Hugh Jackman in 'Les Miserables' (Photo: Universal Pictures)
Hugh Jackman, the theatrical star who's received acclaim for his performances in productions of "Oklahoma!" and "The Boy From Oz," certainly doesn't suffer from stage fright. However, would you believe that Hugh Jackman, the movie star who's received acclaim for his performances in films such as "The Fountain" and "X-Men," suffers from, for lack of a better term, camera fright?
There are apparently two sides to the star of both stage and screen, who's nominated for an Oscar for his lead performance in a project that merges both of those worlds: the film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical, "Les Miserables." And that Oscar-nominated performance came from recognizing and, finally, embracing those two sides.
Jackman's involvement with "Les Miserables" started with an informal chat with director Tom Hooper, which led to an audition when Hooper officially signed on to the film. After an hours-long interview that landed him the role of Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, Jackman embarked on a rigorous seven-week rehearsal process while living in Spring Cottage, a renowned (and somewhat scandalous, as it was where British Secretary of War John Profumo commenced with an affair with call girl Christine Keeler in 1961) residence on the grounds of Cliveden House in England.
The prospect -- and reality -- of playing one of the most well-known characters in the history of musical theatre in a movie terrified Jackman, who has struggled with fear and anxiety throughout his film career. For guidance in dealing with the immense pressures of playing (and singing) Valjean, Jackman turned to self-help guru Tony Robbins.
"I said, 'I want some help. I got this job, and sometimes in front of the camera I can't feel as relaxed as on stage,'" said Jackman in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "[Tony] said it's not about denying the character within you who feels nervous. That fear serves you to work hard. It's not about going, 'F**k you, I wish you weren't here, get out.' It's about embracing that. He goes: 'Man, you're playing Jean Valjean. You should be scared!'"
Robbins went further and suggested the actor give distinctive names to the secure and insecure sides to his personality.
"'Frank' was the more confident, and 'Charles' was the other," said Jackman. "Tony said, 'Charles is your sensitivity. Charles makes you question. Charles makes you work harder. When you walk on set, thank Charles for everything.'"
Jackman believes this approach was highly effective in helping him deal with his fear and even in getting rid of it. "Tony really transformed my life."
From there, Jackman pushed himself both mentally and physically for the role, sometimes dangerously dangling himself over the edge in the latter. He spent weeks on a crash diet, and right before shooting the film's opening sequence -- which features Valjean at his most sickly and stick-thin -- he gave up drinking fluids altogether.
"I didn't have anything to drink until late in the day when we did the opening scene with Russell Crowe," Jackman said, explaining that it's the dehydration that gave his skin such a gaunt, haggard look. "You lose up to 10 pounds of water weight, mainly from the exterior of the body. But it was really brutal. About 20 hours in, a headache came. Then I wanted to drink water out of the ocean! I see the scene now, and I look really thin, really sunken."
Director Tom Hooper didn't always approve of his lead actor's extreme methods.
"I was worried," admits Hooper. "I thought, 'This is probably the kind of thing I should discourage.' I said, 'Have a sip of water.' But he was very determined. He'd obviously consulted doctors, but I do remember he eventually got very cold, really cold."
Now, Jackman is considerably healthier and more robust as he's putting on the pounds and muscle again for his upcoming seventh turn as Wolverine in "X-Men: Days of Future Past." He consumes vast quantities of food for eight hours straight, then going without any for 16 hours.
"Your body learns to burn fat in that 16 hours," said Jackman. "And I sleep better."
Despite the intense physical regimen the role requires, Jackman shows no signs of being burned out on once again returning to play what's arguably his most well-known on-screen character.
"I first heard about ["Days of Future Past"] around October or November ," he said. "I was literally finishing 'The Wolverine' [due in theaters July 26] and dreaming about lasagna, and about three weeks before the end, they told me."
Wolverine plays a large part in the story and the project reunites him with many of the original "X-Men" cast. "There was no way I was not going to be part of that."
After the new "X-Men" wraps, Jackman will be taking a bit of a break to spend some time with his family: actress Deborra-Lee Furness, 57, and their children, Oscar, 12, and Ava, 7.
"I told my agent, 'After 'Days of Future Past,' I need to be home [in New York's West Village],'" said Jackman, particularly to support his son, who has certain learning disabilities like dyslexia. However, it shouldn't be too long of a break, as Jackman will probably always have the soul -- and drive -- of a performer.
"I saw a play in Sydney," Jackman recalls, "and in the notes they had this quote from Bono that said, 'What kind of hole exists in the heart of a person when they need to have 70,000 people scream, "I love you," in order to feel fulfilled?' But there is a part of me that wants to please, to be all things to all people."