2014 Tony Awards Host Hugh Jackman Isn't Just Wolverine: Let's Take a Walk Down Broadway
Statistically speaking, there's a very good chance you've seen Hugh Jackman in X-Men: Days Of Future Past . The summer blockbuster has grossed almost $200 million domestically in just two weeks — an impressive feat no matter which way you slice it. But an entirely different set of fans than your typical popcorn-munching mutant-lovers are about to see Wolverine in a very different setting: the Tony Awards. Yes, Jackman is hosting the Tony Awards, AKA Broadway's biggest night. No, the invitation wasn't sent to the wrong address. Longtime Tonys afionados will recognize that Jackman's actually a big-time Broadway star — and not just because he was great in Les Miserables.
While you may remember Jackman cutting a rug with Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2004 Tonys, non Broadway-obsessives might not know that the 45-year-old Australian actor got his start on stage all the way back in 1985, when he starred in his grammar school's production of My Fair Lady. But it wasn't until after he graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney with a BA in Communications that he even considered turning his hobby into a career. He spent a year training at the Actors' Centre in Sydney. After completing that program, he was offered a role in the popular Australian sitcom Neighbours, but he turned it down to enroll full-time at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth.
Despite what you may think given his current level of international fame and matinée-idol looks, Jackman wasn't an instant success. In fact, he was worried during his time at Western Australian Academy that he wouldn't cut it as a performer:
I was like the dunce of the class. It just wasn't coming right to me. Everyone was cooler, everyone seemed more likely to succeed, everyone seemed more natural at it and in retrospect I think that is good. I think it is good to come from behind as an actor. I think it is good to go into an audition thinking 'Man I've got to be at my best to get this gig.
That feeling of being an underdog must have helped, because it didn't take him long to break into the field. He spent a few years acting on Australian TV and local productions of shows like Beauty And The Beast and Sunset Boulevard (during which time he met his future wife Deborra-Lee Furness). But Jackman got his first big break a scant four years after graduating from the Academy when he was cast in the lead role of a West End (London's version of Broadway) production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! His performance as Curly at the Royal National Theatre earned him an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
(You can actually still watch Jackman's performance in the classic musical — the West End version was made into a TV movie, pictured above, and is available on DVD.)
The very next year, Jackman landed his most iconic film role... although he almost didn't even get the chance. Little known fact: Scottish actor Dougray Scott was initially cast as Logan (AKA "Wolverine") in Bryan Singer's X-Men, but had to drop out when shooting for Mission: Impossible II (in which he played the villain) ran over schedule. Too bad for Scott, because the adamantium claws launched Jackman to worldwide popularity almost overnight.
Jackman has now appeared in seven X-Men movies (including his hilarious cameo in First Class) and over a dozen more Hollywood films, but he's still found time to return to his roots: the stage. In 2002, he starred in a concert version of another Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Carousel, at Carnegie Hall. Then from September 2003 through September 2004, he played his most acclaimed stage role yet in his Broadway debut as Peter Allen in the jukebox musical The Boy From Oz. Allen was a highly popular Australian entertainer who came out as gay after divorcing Liza Minnelli, and died in 1992 at the age of 48 from AIDS-related illnesses. Jackman was universally praised for his portrayal of the man; audiences and critics alike were impressed with how sharply his flamboyant performance contrasted with his hyper-masculine screen persona. The role won him both the 2004 Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Jackman has been back on the Great White Way twice more since his trip to Oz: In 2009 when he co-starred with Daniel Craig in the play A Steady Rain; and again in 2011 with his one-man show Hugh Jackman, Back On Broadway.
This isn't Jackman's first time at the Tony rodeo, either. Sunday night will be the actor's fourth time hosting the ceremony, after three consecutive years in 2003-'05. People even throw awards at him for hosting awards shows! Jackman won the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performer in a Variety, Musical or Comedy Program for his stint at the 2004 Tonys.
And there's no sign that Jackman is going to forget about his love of the stage any time soon. In fact, he'll be back on Broadway later this year in a production of Jez Butterworth's new play The River at the Circle In The Square Theatre, opening in October.
Images: Universal Pictures