Hugh Jackman: never has a name been more befitting of a huge, jacked man. Surely the Australian actor is one of the most widely loved and critically applauded working in Hollywood, a perfect leading man. He’s got the voice, the looks, the muscles – basically he makes the rest of the male population look like a herd of dweeby IT professionals.
Jackman was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1968, into an ordinary, middle-class family. Both his parents came from England, where they had been converted to Christianity by the evangelist Billy Graham. As a child, he had a fascination with the outdoors and travel and adventure, once recalling that he “used to spend nights looking at atlases. I decided I wanted to be a chef on a plane. Because I’d been on a plane and there was food on board, I presumed there was a chef. I thought that would be an ideal job.”
After finishing school, Jackman spent a year in 1987 working at Uppingham School in England as a Physical Education teacher. When he returned to Australia, he applied to study Communications at the University of Technology in Sydney. However, the more time he spent at the university, the more he felt the pull of acting, having enrolled in a drama course to make up additional credits. By his last year, he’d been cast as the lead in the university’s production of Václav Havel’s The Memorandum. Recalling that time, he once said: “In that week I felt more at home with those people than I did in the entire three years at university.”
It was here that his journey towards stardom began. After university, Jackman enrolled in a one-year acting course. Despite being late to the game, he showed more natural talent than most and was promptly offered a role on the Australian soap Neighbours, which he turned down. It seems that even then he knew he was capable of more.
However, over the next few years, he would become a star of the stage, not the screen, picking up roles in local theatre productions and cabarets before making the move to the UK, where he landed the role of Curly in Oklahoma!, for which he received an Olivier Award nomination. His success in the role led to him starring in his first movie roles, a filmed version of Oklahoma!, and Paperback Hero, a romantic comedy that made little impact on the film world, or his career for that matter. But, with the dawn of the new millennium, everything was about to change for Jackman.
Hugh Jackman’s six definitive films:
X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000)
Jackman’s breakthrough role came in the form of a part originally written for Russell Crowe. Despite Jackman’s wife’s opinion that he should turn down the role on the grounds that it, quite rightly, “sounded ridiculous”, Jackman eventually accepted the offer, a decision that proved to be one of the best of his career.
This role is a testament to Jackman’s talents as an actor. Wolverine has very little dialogue, so he was forced to convey most of the character through movement and facial expressions. As he once recalled: “We worked a lot on the movement style of Wolverine, and I studied some martial arts. I watched a lot of Mike Tyson fights, especially his early fights. There’s something about his style, the animal rage, that seemed right for Wolverine.”
Kate & Leopold (James Mangold, 2001)
This was the role that won Jackman his first Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actor. It sees the actor plays a Victorian English duke who winds up travelling in time to 21st century New York where he meets Kate (Meg Ryan), an advertising executive who has fallen out of love with life.
Kate and Leopold allowed the film-going public the opportunity to see a different, more sensitive side to Jackman. At this time, he was at risk of falling into the trap that ensnares so many action stars, who are popular one day and irrelevant the next. But, by proving his range, Jackman avoided that fate.
Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, 2004)
You’re going to hate me for this one. Although this fantasy-action flick was, undoubtedly, something of a money-milker, it’s symbolic of a particular period in Jackman’s career, one in which he solidifying himself as one of Hollywood’s biggest names.
It’s a rite of passage that many actors go through and, more often than not, it allows them to pursue more artistically gratifying work later down the line. I imagine that’s what Jackman had in mind. Still, for children everywhere, Jackman was the coolest version of Van-Helsing they’d ever seen. A far cry from the musty old Professor of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel, Jackman took the occult scholarship and handed it a rapid-fire crossbow. Say what you like, in the 2000s, Hollywood knew what children wanted.
The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
The second half of the 2000s saw Jackman take on some of the roles he is most famous for. 2006’s The Prestige saw the actor star alongside Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson. Jackman portrayed Robert Angier, an aristocratic magician whose rivalry with a fellow illusionist takes the audience on a mind-bending exploration of the art of deception.
Nolan apparently cast Jackman in the role because he believed he had just the right characteristics to pull it off: “He has the great depth as an actor that hasn’t really been explored,” Nolan once said. “People haven’t had the chance to really see what he can do as an actor, and this is a character that would let him do that.”
Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)
For his role as Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, Jackman lost a stone of weight and later had to regain 30 pounds to mirror his character’s newfound success after he escapes a life of poverty.
His commitment to the role won with the much-coveted Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. The role also marked Jackman’s return to the world of the musical, form which he’d been long absent. There are few roles in which Jackman has showcased greater skill or control of character than Jean Valjean.
The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017)
Another musical to finish off the list. This film, directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut, may have been criticised for its over-reliance on showy effects and lack of plot, but it was still a huge commercial success. Featuring nine original songs, the film was inspired by the story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of Barnum’s American Museum and follows the lives of some of its star attractions.
Once again, it sees Jackman utilising his stage-musical chops to dazzling effect. However, he wasn’t able to sing for the film due to having received surgery on his nose to remove skin cancer. According to Jackman, The Greatest Showman was a passion project, and clearly, one that he felt bought him back to his roots.