A Thinking Man's Action Hero

In adoring fan circles, Aussie actor Hugh Jackman (aka Wolverine in the X-Men series) is regarded as a hunk. Members of other circles such as agents, directors and, producers, refer to him as an extremely talented hunk. Both of those attributes led to him getting the role as a fearless creature hunter in the sure-to-be-blockbuster special effects extravaganza Van Helsing.

Yet the idea of using Jackman never came to Van Helsing writer-director Stephen Sommers, who makes films in conjunction with his longtime producer Bob Ducsay.

"I always finish a script, then give it to Bob for my notes. And on first read, Bob will usually say who's going to star in it," says Sommers. "And he said Hugh Jackman. I hadn't seen the first X-Men movie and the second one hadn't come out yet. I'd only seen Kate & amp; Leopold, so I didn't really know him."

But Ducsay did, and he remembers his first Jackman sighting.

"It was at the National Theatre in London, when he was playing Curly in Oklahoma!, he recalls. "Hugh couldn't have been on stage for more than five minutes and I was thinking, who is this guy? I'd never seen him, I'd never heard of him, yet he made such a huge impression. The level of charisma he brought to the role, the strength that he brought to the role, the physicality he brought to that role - in a musical, of all things - somehow seemed to apply here. He's big, he's good-looking, he's charismatic, and all of these things were necessary for the character of Van Helsing."

And the actor seems to be a sort of Jackman of all trades. Maybe it has to do with his hair. In X-Men and its sequel, it's slicked back and unconventionally stylish; in Van Helsing, it's a big unruly mop; onstage in the Broadway hit The Boy From Oz, in which he plays Australian singer-composer Peter Allen -- and in real life -- it's short-cropped and neat. Maybe it's his facial expression. In X-Men, he wears a scowl; in Van Helsing, it's flat-out unreadable; in person, he sports a big, winning, infectious smile.

He's also gracious and charming, a far cry from the determined hit man and nemesis of all sorts of monsters in the film. He candidly admits that he wasn't sure if he wanted the part at first, mainly because he was just getting ready to play Wolverine for the second time.

"When I first met Stephen I was on my way to shoot X-Men 2," he says. "My reluctance was that I thought I was going to do a smaller independent movie after X-Men 2. Something different. I was a bit reluctant about being in another big franchise movie. Because I thought I might just end up going down that road. You know, if it was successful, then it would be X-Men 3 and Van Helsing 2, and that would kind of be my film life. So I told Steve about that, and he told me he thought I was the only actor in Hollywood who was nervous about being in two successful franchises. And I had a giggle, and that was about it."

Jackman has developed a great reputation in the business. Kate Beckinsale, his costar in Van Helsing, calls him the nicest guy in Hollywood. But he also turns out to be quite modest about his abilities.

"I get a very strong feeling about what I can do with a role in a film," he says. "And apart from that, I have to have faith in the director. I had every confidence of what I could do with the role, but I don't know how to make one of those movies, not for a second do I know how to pull all of that together.

"But as far as planning [my career], this was a step up for me. Kate and I are above the title, and I'm playing the lead character. I suppose that's the first time I've done that. And that was a deliberate choice. I only did it with someone like Steve because I trust him. I'm not going to be one of those lead actors who says, 'This is my movie, I hate the script, I'm rewriting it, I'm going do it this way.' I don't want to work like that."

The way he worked in Van Helsing was to take the oft-played character -- Anthony Hopkins and Laurence Olivier have done the role before -- and give it his own spin.

"The earlier roles weren't really relevant," he says of his approach to the part. "I read Bram Stoker's Dracula. But Steve's version of Van Helsing was so different -- he's a lot younger, more adventurous. According to Bram Stoker, he was a Dutch professor who was very enigmatic and sort of mysterious. I did take a little bit of a Dutch accent but not much else - except that the character always has a mystery about him."

Even though there's no script yet for the third installment in the phenomenally successful X-Men series, Jackman reveals that the filmmakers and studio are in discussions about it. And he laughs off the rumors that he's being groomed to take over the James Bond franchise.

"I actually think I started that rumor," he says. "I facetiously mentioned it, and all of a sudden, particularly in Australia, it's gospel. There's always that fantasy in every boy. I'm pretty sure there isn't a man who wouldn't love to play Bond one day. But there's been no offer."

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