20 Jul Tee for Two – Hugh Jackman
Although a hacker, singer Hugh Jackman, the star of ‘Sunset Boulevard’, can also call the tune on the golf course.
My secret hope was that Hugh Jackman might start our round with an air shot. I wanted to see his clubs behave like limp spaghetti in his hands. I wanted to watch him agonise over a series of duffed shots. Only then might I have been able to report that, at last, someone had found something Hugh Jackman does not do well.
The 29-year-old actor-singer oozed warmth and charm as he arrived on the tee to tackle the forgiving front nine at Sandringham. He carried a half-set of hire clubs and wore a long-sleeved blue shirt, a wide-brimmed straw hat, dark grey canvas trousers and bulky, rubber-soled hiking boots.
“I’m ready to have a go,” he said confidently. “But I’m not a member anywhere and I don’t get time to play much.”
He said that he had already limbered up with a morning game of squash. At 188cm, his address with a metal drive was somewhat crouched, but with a full, powerful swing he made excellent contact and blasted his ball into the sky.
“It’s such a mind game,” he said. “That’s why I love it. You can let out all your aggressions and yet it is still, somehow, tranquil.”
When was the last game he played? “Oh, about two months ago, on a bucks’ weekend. We were playing a new course up in the Hunter Valley and it was 37deg. I did OK, but we had to pull the plug early because they hadn’t put the drinking taps in. My stamina wasn’t quite there.”
Attempting to cut the right dog-leg at the opening 315m, par-four, Jackman’s tee shot caught a gum tree. He sailed his next over the back of the green and after an ordinary chip, three-putted for a six. “The short game is my big problem,” he said. “I call it ‘closing the deal’.”
Off the course, Jackman has been successfully closing deals all year. True to his word, he is a young man prepared to have a go at anything.
After his much-publicised and highly-acclaimed stint as Joe Gillies in Sunset Boulevard, Jackman ended up hosting a weekly fashion show on Foxtel. He also stood in as a guest host on Channel Nine’s In Melbourne Tonight and was master of ceremonies for the nationally televised AFI Awards. He also sang the national anthem in front of huge crowds at the MCG and Flemington racecourse, and caps off his year with a performance at Wednesday night’s Carols by Candlelight.
“When people say to me ‘Oh, you’d better start specialising’, I tend to want to run,” he said.
Jackman again took his driver at the 342m, par-four second, and sliced his ball high over the trees and on to an adjacent fairway. It was wayward, but long, and he played a wedge over bushes on to the apron of the green. He then three-putted again, for a bogey.
He told me that next year there were plans for a feature film and a possible album of original songs, but all this would have to fit in with his major gig in London. Jackman will be heading off in April to rehearse for the role of Curly in the Royal National Theatre’s production of Oklahoma!, which opens in June.
“Oh, it’s such an honour,” he said excitedly. “It’s one of the most-respected theatre companies in the world. It was started by Sir Laurence Olivier, then it was Sir Peter Hall and it’s just been taken over by Trevor Nunn who directed Sunset here.”
How did Jackman land the role? “After Sunset finished, I wrote to Trevor and told him that I was coming to London on holiday. He didn’t write back, so I thought ‘Ah he’s just busy’. When I arrived in London I got the message that he was to leave for holidays the next day. Eventually they said I could see him the next morning. Just before hanging up they said: ‘Oh, and would you mind bringing in a Shakespeare monologue and a song’.”
Jackman had not worked on Shakespeare since his academy days in Perth.
After rushing to a nearby bookshop he and wife, Deborra-lee Furness, headed for Regent’s Park and a quick refresher course on the Bard. “Deb directed me in the park for about four hours,” Jackman said. “I learnt the piece, then learnt a song that night and went in at 11 the next morning for probably the biggest audition of my career. Anyway, I must have done something OK!”
At the 153m, par-three third, Jackman took a seven-iron and rifled his shot into the breeze. His ball fell short of the green and he played a strong chip past the pin. He took his time analysing the four-metre downhill putt, then stepped up and calmly rolled it gently into the cup for par. He flashed his trademark smile, full of white teeth.
Born in Sydney, Jackman seemed headed for a career in journalism after completing a degree in communications, but a few minor roles whetted his appetite for acting. He suddenly lost interest in being a reporter and found he had been accepted into the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
The next day he was offered an on-going part in television soap Neighbours.
“I had the weekend to decide,” he said. “I had no real snobbishness about doing something like Neighbours, but I’m in it for the long haul. I wanted to learn. I’m glad I went to Perth.”
Graduating after three years, Jackman won the part of an armed robber in the ABC drama Correlli, and in January 1995 travelled to Melbourne, where the star of the show became his wife.
“She’s the most important thing in my life,” he said. “Some people have actually said, ‘Is Deb going with you to London?’ There would be no point going without her. She’s taught me so much.”
Jackman is developing so many strings to his bow that he might have to consider switching to the harp. I wondered about his plans for a solo album.
“I’m thinking of something in the style of Harry Connick Jr,” he said. “Maybe a little more poppy. Hopefully, I’ll get some time next year to record.”
He chatted about his MCG performance in front of 90,000 people at this year’s Bledisloe Cup, describing it as “the biggest buzz of all time”.
Prior to taking the field, he was pacing up and down in the under-21s’ dressing room, nervously going through his own warm up.
“There was an old guy there picking up odd scraps of tape and he was watching me,” Jackman said. “After a while, he said: ‘You a bit toey mate?’ I said: ‘Oh no, there’s only 90,000 people out there.’ He said: ‘No mate, there’s 400 million watching on telly.’ I headed straight for the toilet!”
Jackman recovered with a stirring rendition that for many, considering the Wallabies’ loss, was the highlight of the night. It earned him an invitation to sing at the Melbourne Cup four months later.
“I’ve always loved my sport and been very competitive at it,” he said. “That side of me came over at the ‘G’, especially when all the Kiwi supporters booed when my name was introduced.”
“Then they sang the New Zealand national anthem with so much gusto – louder than I’d ever heard our national anthem sung. I thought: ‘Right! You won’t upstage us.’ As soon as I started I felt this surge of adrenalin and went for it. It was tingles-up-the-back-of-the-neck time. As soon as it was over, I wanted to do it again.”
After pulling an iron from the tee at the 385m, par-four fourth, Jackman had a lucky break as his ball rolled through the trees to give him a clear shot at the green.
He selected a nine iron and put it over the back of the green. From there he played an average chip, but canned another four-metre putt for his second successive par. I had seen enough to know that I could add the word “golf” to his list of conquests.
About the only thing he hasn’t done yet is become a father.
“Oh year,” he said. “We’re working hard on that.”
Jackman flashed a sly grin and let out a huge chuckle.
Sunday Herald Sun, December 21, 1997