’t know Deb, I’m literally the adult in the relationship. She’s just like a little kid. I’m the (one saying), “Babe, this is not a legal parking spot,” and she goes like “Oh, come on, Mr Goody-Goody.”

When you and I first met (in 1999), you were doing Oklahoma on the West End and you got cast as Wolverine. You and Deb were also trying to have kids and made the decision to adopt. All during that two-year time frame.

Yeah, it was a wild time. We were always going to adopt as well. We struggled from a couple of miscarriages, IVF was not easy, particularly for Deb. I’ve always believed that in a marriage you know you’re going to go through ups and downs. When you know you’re meant to be with (someone) for life, that is everything. If you’ve ever seen me, like at the Oscars, I walk out, I put my hand on my heart, and I always look at Deb in the audience.

When you decided to adopt, you knew you wanted a multiracial family. Why was that?

Our motivation behind adopting was, “Where is the need?” The biggest need is in mixed-race kids. I want to tell my kids that it doesn’t matter what job you do, it doesn’t matter whether your hair is straight or curly, if you’re tall or short, man or woman, what race you are. What defines you as a human being is underneath all that.

What are your favourite days with Oscar and Ava?

Oscar and Ava are really into different things. With Oscar it’s all outdoors – hiking, camping, fire on the beach, roasting marshmallows, fishing. He’s just a born nature kid. As for Ava, we both love music and dance. Just recently, I’ve been to four concerts with her. She’s now at that age. When I go to a concert with her, I turn somehow into a 12-year-old.

What was the last concert you went to?

We went to see Ed Sheeran. It was great. Totally. Ava and I knew every word of every song.

Source: People