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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Hugh Jackman, film's X-factor

The Australian actor, who got his break in `X-Men,' is able to fit into various moviemaking equations: Animation, action, magical thriller and time-travel fantasy.

October 29, 2006|Robin Abcarian

AUSTRALIAN actor Hugh Jackman is a versatile and in-demand leading man these days. He burst to fame as Wolverine in the popular "X-Men" franchise, and in 2003 he earned raves for his Broadway musical turn as Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz." This season, he'll have four projects in theaters: the magic thriller "The Prestige," the time-travel fantasy "The Fountain" and two animated films. In "Flushed Away," he plays a mouse, and in "Happy Feet," a penguin.

What is the difference between playing a mouse and a penguin?

Come on! This is like Brecht and Shakespeare. The differences are huuuuge.

You also once played a koala, I understand.

I worked for the National Parks and Wildlife Foundation. I was Ranger Hugh, and I had a 6-foot koala, her name was Susan.

Have you been performing your whole life?

Yeah. It took me a while to work out that this is a better way to earn money than pumping gas.

What birth order are you?

Five of five. So if you want to get some sort of psychological line into this, I was the youngest.

Always struggling for attention?

Me? What do you mean? Yes. I was.

Do you remember when Jude Law was in every single movie? Now it's you.

It's weird. I remember thinking, what was Jude thinking that he worked so hard. Now, I get it because the movies I have coming out have been 2 1/2 years in the making.

Did any of them overlap?

No. I appear much busier than I am, in truth.

Do you crave the adulation of an audience while onstage?

I don't feel that I come out there going, "Love me, love me." Might be a little bit of that in there. Must be some kind of dysfunction, otherwise I wouldn't be an actor.

Do you think it's dysfunctional to want to be loved?

Well, I think it's completely natural to want to be loved and to love. I think the dysfunction is that desire to always please, that desire to feel validated by it.

Ever had stage fright?

I never had it until I was asked to sing the Australian national anthem at the Melbourne Cricket Ground at a rugby match. It was July 26, 1997. I walked out terrified. As I got introduced to sing, there was this huge boo. This stand in front of me was filled with New Zealanders. All of a sudden, I felt like Henry V. It gave me this courage way beyond what I ever would have had. After doing that, nothing has been that scary to me again.

Here's an ignorant American reporter's question: Is the anthem "God Save the Queen"?

It used to be until about 20 years ago. It's now "Advance Australia Fair." [Singing:] Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

Not "Waltzing Matilda"?

Or that, even though it's a story about a thief who ends up drowning in a pond.

Speaking of Australia, two of your countrymen, Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe, have had highly publicized bouts of bad behavior. Why haven't you?

See, when you're the youngest of five kids, you learn to do all the things that you want to do without really getting into trouble.

Do you worry about your every misstep being magnified?

I certainly don't pick my nose in public anymore.

You haven't been in rehab?

Not yet.

I had to chuckle when I learned that you have a son named Oscar.

My wife wanted the most wacky, out-there names. Like Balthazar. We were driving down from Santa Barbara and my wife went, "Oscar!" And I went, "Oscar, I love it!" That was it. So there was no thought of awards season.

You've just formed a production company. Is this simply another step in the evolution of a successful Hollywood actor?

I always believed that as an artist, you need to be proactive and not a victim. Waiting by the phone seemed like being a victim. I don't care if you are Brad Pitt or the kid from drama school. Waiting by the phone is not a good place to be.

-- Robin Abcarian

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