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JACKMAN, HUGH: X-Men

LIVING NEXT TO DENIAL
How does HUGH JACKMAN feel on the verge of international superstardom? Calm and perhaps a little naÔve. Or as they say in vaudeville, ĎIím living in Egypt, right next to Denial!í he tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

For someone whose life is about to change forever, Hugh Jackman seems remarkably calm. The affable Aussie star of the TV series Correlli, the movie Paperback Hero and the UK stage musical Oklahoma is now treading into territory that will turn him into a household name all over the world - the role of Wolverine, a mutant who can heal himself from almost any injury and who teams up with a group of mutant outcasts who all have special powers directed toward good uses.

One of the nicest guys around, Jackman is not only riding high with his career but is also the proud father of two-month-old Oscar Jackman, a mixed-race American baby he adopted with his wife, Aussie actress Deborra-Lee Furness. In X-Men heís joined on-screen by stars Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin and Famke Janssen but heís still refreshingly humble when he reflects on the fame that is about to engulf him.

Are you prepared for the stardom that will come with a big movie like X-Men?
Deb (wife) keeps asking me how Iím feeling and I say that old vaudeville thing, ĎIím living in Egypt, right next to Denial!í I still naively believe because of the look of the character that Iíll be able to go to a water slide park and not be mobbed by kids. But it doesnít hugely bother me anyway. Iíve got a certain level of fame in Australia and people are very friendly.

How did you get one of the most coveted roles in Hollywood?
I did an audition back in January, 1999 - like most of the world - while I was on stage in London and then they wanted to send me to New York and fly me by Concorde to meet with the director, Bryan Singer, and do a final test. So when you get to that point you have to do the whole deal in advance because they wonít fly you over and give you the job unless you agree to the contract first. Finally they told me that Dougray Scott, who was their original choice and was unavailable, had become available again so that was that. I was more bummed about not getting to ride on the Concorde than the job!

Six months later I was in Los Angeles with Deb visiting a friend who had just had a baby and my agent called and said it had reared its head again. Dougray Scott was doing M:i-2 and it was going over and X-Men was starting the following week. To be unknown and get a role like that, I went through every level for approval. Iím surprised Rupert Murdoch himself wasnít at one of the meetings but finally I got the part and suddenly I was in Toronto with a suitcase of sandals and shorts in temperatures of minus one, thrown into hair and make-up tests and having moulds made of my hands and body.

Were you a fan of the comic book?
I had never read it at all but there is a huge fan base in Australia and everywhere else for that matter. People are so passionate about it and itís one of those high profile-positioning roles that makes your agentís job so much easier! I used to think playing someone who was alive Ė like Will Smith playing Muhammad Ali Ė is a high pressure job, but in a way playing someone larger than life in so many peopleís minds and an idol to so many grown men, thatís even tougher. At Halloween, kids want to be Wolverine and men of 40 have tattoos of Wolverine and name their dogs Logan, his civilian name. People tell me he was their favorite X-Men character because heís a rebel and a bit of an underdog.

How did you come up with the look of Wolverine?
They didnít want to go the Dick Tracey route. They wanted to make it a real, stylish, cool world so that was the issue involved in making this character come to life. How does this guy get around without everybody laughing at him and yet be recognizable to fans? We had three weeks of makeup tests on my hair and at one point I had 14 people around my chair in the trailer checking out the hairstyle!

Heís not meant to be part Wolverine but he does have some physical attributes like lots of hair and muttonchops, and they had to add the hair extensions until I could grow a beard and use a ton of hairspray to make my ears pointy. They also gave him these nine-inch claws which were a lot of work. Wolverineís party trick is his ability to heal himself but because 15 years earlier some evil state got hold of him and drugged him and experimented on him to make him the ultimate fighting machine, heís pretty pissed off and angry and confused. He is a loner and that is where his ferocity comes from, because heís got a bad temper and heís also very cynical about the world and has a healthy disregard for authority Ė very Australian in that respect!

How did you get in touch with that anger?
I went through a period that coincided with my family breakup when I was 12 or 13 where I was an absolute smart-ass and very angry and I know it is in me. Iím also a very passionate person and it doesnít take much for me to imagine what would happen if something wrong was done to Deb or my son. Iím the kind of person Iíd be scared of if I got in a fight with! I will do pretty much everything to avoid a fight but if it gets put over the line, I will lose all sense of reason and thatís what scares me most about me Ė and that is pretty close to this character.

Were you more in touch with your macho side while you were filming?
Yeah, Iíd smack Deborra around a couple of times - but sheíd hit me back, harder! (laughs) Seriously, Iím an actor who believes we all have triggers to any stage of emotion. Itís not always easy to find but itís still there. I also took to taking a cold shower every morning because Toronto cold water is like ice, so it was a physical reminder every day of what it was like to be on the verge of punching someoneís head in and Iíd start the day like that. I love acting, I have a lot of respect for it but to live for three months and deny your own life, your own relationship and being a father and put everything into being this character, that is too high a price to pay and I donít think you have to do that to get into a role.

What do you think about the merchandising on this film?
Iím a doll, a pillow-case, a ruler, a magnet and even a blow-up voice-activated punching bag, which Iím thrilled about! Oscar (son) is going to love it. But there is something Freudian about that. At first I couldnít believe I was doing a movie where I was going to be a doll but now Iíve seen them and itís kind of funny.

What can you tell us about your next movie, Animal Husbandry, with Ashley Judd, which youíre now filming in New York?
I met the director Tony Goldwyn, a year ago - on another film that didnít happen but it was great to meet him because I love him as an actor too. Then this script came along and it was the opposite of X-Men. Itís a romantic lead and a reluctant hero type, like Hans Solo in Star Wars. A completely different genre and style and Ashley Judd is fantastic and has a lot of heart.

13/7/2000



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