"Killed.’’ Hugh Jackman remembers it vividly. “We got killed in the reviews. Scathing! Like, ‘This is the worst show...ever.’” There are few experiences more soul-sapping for an actor than having your Broadway debut collectively announced dead on arrival by the mainstream media. That is, apparently, unless your name is Hugh Jackman—because as the actor sits before me recounting the critical response to the 2003 stage production of The Boy from Oz (or, as the New York Times dubbed it, “an indisputably bogus show”) and his performance therein (which, according to New York magazine, lacked “spark, vivacity, or joy”), an infectious smile is spreading across the Australian’s face like a California wildfire. One thing’s for sure: He’s not lacking any joy right now.
We’re sitting across from each other at a long dining room table in the middle of a spacious Manhattan apartment. We’ve just come back downstairs from the rooftop, where Jackman has spent the past two hours bobbing and weaving beneath a cloudless blue sky for his Men’s Fitness photo shoot. Jackman, with the day’s work behind him, is ripping into a platter of grilled chicken and avocado slices that his publicist has just set down in front of him. He offers me some, but I politely decline, knowing better. The day prior, the same publicist sent our photo director an e-mail asking, “Regarding Hugh’s food for tomorrow, can you please order DOUBLE of everything?” This, shortly after another e-mail informing our stylist that “We NEED size 36 pants with stretch tomorrow” as “Hugh’s thighs have gotten much bigger in the last weeks of training.” With filming for X-Men: Days of Future Past just a week away, Jackman is determined to maintain the muscle he packed on for this year’s The Wolverine, and I’m not about to see what happens if I get between a wolverine and his food.
This year Jackman started following an intermittent-fasting plan, The 8-Hour Diet, a recent best-seller by author (and Men’s Fitness consulting editorial director) David Zinczenko. “I feel so much better on it,” he says. The diet, which allows for an eight-hour window in which to eat followed by a 16-hour, fat-burning fast, is especially useful for the actor, who’s constantly having to bulk and cut for roles. “I haven’t put on nearly the amount of fat I normally would,” he says. “And the great thing about this diet is, I sleep so much better.” While Jackman says he’s considering sticking to the diet forever, that doesn’t mean he’s fallen short in the past. To build his body for The Wolverine, he followed a brutal, no-nonsense nutrition plan prescribed to him personally by none other than Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. “He told me that if in a six-month period you want to put on 25 pounds of lean muscle and not fat, eat natural and eat 6,000 calories a day,” Jackman says. “There were times when I would literally eat with the mind set of working out. ‘One more mouthful, one more, come on, come on, you’ve got to finish this meal.’” It’s a sacrifice for sure, but he’s used to that; for him, it’s just “part of the gig.”
“It always happens in degrees in life, doesn’t it?” Jackman says, chewing on a piece of chicken. “I’ve had experiences where I’ve done something against my instinct but people had convinced me it was the right career move, and when those things didn’t work and I saw them, I found it almost impossible to live with. Like, I felt ashamed, you know, that my instinct was saying no, but I’d said yes because, strategically, it was ‘the right move.’”
He’s referring to past publicists and agents who tried too hard to control the actor’s image.“I can look back at a couple of photo shoots and say, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so not me,’ where the stylists had brought clothes they wanted me to wear, and I said all right, which is a bit pathetic; but I was way more worried about hurting their feelings.” But after 18 years in the movie business, Jackman, 44, says he now realizes that being honest and direct is the best way to keep things moving. Today he’s surrounded by a team that seems to understand that their client’s actual personality is far more likeable than any media-friendly façade they could ever plaster over it. (Ironically, Jackman is routinely referred to as the Nicest Guy in Hollywood.) “I try to be myself as much as I can when I’m not acting, for better or worse, but I’ve had publicists who’ve told me it’s a bad idea: ‘You move your hands too much, you did this too many times, you should do this, you shouldn’t talk about that,’” he says, ticking off the myriad instructions he—Hugh friggin’ Jackman—has been given over the years to improve his outward appearance.
It was that kind of early guidance that led him to turn down the lead role of Peter Allen in the original run of The Boy from Oz, which opened in Sydney back in 1998. When the curtain lifted, Jackman was in the audience. “I realized it was one of the best parts I had ever seen, and I felt sick to my stomach,” he recalls. “All the strategizing, and I missed it.”