JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: Did you get stepped on?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: Is that the closest call you’ve had on a movie?
JACKMAN: 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——
PLAYBOY: That’s when you pull him up on his hind legs?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: Nicole Kidman seems a bit delicate for a rough shoot like Australia.
JACKMAN: 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.”
PLAYBOY: 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?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: What do you think of Ledger being touted for a posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight.
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: Why is Hollywood having such a hard time finding the next Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: You mean press-wise?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: 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?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: You are often compared to Clint Eastwood. How does he feel about your being the new him?
JACKMAN: 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?
PLAYBOY: Is it fair to say he didn’t know who you were?
JACKMAN: [Laughs] Absolutely. Funny enough, since that moment he has made about eight films, and I haven’t had one call, either.
PLAYBOY: 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?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: There’s no Magneto, Professor X or Storm this time. What does the prequel Wolverine bring to the table?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: How hard did you train for Wolverine?
JACKMAN: 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.
PLAYBOY: Besides superhero movies becoming cash machines, what about playing Wolverine sparked you to do it a fourth time?
JACKMAN: 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.