Hugh Jackman is feeling guilty. He’s put on his black-tie best for a fancy function at the New York Public Library courtesy of Montblanc, which is launching a new collection of goods to benefit Unicef’s literacy programme, and he’s pondering if he’s let down the cause by coming to the city landmark for dinner, and not to borrow a book.
“Can you even get a book out from the New York Public Library?” he asks. We look at each other, one a writer by profession, the other an ambassador for education, and shrug. But tonight is not a night to wallow in contrition – it’s a night to proselytise, and to party with purpose.
Besides, we have plenty to discuss, from his role as X-Men’s Wolverine, whose claws he retired earlier this year after almost two decades playing the character, to his upcoming turn as the riveting PT Barnum, to how he hopes a coffee shop he founded will one day change the world.
Logan was released earlier this year, marking the final time you’ll play the character after a 17-year run. What was that like?
It was nerve-wracking. And exciting. I had the idea for the last film and I was so excited, but I couldn’t believe that we were allowed to do it – that the studio would let us do it this way. The moment they did, I was excited, but nervous. I knew it was the last time. I knew that we had never quite gotten it right, for me. We’ve gotten close, but never quite right. So it was important we did.
What was so right about this time?
The tone of it. Focusing on the characters. It’s essentially quite a small movie. But you really get to understand his character, get underneath the floors. The amazing thing isn’t Logan fighting 20 guys in an hour, that’s easy. It’s loving that’s hard. Family that is hard. And I think that’s something that probably a lot of men can relate to.
Seventeen years playing one character isn’t something many actors get to do, even on television. But a lot of top actors have turned to TV because of that opportunity to inhabit a character for a longer time. Is that something that interests you?
Absolutely. If you really love the character and you have wonderful writers, it’d be extraordinary and I’d love to do something like that.
What types of roles interest you these days?
Loads. There’s so many. It’s interesting to me that a lot of the roles I’ve ended up playing have been quite tortured, dark, kind of brooding men, and I’m not really like that at all. So maybe I want to play something a little closer to myself.
You’re in The Greatest Showman, in which you play PT Barnum, which will be released this Christmas.
That’s very different. It’s a family man. It’s about imagination, creativity. It’s really about the birth of show business. PT Barnum is an extraordinary character – we wouldn’t have reality TV if it wasn’t for him. We wouldn’t have WWE [wrestling] if it wasn’t for him.
Besides seeing you on the silver screen, we often spot you at Montblanc events like this one, or in its campaigns. How long have you been a brand ambassador?
I’ve been an ambassador for at least three years, maybe longer. It was something I was very excited to do from the beginning. I always knew Montblanc, from the time I was growing up. I had a fountain pen when I was very young and I just loved it. I’ve loved getting to know everyone from the top right down – it’s a real family, it’s all the same people, from the beginning. Every event they do is memorable and classy and beautiful, and not just to sell their products. So it’s something that, for me, is very easy and I’m very proud of it.
We’re here at the launch of Montblanc’s collection that benefits Unicef, and the theme is to “pass it on”. What do you want to pass on to your kids?
Lots of things. I am so blessed to do the thing I love to do, and I want them to have that. I tell them constantly to find their passions and things that speak to them. Obviously, I talk to them of things like love and respect. Respect yourselves, respect each other. I talk to them about being healthy, and using this instrument [he gestures to indicate his body], probably the greatest instrument we’ll ever own, and to treat it with respect. There’s so many things I want to pass on to them, but ultimately to believe, to be positive and to have confidence in themselves. That’s a lot right there.
What’s your personal connection to Unicef?
I’ve done a number of things with Unicef throughout the years; little events. My wife [Deborra-Lee Furness] was just given an award by the UN [the Women for Peace Leadership Award, for her work with orphans and adoption]. They’re really extraordinary – the people that work [at Unicef] are just amazing – and I’m thrilled to be part of it. And particularly something to do with education. That’s the real key to making a change in things for everybody.
What other philanthropic work do you do?
I started a thing called the Laughing Man Foundation, I have two coffee shops and we sell coffee [made by farmers in developing countries] online. All the proceeds that I earn go back to that foundation and it’s doing really well. We’ve spent six years building that business and I’m a big believer in social entrepreneurship, so I love something like this that’s a win-win. It’s a business, but also by buying you are giving back. It’s a thing that people are looking for more and more.