When looking for an ambassador to front a global marketing campaign, there are certain boxes a luxury brand likes to tick. Tall, dark and handsome are obvious prerequisites. Approachable, modest and likeable are all-important attributes if you are putting the reputation of your brand in someone’s hands. Step forward Hugh Jackman; all of the above plus devoted husband and father, philanthropist, supremely talented film, theatre and musical performer and, if rumours are to be believed, “Nicest Man in the World”.
Given just one word to sum up Jackman, Montblanc CEO Jérôme Lambert doesn’t need to think twice. “Fun.” When allowed a few more he continues: “Hugh is extremely knowledgeable and you can discuss hundreds of topics with him. I am always impressed by how down to earth he is. He is someone who enjoys every minute of his life and what makes him really outstanding to spend time with is his great sense of humour.”
On the question of why Jackman was chosen as the brand’s global ambassador, Lambert is clear. “We were looking for an ambassador that represents all the attributes of the brand: elegant, talented, pioneering and committed to the arts. Hugh was the perfect fit. He inspires and enthrals audiences worldwide with the quality and substance of his performances and the achievements in his professional and personal life. He is a go-getter, the type of man that people admire but can also relate to. There is a true connection between Hugh and Montblanc and we are delighted that is representing our maison in our brand campaign and at events around the world.”
A man with his feet very much on the ground (“I came from a humble home. My father always taught us the value of hard work and giving back.”), Jackman is an active philanthropist and a supporter of Montblanc’s work in the field of arts and culture. “The arts is unfortunately an area that increasingly has to fight for funding, whether public or private,” he says. “I share Montblanc’s commitment to supporting the arts in all its forms and helping them flourish. Montblanc has done a fantastic job over the years supporting visual artists, musician, dancers and even theatre directors. I am committed to a number of charity initiatives and causes and I will always lend my support and share my voice where I can.”
When we meet on a rainy April night in West London, I find myself apologising for the luminous Post-its stuck to my notebook. “Prompts, in case I go off track,” I explain. Sensing my nerves at being in the presence of one of Hollywood’s hottest properties he nudges me, winks and says: “No, I love it. I was once interviewed by someone who had his questions written on toilet paper. What does that say?”
Despite the Australian twang, Jackman’s humour is 100 per cent English. “Well I guess I am a Brit,” he says. “My mum and dad are both English – what they called ‘Ten Pound Poms’. I have three siblings that were born in the UK and when they set sail for Australia in 1967 mum was pregnant with number four. I was born in 1968 – number five and a first-generation Aussie.
“I spend a lot of time here and I feel very at home in the UK. I probably grew up more English than most people who live here. We had a diet of Fawlty Towers and Kenny Everett. I remember on Sundays my dad would call us for brunch shouting ‘Elevenses! Elevenses!’ I say it now with my best British accent and people look at me like I’m insane.”
Noticing the dragon necklace around my neck, he continues: “You’re Welsh? I’m working with a Welsh man at the moment. Taron Egerton who was in Kingsman. He’s a terrific actor. The film we are making is very British – it’s about Eddie the Eagle. We are shooting in Germany right now – that’s where I was until 5pm and I’ll be back on set at 5am in the morning.”
Impressed by the dedication of someone who would fly from mainland Europe to London for dinner, I express surprise at Jackman’s latest choice of role as ski coach Chuck Berghorn. “What do you mean? I love the story. All Aussies love Eddie. He has been on set and he’s great, exactly how you would expect him to be. One minute you’re chatting away and the next minute he’s spotted biscuits or something and he’s off!”
The story is simple. Back in 1988, Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. Despite finishing in last place, Edwards became a British hero and a global symbol of determination and achievement. He also gave broadcasters the ultimate catchphrase when, on his touchdown, they were able to declare with glee: “The Eagle has landed!”
But surely, it’s an unlikely plot for a movie? A bit like… “a Jamaican bobsleigh team?” Jackman laughs, referencing 1993’s mega successful Cool Runnings. “I promise it’ll make sense when you see it. It is a really cool story. A lot went on behind the scenes that people don’t realise.” And with the Dexter Fletcher-directed biopic attracting a cast that includes Christopher Walken and Tim McInnery, as well as Jackman and Egerton, I take the promise at face value.
As the pictures below show, Jackman’s look changes quite radically as he goes from role to role. In the past couple of years, he has rocked a 1980s mullet for sci-fi thriller Chappie, shaved his head for his role as Blackbeard in up-coming family adventure prequel Pan and sported varying degrees of facial hair in all of the above plus Van Hesling, Australia, Prisoners and others. Like a kid with a dressing up box, it is little wonder that he recently joked with a British newspaper that for his wife of 19 years – Australian actress, director and producer Deborra-Lee Furness – it’s like having an affair with a new man every few months.
Although he studied communications at university, Jackman says that he knew from a very young age he wanted to be an actor but the constant teasing of his brother initially stopped him pursuing it. “Then one day we went to see a show and he said he was sorry and that I should be up there,” he recalls. “From that day forward, I never looked back.”
He completed a one-year course titled “The Journey” at the Actors’ Centre in Sydney and a reasonably successful few years in Australian TV and stage followed, with Jackman meeting Deborra-Lee on the set of his first major professional job in ABC series Correlli. His international career really took off though when he was cast as the living embodiment of Marvel Comics’ hero Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film X-Men. Jackman has since made the role his own – quite surprising considering that, at over 6ft 2, he is a foot taller than Marvel’s original comic book Wolverine.
Jackman is required to add a great deal of muscle for his role as the mutant with enhanced physiology, heightened senses and an accelerated healing factor – not to mention retractable bone claws. The gruelling training regime that gets him in shape for the role – one he has played seven times in the past 15 years – has been heavily publicised with his version of Wolverine becoming bigger, more ripped and physically closer to the comic book original with each incarnation.
According to the actor, it takes six months of training to get physically ready for the role, although he does admit that, “I originally thought I could do it in three or four weeks, which is why I look crap in the first X-Men”. His co-star Michael Fassbender (Magneto) is far more complimentary saying: “Hugh’s discipline is incredible. He is in the gym at 4.30am every morning. We all start training harder to try and keep up – we call it ‘The Jackman Effect’.” And it seems to have worked, with Jackman charting at number six on Empire magazine’s list of 100 sexiest movie stars 2015.
When asked how long he will carry on playing the stoic and internally conflicted Wolverine, Jackman is thoughtful. “When I was first offered the role my agent had me sign on for two films and then we would see. Smart man. Amazing advice! He is a part of me at this point. I have been playing him for 15 years. That’s as old as my son. I know everything about him – what makes him tick, what makes him rage, everything. It is always interesting to put that ‘hat’ back on. The story is different each time. I know some day I will need to stop or be asked to stop. I hope that’s not too soon. But ultimately it is not my decision. It’s the choice of fans and of people at a much higher pay grade than me.”
A Song and Dance
Proving that he had made the grade of global star of the silver screen, Jackman was asked to host the 2009 Oscars during which he showcased both his comedy and song and dance prowess in an opening routine parodying some of the most nominated movies of the year including Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Reader and The Wrestler. “My first acting experience was in musicals so I feel most comfortable on the stage,” he says, explaining why he is always happy to go back to the theatre. In fact his musical career was prolific, culminating in an Olivier Award nomination for Oklahoma at the Royal National Theatre in London’s West End and a Tony Award for his Broadway portrayal of Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. “Performing in front of a live audience, there is nothing like it. Of course, after all these years, I have become comfortable with film too. But the stage is my first love.”
In a stunning climax to the Oscars performance, he “press-ganged” a ballgown-clad Anne Hathaway into playing President Nixon to his David Frost in a musical sketch that could have been the pair’s audition for the 2012 celluloid version of Les Misérables. Hathaway returned the compliment at the 2011 Oscars ceremony, lampooning Jackman in a rendition of On My Own.
As the talk turns to watches, I comment that Jackman is currently wearing the 41mm Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum on his right wrist. “Yep, I am a leftie,” he says. “In the Eddie the Eagle film I have to wear the watch on my left hand for the first time. The director insisted and it was hard – it’s like throwing with your wrong hand.”
The exotic in-house world-timer suits him. Screaming quality from the faceted dauphine hands and crisp lettering to the world map with its light and dark continents, the layers of the Orbis take inspiration from Montblanc’s Metamorphosis II and Rieussec Rising Hours. The central sapphire crystal dial displays the continents as viewed from the North Pole. The continents are openworked, so that a rotating disc below with light and dark areas can indicate at a glance whether it is day or night.
The globe is encircled by the names of 24 cities representing the time zones. The time is adjusted by positioning the local city at 6 o’clock via a pusher at 8 o’clock. Then the hours and minutes can be adjusted through the crown to set the correct local time in the selected city. Once this is done, the time in each of the 24-time zones will be displayed around the sapphire crystal dial.
“I just got it today,” says Jackman. “Wearing this piece will revolutionise my life. I am constantly looking at the world clock to try and avoid ringing family in Oz or the US at the wrong time.”
The Jackman family – Hugh, Deborra-Lee, son Oscar, daughter Ava and impossibly cute mutts Dali and Allegra – currently reside in New York City, where he describes the energy as phenomenal. “I love that my children are growing up in a diverse environment,” he says, smiling at the thought of family life. “If I am home then I am happy. I get up early and work out. I do all the ‘normal’ husband, dad, life stuff. I take my daughter to school, coach soccer or whatever activity is happening that day. We have dinner together and then it’s homework.”
A Watch for Every Occasion
Beyond the current Spirit Orbis Terrarum, Jackman is accumulating quite a watch collection: “I am very spoilt. I am like Montblanc’s crash test dummy. I have four pieces including the TimeWalker Extreme Chronograph in black DLC – it is the watch I wear every day.” A perfect all-rounder, this version of the familiar TimeWalker is perfect for any wrist, with its 43mm case and hollowed-out lugs. The surprise element of the watch comes in the form of its Extreme strap that features a “Vulcarboné” core of high-quality, hardwearing rubber. A leather upper is then sewn to the rubber using breakage-resistant twine before the leather is textured and impregnated to increase its strength and resistance to abrasion, water and fire.
“I also have a Montblanc Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar. It is a timelessly elegant piece but it also features a great complication that requires no manual adjustment. It definitely is a work of art, but it is also functional. And for very special occasions I have a Villeret 1858 Vintage Tachydate. It is one of only 58 pieces and has an absolutely gorgeous movement that can be seen through the sapphire back. I have been told that each piece undergoes a 500-hour quality test. I am very lucky. And when my career is down the tube I will have something very precious to sell!”
When Montblanc first approached Jackman he was thrilled, he says. “I remember as a teenager I desperately wanted a Montblanc fountain pen. I had terrible handwriting and I pleaded with my father that a real pen would make me write better. It didn’t work on him though. For me Montblanc always had a mystique about it.”
Now that he is part of the inner-circle, that mystique has been replaced by a sense of family. “I visited the leather pelletteria in Florence last year and met a whole bunch of people that worked there. We went out locally for pizza and beer with a few of the guys and their families. It was a night I will never forget.”
And the old family values are something that Jackman can really appreciate. “The pelletteria has incredible machinery, straight out of a science fiction movie, and then you go into workshops where there are craftsman working on pieces by hand. You see that Montblanc has this dedication to innovation but also this great tradition of craftsmanship and reliance on traditions that have been around for generations. I am proud to be part of that and I wish all my movies could stand up to the same test.
“I visited the customer service and repair centre where people from all over the world send their products. I was shown a long letter from a man who had inherited a Montblanc briefcase from his grandfather. I saw a picture of how it arrived and how after two days of restoration it was brought back to life. I read the letter and understood what it meant to its owner and I saw that this is what embodies Montblanc. You can have a watch or bag that is the most innovative on the market and decades from now these pieces will still live on because when you buy something from Montblanc you buy something that will be around for generations to come. And that’s what I love about the brand. It is why I am proud to be an ambassador for Montblanc and why I look forward to many more years working with them.”
Although Jackman has yet to visit the Montblanc watch manufacture in Villeret, it is a trip he is greatly looking forward to. “I remember my first watch when I was about 12 or 13. For me it was almost like a coming of age. You buy your first watch and you become a man. I would look at all the guys in class that had Casio calculator watches and dream of one. My first watch was a Swatch – of course, I’m a kid of the 1980s after all – it was all I could afford at the time.
“Now I see a timepiece as a symbol of sophistication and luxury, as well as a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. I totally get it. I have a good friend that is seriously into watches. His dad is a collector and waxes lyrical about his collection. He taught me to understand the beauty of them. I would love to see them being made and look forward to a trip to Switzerland.”
And it is likely that this trip will happen, as it seems the Jackman/Montblanc relationship is set to continue indefinitely. “We announced the relationship with Hugh during SIHH 2014, the year we celebrated 90 years of the Meisterstück,” says Lambert. “Since then we have worked closely together and he has shown great interest in learning all about who we are, our heritage and importantly the craftsmanship that resides within the maison. He has visited our pelletteria in Florence and seen first-hand the expertise and skills used to craft each and every Montblanc leather piece. Hugh is not just a paid face of the brand, he is aware of every launch and we are in constant exchange about them.”
Smiling, Jackman returns the compliment: “When such a brand sends you an invitation to collaborate, you cannot really refuse. Montblanc’s dedication to the products they make is unique. I would not put my name on anything I did not believe in and honestly use. I knew the partnership was something special when even my Auntie, who puts down almost every film I do, said ‘finally, something classy’.”