By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 25, 2008 at 8:20AM
I'd seen him in action at Comic-Con, when he plunged into the crowd to shake hands with the creator of Wolverine. And he handed out Australian cookies called Tim Tams to the already hyped-up audience at the Oprah show.
After the Screen Actors Guild Australia screening at Fox's Zanuck Theatre last Saturday, Jackman charmed the crowd. Before seeing Australia for the first time at the premiere in Sydney, Jackman said everyone was tense and anxious, because so much was at stake. Two weeks ago they had to pry the print out of Baz's hands at 6 AM, like an intervention, he joked. At the after-party Jackman sang for the room. "I was drinking," he confessed.
Jackman hadn't worked on his home continent in ten years. Initially Kidman was jealous because she was playing a Brit and still needed a dialogue coach. But Luhrmann also made Jackman work on a broad Northern Australian dialect for The Drover.
Jackman also spent over a year learning to ride four different horses: a rearing horse, a jumper, a placid horse unrattled by anything, and his favorite horse. He started out training him, riding bareback clutching his mane, so that he would gain the horse's complete trust. Luhrmann built a little horse arena so Jackman and Kidman could ride every day. They did a lot of their own stunts; she was competitive with Jackman, but one day toward the end of the shoot when she didn't leap on her horse, everyone on the set already knew why. She was pregnant.
Luhrmann had been dreaming about making this movie since he was a wee lad working the theatre projector in a small town, Jackman said. (Here's the LAT feature on Luhrmann.) The writer-director read everything about Australian history he could get his hands on, until he knew his story would include both the Stolen Generation and the Japanese bombing of Darwin. Non-pro Brandon Walters, who plays the half-Aborigine child who narrates the film, never knew the camera was there. He was magical, Jackman said.
Starring in a movie inspired by epic romantic adventures like Gone with the Wind and The African Queen, Jackman knew he was working in the tradition of such classic leading men as Clark Gable and Gregory Peck. The role moves from low-comedy to high-tragedy to western to romance to adventure, all in one film. Hollywood doesn't make pictures like that anymore because they aren't "cool," Jackman said.
In one scene, Luhrmann had him pour water over his head with his shirt off, lit to make every muscle gleam. "Come on!" he protested when he realized the director was shooting in slow-motion. Luhrmann told him he had to go for it 100 % or he wouldn't pull it off. Many crew members showed up with their shirts off that day.
Luhrmann gives his actors full support, Jackman said. As opposed to Bryan Singer (X-Men), who requires his cast to be ready to go, no hand-holding required. Jackman said that Luhrmann and Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain) were much alike: in there with you, and totally prepared.
60 takes was not unusual for the perfectionist Luhrmann. How was it to do so many? It's like Tiger Woods, Jackman said. He never gets tired of hitting golf balls all day, and keeps trying to do it better. He and Kidman nailed their first kiss on the first take.
They did shoot and test two endings, Jackman said. Luhrmann wanted the audience to tell him which one they preferred, but the scores weren't definitive. So Luhrmann, seeing that the world had changed to a darker place since he made the movie, came up with a third more hopeful ending. He'll put the sad one on the DVD. A sequel is not in the cards. "It's hard to imagine he'd do another one," Jackman said.
The musical theater star has long wanted to do a movie musical and kicked himself for turning down Chicago, feeling he was too young, at 33, to carry Billy Flynn. "I could have worn makeup," he groaned afterward as the movie racked up Oscar wins. While Jackman's in town, he's meeting with Steven Soderbergh to see if they will go forward on Cleo, a musical of Cleopatra, starring Catherine Zeta Jones in the starring role. (Update: the married Jackman fends off rumors that he is gay.)
The producer-star has already checked out work-in-progress, the X-Men spin-off Wolverine, due in theaters in six months. Director Gavin Hood has it in good shape, he said.
See the Australia trailer on the jump:
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]