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Relationships

Hugh Jackman on his absolute faith that he and his wife are meant to be together

To hear Hugh Jackman talk about his wife Deborah-lee is to hear the words of a man who deeply loves his life partner.

By Michael Sheather
Hugh Jackman pushes the elevator call button. The lift doors open. Four women stand inside the lift looking out at the tall, handsome man looking in. Their mouths fall open in shock.
They start to blush and giggle, more like teenage schoolgirls than middle-age matrons. Hugh steps into the lift, smiling fit to bust.
Unable to resist, one of the women leans in, asking in a soft-spoken voice, "Are you really who we think you are?"
"Well," replies Hugh, leaning down so that the woman can hear him. "I'm not sure who you think I am. I hope it's someone nice."
"We think you might be that singing and acting bloke, Hugh Jackman," replies the woman.
"In that case, you're right. That's who I am. Lovely to meet you, and I hope you ladies are having a wonderful day."
"We are now," quips one of the women from behind her hand. "Wait till we tell everyone we shared a lift with the Wolverine man."
At 50, Hugh Jackman is nothing if not charming.
This is a man worth an estimated $150 million, at the very top of his game as a box office drawcard around the world, the star of a dozen smash-hit movies, a genuine A-lister if ever there was one.
Yet he still speaks to his myriad of fans as though he is chatting in the supermarket checkout line.
Watch: Hugh Jackman's reaction to these Kiwi singers will melt your heart. Article continues below.
Hugh Jackman, by far the most successful Australian male star to make it in Hollywood in the past 30 years, is much more than the classic triple threat.
Yes, he can act, dance and even sing, but there's something else about him that not only catches the eye when he walks in a room, but insists you lock on and pay attention.
It's that indefinable star quality that 1930s Hollywood producers once waxed lyrical about – call it charisma, call it charm, call it straight out sex appeal if you like.
It's all those things and something more – Hugh is a down-to-earth good bloke, which also makes him something special in Hollywood, a town where you need to be special just to get out of bed in the morning.
And when you meet him, that warmth is genuinely on display. He is quick to laugh, quick with a handshake and an open smile. There's no Tinseltown pretence about Hugh.
He has, of course, proven himself as the consummate entertainer many times over.
You only need look at his versatility in roles from the hugely successful Wolverine movie series, to Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and even his 2017 turn as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman, which grossed an astonishing $620 million.
Now, he's taken that wealth of entertainment experience and garnered it into a stage show – The Man. The Music. The Show.which is coming to Auckland in September and will feature songs from Les Mis, Greatest Showman and even a few tunes from The Boy from Oz, the transformational musical hit Hugh took to Broadway.
But the foundation of Hugh's success is not just his unbridled talent.
Underpinning it all is his rock-solid relationship with his long-time partner Deborra-lee Furness, the 63-year-old award-winning actress he met and almost immediately fell in love with on the set of the Australian crime drama, Corelli, in 1995.
Hugh is more than your traditional Hollywood triple-threat
Hugh, as a young, brain-injured prisoner named Kevin Jones, played opposite Deborra-lee as the prison psychologist, and from the time the pair met, sparks flew both on and off the screen.
Oddly, just before she landed the role in Corelli, Deb had been in Los Angeles, where she'd starred in a couple of movies.
"But I went to a fortune teller in LA and she told me that I had to go back to Australia," Deb recalled recently.
"She said, 'You must go back because that's where it's all going to happen. You'll get work, you'll meet a man.' It was at a time when I was getting frustrated – anyone who's been in Hollywood long enough [will know about] the relentless auditions and the relentless rejection. I thought, what have I got to lose? So, I went back to Australia."
And walked straight into the arms of a fresh-faced Hugh, who'd only just graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
"The sexual tension between her character and mine kind of bubbled over into real life," Hugh once told me.
"I had a crush on Deb from the moment we met. Every time we had a scene together it was incredible. I was embarrassed because I didn't think my feelings would be reciprocated.
"It was my first job. Deb was my leading lady. Here I was, a 26-year-old actor. And there was Deb. Her new year's resolution was 'no actors and certainly no one under 30'. I was Deb's worst nightmare [in terms of a partner]. So, we gave each other that space, that safety zone, even though we were attracted to each other.
"I was fully aware that this was a cliché and that I was being ridiculous, so I backed off. Ï never thought that Deb would find me attractive in that way. So in the beginning we just got on like a house on fire and I suppose everyone else seemed to see it but us. We became best mates, but I thought I'd wait until I'd known her six months before I told her how I really felt. I thought, that way I'll be sure it's the real thing."
But knowing it was the real thing and getting the courage to tell Deb how he felt proved more difficult than he imagined.
"I decided that I would have a dinner party for some people from Corelli and I wanted to make an impression [on Deb]," Hugh said.
"My father is a great cook and I asked him about what I could make, and he suggested crêpe suzettes. If it is done flambé, it's always very impressive, he told me. Of course, it took much longer than I anticipated. I was in the kitchen for about 45 minutes trying to get it together and, finally, Deb came in to see what I was doing.
"I'd had a couple of wines by that stage and, in vino veritas, I finally got up the courage to tell her how I felt about her. I just blurted it out. And, to my great relief, she felt the same way."
Hugh and Deb bond through their strong belief in trying to make a difference in the world.
Even so, true love never runs smoothly, even for Hollywood stars.
There were moments when Deb wavered, despite Hugh's absolute commitment.
"I knew very early," Hugh told an Australian podcast recently.
"I knew before Deb knew, even when she tried to break up with me, I knew. I managed to talk her out of it. I'm a very indecisive person. Deb really knows this about me. I can count on one hand the number of times in my life when anything felt that clear to me. I just knew 100 per cent that we were meant to be together."
Just 11 months after they first met, Hugh proposed, and they married in a private ceremony in Melbourne, Deborra-lee's home town, on April 11, 1996.
They exchanged their vows with wedding rings that are inscribed with a Sanskrit vow that expresses their commitment to each other and the concept of service, in a philosophical sense, to the wider community. The inscription says: "Om paramar mainamar", which translates as "we dedicate our union to a greater source".
"That idea is very close to our hearts," Hugh says.
"Deb and I both studied at the Melbourne School of Philosophy and we both believe in the concept of serving others. We believe very strongly that we should try to make a difference. It's just one of those things that bonds us."
Hugh says of his wife Deb "I had a crush on Deb from the moment we met."
Just a couple of years after they exchanged their vows, life became a maelstrom for the couple.
Hugh was in the musical Oklahoma on the London stage, in the role that brought him worldwide attention, Curly.
Around the same time, he landed the role in Hollywood as the Wolverine, and began a movie franchise that went on to produce five films and billions of dollars in revenue.
But behind the scenes, Hugh and Deborra-lee were trying to start a family.
"We always wanted to have children," Hugh told me.
"We tried ourselves but we had a couple of miscarriages, and IVF – it was difficult. There was no medical reason why we couldn't have children of our own. It simply didn't happen. We had always discussed adoption as an avenue we'd like to explore, so we just decided to do it sooner rather than later."
With that Sanskrit engraving on their wedding rings in mind, when they came to adopt a child, Deb and Hugh asked themselves – where is the need?
"We just knew from talking to people who operate in that space, that people who adopt like the kid to look like them, but for Deb and me that was never even an issue," Hugh told People magazine recently.
They adopted their son Oscar in the United States in 2000, and daughter Ava in 2005. And they have grown together as family. Oscar, now 18, is of mixed race and Ava, now 13, is part Mexican, part German.
"I don't think of them as adopted – they're our children," Hugh said in a recent interview.
"Deb and I are believers in, I suppose you could call it, destiny. We feel things happened the way they were meant to. Obviously, biologically wasn't the way we were meant to have children."
Despite his fame, Hugh remains a humble guy who puts his family first.
Hugh says he is a strict parent, but only because he wants his children to grow up as well-balanced individuals.
"I constantly talk to them about respect and gratitude," Hugh told Parade magazine in 2015.
"I say, 'Unfortunately, I'm going to be tougher on you than I would be if I wasn't famous, because people are actually going to be less tough on you in life.' In a way, they have to be better behaved, be more respectful, have more gratitude than other kids. I try to keep their life as down-to-earth as possible. I really do."
In fact, a closer, more devoted family would be hard to find.
Though they live a frenetic, sometimes peripatetic life that is often split between the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as the UK, Europe, and a host of countries in between, Hugh and Deborra-lee are steadfastly devoted to Australia and still call Melbourne home.
Both Oscar and Ava have been brought up in the knowledge that they are Australians first and foremost, even though they have done most of their growing up overseas.
Understanding his deep connections to his wife and children is certainly the key to understanding Hugh. He is, despite his fame, a humble guy who puts his family first.
"It's life-changing in every single possible way. If I was not with Deb, then I would probably be a very different person," Hugh said in a recent interview.
"Deb has completely changed who I am. I honestly think Deb brings out the best in me and I hope I do the same for her. We love spending time together. We are very good mates and we laugh a lot.
"Deb is my rock. She has given up so much to come on the road and make sure our family is together. She is very grounded about the family, sometimes brutal about making sure we have time for each other and that I'm not working too hard. I am a bloody lucky man. I know that."

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