Hugh Jackman was more than eager to get into the ring with Real Steel, a film he felt would appeal to families, adults, kids and everyone in between.
When we met Jackman, he was his usual affable self, generous and gracious - as well as someone who keenly understood that stardom, which arrived later in his career than most, is something to be treasured.
Jackman talked with Movie Fanatic about the intricacies of Real Steel (click here for the Real Steel trailer) as well as some of his other high profile roles that will be filming in the next 12 months: Wolverine and Les Miserables with Russell Crowe.
Movie Fanatic: Anthony Mackie’s character in Real Steel calls you a…
Hugh Jackman: Bad bet.
Movie Fanatic: Exactly. Was there any time in your own life that you felt like a bad bet?
Hugh Jackman: I think when I started acting, I felt like a really bad bet. I was someone who acted all the time – in school plays, musical societies. Then I thought I wanted to do some acting classes. I majored in journalism, I had a degree and I was like, “I don’t know if I’m up for it.” So, I went and did some classes and I got into this one year course, which was not easy to get into. I snuck in. Literally for the first four months I felt like the dunce of the class. I really knew nothing about acting, except I liked it. Everyone in there had a big leather jacket, smoking… I was like, “Hey acting. This is really cool.” [Laughs] “Did you guys see Indiana Jones?” [Imitating his classmates] “How about Raging Bull, man?” Every time I did something the teachers would roll their eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the situation, when there’s a smell about you that you feel like you’re the dunce of the class, everybody’s like, [distant] “Hey man, how are you?” It’s a lonely feeling. The turning point was not caring anymore what people thought. I’m just going to enjoy this and I don’t care if you’re rolling your eyes at me or not. It was a great lesson to learn. Probably, all along the way, I’ve carried that with me as an actor. You just have to do what you think is right and work harder than everybody else.
Movie Fanatic: What was it about Dakota Goyo, who plays your son, that when you did the chemistry read you knew: That’s the kid?
Hugh Jackman: When he auditioned, I knew he was the kid. He has that “thing” onscreen. I remember doing a lighting test and they were slowly pushing in on his face. There’s no acting in a lighting test, you just sit there, and everyone was talking and he was just drifting off. The camera was moving in on him and the girl behind the monitor started crying. He just has it. In terms of the chemistry, I just generally love this kid. I have kids as well, I had to be a little careful when my son’s around, so he didn’t get too jealous. We really got on so well. He’s the nicest kid. He’s fun. He’s mature, which you need to be on a movie set, unfortunately. He’s mature without being precocious. We even mucked around. I kept having to remind him that we’re contemporaries in this movie. If anything in the movie, you’re more the adult than me.
Movie Fanatic: The way the movie is shot, your character is a loser for a long time. I wanted to know, when you were reading the script, how many pages in until you realized, he wasn’t as much of a loser?
Hugh Jackman: [long pause] Definitely half way, maybe a little beyond that. What I always loved was his strength emanated from his son, first. What I got right from the start was that he was someone who “could have been a contender.” [Laughs] He could have been the guy. It wasn’t his choice and in the end, he wasn’t the best boxer of all time. He was right up here. It’s all taken away from him. He’s made mistakes. He definitely made mistakes with his son. He owes money all over the place. He stopped believing in himself. I’m not sure when that happened. Of course I made up a whole back story. I thought about it a lot like Mike Tyson. These people make a big difference and when they’re gone… he’s just somebody who had not much to rely on. When life becomes too painful, I think people switch off. It’s just easier not to participate and make bad choice after bad choice. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the kid who feels that he can do this. He doesn’t even believe he can be a father. Even though he was kind of a loser, I always felt for him.
Movie Fanatic: In Real Steel, boxing is obviously changing. Have you ever felt like acting is always changing and do you just do your thing?
Hugh Jackman: When I started as an actor, it was all I could do to not be unemployed. My thought was, “I just want to keep working. I don’t want to have to go back to whatever small job I had. I just want to work as an actor. I’ll try it for five years.” I did everything I could for five years. I was a presenter on a TV show. I did TV, I did small films, I did musical theater – I never sang in my life for crying out loud.
Movie Fanatic: You’re good at it!
Hugh Jackman: Believe me, I was shocked. I’m the only person in the history of musical theater that had it in his contract that I had to have singing lessons. They paid for it even [laughs]. I was good, I was not great. I thought that I would just open as many doors as I can. Somehow I don’t know when it happened, maybe five or six years ago, instead of it being a survival mechanism, it became the thing that differentiated me from other people. Because I had fifteen years of singing and dancing lessons every week, you know… I do everything!
Movie Fanatic: What was it in your person that has given you that drive? A lot of people would have just given up.
Hugh Jackman: I gave myself five years. If I couldn’t support myself after five years, I was moving on. I remember after five years, it was OK, not great. Well, let’s try another five years. Sometime during those five years, X-Men arrived.
Movie Fanatic: When do you start on Les Miserables?
Hugh Jackman: I go next week to do some rehearsals. I auditioned about two or three months ago. It’s January/February rehearsals and we start shooting in March.
Movie Fanatic: I understand you insisted on auditioning for it.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah, I had about a three hour audition. In fact, I demanded Tom Hooper audition me before he even signed his contract. I wanted to do this so bad. I didn’t want to leave anything up to his imagination. I wanted him to know what I could do, just in case he thought about ringing Daniel Day Lewis [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: Will you be doing Wolverine?
Hugh Jackman: Yes, I’m shooting Wolverine after Les Mis, so we’ll shoot that next summer.
Movie Fanatic: We’re so excited for your one man show on Broadway. How are you feeling as your premiere approaches?
Hugh Jackman: Whenever you step on the Great White Way it’s one of those great moments, I never take it for granted. It’s called Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway and I had a chance to do this show earlier in San Francisco, then worked on it for another couple of months, took it to Toronto. I didn’t think I’d be doing it now. I was sure I was shooting Wolverine, that’s been the story of my year. But we couldn’t quite fit it in before Les Mis, the movie, so there was a theater available. I’ve got to be honest - when I created this show my only rule with myself was that I would be desperate to do it, no matter when. Of course doing the show on Broadway does add another level of expectation I suppose and pressure, but I’m genuinely excited about it.
Movie Fanatic: Did you know going into Real Steel that Sugar Ray would be training you?
Hugh Jackman: I remember being asked about it. They said, “Listen, we’re thinking about hiring Sugar Ray to work with the robots and do the choreography, and also to help you out with the boxing. Are you cool with that?” I was like, “Can I just get this straight? Are you asking me if I’m okay to have one of the greatest boxers of all time as my personal trainer? Yeah.” I was a little intimidated. I was definitely star-struck when I met him. I’ve been lucky enough to have met a lot of very big movie stars, but deep down if I was any better at it I would be a sportsman - so meeting someone like Sugar Ray, I kind of turn into a little kid.