Jackman inspires those with stars in eyes
Hugh Jackman launches the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts at a special event at WAAPA. Jackman took a tour of the institute and spent time with the current students. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

For just over eight hours, the Wolverine returned to the den where he was raised.

By the time he left, racing home to his son's 14th birthday party in New York after a whirlwind tour of Australasia, he had clawed $4 million out of Perth's cashed-up set after throwing in $1 million of his own to kick off a foundation for the academy that set him on the path to stardom.

Captains of industry, politics, sport and culture walked the red carpet at the WA Academy of Performing Arts on Saturday to be dazzled by Jackman's star power, the wattage he is relying on for the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts to raise more than $10 million.

But for all the VIP guests at two fundraising functions, and Jackman himself, the day belonged very much to the WAAPA students.

WATCH THE REPLAY - HUGH JACKMAN IN PERTH

An all-in team photo of WAAPA's most famous, favourite son with about 130 students captured the euphoric flavour of Jackman's school reunion.

All in: Hugh Jackman and students of the WA Academy of Performing Arts. Pic: Michael Wilson, The West Australian, 17th May 2014. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

The 1994 graduate tweeted the image to his four million followers, saying: "So many highlights but nothing warms my heart like spending time with these students."

Hugh Jackman took a tour of the institute and spent time with the current students. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Between his official duties, when he was almost upstaged by third-year acting student and MC Johnny Hawkins (who introduced him as WAAPA's "most famous graduate - to date"), Jackman relished a tour of the classrooms, studios and production workshop.

He checked out the old production posters lining the corridors and cringed when he came across a photo-montage of his final-year performance as Mr Erbage in Patrick White's The Season at Sarsaparilla, which toured the South West in 1994.

The good-humoured X-Men and Les Miserables star apologised for putting the students out by having to cancel their shifts at cafes or other weekend jobs to come in on a non-teaching day.

JACKMAN'S $1M KICK-START | HUGH GIVES TO NEXT GEN STARS

Hugh Jackman at the launch of the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts at the WA Academy of Performing Arts on May 17, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Picture: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

The roof almost lifted off studio D when he walked in for a Q and A session with acting, music theatre and singing students. Their eruptive, raucous reception for the WAAPA boy made good set him up for a gag of waving thanks and pretending to walk out again. Cue more adulatory cheers and laughter.

Hosted by WAAPA acting teacher and Australian screen star Angela Punch McGregor, the questions zinged with youthful energy and Jackman's answers were frank, funny and perceptive.

He warned them he would be dropping names and the stories flowed: about his terror at being asked to host the 2009 Oscars by Steven Spielberg and then calling Ricky Gervais and Steve Martin to help him come up with jokes; about watching Jack Nicholson working the camera; about the undying hunger of John Travolta, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig to continually learn and get better; about meeting his wife-to-be Deborra-lee Furness on his first post-WAAPA job, the TV drama Correlli.

There was a real sense of the baton being passed on from the star of today to the potential stars of tomorrow.

"Here's one thing you guys have no idea of what's coming," he said. "The first time you get a job, you get to do a scene with someone who is old, and they are not 21 pretending to be old."

Truth be told, all but a few won't make it. This reality guided a lot of the questions and Jackman's answers.

They canvassed subjects from performance anxiety ("Nervousness is what makes you work harder"), finding a good agent and the calming effects of transcendental meditation to bench-pressing 130kg while trying to sing and his memories of diets of two-minute noodles.

"I lived on $80 a week for three years and had the best time of my life," Jackman quipped.

He told them about the importance of staying solid with each other and the presence of several of his 1994 classmates at the event was testament to that.

"Remember, your year mates will have seen the best of you and the worst of you," he said.

Hugh Jackman and Jack Thompson during the media conference at the launch of the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts (JFFPA) at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts on May 17, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Picture: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

A couple of students told Jackman he inspired them to enrol.

One of them, 17-year-old Andre Drysdale from Brisbane, had appeared with Jackman in the 2006 arena tour of The Boy From Oz. Drysdale was nine, playing the young Peter Allen.

"It was absolutely incredible working with Hugh Jackman," Drysdale said. "He was so dedicated. I wouldn't be here without being in the Boy From Oz."

In the basement, the props and scenery workshop is the engine room behind more than 30 public productions a year, making WAAPA one of the biggest production houses in the country on a relatively shoestring budget.

Jackman checked out the sets being built for the musical West Side Story, WAAPA's biggest production of the year, which opens at the Regal Theatre on June 14.

Hugh Jackman performed several songs from The Boy From Oz and Les Miserables. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Among the machinery, benches, tools and a partly finished jukebox, he was greeted by several students and department head Jason Garbenis, who was a student at the same time as the Hollywood star. "I remember his girlfriend more than I remember him," Garbenis joked.

Up in the set and costume design department, he encouraged students to get closer as he looked at their work.

"I can tell when I'm visiting designers as opposed to actors because you guys are naturally hiding from the cameras," he said.

He told them about the frustrations of designers having to work with directors unable to give them a clear vision of what they wanted.

Don't get caught up in personalities, stay flexible and keep an eye on the bigger picture, he said. "People who see the show don't care what happened or if the prop was scratched at the last minute," he said. "You've got to keep your eye on the bigger picture, no matter what."

WAAPA staffer and Perth actress Stephanie Power studied acting with Jackman and said it was fantastic to catch up with him again.

"Hugh hasn't changed since the day he was at drama school," she said. "He is as generous and warm and open and loving and caring as he was then. He was actively interested in the other students and solving any problems."

Hugh Jackman stands next to a picture of himself taken during his time at WAAPA. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

The Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts hopes to raise at least $10 million over the next four years towards a revenue-generating endowment that will support the academy and other areas of the performing arts.

The foundation will first focus on WAAPA, with other beneficiaries to follow.

Money will be used to attract students, provide scholarships, foster visiting artists and artists-in-residence, fund productions and to provide specialised training for indigenous students.

Before he left on Saturday night, Jackman held out the tantalising prospect of more visits to Perth, perhaps soon, as the next initiatives of the Perth-based foundation play out.

Watch this space.

I lived on $80 a week for three years and had the best time of my life. "Hugh Jackman

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West