Hugh Jackman on meditating, ironing and backgammon during NYC lockdown
Australian movie star worried about his kids during pandemic lockdown in New York, drawn to 'slipperiness of truth' in Bad Education
Meditation is one of the things Hugh Jackman always goes back to, and never more so than now, in this unprecedented time of self-isolation and social distancing.
He said: "Meditation is accepting that the surface of the water, which is our daily life, can be calm, tranquil and beautiful one day, and it can be rocky and treacherous the next.
"But no matter what is on the surface, there is a calm to be accessed beneath the water. Which is why I have done it for 25, 30 years."
The 51-year-old Australian actor was on a video conference call last week talking about how he is coping with the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown that is affecting people all over the world.
But he is more worried about his children - a 19-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter - than himself.
"I'm worried about them and their mental state, not being at school and not being around friends. And also, just that pervasive anxiety - I don't want that to impact them too harshly."
Jackman is hunkered down with his wife Deborra-Lee Furness and their children in New York City, one of the hot spots for the coronavirus in the US.
Our interview is for his new movie Bad Education, which premieres on April 26 at 8am on HBO GO and airs on the same day at 10pm on HBO.
Family time under lockdown involves a lot of cooking and playing endless backgammon.
"My cooking has about a 50 per cent hit rate. Quite often I cook and then the kids go, 'Can I order Postmates (food delivery), dad?'
"And we are playing record numbers of backgammon, Deb and I. We normally play 10 games a day. It's got to be 20 or 30 right now."
One endearing thing he confessed to is doing a particular chore.
"The greatest thing that has happened to me in the last three months is that I got glasses. We sit down in the family room and I have an ironing board there. I do the ironing while I watch a lot of TV. I knew I needed glasses for distance, and I was thinking TV is not distance. So for years I've been watching TV thinking that's the way TV is. I put on the glasses and I had no idea how good TV is," he said with a laugh.
"I am so blessed that I am allowed to stay at home.
"Doctors, nurses, firemen, police officers, they are working out there on the front lines."
For him, the Big Apple "feels like a post-apocalyptic movie with no one around", but he has managed to connect with others in this dystopian time.
He said: "You know the saying, 'Man plans, and God laughs?' The only thing that we can really rely on is community and being there for each other. That sense of community has got a lot stronger here because this is a world pandemic, everyone's in the same situation.
"There are some people I am talking to now that I've seen for 10 years and have never spoken. People seem to have more time, they talk to each other. The optimist in me hopes that that will continue."
Jackman had planned to take six months off in any case before his new Broadway show, The Music Man, was scheduled to open in October.
"I had done a concert tour last year around the world and I had spent a lot of time away from the home, more than usual. So I had already planned for this time. I am actually enjoying it, to be with the family, to be simple, to be quiet."
But keeping on working is important for him - even in self-isolation and not knowing if the show will go on.
He said: "I would be lying if I said I am not dancing in my living room a little bit. We did a little bit of a workshop back in February, so I know what some of the dances are going to be. I am still doing singing lessons and singing every day.
"I was with the musical director today on FaceTime for an hour going through the whole score. So it's clear to me that a little bit of work keeps me sane. Also, eight shows a week in a musical, you have to be in top shape. We start rehearsals June 29 hopefully. I thought I have got to be ready for that."
And unlike other Hollywood stars who have had their films postponed due to the pandemic, Jackman is at least able to promote his upcoming small-screen release.
The comedy-drama Bad Education is based on a true story and sees him playing a school superintendent in an expensive Long Island school district. Frank Tassone was instrumental in boosting its nationwide ratings and college admissions, and incidentally, local property values.
What no one was aware of was that he and his colleague (Allison Janney) had been systematically stealing millions from the school, and the embezzlement was found out only when a student reporter on the school paper started asking uncomfortable questions.
Jackman did not meet Tassone, who was imprisoned in 2006 and released in 2010.
"It's all public record. I actually hired a researcher. I had reams of material, newspaper articles, hours and hours of video of him talking about the incident."
What attracted him to the part was what he calls the "slipperiness of truth".
"I like the grey areas of humanity. In the end, a lot of people went to jail. They did something very, very bad and stole public money - it was the largest theft in school history.
"But that slipperiness of truth, what starts as something so small and justifiable, can snowball into a 12 million dollar thing. And they will somehow justify it to themselves.
"And imagine the courage it took for 15-year-old kids writing in a school paper to actually uncover a scandal of this size. I think that was the other part of the story that really sold me."
The writer is the chair of the board of directors of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards