At a time when Hollywood is trying to broaden the list of stars who can open big-budget films, 20th Century Fox is betting heavily on Hugh Jackman. He stars alongside Nicole Kidman in Australia, a Baz Luhrmann–directed film that is not only the biggest movie ever shot in Jackman’s native country but also the most ambitious period romance since Titanic.
Jackman plays a cattle driver pursuing a privileged widow who needs him to move cattle across the wide-open acreage of Australia’s north country. At stake is a ranch left to her after the abrupt death of her husband. Though steeped in Aussie history—from the disastrous World War I battles that decimated the country’s youth to the forced relocation of half-caste aboriginals to a Japanese attack in World War II—Australia is the type of old-fashioned epic studios rarely produce anymore.
Not that Jackman is any stranger to blockbusters. He returns in May with X-Men Origins: Wolverine as the growling, steel-taloned title character in a prequel that will be one of the summer’s major releases and, Jackman hopes, the start of a new franchise in which he calls the shots as producer.
Jackman is already the showbiz equivalent of the five-tool baseball player. He plays drama, comedy and action like Will Smith, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, and he has turned in a Tony Award-winning performance as the singing and dancing gay Australian showman Peter Allen, in The Boy From Oz. Though Jackman failed when he produced CBS’s musical TV series Viva Laughlin, he’s producing a remake of Carousel and will likely next star on Broadway in Houdini, a high-profile musical written by Spy magazine founder Kurt Andersen and scored by Danny Elfman, the Oingo Boingo frontman turned composer for Tim Burton films.
“Hugh is a true musical star on Broadway, but what Nicole needed was a real man tall enough to sweep her up in his arms, throw her on the bed and ravish her,” said Luhrmann. “I can’t think of another actor, ever, as versatile.”
The 40-year-old Sydney-born Jackman is the youngest of five children of Chris Jackman and Grace Watson. When Jackman was eight, his mother abruptly returned to England, leaving the children to be raised by their dad, an accountant for Price Waterhouse. A jock who studied journalism in college, Jackman didn’t realize his song-and-dance gifts until his 20s. He used $3,500 left to him in his grandmother’s will to enroll in the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth.
Jackman soon began working in local film and TV roles. Cast as a tough prisoner in the Aussie TV series Correlli, Jackman fell for his on-screen love interest, Deborra-Lee Furness. They married in 1996 and have adopted two children, Oscar and Ava.
Jackman became a major player at the age of 30 with his first Hollywood role, Wolverine in X-Men. When X-Men (became one of the first superhero films to reach blockbuster status, Jackman followed with two sequels and starring roles in Swordfish, Kate & Leopold, Van Helsing, The Fountain and The Prestige.
Playboy sent Michael Fleming, who most recently interviewed Matthew McConaughey, to catch up with Jackman. Fleming reports, “Over thick steaks in a favorite Jackman haunt that overlooks surfers hanging 10 at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, Jackman revealed himself to be a terrific storyteller, as accommodating as people say he is on movie sets. Locals claim Jackman is already the most popular homegrown movie star, but if Australia and Wolverine score, he’s positioned to become something Hollywood finds in short supply: a real leading man.”
You straddle a line between action hero and Tony-winning star of stage musicals. Why is the hetero male of the species so afraid to dance or sing?
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in Australia. In England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales it’s cool to go to a rugby or soccer match and just sing out. Not in Australia. I remember wondering, Why are we so inhibited? Why, when all the girls are in the middle of the dance floor, are all the blokes standing there, holding their beer and, maybe, rocking a little bit.
How much of a ribbing did you take when you began dancing?
When I was 12, after a school concert a teacher said, “Hugh, you’ve actually got some dancing ability. You should get some lessons.” I came home and told my dad, who said, “Sure, no problem.” My brother overheard and said, “Oh, you bloody poof.” I never went. He apologized to me later when we went to see a show together. He said, “Oh man, all those years I could have been cleaning up with women.” But I was a total chickenshit. I was the jock. It makes me incredibly sad. To this day I don’t consider myself a dancer because I missed those vital years. My brother, at the age of 33, gave up being a sports journalist to do musical theater.
Have Dancing With the Stars and American Idol made the world safe for singing and dancing?
I’ve seen only a few episodes of Dancing With the Stars, but it looks great. Still, I don’t see a lot of guys lining up, so it hasn’t made a dent. I love watching American Idol because I’m an actor who fell into singing, and it terrifies me and puts me totally on the contestants’ side. Singing has always had a pull for macho guys because of the rebellious rock-and-roller. But you go to Cuba or Argentina and watch the way men dance. It’s incredibly heterosexual, and everybody does it. You see short, older, fatter guys with the hottest women because they’re such great dancers. The incredibly stupid part is, guys who dance in clubs pick up more girls. How cool did Christopher Walken look dancing in that Fatboy Slim video? When Lady Di went to America for the first time at the height of her fame and they asked what she wanted to do the most, she said, “I want to dance with John Travolta.” If that wasn’t a signal for every red-blooded male out there.….
When you’re singing and dancing onstage, what kinds of things go wrong?
Something happened in one of the first performances of The Boy From Oz. Peter Allen was famous for dancing on top of the piano. He treated it like the vault in gymnastics—jumped all over it. I’d dive across the top of this long grand piano, finishing in a position where I’d be like lying across it, going ta-dah! We’d been doing it for a month, and one night as I slid across, I knew I was going too fast. It was the slipperiest surface ever, and I went straight on the floor, literally front and center. I got up, laughing hysterically. The audience loved it. I stopped the band and said, in character, “Okay, I don’t know what they’re mixing with the cleaning fluid. Jason, get out here!” Jason was from the stage crew, and he was terrified. I said, “Jason, mate, you’re cute, but listen, I almost broke a bone. What did you clean this with?” He said, “I cleaned it with water,” and I said, “Bullshit, show me.” I made him take off his little tool belt and take a run at it. He went right off the piano, and the audience went nuts. That was the beginning for me, as Peter Allen, of breaking the fourth wall with the audience. I built it into the show and pulled Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean Combs, Eric Clapton and Steven Spielberg up onstage.
Are you always able to cover the mistakes?
No. In London I did Oklahoma! It has a dream ballet in which the girl falls asleep dreaming of dancing, and I had a dance number with a ballerina. I was terrified of it. On the first night, Mary Rodgers and all the people from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization were there. This girl was an unbelievable dancer, and I was lifting her all around. At the end of the number is this very complicated lift in which I twist her and she finishes like a swan, up on my shoulder. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I lifted her straight over my back and she landed hard. She was wearing a tutu, and her legs were in the air—not a good look for even the most graceful ballerina. Of course, my mike was on, and I went, “Oh shit, sorry,” and that boomed out.
Didn’t you wet your pants once during a musical number?
Oh God, yeah. When I was Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, I started getting headaches every day. I went to a specialist who said, “Mate, you’re dehydrated. Drink two liters of water.” I drank three. I’d just gone to the bathroom, but waiting in the wings, I was like, Bloody hell, I need to go again. I thought, I’ll be all right. The number featured Belle and me; I chased her around the stage, lifting her up, dragging her, singing the whole time. Then I realized, No way. I was sucking in air, trying to sing and dance. I picked her up, and I realized I peed my pants a little. The very last note is a big-time F-sharp, front and center. You have to release certain muscles to hit it, the same ones that allow you to hold on when you have to go to the bathroom. I thought, Shit, if I sing this note, I’m going to pee my pants; if I don’t, I’m going to be humiliated. The actor in me took over.
How noticeable was it?
I was singing, thinking, Wow, I’m peeing my pants. When I finished, I immediately turned upstage, looked down and couldn’t see anything. I thought, These red tights must be waterproof. I was laughing as if I had gotten away with it. But the audience was looking at me funny. It had seeped through, and my pants were completely wet. The audience could see it.
Twentieth Century Fox had a rough summer in 2008, and it desperately needs a hit. Australia and next summer’s Wolverine will in large part determine if the studio regains its mojo. Has fellow Aussie and studio head Rupert Murdoch made you feel the pressure?
Rupert and I see each other a fair bit, and he always asks me how it is. I love that about him. Twentieth Century Fox is one part of his massive business, but he’s still that kid who wants the inside skinny. Australia is a risky proposition, but it’s important to him beyond the numbers.
Movies like this are not made very often. The last successful one was Titanic. There hasn’t been anything as massive in the old-school-epic genre, but for Rupert the stakes are higher. He’s a proud Australian who has a movie called Australia. He has a cattle farm he goes to all the time.
Baz Luhrmann said you were nearly stampeded by a herd of horses during the filming. How dangerous was it?
It was terrifying. We had 200 brumbies, real wild horses our horse guys had rounded up—crazy horses that had never had a saddle on them. I was on a trained horse, but they have a pack mentality, and even trained ones get drunk with freedom when they run with their mates. So I was absolutely flying during this scene in which the horses stampeded. Some strings were supposed to guide the horses into a corral. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some horses break away. About 100 were coming right at me. You know the theory that horses don’t step on people in a stampede? It’s not true.
Did you get stepped on?
Almost. The horse was rearing up, scared shitless like me. I thought, We’re going over and we’re getting trampled. I closed my eyes, hunkered down and pulled him with all my might to face the oncoming horses. Because of that, they went around us. Then I jumped off the horse because I could feel he wanted to go with the crowd, and he did. A few years of my life flashed before my eyes.
Is that the closest call you’ve had on a movie?
I’ve been very lucky not to have any major injuries, but I came off the horse a lot on this one. The first time I learned how to rear the horse——
That’s when you pull him up on his hind legs?
Uh-huh. It’s not that difficult, but they came out with a motorcycle helmet and a full motorcycle jacket. I was in an enclosed yard with soft sand, and I’d been riding a long time. I said, “Guys, this is a little humiliating.” They said, “Just wear it. You never know. It’s an insurance thing.” First time I reared the horse, he snapped his head back so fast and hard that his spine and neck caught me right on the helmet and knocked me clear off. On video it looks as if I’m being yanked off by a cable. I landed on my back; I was seeing stars. If I hadn’t had that ridiculous motorbike helmet on, I would’ve cracked my head open. There’s a rule in riding that you have to buy a bottle of whiskey for everyone on the team if you get thrown off your horse, unless you can say “Just taking a piss” before you hit the ground. I was at least five cases of whiskey in before I really got it.
Nicole Kidman seems a bit delicate for a rough shoot like Australia.
Oh no, no, no. You’re right that Nicole’s incredibly glamorous. I’ve known her for a long time. Even at casual barbecues she always looks like a million bucks and has a great sense of glamour. But Nicole is also an incredibly tough girl who wants to do every stunt. Her first day out she was wearing a three-piece woolen suit. It was 125 degrees, and we were standing in the sun in the middle of the day for a long time. I rode up, looked over and said, “Are you okay?” and she went, “Yep, fine.” I said, “If you weren’t okay, would you tell me?” and she said, “Nope.” She doesn’t play that “Oh, poor me, I’m just a girl.”
Australia’s a hatchery for movie stars. Besides you and Kidman there’s Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger. Is there a shared quality?
I’m always amazed at how different we all are. I would add Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Guy Pearce and Eric Bana to that list. It’s hard to put us all in the same basket, but a couple of things may set Australians apart on the whole. We like to take risks. In sports, if you win but play it safe, Australians will go for the other team. Our teams are built on offense because attacking is more exciting than defending. You look at Cate Blanchett taking on Katharine Hepburn in a Martin Scorsese film or what Nicole and Russell and the others do—it’s all about risks. We’re also very well trained by the time we hit America. We’ve had a few films under our belts and made our mistakes. I was 30 before I made my mark. When you start out famous in America, you don’t have that luxury.
What do you think of Ledger being touted for a posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight.
I’ve been working so much I haven’t seen it yet, but he was a phenomenal actor who made things look frighteningly easy. At his daughter’s first birthday party I had a great conversation with him that I found really inspiring. He hadn’t worked in 18 months but said he was playing the Joker and was nervous. I didn’t blame him, following Jack Nicholson. When I asked if he was antsy about not working, he said, “It’s the opposite for me. I don’t want to go to work until I feel I can’t wait to wake up and get to do my job.” He was totally driven by the creative spirit, a character actor who happened to be unbelievably good-looking and have some leading-man qualities.
Why is Hollywood having such a hard time finding the next Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford?
Will Smith is as big as Harrison ever was. He’s bold and takes on all different things, and then he releases a hip-hop album. People I know who’ve worked with him say if he has to do a presentation, he works so hard to make the work look invisible. Brad Pitt has done pretty damn well. It is harder now than when studios built stars and protected them. Actors now have freedom and quite often shoot themselves in the foot. The media have a more voracious desire to know everything, and maybe that removes some of the mystery. Even Harrison hardly did anything at the top of his career.
You mean press-wise?
Yes, press-wise. When Will does, he knows what he’s doing, knows why he’s doing it and is prepared. That’s my approach. At the end of the day you’re an entertainer. You may divert into politics or whatever your personal conviction is, but you shouldn’t stray far from the elemental factor that people want you to entertain them. No matter how much you make, you’re still the court jester.
Cruise was on top for 20 years until his career suffered from proselytizing about Scientology. Would you censor yourself if honesty meant harming your career?
Look, I told you before that I pissed my pants. I’m not a particularly private person, probably to my detriment. I’ve been told by PR people, “Oh man, you’re too open. You’re never going to be a movie star.” I don’t want to live my life that way. My job is to pretend to be someone else, but I don’t have to do that outside my job.
You are often compared to Clint Eastwood. How does he feel about your being the new him?
I did Swordfish for Warner Bros., and Clint’s a Warner guy. We went to ShoWest, the Comic-Con for exhibitors, in Vegas. I was not a star at that point. We were lining up backstage, and in front of me was Sylvester Stallone. I was like, Holy shit, Rocky’s in front of me. I look behind, and there was Clint Eastwood. My heart really dropped. I thought, What do I say? This is the man, Dirty Harry! And he’s really tall! So I turned and said, “Hi, Clint, my name’s Hugh,” and we shook hands. And then I said, “Listen, mate, I’m not sure if you’ve seen X-Men, but people who have say I look a bit like you.” Of course, what could he say to that, anyway—some schmuck in front of him saying, “I look like you”? So he said, “You’re holding up the line, kid.” I turned around: Stallone had already gone onstage, and I was just holding up the line. I was humiliated, but later I thought, Did he deliver a great line or what?
Is it fair to say he didn’t know who you were?
[Laughs] Absolutely. Funny enough, since that moment he has made about eight films, and I haven’t had one call, either.
You surprised the Comic-Con crowd in July by appearing with Wolverine footage. What’s it like courting a convention of people dressed like Storm Troopers and X-Men?
It’s as close as a film actor will ever come to feeling like a rock star. You walk out on that stage before 7,000 amped people, and the energy’s overwhelming. Back in 2000, people high up in the industry told me to book another job before X-Men came out and ruined my career. It was my first Hollywood film. I owe my career to that crowd. In July they didn’t know I had come, and it was a risk to show footage because we had just wrapped and they dissect everything.
There’s no Magneto, Professor X or Storm this time. What does the prequel Wolverine bring to the table?
As a producer I’m much more involved, and my mantra is “Exceed expectations.” We take the character back to his roots, make him more of a badass. I got in better shape than ever. I wanted Wolverine to be lean, not pretty—the way De Niro is in Cape Fear. You remember when you saw him in that convertible, smoking cigars and then without his shirt, doing chin-ups, with those tattoos. You were like, Oh shit, I’m scared as hell of this guy. That’s what I wanted.
How hard did you train for Wolverine?
I beat my record on the bench, which is about 300 pounds. I was eating a lot of protein, thinking, What is this doing to my heart? I added an extra 1,000 calories a day to my diet, a lot of meat. I ate very bland food: beans, chicken, steamed brown rice, steamed vegetables. And then no rice. The food kept coming every two hours, and I felt stuffed and almost depressed from eating. But when I popped, my energy level went through the roof. I’ll never have Schwarzenegger’s massive chest, but Wolverine’s look is lean, veiny.
Besides superhero movies becoming cash machines, what about playing Wolverine sparked you to do it a fourth time?
He’s cool. He’s his own man in that Clint Eastwood-Mel Gibson way. As dark as it gets this time, he’s still fun. I wanted the film to be more violent so you feel the hits, like in The Bourne Ultimatum, and think, That actor actually caught one right there. Liev Schreiber plays Wolverine’s archenemy, Sabretooth. Liev’s a physical guy who could have played pro football. We worked out together and became competitive on everything down to diet. We just punched the shit out of each other.
You met your wife when the two of you starred on a TV prison drama and shared steamy scenes. Do you recall when life imitated art?
Oh yeah. Well, I developed a crush on her. I thought, Oh, this is embarrassing. My first job, she was the leading lady—what a cliché. Deb was a big star, one of those larger-than-life people, and everyone on the set was in love with her. So I avoided her for a week, trying to get past it, and then I invited her and a few cast members to a dinner party. Mick Jagger was in town, and Deb always has a mobile phone right there with her, and it’s always on. The phone rang, and it was a friend of ours calling from the back of a limo with Mick. “We’re right outside your house, and Mick says let’s party.” She said, “Hang on a sec,” and she told me. I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan, and Mick Jagger’s outside my house. I said, “You’ve got to go, now.” She said, “Tell Mick I’m having dinner with Hugh Jackman,” and she put down the phone. Not long after I confessed my crush, she told me she had a crush on me, and we were making out in my kitchen.
What’s the most aggressive come-on you’ve gotten from a woman?
I’ve had some pretty full-on ones. Once during The Boy From Oz a woman ran down to the front of the stage while I was doing the show. She said, “Hugh, I’ve always wanted to do this,” and lifted her top. She had these massive tits. I just pissed myself laughing and said, “I’m glad you got that off your chest.” I’ve had the usual weird things—underwear, all kinds of stuff.
How awkward was it to show passion in love scenes with Nicole Kidman, your wife’s ex-roommate and one of her best friends? Deb’s thing is, “I’m fine with it, but don’t shove it in my face.” Nicole’s her mate, so that was no problem. Deb did surprise me by turning up on the set of Swordfish as I was filming a scene in which I have a gun to my head, I’m getting a blow job under the table, and I’m trying to crack a code on a computer. This wasn’t an easy scene to act, with an actress under the table, pretending to give me a blow job while I’ve got dialogue. To make it seem real, I said to the girl, “When you’re under there, occasionally pinch me on the inner thigh, really pinch me, and that will kind of remind me what’s happening while I’m concentrating on the keyboard.” It looked real. Then Deb walked in, unbeknownst to me, during my close-up. She was watching the monitor and the actress underneath pinching my leg. She came straight up on set, and the actress was totally red. She said, “Oh hi, I’m Deborra-Lee, Hugh’s wife, and I believe you’re giving my husband a blow job.” The girl said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Deb went, “Oh, relax. You’re getting paid for it. Enjoy it.” [laughs] That’s Deb.
That film is also memorable for Halle Berry’s first topless scene. She’s your friend, but when your job is basically to stare at the bare breasts of one of the world’s most beautiful women, what goes through your mind?
That I’m acting and I’m there just for Halle. She struggled a bit because it was her first time. The first two days were too cold, but she walked around topless the whole time. Halle is an incredibly beautiful woman, but in Australia the leap from a bikini to topless isn’t as huge as it is in America.
Australia was originally going to star Russell Crowe, The Fountain was supposed to have Brad Pitt, and in X-Men Wolverine was first promised to Dougray Scott. What’s your philosophy on jumping on a script that has someone else’s fingerprints on it?
No problem at all. That’s like saying I’ll never do Hamlet because Gielgud did it 500 times. When people watch the movie, it’s your role. Maybe I’m arrogant, but I can’t audition unless I feel I’m the right person for the part. I don’t compare myself to anyone else. Russell would have been different in Australia. Brad would have been different in The Fountain. I don’t mind coming off the bench to pinch-hit.
X-Men resonated with audiences for its undercurrent of alienation. When in your own life did you most feel as if you didn’t fit in?
Around the age of 10 or so, after my mom left. My dad was bringing us up, but he had to travel, and we were sent off to different friends’ homes. It was very unusual for the mother to leave, and I remember knowing people were looking at me differently. I wished I came from a normal family. I hated feeling that we were the weird ones on the block.
The press has seized on your mother’s decision to move back to England, leaving your dad to raise five kids. How much did that media attention hurt your relationship with her?
Mom and I got through that hard time and had resolved things prior to that. I’ve always been close with her, which some people found hard to understand. I made a couple of mistakes early on, speaking a little too openly. We’ve made peace with each other.
How long did it take for you to come to grips with her exit?
Less time than any of my siblings. I had my moments, though. On some level I understood she was not in a great way at that time, and I wasn’t nearly as angry as you may imagine. But it was still a big tumultuous change. What my father pulled off was unbelievable—raising five kids pretty much on his own.
How did this affect your ability to trust women?
It didn’t affect me that way. One way it did was, when you do a film and it comes to the end, some people find it hard to finish and let go. Not me. I move right on to the next thing, and that’s probably a defense from when my mum came to visit and dropped in and out of my life. I had to learn to enjoy her when she was there and get used to the fact that it wasn’t permanent. It’s ultimately not such a bad quality to have, because nothing really is permanent, is it?
When were things at their worst?
No doubt it was at the age of 12 or 13, when my dad and mum tried to reconcile. This thing I hoped would happen was here. It lasted about three weeks, and then it was finished. I remember my disillusionment with that moment—being a teenager and pissed off at the world. That was a really tough time for me, and I got in some trouble at school.
How did this incident factor into the way you handle your marriage, your children and film shoots?
My family’s always with me. Deb and I are never apart for more than two weeks. It was her idea, from being in the business and seeing enough relationships go under. You get used to living apart, which is fine when things are going well. But there’s struggle in every marriage, and that’s when you need to be together, forced to work it out. Otherwise cracks develop. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes it wander.
Especially when you’re on a movie set?
You’re incredibly and unusually close with people there. But my desire is to be around my kids as much as I can and to be as regular as I can within our industry. Maybe that’s a result of what I went through. I also remember the resolve I felt when I got married. It was never, Oh, let’s see how this marriage goes. We were a lot more steely-eyed about things than most. I’d seen and experienced the alternative firsthand, and it’s not fun. I’m not an advocate of loveless marriages, of hanging in for the sake of the kids. But I am very blessed in my relationship with Deb, being madly in love and feeling it get better. We work to keep it that way.
You’ve adopted two children, and your wife has become active in eliminating the red tape that comes with adopting kids in Australia. How did all this happen?
We always wanted to adopt, but first we wanted to have two kids biologically. We tried for a long time, and it didn’t happen. That was difficult, unexpected. I got married at 26, and before that it had been all about not getting pregnant. My wife is very headstrong; she’d gotten pretty much everything she wanted in life—except this. I remember going to our doctor, who gave us the figures about childbirth through in vitro fertilization. It was 14 percent each time you have a go. I hope Deb doesn’t mind my saying, but that was a tough, tough time. Physically, you go through a lot with IVF. I was giving Deb injections every day, and hormonally she was all over the place. There’s anxiety. Your mind centers on when you’re going to do it. You become obsessive. Then we had two miscarriages. That was very hard. Deb was determined to do another round of IVF, but I just said, “Enough. Let’s take a break and investigate adoption.” The moment the adoption process became real, all the hurt and desires about giving birth began to fade and were gone the moment Oscar was born. Ava was adopted too.
What did you think of the critical reaction to Angelina Jolie and Madonna when they adopted children from third-world countries?
It’s totally unreasonable. Anyone who has kids knows it’s a hell of a lot of work and no publicity stunt. No doubt it comes from a desire that should be praised, not criticized. These were places and situations that seemed hopeless for the children, and here was an opportunity. I say, good for them.
What is your opinion of celebrities selling baby pictures to the highest-bidding magazine? Would you?
I don’t have that kind of heat on me, so luckily I’ve never had to entertain the idea. As a parent you try to protect your kid, but obviously you either let them take photos or there will be a constant scrum around the kid. If money’s going to be made off your kid, giving it to a good cause seems the least of all evils.
Do you understand the public fixation with reading about turbulence in celebrities’ private lives or with paparazzi shots of them in unglamorous moments?
I’ve heard people complain that being asked what time they eat breakfast is an invasion of privacy, but people on-screen are put on a pedestal, and the public wants to know, How can I be like that? It’s a mixed-up, complex relationship, but I totally get it. No one dives into acting without realizing, Hey, if I get what I wish for, if I’m successful, I’ll have to deal with this.
How do you feel when you’re at the beach with your family and private moments are being photographed by some guy hiding behind a tree?
It’s a relatively minor distraction. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I am protective of my family, though, and I want my kids to have their shot at a private life. I’ll say to the photographers, “I get it. I’m not going to get in your way. Just do me a favor and don’t let my kids know you’re photographing them. I don’t want them to be self-conscious on the beach. They’re too young; they shouldn’t know.” And they listen. They’ll sit back behind a tree. I see them, but the kids have no idea. I don’t want to retreat from life. I don’t want my children to see me become a recluse or feel there’s anything to be ashamed of. I have personal relationships, feelings and experiences I won’t share, but generally there’s not a lot about my life I wouldn’t tell you.
You once studied to be a journalist. Do you consider what the tabloids do to be journalism?
I don’t think it’s what any of those journalists thought they would be when they grew up. We had a compulsory class called Ethics in Journalism. I was very idealistic: I thought I’d be doing great investigative journalism, touring the world, telling amazing stories. The instructor said, “Here’s the reality. First three or four years, you’re doing death knocks, chasing celebrities. Someone dies; you interview their parents and ask for a picture.” It was quite disillusioning, but it has given me a sense of sympathy. It’s fairly easy to pick up on whether it’s a genuine question from a journalist or an obviously ridiculous personal question they’ve been forced to ask. I’ll usually take pity on them, give them something and not embarrass them.
Look at all the trouble young celebs like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Shia LaBeouf are in. How would you have handled fame at that age?
Not until 25 did I feel any real confidence in handling myself like a human being. At 21, 22, it was “Woo-hoo!” I was really reactive. How would I have handled wealth, unlimited opportunities or the single life? One of my great blessings is I was happily married when I became famous. It must be incredibly hard to meet a partner and be open and trusting. I’m completely loved and accepted for who I am. I had that before anything else. When you’re searching for that after you’re famous, where’s the reality check? Is she here for me or for the lifestyle, the fame, the success? Success and power are great aphrodisiacs.
What’s the biggest trouble you remember getting into at that age?
[Laughs] Oh, I remember a few bar fights. Like when I was 18, in London, I met up with a few Aussies, and I was so drunk and singing Australian songs obnoxiously. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and clocked me across the face, laying me out. I don’t know how long I was unconscious. All I remember is getting up and smelling blood. Today that would be on someone’s cell phone, right? I was by no means an out-of-control youth, but we used to do nutty things. There’s a road near here, and I used to jump on top of my mate’s car, and we’d drive about 100 miles an hour. Roof riding, we called it. Now? I’d be a disgrace, setting a bad example for youngsters.
Hugh Hefner recently mentioned you as a candidate to play him in a movie. What about his story resonates with you?
I think Hef is an embodiment of the male American dream. He pushed that in the 1950s and said, “Come on, this is what you really want. Let’s be honest. I’m living what you really want.” If I read the script right, he was a dreamer and not particularly the ladies’ man as a teenager. Hef became an alter ego, who he wanted to be. All of us have those dreams, but few of us even attempt to achieve them. I admire his ambition, his courage in not caring what anybody thought and just doing what he thought would make him happiest. He was a real fighter who prevailed. He also has the ability to kind of laugh at himself, which from the Australian point of view is probably the most important thing.