“It dawned on me that acting was what I wanted to do with my life. Nothing had ever touched my heart like acting did.” – Hugh Jackman
Australian actor Hugh Jackman has solidified his status in the public consciousness as Wolverine, a role for which he holds the Guinness World Record for “longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero”. However, there’s a lot more to appreciate about his wide-ranging works which include brilliant performances in critically acclaimed films like Prisoners and The Prestige. Jackman is a multiple Primetime Emmy Award, Grammy Award, and Tony Award winner. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables.
In an interview, Jackman revealed, “My father always said, ‘Education is the one cure-all for insecurity. If you feel insecure about something, prepare for it.’ So I studied acting for four years. I was offered a popular soap opera early on, after just three months of classes. It was a two-year gig with good money, but I told my dad I didn’t know if I wanted to take it because I’d also been accepted at another drama school. He said, ‘I can’t tell you what to do.'”
He added, “At the end of drama school, I made a contract with myself: I’d try acting for five years. I was 26. I had already spent eight years working in restaurants and gas stations. So I had seen enough small businesses to understand that that’s what acting is: a small business. You have to put everything into it before you can really say you’ve had a go.”
On his 52nd birthday, we take a look back at some of the best film performances of Hugh Jackman’s highly successful career.
Hugh Jackman’s 10 best film performances:
10. Australia (Baz Luhrmann – 2008)
Set in the early days of World War II, this 2008 drama follows the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), a British aristocrat who travels to Australia in order to save the cattle ranch she inherited from her dead husband. Jackman plays an independent cattle drover who helps her with the ranch and saves it from predatory outsiders.
“Most of the crew did that, obviously, and I just stayed out there,” the actor explained. “I had my caravan, and just lived in my caravan with the campfire outside. And I’m not saying I’m a Method actor, but there’s something about the landscape, the magic of that landscape out there, and just living there and working with the guys, and the real deal, that it starts to sink in.”
9. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky – 2006)
Aronofsky’s experimental 2006 blend of romance and science fiction features Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as three different sets of lovers in three different periods in human history . The Fountain raises brilliant questions about mortality and the meaning of human existence. Jackman stars as 16th century conquistador Tomás Verde, 21st century neuroscientist Tom Creo and Tommy, a 26th century space traveler.
Aronofsky was full of praise for Hugh Jackman, “How many male actors have you actually seen do emotional work like that? I’ve been in 15 cities in the last two or three weeks, and a lot of women have said to me, ‘I’ve never seen a man that vulnerable, on or off screen.’ I didn’t really know what he could do.”
8. Kate & Leopold (James Mangold – 2001)
Yet another cross-genre work of science fiction and romance, Kate & Leopold was more on the rom-com side as opposed to the philosophical weightage of The Fountain. Jackman plays Leopold, he third Duke of Albany, who finds himself transported from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first century where he meets a career-driven modern executive Kate McKay (Meg Ryan).
“The film is a fairy tale and it highlights some of the things that we’ve lost – some for good reason,” Jackman said. “There’s the scene where Kate shouts ‘Yes!’, and we always thought of that as one of those moments where Leopold begins to fall in love with her because he’s seeing something he’s never seen before. He loves her spirit, her freedom, and her ability to talk back and argue. This is something he’s never experienced in a woman before.”
7. Happy Feet (George Miller – 2006)
George Miller’s Academy Award-winning animated feature is about a misfit penguin Mumble who has excellent tap-dancing abilities but cannot sing. He is initially shunned for it but he ultimately unites everyone with his passion for dancing. Jackman lends his excellent voice-acting to the role of Memphis, the father of Mumble.
Miller said, “One of the reasons why we tell stories is to reach that enchantment that adults can feel when they get in touch with the sort of wonder that they had as a child. And I think with children it goes the other way, there must be some sort of nourishment out of the story. It can’t be mindless entertainment.”
6. Real Steel (Shawn Levy – 2011)
Shawn Levy’s futuristic action drama stars Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who is looking to make it big in the world of robot boxing. He reluctantly teams up with his son Max (Dakota Goyo) as they try to train their robot so Charlie can get out of debt.
Jackman explained the symbolism of robots in the film, “I think they represent power. First of all, in our movie, you’re controlling [the robots] and they have all the power that they lack in real life. And so, with kids, particularly in this movie, and as we say in the movie, the leap of their imagination, to them being real and alive and autonomous, is not far. For us, obviously, it’s a long way to make that leap. I think that’s part of the reason.”
5. X-Men Series (2000 – 2016)
This was the film franchise that truly transformed Jackman into a bona fide movie star. The role that got him the Guinness World Record for “longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero”, Jackman is fantastic as Wolverine: a mutant who has is troubled and conflicted but badass at the same time. Jackman effortlessly explores the psychological conflicts of Wolverine, adding another layer to the beloved character.
Speaking about his audition for the iconic role, Jackman revealed, “When I walked into that room, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t playing the role. It was a weird audition because Dougray Scott had the role and then he got caught up in Mission: Impossible 2 but everyone thought that would get sorted.”
He added, “It was like this Hail Mary to begin with, which is probably the best way to do an audition. You’re going in like ‘Eh’… I think the entire audition was about 20 seconds. It wasn’t much longer.”
4. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan – 2006)
Set in 1878, The Prestige presents a multi-layered conflict, superficially about magic but extending to the intellectual and psychological levels, between two magicians. The casting is fantastic, featuring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine among others. The Prestige is one of Nolan’s most gripping thrillers with fantastic acting performances all around and a compelling narrative structure, fashioned after the mechanisms of a magic trick.
Jackman said, “Reading a little bit about this world, what was fascinating to me was how far magicians would go to perform the trick. In the world of our film, the magicians were the rock stars of their day. It was the golden age of magic.”
3. Logan (James Mangold – 2017)
James Mangold’s 2017 film cannot be grouped with the rest of the X-Men films because it has an artistic sensibility of its own. Jackman’s last stint as Wolverine does feature the kind of action we are used to expecting from the other works but it also deconstructs the myth of the invincible Wolverine, presenting a more human superhero who is vulnerable and subjected to the same anxieties as the rest of us.
“Doing this movie. This feels the most personal for me,” Jackman revealed. “I feel like I don’t think I could have made this movie three or four years ago. I think it’s part of my evolution I suppose of growing up, understanding the character, feeling confidence in who I am and where I am in this business. I had such a clear vision.”
2. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper – 2012)
Tom Hooper’s award-winning adaptation of Victor Hugo’s iconic work stars Jackman as Jean Valjean, a prisoner who tries to start a new life after breaking parole. Jackman draws on his previous experiences in musical-theatre works in order to bring the iconic role to life. For his performance, Jackman won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. He also received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, as well as nominations for two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The actor elaborated, “I had been in musical theatre for a number of years, starting way back with Cameron [Mackintosh] doing Oklahoma 16 years ago here in London and I’ve done movies for a number of years and I’ve dreamt of being in a movie musical for a long time. For some reason, I just never even thought [Les Miserables] would be possible.”
1. Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve – 2013)
Villeneuve’s 2013 film revolves around a cerebral as well as visceral pursuit of a criminal who abducted two young girls. The blatant symbolism that is characteristic of Villeneuve’s work plays a subtle role in this film through passing mentions and recurring images of mazes. The father (Hugh Jackman) of one of the missing girls and a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) navigate through metaphorical mazes of their own belief systems as they hone in on the suspect.
Jackman said, “The film, for me, when I read it, was different from most Hollywood films that I get. Particularly thrillers. It was gripping. I had no idea where it was going. I didn’t know how it was going to end up. There were so many twists and turns I thought were clever. Emotionally, I had a pit in my stomach reading it – maybe it’s the parent in me.”