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The Last Word: Hugh Jackman

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

He may have achieved A-list level success by bringing Marvel mutant Wolverine to the big screen in the X-Men movie franchise, but Hugh Jackman is more than a buff superhero with an adamantium skeleton and lethal set of claws. An entrepreneur, philanthropist, classically-trained thespian, and one-time People magazine Sexiest Man Alive titleholder, the 45-year-old refuses to be typecast, even when it comes to his sporting preferences. While he loves all things Aussie like any good Sydney-born boy should, Jackman also hides a soft spot for hockey, as we discovered during his recent trip to the Bell Centre.

You may not realize this, but Wolverine has some strong ties to Quebec. His first-ever appearance in the comic world was in a 1974 fight with the Hulk set right here in the province. Knowing you’ve got some French Canadian roots, do you suddenly have a hankering for smoked meat and / or poutine?

HUGH JACKMAN: (laughs) It’s funny you mention that because I just tried poutine at Au Pied de Cochon. It’s one of my favorite restaurants. I actually count the dinner I had there once as the greatest dinner I’ve ever had. We started at 7:00 p.m. and we left at four in the morning. I guess it was a little more than a dinner.

You’ve been in and out of Montreal shooting X-Men: Days of Future Past; what do you like most about the city?

HJ: It’s beautiful here. It’s a great town with great restaurants and it’s relatively easy getting around in this city. You don’t spend hours trying to find yourself. Actors care a lot about their food, and the food here is great. It is a food town. I live in Melbourne in Australia and it’s similar to Montreal. It’s more about food, sports, music and culture.

Jackman recently joined the Canadiens' loyal celebrity fan base during a game at the Bell Centre.

You’re a pretty athletic guy, but Australia isn’t exactly known as a hockey hotbed. Ever been on skates?

HJ: I have, actually. It used to be something people would do at birthday parties. It didn’t go well because my brother slipped and someone skated over his fingers. He needed a lot of stitches; his fingers weren’t quite sliced off, but close. I was actually thinking tonight that if only I had come earlier to Canada, I could have seen this and gone back home and played first string in Australia. I could have gone to the Olympics! (laughs)

Is this your first hockey game? Can we now count you among our loyal celebrity fan base?

HJ: It’s actually the second NHL game I’ve been to. I went to see the Canucks play while we shooting in Vancouver a few years ago. But you can now count me in your fan base. The atmosphere in Montreal is incredible.

Are you a sports fan?

HJ: I love sports. If I would have to pick my favorite, I would say it’s the NFL. I’m a New York Giants fan. I love the NFL, I’m also into basketball. Back home in Australia I follow cricket, Aussie rules, rugby. But hockey is a great sport. I love live sports and that’s why hockey is one of the best sports. The atmosphere at the Bell Centre is about as good as anywhere in the world. When I was sitting down by the glass and the fans were all yelling I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe it.

On the toughness scale, how does hockey compare to Aussie rules football?

HJ: This is tougher. At least you’ve got grass in football. Here, everything is hard – even the puck is hard! Aussie rules football is a pretty tough sport; there’s the same kind of taking people out. But these guys go much faster.

Our players have pretty strict training regimens, but it can’t be easy building the body of a superhero; how grueling is it getting into Wolverine shape?

HJ: It’s pretty bad. I’m 45 now, so it gets harder for each movie. I train about three hours per day. I do about two hours in the morning, an hour of cardio and an hour of weights. Then I try to do another session in the afternoon. I can have up to 6,000 calories per day during training.

That’s a Michael Phelps-ian level of caloric intake!

HJ: Yeah, but I heard he was eating pancakes. A stack of pancakes is like 1,000 calories. You have to eat a lot of steamed chicken and broccoli to get 1,000 calories.

You hosted the Academy Awards in 2009. Having seen some of the real-time commentary on Twitter and online during the performances of hosts since, is it fair to say it’s kind of a thankless job?

HJ: I didn’t read one review, thankfully. Literally the first person I saw after the event the next morning said, “I don’t care what the LA Times said, you did a great job.” And I was like, “Wait, what did the LA Times say?” I decided I didn’t want to read any more after that. (laughs)

Jackman's view from behind the bench during Game 1 of the 2013 NHL Playoffs.

It’s been 14 years since you first brought Wolverine to the big screen in X-Men. What’s changed the most in your life since Wolvie came into it?

HJ: I have two children now. Career-wise it’s also changed a lot. I think one of the luckiest things that as ever happened to me is that I met my wife before it all happened. I’ve observed friends who are single and in our business it’s hard to meet people. That’s why so many actors date other actors. I love that Deb and I have been through it all together and she’s also been in a lot of movies and been famous, especially in Australia, so she understands. We can just enjoy life together.

You shot part of The Wolverine in Japan. What’s the most exotic location you’ve ever filmed for a shoot?

HJ: Japan is right up there. Tomonura is a beautiful fishing village and it was incredible being there. The South of France for Les Mis was pretty good as well.

How big a thrill is it for you to work alongside fellow Broadway and theater legends like Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart?

HJ: When I went to drama school, there were these classic series of Shakespeare tapes called the Barton tapes and that’s how I knew of Ian McKellen. He and Judy Dench and all of them are on these tapes. They were members in the Royal Shakespeare Company and I followed those tapes like a religion. When I heard I was in a movie with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen I couldn’t believe it; think Pacino and De Niro in Heat and that’s what this is. It’s an absolute thrill.

When you signed on to star in Les Mis, did you have any idea how well-received it would be? What has it done for musical theatre in the US in general?

HJ: Musicals can only have a relatively limited audience. However well you do it, there’s always going to be a big part of the population that will just never get it. As beloved as it is, Phantom of the Opera is the biggest musical of all time, but no one really saw the movie. I would never have known that Les Mis would be that big and I was really proud to be a part of it. We worked really hard on it. It was one of those great surprises.

Do you prefer movies or Broadway?

HJ: Both, really. Right now I’m loving film more than ever, though. I would say honestly that it took me 10 years to feel as comfortable on film as I am on the stage. I grew up on the stage and I studied classical theatre and I kind of have an innate feeling being on stage. Film is a whole different world. It’s very fractured. You very rarely do more than a few minutes at once, so you’re barely acting for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s a lot of stop and starts and it takes a while to get the feeling for it.


What choreography is harder to nail: a fight scene or a dance number?

HJ: Good question. They’re both the same, actually. The best stuntmen are probably good dancers because it’s not only about strength, but choreography and relaxation as well. There’s certainly more injuries in fighting. During X-Men, I did most of my own fighting scenes, but say there’s a scene where my character has to go up on a wire and go through a wall or my head has to smack on the floor, the stuntman can do those!

When People magazine names you the Sexiest Man Alive, it officially guarantees you 365 days of bragging rights. How did you take advantage of the title? Getting business cards printed up, changing your voicemail message…

HJ: Those were the good old days! (laughs) I pretty much did all those things. I carried magazines everywhere I went, left copies on the kids’ bedside table, you know how it is.

Do you ever get angry calls from Paul Hogan for having usurped him as the sexiest Aussie actor of all time?

HJ: (laughs) I did an event with him not that long ago and he had a great line. It was the night before I was nominated for a Golden Globe and he told me: “Mate, if you win tomorrow night at the Golden Globes, you’re a great actor but I want to put it all in perspective. I won a Golden Globe; if I can win one of those, anyone can!”

Catch Hugh in his latest turn as Wolverine in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which hits theatres on May 23, 2014. For real-time updates from the man himself, follow Jackman on Twitter.

This article, written by Shauna Denis, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 28 No. 3.

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