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''X-Men'''s Hugh Jackman

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Don’t believe in witches? Hugh Jackman might change your mind. In 1991, he was a scrawny Australian acting student working as a ”perform model” at a health club (”I would say to people, ‘Hey, you look great!”’) when a woman claiming to be a white witch walked up to him bursting with a vision: You are going to be a big star. Jackman tried to laugh her off — but she persisted. Things are going to happen fast. Go with them. Don’t be scared.

With X-Men, Jackman, 31, is on the verge of fulfilling her prophecy. As Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine), a hirsute hero with wicked metal claws and some serious issues, Jackman has mutated from virtual unknown to leading man. His work so impressed Fox execs during production, they cast him opposite Ashley Judd in the romantic comedy Animal Husbandry, due next year. ”He’s in that tradition of strong male Australian movie presences, from Mel Gibson to Russell Crowe,” says Fox’s Tom Rothman. His X-Men costars are big on Hugh too. ”I think he became a leading actor,” declares Ian McKellen, praising Jackman for his ability to make everyone around him better.

”I suppose I’m just a big believer in fate,” says Jackman. ”It was just meant to be.” Yet fate had to nail him with a boomerang to drive home the message. At 5, he was already playing King Arthur in Camelot. In his teens, he had teachers encouraging him to study dance. But until college, he never considered acting as anything more than a hobby. ”Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You’ve had more signposts than anyone,”’ Jackman says. ”But when I was 20, I was like, ‘Please, God, tell me what to do!”’ Forced to take an acting class to complete his university degree, he started to get a clue. And when his grandmother died, bequeathing the $3,500 he needed to enroll in acting school, the boomerang made contact: ”I was like, ‘Okay. I got it.”’

After school, he found work immediately, in Australian TV and movies (you might have seen 1999’s Paperback Hero on an airplane), then on the London stage, where he played Curly in director Trevor Nunn’s Oklahoma! During that time, Jackman auditioned for Wolverine, but lost out to Dougray Scott. Later that year, while he and his wife, actress Deborra-lee Furness, were vacationing in L.A., he learned Scott had to bail, and he was soon on a plane to Toronto to test for director Bryan Singer. ”Wolverine is tough yet tender, and ultimately full of love. That’s Hugh Jackman,” says Singer, who hired him on the spot. Despite joining the production already in progress in blustery Toronto, Jackman slipped into Wolverine as easily as stiletto claws through butter, filling journals with psychotic rants in order to find his character’s berserker rage and impressing martial-arts choreographer Corey Yuen by proving to be a quick study. By the end of shooting, Jackman had the crew chanting his name when he walked on the set.

Now they’re calling him Big Poppa; in May, after four years of marriage, he and Furness adopted a baby boy, Oscar. The plan is to live like gypsies for a while, letting Jackman’s career take them wherever it leads. He hopes that includes an X-Men sequel. ”All the aches and pains and overwhelming feelings, I can now say, ‘I had a ball,”’ says Jackman. ”But I don’t want to be in the cold for that long again. Being Australian, it was a great novelty — but let’s do the sequel in the Bahamas.”

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