Hugh Jackman is a Cool Dad in Real Steel
By: Lynn Barker
From Wolverine and Van Helsing to… Bunnymund? Handsome, multi-talented actor/singer/dancer/producer Hugh Jackman is beloved by a wide range of fans. Besides playing the buff and gruff Wolverine, Hugh has lended his voice to a number of cuddly animated characters (penguin Memphis in Happy Feet and Roddy in Flushed Away. He’ll voice the character of Bunnymund in Rise of the Guardians.
This week, you can catch Jackman as a futuristic, washed up boxer and reluctant dad trying to teach an antique robot the rough sport of robot boxing in the Sci Fi action adventure film Real Steel.
We’re in Beverly Hills with Hugh who is super friendly and mega-buff as usual. We’re getting him to talk about his costars, 12-year-old Dakota Goyo (of Thor) who plays his son and Evangeline Lilly (of “Lost”) who plays his girlfriend. We want to know what it’s like taking on the role of a gruff loser (at least in the beginning of the film).
Kidzworld: What made you want to do this movie?
- Hugh Jackman: I just connected to the story. It reminded me of Rocky when I was growing up, a sports story with heart. It makes you feel good in the end. It's fun and it's entertaining, and dare I say might even bring a tear to the eye. [My character Charlie] doesn't feel anything anymore because it's easier to live that way. When life is disappointing to you and you get hurt so much you end up just switching off. I think that's something that we can all relate to on some level. It’s a story of redemption.
Kidzworld: Can you talk about working with “Lost’s” Evangeline Lilly as your love interest in Real Steel? You two were hot together.
- Hugh: Well, she’s famous for saying “no” to everything. She told me that the first audition she did was for “Lost” almost as a lark and all of a sudden she’s in a show for seven years of her life and she wrestled with that. But she said she read the script (for Real Steel) and was intrigued by it and started to cry. She was moved by it as a story so she said yes.
- She really brought so much to the role (of Bailey, a feisty femme gym owner). There is not one take where she does what you expect. There is a scene where she slaps me. I’d ad-libbed something correcting her. I’m like “Whoa!” She is really on it”. You don’t know what is coming. It was so much fun to act with her.
Kidzworld: Your character is kind of a loser for a long time but his son helps him with that. How do you see your character Charlie?
- Hugh: I always felt for this character, that he was someone who “could have been a contender.” [Laughs]. In the end, he wasn’t the best boxer of all time. He was right up there. It’s all taken away from him. He’s made mistakes. He definitely made mistakes with his son and probably with many relationships. He owes money all over the place. He stopped believing in himself. What I always loved was his strength emanated from his son, first. It’s his kid who feels that he can do this. He doesn’t even believe he can be a father. Even though he was kind of a loser, I always felt for him.
Kidzworld: Were you worried about playing him as a sort of bad guy at least in the early part of the movie?
- Hugh: I was sure we were going to be reshooting; that Spielberg and the studio were going to think it wasn’t right for DreamWorks and Disney. Hey, you basically sell your kid in the first ten minutes. We’ve gone too far. But they didn’t. There is the moment when I save the kid from falling off a big cliff and my character feels something. That is the first turning point. It’s instinctual as a dad.
Kidzworld: What was it about Dakota Goyo who plays your son, that when you did the chemistry read you knew: That’s the kid?
- Hugh: When he auditioned I knew. He has that “thing” on screen. I remember doing a lighting test and [the camera was] slowly pushing in on his face, There’s no acting in a lighting test and he was just drifting off. The camera was moving in on him and the girl behind the monitor started crying. He just has a soulfulness to him. He’s funny, he’s full of life, he’s a brilliant actor, and the nicest kid imaginable. I’ve no doubt that he’s going to become a huge star, and I’ll be in the old person’s home, saying, “You know, I was in his first movie.”
Kidzworld: You have an 11-year-old son. Was he jealous of you and Dakota?
- Hugh: I had to be a little careful when my son (Oscar) was around, so he didn’t get too jealous. Dakota is the nicest kid. Poor thing was dirty the whole time in all the mud scenes, caked on mud and I’d tease him about having a little dirt right there or “oh, you’ve got a spider there” and he’d start hitting me. I had to loosen it up.
Kidzworld: Has your son seen the movie?
- Hugh: Absolutely, and he loved it. He did say to me, “Can I drink sodas for breakfast now?” [because the boy in the film does]. He just got wrapped up in the story of Atom. He loved that robot and the idea of the robot. He saw the magic in that robot just like Dakota's character does.
Kidzworld: The dad and son in this film share a love of boxing. Do you share something like that with your son?
- Hugh: Well, I'm a huge sports fan. With my first son, I thought, “This is going to be awesome”. Nope. My son hates sports. I said, “Man, okay. Well, at least we'll kick a soccer ball”. Hates it. “Throw a baseball?” Hates it. But, I found myself at more museums, looking through geological books. My son knows the name of every tree that you would ever see, the [scientific] name as well as its real name. We dig through the dirt and find insects. I can tell you things about histories and cultures and tribal history that I never thought that I would've known. So, really it's about listening to your kid and connecting with them rather than forcing them to like the things that you like.
Kidzworld: What was your reaction when you first came on set and saw the real 8 and 9-foot robots there in front of you?
- Hugh: There’s a picture of Dakota and me and we both look 10 years old. We have the exact same “Ahhhhhh” look on our face and it was so great for us to see what we would be working with right there.
Kidzworld: Can you talk about working with the robots on set?
- Hugh: Those robots are phenomenal and they’re pretty expensive too. It’s amazing, in this world where I’m used to a green screen and [looking at] a stick with a tennis ball on it, Spielberg said to [the director] “You should really have real elements on set whenever you can”. So in the movie I don’t think you can tell which is real and which is CGI because it’s done so well. Basically, if they’re not walking or fighting, that’s a real robot.
Kidzworld: Favorite robot and why?
- Hugh: Well my daughter (Ava, age 6) loves Noisy Boy but she’s a big mosh pit girl. But she also says she loves Atom because he understands Dakota. My daughter has a bit of a crush on Dakota and my son loves Atom. I love Atom. I love the underdog. They also love the big robot Zeus because he’s cool, not because he’s the bad guy.
Kidzworld: Anthony Mackie’s character calls your character Charlie a bad bet. Was there any time in your own life that you felt like a bad bet?
- Hugh: I think when I started acting. I felt like a really bad bet. I majored in journalism, I had a degree and I was like, “I don’t know if I’m up for it.” So, I went and did some classes and I got into this one year acting course, which was not easy to get into. I snuck in. Literally for the first four months I felt like the dunce of the class. I really knew nothing about acting, except I liked it.
- Everyone in there was cooler and had a leather jacket. Every time I did something, the teachers would roll their eyes. It’s a lonely feeling. The turning point was not caring anymore what people thought. I’m just going to enjoy this and I don’t care if you’re rolling your eyes at me or not. It was a great lesson to learn. I’ve carried that with me as an actor. You just have to do what you think is right and work harder than everybody else.
Kidzworld: We heard that when you came in for this project you were beefed up and chunky from another movie and that your costumes didn’t fit. True?
- Hugh: Nobody had told the costumers I had put on weight so it was literally like putting on my son’s clothing. My paunch became ridiculous so I had to hit the rowing machine at the gym. You never see anyone on it because it’s the hardest thing there. It’s the worst seven minutes of your life but it uses every muscle in your body.
Kidzworld: Your dad was a boxer so is he really proud of you for this movie?
- Hugh: I’m seeing it with him in Australia and he’s gonna flip. My dad was thrilled that I was working with (famous boxer) Sugar Ray Leonard. When I was a kid my brother and I were always at it; fighting each other all day every day. I was always losing. It was horrible. My dad said “I’ve decided to never let you two watch boxing or wrestling and never to talk about it”. If we found out he was a boxer, it would be a green light so I learned he was a boxing champion from my uncle.
Kidzworld: Did you know that one of the greatest boxers of all time Sugar Ray Leonard was going to be training you? What did you think?
- Hugh: They said, ‘Listen, we’re thinking about hiring Sugar Ray to work with the robots and do the choreography, and also to help you out with the boxing. Are you cool with that?’ I was starstuck and a little intimidated. I’ve been lucky enough to have met a lot of very big movie stars, but deep down if I was any better at it I would be a sportsman. So meeting someone like Sugar Ray I kind of turn into a little kid.
Kidzworld: You’ve seen plenty of action as Wolverine. How was this boxing role different?
- Hugh: This is different because it's traditional boxing. The other films, like, Wolverine you don't always have to have your fists up, guarding your face and your chin to your chest. Wolverine has got claws and takes your head off. I had to be a little more specific about it. Yeah. I mean, it's nice to be in an action movie, I suppose, where I'm not doing any of the action. It's kind of nice.
Kidzworld: Will there be another Wolverine movie?
- Hugh: Absolutely and it's going to be a little darker and I think a little more true to the character.
Kidzworld: Why do you love to be that character?
- Hugh: It was the first film that I did in America and somehow I lucked upon the greatest of all the superhero roles because he feels very human, has dilemmas and demons and his battles feel more like they're human. I don't feel like a guy with claws and ridiculous hair. I feel like a guy battling against life.
Kidzworld: You are going off later this month to do a one man show on Broadway and then doing the film version of Les Miserables. You play the hero Jean and fellow Aussie Russell Crowe plays the guy chasing him Javert. We know you can sing but can Russell, I mean in a big musical?
- Hugh: He’s got pipes too, man. He was in musicals early on in Australia. Prior to having his band he was in “The Blues Brothers” in Australia. In Australia, you can be a big movie star but still not making a living. You have to do everything.
Real Steel Official Trailer