The label long ago coined for those who can act, sing and dance was "triple threat." But there aren't many of those folks working in the movies these days. Hugh Jackman is one. And whenever he gets nostalgic for Hollywood's "Golden Age" when triple threats walked the soundstages, he thinks of China.
"If you've been to China, every one of their movie stars sings," he says. "They sing live and have these huge concerts, promoting their movies.
"I think that's the way it used to be over here. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, those guys could sing. At least a little. Cary Grant, all those guys were put in musicals by the studios. Marlon Brando did a musical. Clint Eastwood did one. … And not only was it 'cool,' it was like, 'Well, you're not really an actor if you can't do a little song and dance.'"
Jackman sang and danced through an Oscar hosting gig that had the Academy Awards folks begging for more. He just signed to co-star opposite Russell Crowe in the "dream project," a big-screen version of the stage hit, "Les Miserables." And in between acting gigs, he does concerts accompanied by a 17- piece orchestra.
"I sing and rehearse every single day," Jackman says. "I take singing lessons once a week. For me, it's about longevity. It's about continually getting better. Let's face it, I wasn't that talented."
What? The Tony winner who revived "Oklahoma!" to great acclaim, the Tony Awards host with the most, the once-and-future Wolverine, beloved the world over? Not "that talented?"
"When I first started acting, there was no, 'Oh, this guy's going to be a star, a HUGE star.' None of that. I actually thought I was going to get kicked out of the first drama school I went to. The teachers and my classmates always seemed to be rolling their eyes when I was up.
"I have had to work really hard at everything that I do in show business. I'm actually grateful for that. I've kept the work ethic I developed there. I don't take it for granted."
Jackman, who turns 43 later this month, also has a sense of film history and his place in it. He's done his Western ("Australia"), his romantic comedies ("Kate & Leopold") and his action pictures ("X-Men"). His boxing picture ("Real Steel") — another classic measure of every leading man's mettle — opens Friday.
"I had the good sense to do MY boxing picture without repeatedly getting hit in the head!" he jokes.
"Real Steel" is about a future in which boxing has become a sport of robots. Jackman plays an ex-fighter who operates a mismatched robot in winner-take-all underground bouts, trying to impress the son (Dakota Goyo) he never knew he had and doesn't seem to want.
Fans at websites such as Ain't It Cool News (aintitcool.com) have been rolling their eyes, nicknaming it "The Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots" movie. But site contributor Beaks says, "It they're going for a futuristic take on [the boxing classic] 'The Champ,' I might actually be looking forward to this."
Jackman was a hard sell on the movie, too. He says he read the plot description and thought, "'Awww, no. Don't think this is for me. Sounds like a big special-effects movie, as cool as that might be, doesn't sound that interesting.' But when I read the whole script, I thought, 'Whoa, this is actually about the characters, not the robots! It's like 'Rocky' meets 'Transformers.'' I started to see it as potentially this wonderful, rousing sports drama that I loved growing up. Little bits of 'The Champ,' 'Paper Moon,' all these movies that I loved. I had to be in it."
The film, based on a story that was a classic episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone," might have seemed far-fetched in the 1960s. Today? It could even be prophetic.
"In the original story, boxing was outlawed, because people had been killed, right? [Director] Shawn Levy's take was 'Let's make it about people who are BORED with boxing. It's not violent ENOUGH. That's kind of where UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] and MMA [mixed martial arts] have come from. We're headed toward this boxing-with-the-gloves-off future. Let's go to town with that."
"Real Steel," with Jackman throwing punches just outside the ring as his battered old robot delivers them in the ring, has enough crowd-pleasing potential that DreamWorks started talking about a sequel back in the spring. Is Jackman, already bound to The X-Men/Wolverine film franchise, worried he might be tied to another?
"Oh, don't jinx it," he says with a laugh. "I'll find time. Wolverine sequels. 'Real Steel' sequels. And don't forget 'Les Mis' sequels!"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times