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There's a general consensus that Hugh Jackman is one of the nicest men in Hollywood. For years journalists and fellow actors alike have gushed about the down-to-earth nature of our boy from Oz, a devoted family man who's as happy surfing waves at Bondi as he is posing for photos on the red carpet.

Sitting down with Jackman to talk about his new film Les Miserables - a film already generating Oscar buzz ahead of its Boxing Day release next week - it's clear from the outset they're not far off the mark.

Looking bronzed, toned and decidedly clean-shaven (having just wrapped The Wolverine, he's lost his famous mutton chops), Jackman has been brought to Sydney's luxurious Park Hyatt Hotel in The Rocks to spruik Tom Hooper's big-screen adaptation of the hit musical.

But while there's a whole army of people on hand to cater for the star's every need, the Sydney-born actor and WAAPA export's concerns are for everyone else in the room. "Ladies, would you like a drink?" the 44-year-old asks myself and a fellow journalist, offering bottles of water before settling into his chair to chat about his role as the ex-convict Jean Valjean.

We have been granted a 12-minute audience with Jackman and while mindful of the need to launch into our questions, it's hard to remain composed having just come from the first screening of the film in Australia which left much of the audience in floods of tears.

"I saw it last night for the first time and found it really moving too," says Jackman with a smile, looking every bit a former Sexiest Man Alive in a black suit and crisp white shirt, the top buttons of which are undone.

Based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables is set in 19th century France and follows the trials of Valjean, who is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole.

From a man who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Australian songwriter and performer Peter Allen in the hit musical The Boy From Oz, it's no surprise to hear Jackman describe his role in the film version of one of the longest-running stage shows as the opportunity of a lifetime.

"I have done movies and I've done musicals and I've been wanting to combine the two," Jackman says. "In a way, I suppose I was pursuing it but I never would have dreamt of doing this. It's such an incredible musical."

Jackman was first approached by Les Miserables' producer, Cameron Mackintosh, 15 years ago, although he was asked to play the part of Javert, a role which eventually went to fellow Australian Russell Crowe. (Interestingly, Crowe turned down the role of Wolverine in the X-Men movies).

"He asked me three or four times to do it but I hadn't been able to work it out," Jackman explains. "And I really said to him (Valjean) is the role for me. I told Cameron I wanted to audition to show what I can do because he had Javert in mind originally, and I wanted to erase that. And Russell is perfect, he's so much better for that part."

Jackman has drawn rave reviews for his powerful performance as the man who takes under his wing Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of ill-fated factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

In the past week alone he has bagged nominations for a Screen Actors Guild award and a Golden Globe (which happened to land on the same day he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame). Just yesterday he added a London Critics' Circle Film Awards nomination to the pile. He is now in the position to go from Oscar host to winner while the film could well score Hooper his second Academy Award for Best Picture after 2010's The King's Speech.

While not wanting to "jinx it" Jackman admits the recognition is certainly welcome given the work the cast and crew put into the reported $61 million film.

"This was a big expensive movie and there's lots of empirical data that will tell you most (musicals) don't work," he says. "It was a big risk for everyone. But I likes to have a go at things. I love the underdog and the idea of being part of a movie like that.

"When I hear people talk about the Oscars, I suppose what I'm hearing is them saying, 'We kind of realise what was at stake and what you went for and good on you'."

Indeed, this was a role, Jackman says, that pushed him harder than ever before. On a physical level, he was required to do two to three hours of training a day to bulk up from a skinny 83kg at the start of the film to 97kg.

Like the rest of the cast he also had to sing live during filming (allowing for more spontaneity in the performances). "I think of vocal work as physical too," says Jackman leaning back in his chair and taking a deep breath. "But I did three months on Broadway before so I was in enough vocal shape to survive 12-hour singing days."

Jackman jokes the set at times resembled a zoo, such were the noises coming from his co-stars as they warmed up their tonsils for their performances. "You'd hear Samantha going 'Ka ka ka ka'," Jackman says making a loud parrot-like noise. "And I'd be there making this pigeon sound … and no one batted an eyelid. It's funny how it became so natural."

There were also some odd faces being pulled, with Jackman getting a lesson from Hathaway in singing without making funny facial expressions. "Anne came up to me after three weeks and asked if I had ever sung in front of a mirror before," Jackman explains.

"I said no and she started saying how she makes a funny face when she sings. A lot of people get taught to sing with a smile (Jackman gives a cheesy grin) and you can look like a complete idiot, particularly when your face is like 40ft on the big screen. It took me about two weeks to get used to singing with a more neutral face."

However, for all the physical work it took for Jackman to pull off the role of Valjean, he dug even deeper emotionally.

"On many levels it was as physically challenging as I have ever been through, but emotionally probably more so, because not only did I have a two-and-a-half octave range in the role, I am going to places I have never had to go to before as an actor," he says.

Indeed, that Jackman has two adopted children - 12-year-old Oscar and seven-year-old Ava - with his wife of 16 years Deborra-Lee Furness and was raised by a single father made the role of Valjean that bit more poignant for the actor.

"The beautiful part of the story is in the second half when Valjean meets Cosette," he says.

"Victor Hugo says it was this lightning bolt of realisation of the first time he ever experienced love. Of course I have experienced love, I've been in love, I've felt love … but the love for your child I think is so strong. The gravitational pull of it is so massive, so for sure there was stuff I was drawing on."

Jackman has spoken openly about being raised by his English father Christopher when his mother Grace walked out of home when he was just eight.

Just last week he broke down during an interview with 60 Minutes when describing Jackman senior, an accountant, as his "rock", a man who taught him the importance of "loyalty, dependability, being there day in day out" and above all putting family first.

"I think that's him living with probably some of his regrets," Jackman said in the interview. "And feelings of maybe he, at the wrong time, put too much into his career. And he doesn't want me to make that mistake."

So Jackman tries to spend as few days as possible away from his family when filming. Les Miserables - shot in England and France - marked the longest period of time he had been apart from his brood.

"I was away from my family for five months," he says. "I didn't want to be apart from them for more than three weeks so I'd go back for a couple of days but it still felt like I was away the whole time so that added to the emotion."

Little wonder then, for Jackman, Les Miserables' message strikes a resounding chord.

"Victor Hugo's story is ultimately that yes, we have regrets, yes there's pain and yes, there are some really shitty times in life but there is ultimately hope, there is love," he says.

"At the end of the day, no matter what you have done or think you've done, if you are with the people you love at the end of it all it's OK."

Les Miserables opens on Boxing Day.