Hugh Jackman: No More Mr. Nice Guy
'The Wolverine' star talks to Men's Fitness about his journey from a skinny 170-pound 23-year-old to a Hollywood A-lister.
Of course, eye contact and small talk are nothing without the muttonchops to back it up. And if any part of you is thinking that the actor has made it this far on natural charm and ability, this is a good time to introduce you to Ana.
“I worked in a gym for three years,” Jackman tells me. “I weighed 170 pounds, I was 6'2", and I was just skin and bones. The guys in the locker room used to go, ‘Hey Skinny! Hey Ana!’—they used to call me Ana, for anorexic—and I’d go, ‘You tell me a practical application of a 350-pound press and I’ll do it!’” (Said the man who’d later leg-press 1,000 pounds.)
As Jackman tells me this, I reflexively burst out laughing, which leaves me all the less prepared for where he goes next. “I got in a fight once,” he begins. “I was 23, and I got a new pair of Rollerblades. We were in a beach town in Australia, and a bunch of locals started calling me ‘wanker.’ Not asshole—‘wanker!’ Wanker is way worse than asshole. So I’m on my Rollerblades—and learning, by the way—and these guys pull up, like, ‘Come here, you wanker!’ I’m still the skinny guy. One guy came over to me and I went to punch him, but I fell, and my arms, like [Jackman makes a lurching, hugging gesture], and I literally grabbed him, and he’s yelling, ‘Get off me, wanker!’” The image of a lanky Hugh Jackman awkwardly flailing about on Rollerblades and losing his balance only to end up hugging the man who’s trying to beat him up is too much to handle. Nobody can say this guy skated through life on good genetics.
Meanwhile, this story only makes Jackman’s current physique all the more impressive, especially when you consider that in past interviews, he’s openly said he doesn’t enjoy working out—to him, it’s just part of the job. “It’s really remarkable,” Schreiber says. “I think it’s just that he’s prioritized his life. He’s very disciplined about it.”
There’s no better illustration of Jackman’s mettle than the five-month period last year when he went from preparing for his role in Les Misérables to arriving on the set of The Wolverine. For his first Les Mis scene, as the malnourished prisoner Jean Valjean, Jackman had lost almost 20 pounds in six weeks by avoiding carbs and working out every day with trainer David Kingsbury. “We were told to have him lean, but also to maintain as much muscle as possible, which is hard to achieve,” Kingsbury says.
“For someone who’s trying to maintain muscle, it’s important, even though you’re trying to lose body fat, that you continue to lift heavy weights. If the body knows it’s got to be lifting heavy weights on a regular basis, it’ll maintain more muscle mass. Whereas, if you go at it with just cardio, it’ll lose everything—muscle and fat.”
In Jackman’s next Les Mis scene, his character, now a wealthy factory owner, doesn’t appear to have missed a meal in his life. You’d never guess it was shot just 10 days later, let alone just three months before The Wolverine. “[Les Mis director Tom Hooper] just wanted weight gain, but the way we saw it was to have the weight gain all be positive—mostly muscle as opposed to just fat,” Kingsbury explains. “So we focused on eating very clean and very healthy, but large volumes to increase muscle mass over that period.” Jackman also began doing the workout that would get him in the best shape of his career, and implemented the Rock’s nutrition plan, using what Kingsbury calls a “carb-cycling” diet: “On weight-training days we’d do carbs, and on non-weight training days we’d have very low carbs and add more fats, like avocado, nuts, and seeds, so Hugh was still getting the calories in, but without as many carbs.” The rotation allows him to be well fueled for training, but also to have time where his insulin is low so his body can burn more fat.
Jackman’s demeanor and dedication to his craft, it seems, are those of a man who’s literally built himself up. In closing, I ask the apparently self-made man for his best advice. “Whatever your dream is, whatever your goal is, it’s a fraction of what it takes to succeed,” Jackman tells me. “Everybody has a dream, and you may think you want it more than everyone else, but you don’t. Everybody wants what they want badly. The difference is, who’s prepared to put in the work to get it. That’s why it has to be the thing you want to do.”
And as for the whole Mr. Nice Guy thing... “As an actor, I’ve always believed that any label is your enemy,” Jackman says. “Look, I was brought up in a way where you treat people with respect. So it’s certainly easier for me to be polite and respectful to people than to be an asshole. Like, if I’m walking down the street with my family and the 29th person says, ‘Hey man, can I get a photo?’ for me to say, ‘No photos, get fucked’—for the next hour I’ll be thinking I shouldn’t have said that. Whereas, if I say either, ‘Yeah, no problem,’ or, ‘Listen, I’m with my family now, but it’s nice to meet you,’ then I move on, in a way it’s easier."
"It’s a mixture of that and also not being a wanker.”