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Australia - Hugh Jackman interview

Hugh Jackman in Australia

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HUGH Jackman talks about appearing in Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia and why the role of The Drover ticked so many boxes for him.

He also discusses the day he fainted on the set, his wife’s reaction to him being named the sexiest man alive right now and why the gratuitous torso shots were slightly more difficult to film that is immediately apparent!

Q. Is this an Australia that resonated with you while growing up? Is it an Australia that you knew?
Hugh Jackman: That’s a very good question because there are parts of this movie that are cloning on the stereotype of Australiana, there are elements of it that are subverted beautifully, but the centre of the story about the stolen generation is something that at High School I never heard about. It seems inconceivable to me now and was when I went to university and starting hearing about it. I went to a High School where there wasn’t one aboriginal kid, so I didn’t know any aborigines really. I went to university, I started learning and when I was about 19 I spent some time in the Outback, up in this region, for about three or four months and that’s when I really started to understand the culture, and met people and had aboriginal friends. But then this film really deepened the whole experience for me on a very profound way.

We were living on the set, Baz and I in particular… and my son would spend many, many nights out there with me and then he would do schooling the next day and he would join in with the aboriginal kids on set who were doing schooling, and it was quite profound and an amazing experience. We were on traditional aboriginal lands. So, to try and give you some scope of where we were… it’s hard to imagine, but the property we were on was the size of Belgium, so it’s massive, and there was no one there, it is the most extraordinary place to go to. But the whole thing felt like an absolute privilege from beginning to end – to be in a film, a Baz and Catherine Martin film, set in Australia with Australian everything – including the title – was an inconceivable thing, even 20 years ago, to think that Hollywood would finance something like that. It was inconceivable, so to be part of that was amazing and the place we shot in was amazing.

Q. Is it true that you fainted on set?
Hugh Jackman: Yes, I was the first to faint on set and it was unfortunately on the first day of filming on location, which was not the most macho way to start, particularly as we were in the Outback and there were many of the real deal out there on set as well. I don’t know what the temperature was but it was incredibly hot and there was a massive wide shot of all the cattle as they come into Darwin. So, there was a scene where my character rides through the stock yards trying to cut off the other cattle getting on board, and I’m waiting on my horse ready to go. It’s the first scene and they said: “We’re ready for you Mr Jackman… actually they didn’t say Mr Jackman, what am I thinking about, that’s in America, they said, ‘Oi you, get up on the horse!’”

So, I got up on the horse, I’m ready to go and about half an hour later I said: “Do you think we’ll be going pretty soon, I’m getting pretty hot…” I was wearing a woollen shirt, leather pants, an all-weather jacket with lining in it, a hat and a horse who got particularly spooked by umbrellas – so there were no umbrellas to shade me from the sun. So they said: “Probably five minutes, but if you want to get down that’s fine, we’re waiting for the cattle to move in the right direction and as soon as they’re ready we’ll go.” About 45 minutes later I felt a hand in my back and I remember saying: “What are you doing?” And he said: “What am I doing, mate? You’re at a 45 degree angle to the horse!” Some guy who was an extra, who was meant to be one of the guys telling me to stop, was holding me, so a few people let me down and Catherine Martin [costume designer] very graciously cut the jacket out of most of the shoot from that point on [laughs]. It was when I learnt that when someone says: “Baz will be ready in about five minutes…” It’s about time to maybe eat lunch and then about an hour from there start to think about getting ready.

Q. Do you think there should be more gratuitous torso shots in Hollywood films?
Hugh Jackman: [Laughs] I think we used about eight film’s worth in that one shot, didn’t we? I remember shooting that scene and I asked Baz: “Are you sure about this?” I was unsure at the time, so I said: “Baz, I know what we’re going for, I understand the comedy here, it’s a romp and this is fun and we want to allow the audience to enjoy it and see the wink that’s going on.” And Baz said: “As long as we are 100% bold with it…” And it was emblematic of actually how the process was because it’s bold in every way – in terms of drama, in terms of action, in terms of romance, even the first kiss between me and Nicole. We did it once and Baz said: “Do it again, but even slower!” And I thought we were really slow, and when I saw the film for the first time sitting next to my wife it seemed even slower [laughs]!! But that’s essentially what is great about Baz – he pushes the boundaries and has made a film that traverses so many different genres.

Q. I’m assuming that filming with the likes of Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson had its fair share of moments? Do you have any tales you can tell?
Hugh Jackman: I’m not sure there are any tales we can tell but yes, practical jokers to the core. We were also filming on location with 300 tents lined out and as the sun went down the only thing that was in the building… the one permanent building that we had, was a bar and a pool table. So, it’s kind of miraculous that we actually got consecutive days in really [laughs].

Q. What made it a dream role for you?
Hugh Jackman: There are so many boxes that it ticked in this process from Baz and Catherine Martin, to the subject matter, to where we shot, to the actors we were with and to be in a movie the type of which may not be made again. But the role itself kind of combined many of the iconic images and imagery and screen archetypes of many of the characters I loved as a kid. There were shots in the film that are openly referencing those characters and those films, but more than anything, Baz gave me and Nicole and all of us in this film an opportunity to do in one film what we’d be lucky to do in five films… the type of different genres we were called upon to play, from the comedy to the tragedy, to the romance, it doesn’t happen very often.

And also I think one thing that has really resonated with me and all my mates who have seen the film, when they’ve stopped given me crap about the sexiest man alive thing, they’ve said to see in The Drover character, for Australian people my age, the generation above us were all so emotionally removed, in general, and so that side of the story [Drover’s relationship with the little boy] is something that really I’m thrilled is in there. The whole idea of being an ultra-masculine character and being reserved and tightly wound emotionally is erroneous to me. I think it’s actually more manly to be more vulnerable at times, when you feel it to show your emotions, and in this character we start off with a very archetypically macho, very shut-off outsider, who gradually becomes more and more involved and vulnerable. So, to be able to play that on film in such a big scale movie I was thrilled with, I loved it.

Q. Which were you more comfortable playing – the Drover in the Outback or the guy in the tux?
Hugh Jackman: I can tell you which one works for my wife more. The day I wore that double-breasted white jacket she said: “Wear your costume home tonight!” [laughs] She didn’t say that about my other horse, cow-smelling costumes. But for me, it’s interesting because in many ways in my life my first reaction to that question is the Ball in the jacket. The deceptively difficult thing about the scene and something Baz and I talked about a lot was playing that guy, at that Ball, clean-shaven, and him feeling aware of every eye being on him, but stepping up and no matter how uncomfortable he feels, claiming his space.

So in real-life, Hugh Jackman turning up at a Ball in a dinner jacket is fine. If you ask me to sing a song and do the Foxtrot, I’ll probably quite enjoy it, no problem. But The Drover has to dance – and he doesn’t dance – and he has to wear a suit that he’s probably never worn anything like that before… so as an actor, I had to get into what that feels like… wearing something for the first time, so that was probably harder. The other one I kind of lived with for seven months. We lived out on set, so it became kind of natural.

Q. You’ve recently been voted the sexiest man alive. Tell us, what did your wife say?
Hugh Jackman: The first thing Debs said was: “I knew it, I knew I’d married the sexiest man alive!” [laughs] The second thing was a quite genuine asking of the process: “How is it chosen? Is it readers, is it votes, is it the editors?” And I said: “I think it’s the editors and whoever they are… there’s a think-tank of people and they get together and look at photos, and work out whose publicist they are on good terms with and things like that, and then they decide.” And she said: “So, anyone can get it?” I said: “Yes!” And she said: “And Brad Pitt didn’t get it?!” And I said: “That was a joke, right?” And she said: [sheepishly] “Oh yeah, yes, of course!”

Q. What do you get for being named the sexiest man alive, a trophy?
Hugh Jackman: A whole lot of hell from your mates!

Check out our Hugh Jackman gallery

Read our review of Australia

Baz Luhrmann interview