Hugh Jackman is an acclaimed actor of stage and screen, has won many awards, and been voted “Sexiest Man Alive” in popularity polls. He is often put forward as a shining example of the nice ordinary family man – the type who could be welcoming you to the neighbourhood by putting on a barbie and offering you free tickets to the footy, except he can’t because he happens to be a big movie star. While women vote him as their preferred choice of dream hunk, Australian men rate him as the celebrity who best embodies the spirit of the modern Aussie bloke.
Yet if things had gone just a little differently, Hugh Jackman might have been a dancer instead of an actor, and wouldn’t have been an Australian either. (I guess it’s still possible he might have been sexy though). Hugh’s parents were English emigrants, and he was only their second child to be born in Australia. His parents divorced when he was eight, and his mother returned to England, while he and his siblings remained in Sydney with their dad.
After a teacher praised his dancing skills and suggested he undergo professional training, he was all set to become a dancer, until his older brother told him that was for “poofs”. Hugh describes himself as the “ten minute Billy Elliot“, because this childish comment convinced him to drop the idea of dance study for fear of his manliness being eroded.
His brother apologised for his comment, and as soon as he did, Hugh enrolled in tap class – however, by that time he was already grown up, and it was sadly far too late for him to become a professional dancer. (Much later, he got to dance his heart out in the stage musical, The Boy From Oz, playing the role of, in some bizarre fulfilment of his brother’s taunt, the gay Australian composer, Peter Allen).
Hugh enjoyed drama so much at university that he ended up studying acting in Sydney and Perth, even though he considers himself to have been the “dunce of the class”. Yet his period of unemployment as an actor lasted exactly thirteen minutes, as he was offered a lead role in TV prison drama Corelli on the night of his graduation ceremony. Corelli was a huge flop, but Hugh met actress Deborra-Lee Furness on the show, and two years later they were married, in 1996.
Hugh personally designed Deborra-Lee’s engagement ring, and their wedding rings had the Sankrit inscription Om paramar mainamar, meaning “We dedicate our union to a higher source”. Hugh has been a member of The School of Practical Philosophy since his student days; this organisation teaches a blend of Eastern and Western thought and spirituality, and Hugh practices yoga and meditation.
Hugh’s acting career went from strength to strength, as he worked on stage, film and television. He became known outside Australia in 1998 when he played the lead role in Oklahoma! in London’s West End, earning an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. His Hollywood break came the following year, when he was offered the role of Wolverine in the X-Men movie. Deborra-Lee advised him not to take this role; she is now extremely glad that he ignored her suggestion.
Successful acting career? Check. Beautiful wife? Check. Happy marriage? Check. Meaning of life? Check. Everything was going brilliantly for Hugh and Deborra-Lee, except for their dreams of parenthood.
They had originally planned to have children naturally, and then adopt, but it turned out that they needed IVF, and then Deborra-Lee suffered two miscarriages. Hugh and Deborra-Lee tried to adopt, but found the process so fraught with difficulty that they moved to the United States in order to have children. Deborra-Lee is still very critical of how strict the adoption laws are in Australia.
They adopted a boy in 2000, who they named Oscar Maxmilian, and in 2005 adopted a girl who they named Ava Elliot. They had always planned on having a large family, but the reality of them both being busy and travelling a lot meant that it wasn’t practical. If you’ve ever taken a baby and a toddler on a plane, you would understand why the idea of adding several more kids to the mix didn’t seem like a good one – Hugh still remembers carrying a restless Oscar up and down the aisle of a plane “about 150 times“. He says the flight attendants thought it was sweet for the first 50 times. Oscar and Ava are both experienced travellers now.
Hugh says of being a father: “The love for your children is so powerful. It’s different from the love for your partner. You can’t believe you have that capacity – you’d do anything for them and not even think about it … Kids are the greatest joy. No matter what’s going on in the day, you can walk in that front door and it all goes away.”
Oscar and Ava are very popular names, and were already Top 100 in Hugh’s native New South Wales the years the children were adopted. There are lots of kids with these names, and I’m sure Hugh and Deborra-Lee chose them because they, like hundreds of other parents, just loved them.
However, I can’t helping feeling that they seem to have a Hollywood flavour to them. Is it just me, or does it seem peculiarly apt that a movie star would have a son named Oscar? Especially one who has hosted the Oscars? (Several years after Oscar was born). Ava of course is best known as the name of Hollywood screen legend Ava Gardner; I don’t know whether her middle name is in any way a nod towards the Billy Elliot that the young Hugh Jackman wished to be.
(Photo of the Jackman family visiting Disneyland from The Daily Telegraph, April 24 2009)