Chappie star Hugh Jackman plays villain with bad haircut

Hugh Jackman stars in Chappie as a former military man who tries to decimate the titular sentient robot.
Hugh Jackman stars in Chappie as a former military man who tries to decimate the titular sentient robot. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Seeing Hugh Jackman in shorts and a bad haircut might just be good enough reason to catch Chappie.

The Australian actor, 47, takes a break from his usual tortured Wolverine persona to play a former military man who tries to decimate a sentient robot in South African director Neill Blomkamp's latest filmic musing on human consciousness via a computer-generated robot.

"It's great because I finally get to use my own accent," he says with a laugh, talking to journalists on the red carpet and later at a press event in Berlin.

"This is the real me. That's why I said it's got to be Australian. I'm coming out as my true, really dark villain. You can ask my kids, they see it all the time. It's exhausting being a nice guy."

Segueing back into the movie Chappie, he continues: "With a villain, there's got to be something enjoyable about it. What Neill does is he gives a very valid argument to the guy."

The success of Wolverine in the X-Men franchise (2000-2014) and Robert Angier in The Prestige (2006) has led to an avalanche of "reluctant hero" scripts coming his way. But "I was all the time doing different things on stage", he says.

Born to evangelical Christians who migrated to Australia from England, Jackman grew up in the Outback, where he learnt to love the outdoors and the "hardworking but laid-back" Australian way of life. His first degree was in communications, but the floorboards soon claimed him after a chance encounter with the stage for an extra course credit.

Yet, he did not get his first paid acting job until the ripe old age of 27. In 1995, he was offered a small part in a 10-part Australian prison drama called Corelli.

"The first show I did, I had a mullet," he says of his first haircut on television, which has resurfaced in Chappie.

"I met my wife on the set and fell in love, so I thought: This is going to work for me. Bring back those heady, early days."

Today, Jackman and his leading lady, actress Deborra-Lee Furness, live in Sydney with their two adopted children, Oscar and Ava.

The actor is open, chatty and tackles questions head-on with self-deprecating charm, whether they concern his "average" relationship with technology ("It's transformed my life as a parent. I was constantly making things up before I started Googling") or transferring stage skills to the screen ("Stage acting makes you sharper, your first takes are better").

He says of the Australian approach: "For better or worse, we're very egalitarian. Anyone who starts to think they're better than anyone else gets cut down very quickly.

"It was a culture shock going onto an American movie set: The crew don't talk to the actors; sometimes they're told not to engage with you when you're in your zone. I felt very self-conscious. In Australia, it's like, 'Can I have a chair? Yeah, get it yourself, it's over here.'"

This sense of groundedness, he maintains, has led him to not take anything for granted. Each role, he maintains - if well picked - should always cast doubt on his ability.

"It's got to be a challenge. You're not 100 per cent sure you can do it," he explains.

"I know I can be good, I know I can be bad. Every job is different. Unless you're Meryl Streep, everyone has a bad performance."

Twenty years down the road and at the height of fame, with 35 films under his belt, he seems to have remained down-to-earth and very much in charge of his humility and spending power - heightened or otherwise.

"I was 27 before I got my pay cheque. I dreamt of being able to walk into a restaurant without having to check the prices on the menu," he says.

"But today, I'm still checking - that tiny thing for $20? Nah, I'm going for the $5 one."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.