Hugh Jackman: A lover and a dancer puts his dukes up

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The Independent Online

"When I first heard this movie was about robot boxing, I thought for a moment it was a fetish film," teases Hugh Jackman whose image is so wholesome that any deviant behaviour would shock his fans to the core.

But this is a Disney film we're discussing today. Real Steel is set in a near future where boxing robots is a popular sport.

"When Steven Spielberg calls, you pay attention although it was the father-son relationship that really sold it for me. The idea that people who have made mistakes, who have regrets, can get a second chance," says the actor best known for his razor-clawed Wolverine in the X-Men series.

"But I've got to be honest – and this is not Fatherhood 101, this is bad fathering – I was reading the script just as my son was struggling to get to sleep, and called out, 'Dad, would you come in my room and read to me.' So I took the script in and he goes, 'Ah, not your boring scripts.' But he agreed to listen to a page and then asked for more. It's the first script he's ever enjoyed. He made me read it to him every night for the next 10 days, so I knew I was on to something," recalls the actor who is extraordinarily devoted to his children, Oscar, 11, and Ava, six.

"Also, I'm a big sports fan, so the robot-boxing idea fascinated me," says Jackman, who stars as a washed-up boxer whose sport has been taken over by machines.

It's an interesting premise, though Jackman doubts human sports will ever become obsolete. "There's something very primal about fighting that's always been around and I think always will be. .. I'm speaking as a man. I feel there's something about boxing, even when we're watching it, where we become primal. I've read Joseph Campbell's books. He was very interested in the topic, and thought it was a big mistake to try to get rid of it. Talking about all the moms trying to stop their kids from playing dangerous sports, he said that's the worst thing to do because it's always been there. It's part of the DNA.

"My dad, he's English, was an army boxing champion, so I grew up hearing a lot about the sport, and then as my brother and I started beating the crap out of each other, you're hearing a lot less about boxing. But it was always taught to me as a very honourable kind of sport, not just a bloodthirsty kind of thing," says Jackman, 42, who trained for Real Steel with Sugar Ray Leonard.

"Sugar Ray talked to me a lot about the loneliness of a boxer," he says. "Even if you're the champ how, in the pursuit of that goal, you can let other things slip by in life and not realise how important they are until later. He was very open about that."

A life-long fan of musicals, Jackman has performed numerous times on Broadway. Today he's in rehearsal for a 10-week run of his own Broadway song-and-dance show, backed by an 18-piece orchestra, before he begins shooting Tom Hooper's big-screen version of Les Misérables, playing Jean Valjean to Russell Crowe's Inspector Javert in an all-star cast.

The way Jackman tells it, he was never shy about his love of musicals, even at school. "I went to an all-boys school and the musical was with the local girl's high school so everyone wanted to be at the musical. Not only was it cool, it was essential to be in a high-school musical."

'Real Steel' opens on 14 October