“I’m in the business of illusion”

Hugh Jackman



Musical star, actor, model and Oscar host: Hugh Jackman is an all-rounder. In an interview, he talks about his fear of singing, about big egos, small problems and the end of Wolverine.

Mr. Jackman, In The Greatest Showman, you portray the famous circus showman P.T. Barnum. Is he a role model?

He is an inspiration, but I am quite different from him. We may share how we believe in connecting with an audience and making it feel that it’s special, that it’s not just another night. Barnum was also a marketing genius, who said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Who’s the greatest showman of our time?

Steve Jobs was one and Richard Branson is, too. I also understand the comparison to Trump. Both he and Barnum understand the media and what people want, and they both published populist books about how to make money: Barnum, The Art of Money Getting, and Trump, The Art of the Deal.

Do you admire successful people like that?

I admire great athletes and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the founder of microcredit, and Deepak Chopra, the spiritual writer. But the greatest hero I ever met was Nelson Mandela. What I admire about Barnum is how he influenced the way we think. The idea that your talent, your imagination, your hard work can define you and your success.

What’s your relationship to the art of making money?

Very clear, very healthy. I didn’t have much money in the beginning when I met my wife, who is also an actor, and neither did she. But we were as happy as we are now. This goes for my family, too. Whenever my mother was given something for Christmas, you knew someone else would be getting it for their birthday. She once said the best present that she ever got from me were the 20 home-cooked dinners I once gave her. I’m probably the least materialist person you’ll ever meet, and that’s the big difference between P. T. Barnum and me.

Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman

Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman

© Jesse Dittmar/Redux/laif

When did you first get interested in show business?

When I sang in a school concert at age 5. I never felt like a singer, but I was always doing it. Then, when I got a job in Beauty and the Beast in 1995, my contract included singing lessons paid for by the producer. It was clear that I was not a slam-dunk song-and-dance man. Anyway, singing scared the crap out of me.

That bad?

Once, in 1997, I had to sing the Australian national anthem at the Bledisloe Cup, a big rugby match between Australia and New Zealand – in front of 100 000 spectators. People had been booed off in the past, but I said I would sing. I had the only anxiety attack I ever had in my life the night before. Walking out, I asked myself: “Why am I doing this?”

How did you overcome your fear?

That’s something I learned to do as a kid. My older brothers used to do crazy things, like jumping off very high cliffs into the ocean. When I was afraid to try, they made fun of me. So I learned how to face challenges. But my singing role in the musical Oklahoma was actually a stepping stone to Hollywood for me. When I was meeting with agents there, they all said, “You were incredible in Oklahoma!” I asked, “Did you see the show?” They answered, “No, but we heard about it.”

On a more serious note, you suffer from skin cancer and have had to have surgery several times …

That was ultimately just a small health problem. Basal cell carcinoma, nothing anyone ever died of. It’s just something you have to watch. I mention it because I want people to get regular check-ups and use sunscreen, something I didn’t do as a kid.

You sound so relaxed about it …

That’s probably because I’ve been doing transcendental meditation since 1992. Not for the religious experience but as a technique. I do it twice a day and it helps to calm my mind.

Has it improved your life, too?

Definitely. My level of happiness, my capacity for embracing people and situations. It has also increased my ability to trust myself and not get overwhelmed. And I am far more efficient than I used to be. Above all, it keeps me grounded, which is particularly important since I work in the business of illusion.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men (2000)

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men (2000)


So why do you appear to be losing interest in your work? You refuse to return to the X-Men films as Wolverine …

That’s not why. A little bit of me thinks: It’s the first time you have been fully satisfied seeing the character on the screen! But what sparked the ending was a discussion I had with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. When I asked him why he ended his legendary show, he said, “If you leave at the right time, you are propelled into whatever is next with a sense of energy and excitement. But if you stay too long…” That rang true to me.

At the start of filming the first X-Men movie, I thought I was going
to get fired any minute

Hugh Jackman, actor

Did you really have a hard time getting into the role?

At the start of filming the first X-Men movie, I thought I was going to get fired any minute. I wanted to please the director, but what I was doing didn’t feel right, so I thought, “I’m just going to do what I want. If I go down, I’ll go down swinging, not feeling meek.” Actually, he liked what I was doing better than before!

Are there any perks to no longer being Wolverine?

The training was crazy. Don’t do it. You can’t eat carbohydrates and you feel flat and drained.

At least you became the Sexiest Man Alive …

I took that with a little smile. I know it was lobbied for by the studio at the time. Nothing but illusions! Believe me, I know who I am and what is real and what isn’t.