Hugh Jackman's career started as a hobby

Now, `X2' star finds himself undaunted

April 23, 2003|By Luaine Lee | Luaine Lee,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PASADENA, Calif. - When he was 10 years old he used to do the cooking. It was no big deal to actor Hugh Jackman because his four brothers and sisters had to take their turns, too. Their parents had split up when Jackman was 8 and their father raised them. Each child had to cook one night a week.

The independent spirit he developed as a child may have helped Jackman when it came to handling the turbulence of show business because, as one of the major stars of X2: X-Men United, Jackman has definitely arrived. For most actors at his level it's limo-personal-trainer-and-bodyguard time. Not for Jackman.

He's a good ol' boy from Sydney, and he's as surprised by his success as anyone else, though he's been entertaining (one way or another) since he was 5.

"That was always part of who I was, but it felt like a hobby," Jackman says, dressed in a black V-necked pullover and black pants, white Pumas and sideburns - a remnant of the movie he's currently filming, Van Helsing.

"I went to see a stage show called The Master Builder. I was like: `I really want to do this.' And I picked up a book by Uta Hagen called Respect for Acting and I was just starting to do acting classes for fun, it was still a hobby. I was reading that book and went to see that play and understood it's not just a hobby. This is an amazing craft and this passes generations and this is worthy of a life's study. So I said, `All right, that's it.' So I auditioned for serious acting school and went to acting school for three years and then said, `Well, we'll see how it goes.' "

How it went was splendid. The man who's starring as the ominous loner Wolverine in X2 (which opens in the Baltimore area on May 2) also appeared in Kate & Leopold, Swordfish, Someone Like You and the first X-Men movie.

Before that, he starred in two independent features in his native Australia as well as on the musical stage and in a couple of TV series. It was on one of these that he met his wife, Deborra-Lee, who starred as a prison psychiatrist. He played the second lead, a jailbird with a short, mullet haircut and convict's tattoos.

In fact, he was performing in London in Oklahoma when the opportunity came to try out for X-Men. But someone else got the role, and Jackman went back to singing "Surrey with the Fringe on Top."

When he and his wife came to Los Angeles to arrange the adoption of their child (now almost 3), he was told the actor who'd gotten the part of Wolverine was delayed in another picture.

So Jackman ran the gauntlet one more time. "I went in and [producer] Lauren Schuler Donner ... championed me for the role. I think I saw everyone at Fox but Rupert Murdoch."

After a few more tests, this time on the big screen, Jackman was officially declared the wild and woolly Wolverine.

The actor - who's done everything from singing before 95,000 fans at a rugby match between Australia and New Zealand to playing the vacantly handsome Gaston in Beauty and the Beast - says he's often intimidated by the prospect of a role.

"But the bigger fear for me is that I won't have tried. I don't think I could live with myself. That's one thing that's driven me. I hate this feeling of being hemmed in by fear. My theory about fear is if you irrationally give in to something because you're afraid of failure, it kind of grows through you like an illness and has to affect other parts of your life. I really think that's true. I see that in people.

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