“Real life is a breeze!” says Hugh Jackman with a laugh. He’s more than ready for some fun after two back-to-back challenging roles. For Les Misérables, in theaters Christmas day, Jackman plays Victor Hugo’s long-suffering hero, Jean Valjean, singing his way through the movie version of the much-loved musical. And he recently finished filming The Wolverine, due next summer, in which his sharp-clawed, angry mutant sinks into depression and doubt. (For a change of pace, he also voiced an Australian-accented Easter Bunny in the current animated film Rise of the Guardians.)
|With Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette, the child Jean Valjean raises as his own, in Les Mis.|
PARADE: The man you play in Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, is haunted—a loner by necessity. That seems the opposite of you.
Absolutely. I’m not a loner at all. The one thing I relate to about Jean is that I’m probably a little hard on myself. Jean lives with this constant striving to be a better man, but he never feels he attains it, and I, too, strive all the time. I understand that feeling of “There’s a mountain to climb”—or maybe I put mountains in my way where they don’t need to be.
When you take on an iconic character like that, do you have doubts?
I remember after a particularly bad day at rehearsals, I told my wife, Deb, “I might have bitten off more than I can chew here. Maybe I’m not the right person.” She just cut me off and said, “Hugh, if you didn’t feel like that you wouldn’t be right for the part. You should be daunted by this challenge.” And she’s so smart; she added, “Use the fear. Work harder. Get in there.”
|With his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, at the Tony Awards in June, and strolling in New York last Father’s Day with his kids, whom he calls “the greatest blessing of my life.”|
I am the pragmatic, steady, sensible one. Deb is the hilarious, fun, sexy, crazy, impractical one. When it comes to the kids, I’m strict and she’s lenient. But deep down, we’re very similar. We get each other completely without ever having to speak, and we have pretty much since day one. We also have that uncanny ability where if one is grumpy, the other one is not.
You make it sound easy.
People always say, “You’ve got to work at your relationship.” I know what they mean, but it’s never felt like that for me. I mean, seriously, we’re kind of annoying to other people. We’re on the phone to each other 10 to 12 times a day. We do everything together. We’re madly in love and it gets more so as it goes on. Most of it is finding the right person. I am ridiculously indecisive. If you ask me, “Do you want the crème brûlée or the chocolate cake?” I can spend 10 minutes debating it. It drives her crazy. And yet when I met my wife, the realization was like a lightning bolt—I knew she was the one for me for the rest of my life. She didn’t realize it then. I had to do a bit of convincing.
You obviously love being a father.
I feel so lucky to have both a son and a daughter, because there’s a different relationship with each of them. I mean, instinctively as a man, you know what your son has to go through. So I think you’re a little tougher [with a boy]. With a daughter, this protective side comes out. When I come home, my daughter will run to the door and give me a big hug, and everything that’s happened that day just melts away.
Your father has been a huge influence on you. You’ve called him your hero.
Yeah, he is. There are many qualities about my dad, actually, that echo Jean Valjean more than me. My father has never said a bad word about anybody. Of course, when my mother left, when I was 8, he would have been forgiven those days where he wanted to let loose a bit. But he never did. He’s a hard worker, very humble, and deeply religious, though he doesn’t talk about it a lot. Everything about him is admirable. He’s been my rock, and if there are any good qualities about me, I give [credit] largely to my father.
Sadly, you’ve said he’s not well.
My dad is fairly well into Alzheimer’s now. His short-term memory is pretty much gone. He still recognizes me and can talk about the past, and weirdly, he’s as happy as I’ve ever known him, which is wonderful. One of the joys of doing The Wolverine was being in Sydney and spending time with him.
|In The Wolverine, due next July. Playing the mutant’s rage, Jackman says, “is the best therapy I know.”|
I wish! I keep thinking, “Come on, you spend millions on CGI, can’t you throw a quarter million my way for visual effects so I can eat pizza and drink beer and still look great?” No, I had to do it the hard way. Let me tell you, at 44 it’s not getting easier.
Give us a little scoop on the film.
You want to get me into trouble, don’t you? [laughs] Okay, the movie takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand. My character is at his lowest. He is supposed to be able to heal himself, but he may encounter someone who has worked out a way to really hurt him. And there is a cameo from one of the past X-Men in it.
Because of your extreme discipline, people don’t realize you’re a foodie.
My gosh, I love food. If I wasn’t an actor, I could be a completely different body shape right now. But I finished filming four days ago, so I’m eating pretty much anything that comes my way!
What’s been the big splurge?
I was just in Japan, having beer, sake, and the best sushi of my life. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And on the plane, when they came by with the trolley, I said, “Yes, please,” to everything.
This is the time of year when we stop to think about our life and plans. What are your thoughts?
In a way, it’s been a hard year; I was shooting in London for four or five months. We have a family rule that I’m never away for more than two weeks, so I did about nine trips back [to New York]. And they did three trips to me. But for me it was quite a lonely time, and difficult.
But a fulfilling time as well?
From the day I started working, I’ve felt lucky. My career has been way more exciting than I could have ever written a script for. And I have a wonderful family life.
Does your family say you were optimistic and hungry for adventure as a kid?
My mum will say I was very much like that as a baby, quite optimistic and full of life. There was also one point when I was up in my chair yelling and screaming. She said, “Hugh, you don’t have to stand on the chair to get noticed.” Now she says all the time, “What do I know? I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.”
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