Hugh Jackman: ‘There was a time when I was only getting action films’
In ‘The Son,’ the Australian star plays a father coping with work, a love life and raising a teenager in crisis
On many of Hugh Jackman’s shoots, the most significant things happen away from the camera. One time, an older man sat waiting silently in a corner while Jackman was working, doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Every now and then, he would look up at Jackman just to send him a signal. His eyes always conveyed the same thing – approval, support and pride. “He saw everything I ever did. He never said a bad word about anything. A lot of who I am today is because of him,” Jackman told The Guardian in January. The man’s name was Christopher Jackman, Hugh’s father, who died in Australia while Jackman was in London playing a father in his latest movie, The Son.
Jackman frequently uses the same word to describe his role in The Son – personal. The feature film directed by Florian Zeller shook up Jackman’s life because his character, Peter, is facing the same beauty, disorientation and terror that every parent experiences when raising children. In a September 2022 press conference at the Venice Film Festival, Jackman said it was a profoundly affecting role that led him to therapy during the filming. In short, it changed his life. “Because of this film, I can now share my vulnerability with my children and see their relief [when I do]. I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with them and how much you help, push or let go. Being a parent means making mistakes – there is no more humbling role in life.”
At the Venice Film Festival, Zeller says he wasn’t sure Jackman was right for the role at first. Jackman was a permanent fixture on People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people annual list, a celebrated Broadway star, the desirable Wolverine, and a skilled song and dance man. He was everything ordinary mortals envy about Hollywood. Yet Jackman sent Zeller a letter begging him for a lead role in The Son. Before their video call, Zeller had promised himself he would not make an impulsive decision. Eight minutes into the meeting, Zeller offered Jackman the part.
“I don’t usually do this kind of thing. But, for some reason, I wanted and needed this journey. It was the peak of the pandemic, and we were all nervously staying at home. I wasn’t conscious of it back then, but I was probably unraveling threads that had parallels to Peter [in The Son],” said Jackman. His character’s story will resonate with many struggling parents who feel they are always running behind in life, happiness, relationships and professional goals. He is a father caring for two children, a newborn and a depressed teenager from a previous relationship. Fatherhood, everyday fears and mental health are the themes of a film that, for Jackman, “is about humanity.” Although critics lambasted The Son, they mostly praised Jackman’s performance.
Jackman doesn’t care about the critics and often says he doesn’t read the reviews. And to think the only thing Jackman’s father was worried about when Hugh set out to become an actor was his son’s sensitivity. “He taught me really great values. He was never really interested in things like fame and money. He was always encouraging about education and treating people well and keeping your word,” Jackman told The Guardian.
When Hugh was eight years old, his mother left the family, but he fell in love with the theater during trips to visit his mother in England. He began to step on stages and movie sets after his initial dream of becoming an international journalist fizzled out. In one of his earliest roles, Jackman appeared in the 1995 Australian television series Correlli, which also starred his future wife, Deborra-Lee Furness. They have been together for over 25 years, overcoming trials like his recurring bouts with skin cancer and Deborra’s two miscarriages. The couple has two adopted children.
Jackman often describes his wife as the rock of his life, who kept him steady when his career leaped from TV to the big screen. A huge screen – Jackman made his movie debut as Wolverine in the blockbuster X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000). Despite all the sequels, Jackman’s prodigious talent helped him avoid typecasting. “I’ve never felt trapped,” he said. “There was a little period, in 2003 or 2004, I think, when I remember, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m only getting action films.’ It was always a surprise to me, just like the musicals were a surprise. I never felt that I deliberately was choosing things just to make sure that I wasn’t sending a message like ‘I’m the action guy,’ ‘I’m a musical guy.’ I’ve always thrived on the variety, but I’m more instinctive now about my choices. It’s not so planned out and never have I had a more glaring example of that than this,” he said, in reference to his role in The Son. Jackman will also return as Wolverine in the upcoming movie Deadpool 3.
Jackman’s future is wide open because he’s already proven he can do it all – superhero mega-productions and sophisticated films with diverse filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve and Woody Allen. He can host award shows, dance, and star in successful global concert tours. But there are few things like children to keep a person grounded. According to IMDb, Jackman once overheard his son Oscar telling a friend, “Enough about my dad, all right? The truth is he’s nothing like Wolverine. He’s not cool, he’s not tough, he’s nothing like that.” He certainly seems to be a better man than his most famous character. But like everyone, he had his moments of rebellion. Raised in a Christian family, Jackman drifted away from his faith for a time. He has also extinguished the “explosive rage” he felt as an adolescent and is now known for his kindness. A guy accompanied by his wife and family on shoots, according to IMDb, which also quotes him as saying, “The best is a handwritten card. I don’t know where some of my awards are, but I can tell you exactly where those cards are. I treasure them most.” And: Acting is something I love. But I don’t think it’s any greater challenge than teaching eight-year-olds or any other career. I try not to make it more important than it is.”
At the Venice Film Festival press conference, Jackman again emphasized the importance of a work-life balance. He compared his job to coaching a professional soccer team. “It’s a very insecure job as an artist. You don’t really know where things are heading. You don’t sign on for a job and know that you’ve got the job for five years.” This is probably not true of Jackman’s career anymore between all the film and stage roles. But he always turns to the values learned from his father. “The journey as an actor is a personal journey. I was more interested in the bigger questions in life than the idea of being famous or successful.” Chris Jackman surely made mistakes in raising Hugh – everyone does, after all. But his son is still living out those values. What’s not to be proud of?
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