Film and stage star Hugh Jackman was feted like a conquering hero today as he launched a foundation to raise money for the WA Academy of Performing Arts.
He kick-started the foundation with a $1 million donation from himself and his wife Deborra-lee Furness, matched by $1 million from the Minderoo charitable trust of mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola.
Governor Malcolm McCusker, Premier Colin Barnett and other dignitaries joined WAAPA staff and students in welcoming Jackman back to the academy that helped turn him from a cub actor into the Wolverine and the third-highest earning film star in the world.
The X-Men and Les Miserables star and his wife have set up the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts, with Australian screen legend Jack Thompson as founding patron.
The foundation 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.
In his first Perth visit since 2006, when he was starring in the Peter Allen musical The Boy From Oz, Jackman joined WAAPA students in a rendition of Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home.
Jackman made good on his vow to “send the elevator back down” to help give other aspiring performers the best chance of riding to the top.
Jackman, 45, said that what he had learnt at WAAPA in his three years of study there from 1992 to 1994 had set him up for life.
Third-year acting student Johnny Hawkins had the honour of being MC for the foundation launch in the intimate Roundhouse Theatre, which included entertainment from the WAAPA jazz ensemble, Aboriginal theatre students and music theatre students, who performed songs from Hair and West Side Story.
The launch event was an exciting and humbling day, Jackman said.
“I can’t believe it is 20 years since I graduated from WAAPA. It really is a day I never ever thought in a million years could ever happen but nothing could make me happier.”
WAAPA was known around the world for its capacity to groom talent and should be treasured by the community of WA, he said.
“In America, this place is well known. Everyone talks about the graduates of WAAPA. It is world-renowned.”
WAAPA had cultivated an ethos of having a go and always saying "yes" to everything, a philosophy which had carried him a long way.
"You don't want to be on your death-bed saying, 'I wish I'd said yes'."
After the launch formalities and a VIP lunch, Jackman was set to tour his old stomping ground with WAAPA director Julie Warn.
He was looking forward to popping into class rooms and studios to meet students hoping to be the stars of tomorrow.
He was due to host a cabaret performance for invited guests at the Roundhouse Theatre tonight.
Perth businessman Geoff Michael has been appointed trustee of the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts. Its advisory council includes former governor Ken Michael and Nicola Forrest.
The foundation will initially 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.
“The foundation of this place is its teachers,” Jackman said. “That is what we are here to support. The foundation wants to support this institution and other arts institutions.”
Jackman and Thompson hatched the plan to support WAAPA, a school of Edith Cowan University, while filming Australia in the Kimberley in 2007. Thompson’s son Bill graduated from WAAPA last year.
It is hoped the foundation will in time generate at least $500,000 per year to plug the gap between WAAPA’s Federal and State funding and what it needs to train its music, drama, dance and design students.
An ECU report said in 2012 that WAAPA needed an urgent overhaul and $3.75 million extra in government funding.
Jackman flew into Perth from Melbourne earlier this morning as part of a whirlwind tour of South-East Asia and Australia to promote his latest Wolverine film X-Men: Days of Future Past, which opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Jackman received a 2004 Tony Award for his performance in The Boy From Oz and will host Broadway’s annual stage awards for the fourth time next month.
He returns to Broadway in October for his first dramatic role in five years, playing a reclusive fisherman caught up in a probe into a woman’s disappearance in Jez Butterworth’s The River.
His one-man show, Hugh Jackman - Back on Broadway in 2011 was a box office hit and his last play was in 2009 when he starred alongside Daniel Craig in the cop drama A Steady Rain.
Jackman ranks third on Forbes’ Highest-Paid Actors list with an estimated $55 million in earnings between June 2012 and June 2013.