"Did you all get a copy of the magazine?" Hugh Jackman jokes when he enters the room. People recently declared him this year's "Sexiest Man Alive."
As a matter of fact, I did get a copy. Fox was handing them out like door prizes at the press day for director Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited follow-up to Moulin Rouge, Australia, which co-stars Jackman and Nicole Kidman as well as a whole host of legendary Aussie actors. The tonally uneven, at times over-indulgent, always-lush love song to the titular country's spirit, national identity, and infamous outback will almost certainly divide audiences as surely as it's received pretty universal condemnation from critics. But there's something inviting and even engaging about much of the fairy tale's over-the-top sincerity that I suspect will resonate with folks looking for the next Titanic. I sat down across from Jackman last week to discuss what went into making the movie as well as, you know, being sexier than me this year and, well, every other year we've both walked the same earth.
Cole Haddon: How hard did you campaign to become the "Sexiest Man Alive?"
Hugh Jackman: [Laughs.] We ran a very strong campaign. I'm not proud of it. I can admit it now. We're the first to run a negative campaign [to win this] and we've spent years bringing Clooney, Damon, Pitt, and McConaughey all down to size, and I was prepared to do absolutely anything.
CH: Being such a sexy bastard, did Baz want your character, the Drover, to be shirtless in even more of the movie than you already are?
HJ: There's a kind of great moment when we were shooting the "shower scene," as it's called now, "The Outback Shower." As you know from seeing the movie, Baz was going for many styles and in a way a movie that is a feast -- that has high comedy, it has high tragedy, it has romance, swashbuckling moments. It has action and it has adventure. It has everything. And so when we were shooting that scene [in which I soap myself up and slowly pour water over myself], I remember saying to Baz, I said, "Baz, are you sure this is not too much? Are they going to laugh in the right way? They're going to think I'm a wanker here." And he says, "If we're strong and we really commit to the moment, the comedy of it will rise." There were a couple members of the crew who took their shirts off after the first little break, one of which oiled himself up a little bit. So trust me, I got a lot of hell about that scene when we were down there.
CH: It would've probably been a lot cooler if you got to shoot the whole movie without a shirt. The Northern Territory, especially the drier bush where Nicole's character's cattle station is located, can feel like being trapped under a tanning lamp.
HJ: I remember the very first scene we shot ... was a scene, the triumphant return, when we bring the cattle to Darwin, so it was the end of the "drove" (Aussie-to-English translation: "cattle drive"). And I had on what's called a "dry as a bone," which is an all-weather coat. But inside this coat -- it goes down to like your knees -- is a lining, a thick padded lining. I had a woolen shirt on and leather pants, and I almost fainted that Thursday of filming. Poor CM [producer and costume designer, Catherine Martin], who had obviously designed for me to be wearing this coat because we're shooting the end of it and I was meant to be wearing it then for the rest of the movie, the whole drove. She beautifully, thank goodness [she] did, decided to adjust my wardrobe for the rest of it.
[To be fair, though, me almost fainting] was a little bit of my pride and fault ... because it was the first day on the horse and we're shooting out in Bowen and trust me, we're shooting in a place where it's the real deal out there. As an actor, you don't want to be pouncing about with the umbrella above your head and doing this "pounding my Evian" and all of this sort of thing. So I sat on the horse and the first AD said, "Baz will be ready in about five minutes. [Do you want to get down?]" I said, "No, man, I'm fine. I'll stay on the horse." A half-hour later, "Listen, it might be another five." "No, no problem." After that half an hour, I felt this hand on my back and I said, "What are you doing, mate? I'm fine." And he says, "No, you're not. You're at a 45-degree angle to the horse." [At that point, I finally] said, "Yeah, I might need 10 minutes. CM, can I talk to you about this coat?"
CH: Talk about your horse training for this. Too often, actors can't pull off being a horseman, especially a bush horseman, like, say, Tom Burlinson played in The Man from Snowy River. You, however, looked exactly like what I imagined when I read Banjo Patterson's poems like Snow River and Clancy of the Overflow? [Note: Patterson's poetry so perfectly describes the hardy life of Australia's early bush settlers that his "Waltzing Matilda" has become the country's unofficial national anthem].
HJ: Baz and I talked about the horse riding early on. There were some descriptions in the script of the horse riding. I remember one, it was early on: "Drover thunders across the outback chasing a beast scrub bull. He catches up with the scrub bull, leaps off his horse, grabs the beast by the tail, wrestles it to the ground, pulls out his knife and slashes its balls off," or something like that. At which point I thought, "I've gotta get some lessons here."
CH: You weren't much of a rider beforehand?
HJ: Actors, they lie about horses. That's the old joke. "Can you ride a horse?" "Sure, absolutely, since I was a kid." But this was something where the character's name was "The Drover," which, if the movie were made here, it'd be like calling someone "The Cowboy." So they're defined by where they are and what [they] do, this character [is] in particular. And there's something really, for me, when I watch a great rider, when I watch a great skier, there's something beautiful about watching them. Their comfort and their ease and their feeling that they've been on that horse all their life. And in a way, they're more themselves, more at home on that horse than anywhere else. So the key that Baz and I talked about was time in the saddle.
CH: Finally, it's a little off subject, but can we talk about another movie you recently shot Down Under? How was it doing Wolverine with director Gavin Hood and, of course, without the other X-Men to back you up?
HJ: I'll probably be talking to you ... about it in a few months so I won't go on, but it was fantastic. Gavin is a great director, very strong, and has a great understanding of journeys and arcs of characters. These movies, I think, live or fail by their attention to the characters in the story. All the other stuff, all those powers and all that stuff which is terrific, is not at the heart of it. It's themes and it's characters and the struggles: that's the heart of them. [Grins.] I did miss Halle Berry, though.