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After playing an 18th century Duke with impeccable manners in Kate & Leopold, Hugh Jackman is hoeing into the tuna to bulk up for his role as Wolverine in X-Man 2, he tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo, but the romance thing has rubbed off.

He plays an 18th century Duke courting a 21st century New York career woman (Meg Ryan) in Kate & Leopold but Australian actor Hugh Jackman is every bit as romantic and old-fashioned in real life as his time-travelling character from the film.

The charismatic former star of the London revival of Oklahoma and Trevor Nunn’s Sunset Boulevard in Melbourne, Australia, catapulted on to Hollywood’s A-list with his clawed, tortured performance as Wolverine in the big-screen adaptation of the comic book X-Men.

Although he mixes it up on screen, going from a womanizer opposite Ashley Judd in Someone Like You to an unlucky-in-love computer hacker opposite John Travolta in Swordfish, it’s his latest romantic role as the chivalrous Leopold that is closest to the real Hugh Jackman, married to Australian actress Deborra-lee Furness since 1995 and proud father of their adopted son Oscar, 2.

Did your wife get any fringe benefits from you making such a romantic movie?
I think she’s wondering, ‘why don’t you bring your characters home more often?’ - not so much Wolverine but Leopold definitely (laughs)! I am a romantic but Leopold does set the bar pretty darn high, I have to tell you. He’s a tough act to follow but I think a little bit of it stuck with me. I had etiquette coaching in England with a woman who worked on Sense and Sensibility and what she instilled in me was, beyond the rules of etiquette, was the love of it. Chivalry is an art form. It has to be an honest, sincere message to the person you’re with, whether you’re opening the door for them, standing up for them, cooking for them or whatever. What you’re saying is, ‘I honor you with everything I have. I will treat you as more important than myself’ so it really is about a heartfelt commitment.

I think the film has a wonderful, charming and funny nature that’s unlike most movies you see today. It’s a reminder of the idea that the bottom line in love is treating one another with real care and respect. The question behind the humorous premise of Kate & Leopold is this: in this savvy, liberated modern world of ours, can true romance still exist? Clearly we’ve come a long way since Leopold’s time and he’s quite impressed by that, but perhaps we’ve lost a little of the fun and whimsy of love as a form of adoration.

It was very revealing playing Leopold…most of all I took away a sense of his dignity, of how he does everything with the fullness of his heart, which nowadays is so hard to accept without thinking it’s phony. But for Leopold, it’s all part of the art of life. And what he discovers is that in a 21st century world of more freedom he finally can see a woman’s full power, sensuality and intelligence, which allows him to fall in love for the first time.

Do you think the experience will affect the way you raise your child?
Both my parents are English. My father went to Cambridge and we were taught all the rules growing up so it was somehow in my blood. There were no elbows on the table, we weren’t allowed to talk over each other and there was certainly no television while we were eating. Now I have a child I’ll definitely be teaching him manners and why we have them and what it’s all about.

How do you feel about your real life leading lady, Deborra-lee Furness?
If I’d written on a sheet of paper who my wife would have been, I would have never been able to create my wife. She’s amazing in ways beyond what I could ever have created myself, even in my wildest dreams, and my son is spectacular so I am very happy and very lucky in love and also with the opportunities I’ve had in Hollywood.

What is the most romantic thing you have ever done?
Probably when I proposed to her. I’m an actor so I like to exaggerate things and I was determined that the proposal was going to be good enough that I wouldn’t have to exaggerate it.

So what did you do?
She’ll kill me for this but I can’t stop telling people. I was working in a show in Melbourne and I had Mondays off so I suggested we go for a walk in the Botanical Gardens. There is a café there where I decided to do it and two weeks earlier I’d bought the ring, which is the most frightening thing I’ve ever done in the name of romance. I was in a cold sweat picking out that ring because I had no idea about diamonds and I told the ring-maker this, which means I probably paid way too much for it! So I was nervous and had a mate of mine set up a table with a tablecloth and roses and champagne and breakfast and everything was beautiful so that when we turned the corner right by the lake with the backdrop of Melbourne, she saw the table and said, ‘wow, they must be doing a Vogue Living shoot or something’ and I said ‘surprise!’ She started to cry, which was not in my plan so I knew I had to ask her right away and I did. It turns out there were 40 schoolgirls hiding behind a tree because my friend had seen them coming and made them wait so they wouldn’t interrupt us. They finally come out and say ‘what’s happened?’ and Deb got on the table and shouts, ‘I said yes’ and they all applauded. That was probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever done.

So it’s a safe bet she’ll put up with you as Wolverine as well. Are you looking forward to returning to that character for the sequel this year?
Yes it’s been two years and the first one was such a big rush because I got cast within a week of shooting and it took me about three or four weeks into shooting before I really felt I had the character down. So now I feel confident I know what Wolverine is about. I’ve got to start eating tuna and bulking up, which is a bit of a pain, but apart from that I’m really looking forward to it.

Published March 7, 2002

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Hugh Jackman


with co-star Meg Ryan

with wife Debra Lee-Furness

Other interviews:
Swordfish - 2001 (Video)
Someone Like You - 2001
Paperback Hero - 2000
Erskineville Kings - 2000

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