Jackman's journey

By Anne Stockwell

Originally published on Advocate.com August 17 2003 11:00 PM ET

Below are
excerpts from the article that appeared in the September 1,
2003 issue of The Advocate followed by the article as
it appeared in the printed issue.

Hugh Jackman on Peter Allen’s indirect impact on
antigay sentiment in their shared homeland, Australia:

I remember the Mardi Gras, which is a huge event
in Australia, that there were so many people upset
with Mardi Gras in Sydney, the fact that it was
televised. You know, “What are we doing,
what’s happening to Australia, is it becoming
far too liberal?” and all of that. Peter traversed
that world. He was never the poster child for the gay
community, now. And at times in New York—I know
that from reading about it—he annoyed some of
the gay community by not being the poster child, by not
being politically active. I think in a way he thought,
I can do far more for the cause of gay people by being
an entertainer. This is totally my opinion; I don’t
know.

On moving from playing an X-Men action hero to an
openly gay entertainer:

Well, I mean, from my perspective, in my world,
it’s not something I ever thought twice about,
the fact that Peter was gay. And nor do I really see
that as a challenge so much. The challenge is to bring out
Peter—Peter’s joie de vivre—eight
times a week.

On whether anyone advised him not to play an openly
gay role onstage:

No one in my professional…no, no, no, no.
No one in my professional camp was ever…some of
them questioned the amount of time I was doing it for.
I’m not a 21-year-old kid, so they’re not
pushing me.

On his conservative father’s tolerance for gay people:
If one of his kids was gay, there
would’ve been a problem, I know. And yet he
could go and see La Cage aux Folles. And I
think probably a lot of Middle Americans could go see La
Cage aux Folles
. Why, I don’t know. Maybe, to
some people, it’s not that hard to deal with as long
as it’s not their kid or their friend, you
know? They’re OK with “those people.” I
mean, I know my dad—at times I’ve heard
him say about other people, “Well,
they’re going through that, and let’s just
hope that God can get to them at some point.”
It’s sort of like [sighs] trying to take
in his view or compassionate line is that God will
hopefully break through to them, so let’s not
ostracize them. People like Peter try to bridge that
gap by making people laugh. By making people feel OK
about being with them. Which is hard work. I always imagine
Peter would have had some moments of exhaustion,
because there’s a lot of negotiating that goes
on if you’re going to be someone like Peter Allen.
I think there must be anger in there—you want to yell
at the breeders [chuckles].

On whether Peter Allen fulfilled a gay stereotype:
I ran into this guy the other day who said, “When
I first met Peter, he was very intimidating to me,
because he was with his group of friends.” So
maybe in his group of friends, he was a little tougher [than
he appeared when performing]. Maybe he was a bit
aloof.

On beginning to act while still a journalism
student at college:

I did a [major] called communications, a mixture
of film writing, public relations, and journalism. I
had fun, but nothing really captured me until near the
end, when I had to find two units to graduate. I picked
drama because there were no papers, no exams—you just
turned up. I sat at the back like this [he mimes
infinite boredom
]. But they decided to do this
play, and I got cast in the lead, totally by ballot. I
said, “I can’t be in this, I don’t have
time, I’m doing journalism.” And they
said, “Well, unfortunately, you can’t get
out of it.” We ended up taking it on tour, and the
more I learned about acting, the more I was like, I
should’ve studied half journalism and half
acting. Because acting was kind of what I loved to do, but
it was a hobby. And journalism, I thought, would be my
paying job.

On when he knew he’d never be a journalist:
It’s bloody hard to get into journalism.
I had a lecturer called Wendy Bacon, who’s
probably one of the most celebrated investigative
journalists in Australia. And she so amazing that I realized
that my heart wasn’t in it. I thought,
She’s been doing it for 20 years; I’m
about to start—surely the fire in me should be
stronger than hers. But her fire was 15 times brighter
than mine. And the other thing that really wiped me
out studying journalism was ethics. The teacher came in and
said, “All right, everyone, I’m the editor.
There’s been a car accident, you’re
manning the police radio, it’s 3 a.m. I need you to
go down to the house, knock at the door at 3:30, and
get a photo. You can’t come back here without a
photo. What do you do?” That was just really hard on
me, and that’s where I realized why that fire
has to burn brightly. Because, see, I think journalism
is a very honorable profession.

On how acting can be as invasive as journalism:
[It’s] the same with acting [as with
reporting difficult news stories]. I see it in the
same way, that you have to be prepared to go through some
pretty hard stuff. Sometimes you have to go places with
characters and emotions within yourself you
don’t want to do, but you have a duty to the
story and as a storyteller to do it.

On how he feels, as the parent of an adopted child,
about gay parents adopting kids:

Apart from when I get questions like this, I
barely even remember that Oscar is adopted. And I
think when people truly are open to loving and have
that energy to give to a kid, that kid is blessed, and it
doesn’t matter if they’re men or women.
It really doesn’t matter. I mean, let’s
face it—50% of the straight marriages, kids are
brought up by only one parent. So why not have
two?

On his teeth:
I have shocking teeth.… I’m being
a little facetious—I just went to the dentist
the other day, and he looked at my teeth and went,
“Oh, my God, you’ve got gray
teeth.” I now I have four sessions with the dentist
this week. I have crowns, caps, leaking fillings, the
whole thing.

The article as it appeared in the September 1, 2003
issue of The Advocate

We’re in a
part of downtown Los Angeles where tourists fear to tread.
At mid morning the heat is already brutal. A woman
outside the fence grapples with a man, trying to kick
him where it hurts. “You son of a
bitch!” she yells. “What’s wrong with
you?” he yells back. “It’s too
hot!”

Then a Range
Rover pulls up. Hugh Jackman steps out, smiling, taller by a
head than anyone on the crew for his Advocate
photo shoot. Lithe and lanky rather than belligerently
bulked-up like Wolverine, his grunge-a-licious
character in X-Men, Jackman seems to breathe a more
gracious blend of air than the rest of us.

He’s here
to talk about his new role as Peter Allen, the
all-but-openly gay hit songwriter and master performer
who was born in Australia and discovered by Judy
Garland and who married Liza Minnelli, packed Radio
City Music Hall, and wrote or cowrote some dozen massive hit
songs before his death from AIDS complications in
1992. Allen is a hero in Australia. Portraying him in
The Boy From Oz, the 1997 Allen musical
biography now being restaged on Broadway, Jackman will
high-kick, play piano, kiss Jerrod Emick (who portrays
Allen’s longtime love, lighting designer Greg
Connell), and, hopefully, give Allen the all-out star
recognition he never quite had time to earn here in the
States.

Americans are
also just getting acquainted with Jackman. He made a stir
as a dashing time traveler in Kate &
Leopold
. But it’s Wolverine, the Marvel mutant
with the adamantium skeleton, fierce claws, and
muttonchop do, who really got us. Jackman was a plan B
replacement for Dougray Scott, who had to drop out because
of scheduling conflicts. In return for the gig,
Jackman invested the part with all his very
considerable heart, not to mention a handsome chest of
Wolverine-ish hair. His soulful reading has helped turn the
X-Men films into global box-office smashes.

"He has no idea
how good-looking he is,” the makeup artist whispers
in my ear as Jackman walks in our direction. Is this
possible?

Did you ever meet Peter Allen?
I never did. When did he die? ’92. He
probably was out of action from about ’90. I
knew of Peter and I watched him—he was still doing
stuff on TV, and he was a big icon. I remember very
clearly once when he sang “I Still Call
Australia Home,” which is now like a second anthem in
Australia. The first time he sang it was at the launch of a
15,000-seat entertainment center. Peter had on this
quite camp waistcoat with an Australian flag on it,
and out came this big Australian flag behind him.

My father was
[watching with] my brother and I. We looked up, and Dad was
crying. Peter had that way with everyone—old, young,
men, women, gay, straight—which in Australia
was not that easy, you know?

Craig Zadan directed Peter in Up in One, a 1979
cabaret show that toured the world and broke Peter
into the top ranks of entertainers. He says Peter
would make you laugh yourself sick, and then in 30
seconds you’d be crying and not know how
you got there.

One of the great things about The Boy From
Oz
is, I think you get that feeling of being with
Peter. It’s incredibly entertaining and very
funny but very surprisingly gets you. Peter was not a
sentimental person—in public he wasn’t—
but he had an honesty in his songwriting that just
touches you. He had a way of capturing something
incredibly simple and honest. I can think of 10 of
Peter’s songs that just slay me. Just
absolutely slay me.

Not many people realize how much his songs defined
the ’70s and ’80s.

In this show you get to see what those songs
actually meant. A song like “I Honestly Love
You” became a big hit for Olivia [Newton-John], and
it maybe now seems a bit of a cheesy love song. But in
the context of Peter’s life, when you think he
lost his lover of 20 years, Greg, to AIDS—you
hear that song in the show, and it’s the ghost of his
lover still being around him as he’s writing.

[Sings]
“Maybe I hang around here a little more than I
should / We both know I’ve got somewhere else to go /
But I’ve got something to tell you / I never
thought I would / That I believe you really ought to
know / I love you.” It’s so simple, but in the
context of the show it’s incredible.

Carole Bayer Sager, a close friend of Peter’s
with whom he wrote some huge hits, says you’ve
really got him down.

I had dinner the other night with Carole.
She’s fascinating, fantastic. It’s
funny—she said to me, “You get that tongue
thing of his.” [Chuckles]

What tongue thing would that be?
He would unconsciously stick his tongue out when he was
playing. And apparently I was doing that. I was like,
“Well, there you go!” Maybe I was
channeling him at some point.

Carole told me,
the last time she spoke to Peter, he said, “You know
what, Carole? I’m happy. I couldn’t have lived
life any more than I have.”

Was Peter more a songwriter or a performer?
Another guy told how he’d have Peter up
for dinner whenever he was in New York. “Peter
would charm everybody, and then—I’d never ask
him—he’d get up on the piano and just
start playing. In the end I would literally be kicking
him out the door. Guests would be leaving and he’d
still be playing.” [Stockwell laughs] He
said to Peter that night, “I know you love it.
But you don’t have to feel you always have to
play.” And Peter said to him, “I’m an
entertainer—always got to sing for my
supper.”

Peter was aware
that what he was born to do was to entertain. Maybe being
a star is more about letting people come to you, you know?
But Peter was old-fashioned.

Is that you too? Singing for your supper?
Probably a little more reluctantly than Peter,
because he was someone that all entertainers look up
to. Anyone who really knew Peter—many great
names—they all looked up to him as a showman.
I’m thrilled that I didn’t do this show,
say, four years ago, five years ago. With everything
that’s occurred to me in movies, in Hollywood,
I felt I was being dragged by a Great Dane down the
street. It’s sort of like, !hoa, I’ll catch up
in a second. Now I feel like I’ve caught
up—I feel a little more comfortable in my skin.
It takes a great confidence to just, wherever you are,
think, People want to hear me. People want that. I
suppose with me it’s something that’s
growing. Doing the Boy From Oz workshop [in
early 2003] gave me a confidence to do it. It feels
like the right time to go and do a show like this and say,
“Yeah, I can be Peter.”

I’ve heard that everybody fell in love with him.
[Jackman laughs] Man, woman, everybody.

He was a kid who grew up in an outback town,
Tenterfield. Now, I’ve been to Tenterfield:
It’s a small town that services farmers, and men are
tough there. Peter tap-dancing at the age of 8 in a local
pub—what did he have to endure in his
upbringing? But he managed to make them like him. Even
now, in that town of Tenterfield, there’s a Peter
Allen pub and a store.

When Peter was at Radio City, he was playing with
the closet, saying things onstage like,
“You’ve heard all these rumors about
me. Well, yes, I am…Australian.”

“Australian.” Yeah. [Chuckles]

Here he was, this national hero. How did people in
Australia deal with that part of him, the gay
part?
They didn’t care. In fact, I think a
lot of people—until relatively
late—didn’t know. Women found him sexy
and thought it was just part of his shtick. Or maybe
he was just one of those flamboyant guys. I mean, he
wasn’t over-the-top, it wasn’t so
Liberace.

So how do you play him?
The director said to me, the key to playing Peter is
that you can’t think of him as a gay man,
because as a straight man it will send you off in the
wrong direction. You have to think of him as a little kid.
He was mischievous, and from all the reports, his
sexual appetite was voracious. So he was up for it
all. But certainly by the end everyone knew of him as
gay. See, Peter learned how to tread the line of making fun
of himself enough and still being biting enough with
reporters that everyone kind of went, “Yeah,
all right, we’ll accept him.” Which,
particularly in his time, was not the case with most.
It really wasn’t. He made my dad, born-again
Christian that he was, love Peter Allen and not care that he
was gay. Do you know what I mean? Perhaps Peter knew, as an
entertainer, that’s what he had to do. He
wasn’t comfortable being politically active,
but he probably single-handedly did a lot.

If he were here, I’m sure it’d be very
gratifying to him that one of the world’s
handsomest straight men is playing him [Jackman
chuckles
] and that he’s being celebrated
on the cover of The Advocate.
Yeah, there you go, exactly. You know, it’s funny
what you say about me playing him, because some people
said, “It’s brave of you to play a gay
man.” And I think that’s very dated.
Don’t you?

It’s terribly dated, but some Americans are
holding on to it for dear life. I’m sure
you’ve noticed.
Yeah. I think Peter will be thrilled. I mean, I hope.
I’ve been told that his greatest dream was to
do a Broadway show. He did it with Legs Diamond, even
though it was a flop. [With The Boy From Oz],
someone told me, “Finally, Peter’s going to
have his Broadway hit.”And it’s not a
puff piece. There’ll be some things that Peter,
if he’s there watching it, will kind of go,
“Oh, did they have to put that in it?”
[Chuckles] “Could’ve left that
bit out!”

You’ve got quite a background as a leading man in
musicals. You did Joe Gillis in Sunset
Boulevard
, Gaston in Beauty and the
Beast
, and Curly in Trevor Nunn’s London
production of Oklahoma! You must have had a pang
or two, to see somebody else get that part on Broadway.

Well, of course I tried to do it. Two or three
times we were rejected by Equity. An Aussie with a
whole bunch of Brits—they didn’t want to let
us do Oklahoma! I understand. That’s
kind of like a lot of Americans doing Crocodile
Dundee
, you know? A bit hard to swallow for the union
membership. So I was really upset at the time.

But things worked out, because along came X-Men.

Yes. And I was like, There’ll be a time to do
something on Broadway. Then within six months this
came up.


The Boy From Oz

was a big hit in Australia before coming to
Broadway. Were you involved in that production at all?
They had talked to me about the role in Australia, but I
had just made the decision to get away from musical
theater and go into film. And when I went to see the
show—I saw it twice—it moved me beyond belief.
Deb, my wife, turned to me and said, “You’re
wishing you were up there.” And I said,
“Yeah, I am.” So the moment I got the call I
jumped at it.

In America it’s like an algebra equation:
Musical comedy equals gay. Is it the same in Australia?
Yup. [Laughs] It’s the same the world
over. Although I think it’s probably getting a little
less. Because the dancing style is becoming
more…athletic? Sometimes men get in there from
gymnastics. And also I think a lot of men realize
it’s a great way to pick up chicks.
There’s beautiful women there, you know.
[Laughs]

So they say.
Yeah, and from what I’ve seen, people are coming
into dancing that have had more sports background. In
Australia it used to be a whole progression: If you
haven’t started dancing classes by the time
you’re 5 or 6 [you’re starting too
late]. I am ashamed to say that when I was 10, 11, my
teacher said, “You should have danced.” This
was at an all-boys school. Very straight all-boys
school—“straight” as in conservative. I
said, “Great! I want to do dancing.”

What happened next?
My brother mercilessly said, “Ah, you poof,
you’re gay, you’re
gay”—and I quit. Actually, my brother, very
touchingly, about five years ago came up and said,
“I don’t know if you remember, but I’m
really sorry for saying that when you were younger,
because you should have been dancing.” And I
often thought I was a bit weak. Peter wouldn’t have
done that.

You must have related to the movie Billy Elliot.

Yeah, very much. Just from the shows I’ve been in
and the people I’ve known, it used to always be
“male dancer—gay.” It’s far less
that now.

I was trying to think if there’s ever been an
action hero who is a musical comedy star. I could not
think of one.
That’s thrilling to hear you say that.

Is there anybody you looked to as your example?
No. See, this is where people are surprised, but my
agent said to me five years ago, “Hugh, I can
see one day you…if I had to plan a goal for
you, it’s for you to have the kind of career that
Sinatra had.” You know, you can traverse
between different careers. It would thrill me no end if
that happened.

You’ve said very charmingly in the press,
“I kiss my boyfriend in the show. And I
know my audience for Wolverine is going to be
saying, ‘Don’t do it, man! That’s
bullshit!’ ” [Jackman laughs] If
they do come and see you, what would you want to
communicate to them?
Peter could get through to anybody. So I have a great
vehicle to try and bring people who never go to the
theater. I don’t want them to think, Ah,
it’s one of those gay musicals, is it? Am I gonna get
a whole lot of preaching about being gay and
what’s it like? Because it’s more a
celebration of the way Peter lived his life. And his
sexuality was part of that.

I’m sure there are 14-year-olds and their
fundamentalist parents in America who are going to
object: “Here’s this guy Wolverine,
we look up to him, and now he’s honoring a person
who did immoral things.”
Gypsy Rose Lee. They’re probably taking them to
see Gypsy, about a woman who was just horrific to
her kids. It’ll be interesting to see how parents
negotiate that. See, my dad is a Christian—and
really, a full-on Christian—the first show he took
me to was La Cage aux Folles.

Really?
I remember watching this and I was like, Does
Dad know that this was all about two gay men? And of
course he did, but Dad loved it. He really loved
it.

You didn’t start out to become an actor, did
you? At one point you were studying to be a journalist.
Yes, but nothing really captured me until near the end,
when I had to find two units to graduate. I picked
drama because there were no exams—you just
turned up. But they decided to do this play, and I got
cast in the lead. We ended up taking it on tour, and the
more I learned about acting, the more I was like,
acting was kind of what I loved.

A lot of
journalists say, “Ah, I bet you hate
journalists—you studied journalism.”
It’s the opposite. A journalist comes to me sometimes
and asks me a very tabloid question, and I think,
He’s got to get this quote. His editor said,
“We’re not interested in his film; we want to
know how his marriage is.”

I don’t want to know how your marriage is.
[Jackman chuckles] But I do want to ask about
adoption. You adopted your son, Oscar. There’s a
lot of controversy in America about gay people
adopting children.
In fact, I had dinner the other night with a gay couple,
and I said, “Do you guys have kids?” And
they were both really against it. I said,
“Why?” One said, “I don’t think
it’s right. I think a kid should have a mother
and a father.” So it was like, Wow—this issue
is divisive wherever you go. The subject of parenting
really cuts deep into what you believe in.

As a man who has adopted a child, how do you feel
about it?

I would say if two loving people…or one,
you know—I think ideally two, just from my
experience; it helps to have enough energy to be able to do
it and enjoy it—but it wouldn’t matter to me
if they were gay, straight, however they come. For
adopted kids, there’s a need. There are so many
unwanted children. I have no qualms about it
whatsoever.

This is as tabloid as I get: Guys have hit on you a
lot of times, I’m sure.

Yeah.

What’s your response? I assume you’ve never
said yes.

No. I had a time when I was growing up [when] I
heard “Gay or straight?” I’d say
“Straight” and hear “OK, have a good
time.” But Sydney was like that. It was never
something that freaked me out. I remember going
through an age, maybe when I was 21, and I was getting into
acting. And I thought, I’ve got quite a few gay
friends. I’d go to a gay dance party like
I’d go to a straight club. And then I would think
about it, and I thought, Maybe I should ask myself
some serious questions here, you know? I felt, with my
life—and I did it because of acting—I thought,
I’ve got to be honest with myself about
everything, whether I’m good, bad, gay,
straight…

So you thought it over.
Yeah. I thought, OK. And I don’t remember
thinking about it for any longer than that. I just
remember giving myself the permission. I thought, If
you found a man—I hadn’t, really, I
hadn’t at all—a man that you’re
attracted to, would you feel comfortable? And I just gave
myself the permission. And it never happened.

But I’ve
always felt very comfortable around gay men and women. I
find them, generally, refreshingly honest and
straightforward. And have I been hit on? Yeah.
I’ve never done anything, and I’ve never felt
like I’ve wanted to. So it’s all good.

But Sydney is
very open to a gay community that is very mainstream and
really has sort of crossed over. You know, a lot of our
straight men quite like the gay neighborhood because
the girls would go there looking for safety, and of
course, there were us vultures waiting! [He makes big
swooping gestures with his long arms; both
laugh
] Till [the girls] were drunk and thinking, Ah,
God, I wish I was with a few straight men!

For Americans just getting to know you: What’s
the thing that they would be most surprised to learn
about Hugh Jackman?

Well, it’s certainly no surprise to me or
anyone in Australia, but I think a lot of people here
would be surprised that I’m doing a musical. In
a way, I couldn’t have written the script better,
because the bigger surprise to me is that I’m
being paid to be an action hero. Because I’m a
big goofball, you know. Don’t tell anyone that, but
I’m a big goofball. In Australia we call it a
dag.

You’re a dag?
It’s quite an affectionate term, but it
means you’re basically a big goofball. I just
love making a fool out of myself. I made my living as a
clown at kids’ parties for about three years. And all
that Wolverine stuff—I watch that and go,
“Ah, he’s kind of cool, that guy!”
[Chuckles] So for me, to have done that first
means that people will think I’ve done this herculean
effort to become a singer-dancer playing Peter Allen,
when in actual fact that’s probably far closer
to who I am.