Hugh Jackman talks about grieving after the death of his father, Christopher Jackman.
In a recent interview, the 54-year-old actor opened up about how he resisted taking time off to mourn his father in September 2021 while filming his latest movie, The son.
“My dad never missed a day of work,” he said. “I could feel it. I knew if he could talk to me, he would say, ‘You have to go to work! What are you talking about?’ I felt his presence on set.
In The son, Jackman plays a workaholic father who struggles to emotionally care for his family. Shooting the film in the midst of mourning, he explains, helped him tap into some of the most emotional scenes.
“I could literally see it in the corner of the room,” he said. “I had an image of him on set, standing behind the action. My dad worked incredibly hard – he was looking after five kids, the weight of the world on his shoulders. I felt like he was completely free. It really helped me.
Christopher had been living with Alzheimer’s disease for 12 years before his death.
“He was nearing the end. So he was apparently gone, mentally,” Jackman recalled of his last visits with his father. “He was still smiling a little. I didn’t know he was going to die physically, but I knew it was kind of a goodbye.”
The emotional roller coaster of filming the film taught him to be a more present parent to his children: Ava, 17, and Oscar, 22, both of whom he shares with wife Deborra-Lee Furness.
“The movie itself changed me as a parent,” he said. “I’m more emotionally vulnerable in front of my kids. I’m more verbal about things I’m going through, even if it’s something to do with them.
As his father’s health deteriorated, Jackman says he first entered therapy to help him cope. Yet much of that grief has manifested in sleepless nights.
“I don’t think I’m a big sleeper,” he shared. “But I was always able to fall asleep quickly and sleep as long as I wanted. But not on that [film]. I look back now and think, ‘Of course I wasn’t sleeping.’ There’s a history of mental illness in my family, and there were a lot of things brewing for me.
It has not always been so. The eponymous “morning person” says he learned to value physical and mental health while working one of his first jobs at a gym in Sydney, Australia.
“I was the guy who opened the gym, and in my first three weeks I slept in twice,” he recalled. “If you want to see angry people, these are alpha people who want to be in the gym when it opens.”
Looking back on those days, he remembers being the butt of jokes for being “super skinny”.
“All the guys were laughing at me. They nicknamed me ‘Anna,'” he said, noting that the name was shorthand for anorexia. “I used to think they were idiots. I was like, ‘You spend your whole day looking in a mirror. What a waste of time. ‘”
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