Box­ing clever


Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - REAL STEEL

TO his le­gion of fans around the world, Hugh Jack­man is many things – the Wolver­ine, the ro­man­tic heart-throb from Aus­tralia, a song-and-dance man or sim­ply the sex­i­est man alive.

But to his near­est and dear­est, these la­bels don’t mean much. ‘‘ I have been in a cou­ple of an­i­mated movies but, apart from that, most of my movies don’t re­ally help me at home,’’ the Aussie A-lis­ter says of his two chil­dren Os­car, 11, and Ava, 6.

‘‘ For them to see their fa­ther slic­ing peo­ple’s heads off does not give me a lot of cred­i­bil­ity when I am telling them not to beat each other up.’’

Given that most of Jack­man’s roles have come in more ma­ture fare such as the X-Men films, The Pres­tige and The Foun­tain, it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that his turn as Roddy the rat in the an­i­mated Flushed Away still ranks among Os­car’s favourites.

‘‘ My son al­ways says, ‘ They make se­quels to all these an­i­mated movies – that’s one of my favourites, why don’t they make that one?’ I told him not enough peo­ple thought like him un­for­tu­nately,’’ Jack­man says with a laugh.

Jack­man thought his new film, the kid-friendly Real Steel, might be the one to turn things around.

But de­spite the bill­boards dot­ting the Jack­man fam­ily’s adopted city of New York, the chil­dren seem­ingly re­main un­moved.

‘‘ They don’t talk to me about it at all,’’ he says. ‘‘ Even when they saw this movie, which they loved . . . they re­ally don’t like talk­ing about it,’’ he says. ‘‘ They much pre­fer keep­ing me as ‘ my dad’ I think.’’

Billed as Trans­form­ers meets Rocky, Real Steel is a sci-fi-ac­tion drama set in the near fu­ture, when ro­bots have re­placed hu­mans in the box­ing ring to sat­isfy an ever-more ra­pa­cious de­sire for car­nage.

Jack­man plays a down-on-his-luck former boxer, who now tours Amer­ica try­ing to earn money putting his ma­chines in dodgy un­der­ground bouts. His world is turned up­side when the son he barely knows is left with him, lead­ing to some un­ex­pect­edly ten­der mo­ments of fa­ther-son drama.

‘‘ My wife . . . kind of el­bowed me in the ribs and said, ‘ I thought you said it was a ro­bot box­ing movie’,’’ Jack­man says of the movie’s emo­tional punch.

To pre­pare for the role, Jack­man trained with box­ing great Su­gar Ray Leonard, who won ti­tles in five dif­fer­ent weight di­vi­sions and is widely re­garded to be one of the best fight­ers ever.

To Jack­man – who trains at a New York gym he says is ‘‘ full of yup­pies’’ – that was im­pres­sive enough. To his fa­ther, it was a ca­reer high­light.

Jack­man’s par­ents di­vorced when he was eight, and Hugh and his four sib­lings were raised on Syd­ney’s North Shore by their fa­ther Chris.

But it wasn’t un­til he was a teenager that Jack­man dis­cov­ered his ac­coun­tant dad was also a former army box­ing cham­pion.

‘‘ He never talked to me about it and I didn’t find out un­til I was a teenager be­cause he thought me and my brother were go­ing to beat each other up and that would glo­rify it some­how,’’ Jack­man says. ‘‘ So I found out through my un­cle. ‘‘ When I told him [ his dad] about this [ train­ing with Su­gar Ray] his eyes re­ally lit up and I could see that look in his eye like ‘ Wow, my son has re­ally made it’.’’

Sports fan Jack­man – a pas­sion­ate sup­porter of 2011 NRL pre­miers Manly Sea Ea­gles – also pro­fesses to be a box­ing lover, even more so af­ter his ex­pe­ri­ences with Su­gar Ray.

‘‘ And the more I am into it, the more I see what a great test it is,’’ he says.

‘‘ I sup­pose you could see it as bar­baric and I kind of fol­low the the­ory of [ Amer­i­can philoso­pher] Joseph Camp­bell that it’s some­how there in our DNA.

‘‘ It’s vi­o­lent – but it’s a rit­u­alised, le­gal form of vi­o­lence and a hell of a lot bet­ter than go­ing to war.

‘‘ But, ul­ti­mately, it’s the great­est test of the men­tal, phys­i­cal and emo­tional lim­its of mankind.’’

Real Steel is not the first time his ca­reer has been in­flu­enced by the so-called sweet sci­ence ei­ther.

In his break­out role as the steel-clawed mu­tant Wolver­ine in the X-Men films and their spin-offs, Jack­man used to watch and em­u­late the bru­tal Mike Tyson.

‘‘ Su­gar Ray was quick and had panache and flair, whereas I al­ways saw Wolver­ine as a bar brawler or a street fighter,’’ he says.

Jack­man fa­mously bulks up to play Wolver­ine with a pun­ish­ing train­ing sched­ule and an as­ton­ish­ing food in­take that trans­forms what he says is a nat­u­rally skinny physique into 189cm tower of pure mus­cle.

The sec­ond Wolver­ine spin-off be­gins film­ing in Ja­pan mid-2012.

For Real Steel, he also hit the gym. Jack­man gained 10kg to ac­quire the body that would be­fit an ex-boxer. Or so he thought.

‘‘ When I turned up at the cos­tume-fit­ting a month be­fore shoot­ing 10kg over­weight, the di­rec­tor who thought it was a good idea had changed his mind,’’ he says, rue­fully.

‘‘ So it was straight on the row­ing ma­chine, which is for me the best way to lose weight.’’

But be­fore he dons the steel claws again, Jack­man will re­turn to his mu­si­cal roots.

Af­ter ap­pear­ing in school mu­si­cals – and leav­ing aside his three-year de­tour for a de­gree in jour­nal­ism – many of his early act­ing for­ays were in mu­si­cal the­atre.

Af­ter ap­pear­ing in short-lived ABC drama Cor­relli, where he met his wife De­borra-Lee Fur­ness, Jack­man ap­peared on stage in

Beauty and the Beast and Sun­set Boule­vard, fol­lowed by an ac­claimed turn as Curly in

Ok­la­homa! on Lon­don’s West End. He played Aussie en­ter­tainer Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz on Broad­way in 2003-2004 and is about to re­turn to the Great White Way later this month with a show fea­tur­ing some of his favourite mu­si­cal numbers.

He hopes to bring the show to Aus­tralia too.

Next Jan­uary, he starts re­hearsals with The King’s

Speech di­rec­tor Tom Hooper for a big-screen ver­sion of

Les Mis­er­ables.

‘‘ The mu­sic is in­cred­i­ble, the story, the char­ac­ters,’’ he says. ‘‘ Tom Hooper is such a great di­rec­tor, so I am very ex­cited about it.’’

Ex­tra tan­ta­lis­ing for Aus­tralian au­di­ences is the prospect of him play­ing Jean Val­jean op­po­site the man he re­placed in Baz Luhrmann’s Aus­tralia, Rus­sell Crowe, who will play his neme­sis Javert.

‘‘ He will bring such depth and strength,’’ says Jack­man. ‘‘ It’s a for­mi­da­ble role and few ac­tors could pull it off.’’ Now show­ing Vil­lage Cine­mas Re­view: P5

{ Ul­ti­mately, it’s the great­est test of the men­tal, phys­i­cal and emo­tional lim­its of mankind }

BAR BRAWLER: Ac­tor Hugh Jack­man in a scene from the 2009

film X-Men Ori­gins:

Wolver­ine ( right) and with Dakota Gayo in a scene from Real

Steel ( above).

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