Hugh Jackman for “The Fountain”

Hugh Jackman never changes. He may have been doing interviews for hours on end but at the tail end of a busy day, Jackman remains as affable as ever. And it seems as if one of the busiest actors in the world has had his career given to him with greater ease than most.

Surprisingly, the actor, who is currently starring in the unusual romantic drama The Fountain, agrees. ” I’m still shocked at the opportunities I’ve had, whether it’s singing at Carnegie Hall, Broadway, hosting the Tony Awards or all these different things, or these movies or… It’s amazing to me, and in fact has helped me do it because I think I would have been far more nervous or overwhelmed by it if I’d always wanted to have it, but I kind of had that thing of, hey, if I never get asked to host the Tony Awards again that’s okay, because what a great opportunity.”

Jackman is busy as a movie star, producer, husband and father or two, yet in a town riddled with insecurities, the 38-year old Australian manages to balance his frequently chaotic life and still remain genuinely grounded. “There are a few things that I have to do everyday that without which I will lose the plot,” the actor says, laughingly. “Firstly I meditate everyday, and that brings me back to the essential me, where no matter what role I’m playing you forget it all for a little bit twice a day. Then of course my wife and family are a very big part of anchoring me to what is essentially the most important thing to me which is their well being and our happiness. I’ve realized that if you’re doing something you love, that’s amazing to watch, but you can do twice as much because you just love it, you have passion, it’s not exhausting, you don’t complain about it or you don’t get sick.

None of those things really happen because essentially you’re really turned on all the time and mentally you’re really challenged. So I don’t get it right all the time. Quite often I get a feeling of being a bit overwhelmed, but I’m just in this bit of a purple patch at the moment ,I suppose ,where the opportunities I’m being offered are really exciting to me.”

That is clearly an understatement, and the roles are getting meatier and more diverse and challenging. Take The Fountain, the ethereal romantic drama in which Jackman plays three incarnations of the same character in his quest for eternal youth and the love of his life – or lives. The film, from visionary director Darren Aronofsky, involves three parallel stories about love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of existence–as told through the odyssey taken on by one man in his thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves, played by Rachel Weisz.

His epic journey begins in 16th-century Spain, where, as conquistador Tomas Creo, he commences his search for the ‘Tree of Life’, the legendary entity believed to grant eternal life to those who drink of its sap. As modern-day scientist Tommy Creo, he desperately struggles to find a cure for the cancer that is killing his beloved wife Isabel. Traveling through deep space as a 26th-century astronaut, Tom begins to grasp the mysteries of life that have consumed him for more than a century.

Jackman, who first met Aronofsky when he was on the road to stardom, says that, in the case of The Fountain, there was no question of him taking on this complex and unique project. “When I read the script I was so blown away by it, I was crying at the end., though I didn’t fully understand it on the first read through,” Jackson laughingly concedes. “But I got the feeling of what he was trying to say and it really moved me. Now I understand movies and with a lot of scripts I get ’em within the first ten minutes, but they don’t move me. This is the first time I’ve ever cried reading a script. I also found it very engaging, and I did find myself flicking backwards and forwards a little bit.”

Jackman says that he found himself identifying most with the isolated astronaut of the future. “I think if I wasn’t married to the wife, I have quite monkish tendencies. I quite like being very simple, quiet, and a bit of my father’s son, very disciplined,” he explains. “I just sort of like that calmness, that order, and also that philosophical pursuit I suppose. Out of all the three characters, the one near the end is a little more Zenned out, he’s doing his Tai Chi and his yoga everything about optimum health.” Yet he also adds that all of the three characters still remained very different from the actor. “I know a lot of people who are really myopic and I’m not. I ask opinions from people, I’m terrible at decision making and whilst I’m a hard worker I am not a Conquistador sort of spirit, but rather waver a little more.”

And Jackman is hardly as obsessive as the doctor in the film. “I love acting, I do work hard, and the opportunities I’m getting at the moment are really exciting to me, so probably it’s easy for people to say, oh, god, he’s a bit obsessed with acting or a workaholic. But you don’t always get opportunities that good, and I think it’s just irresistible. It’s sort of like if on a weekend, you get three brilliant parties to go to and you go well I’ve got to go. You may not be a big party person but they’re just great invitations. So I don’t think I’m nearly as obsessive, and I think I admire people who are and I kind of admired the character I played.”

Fans and admirers of Jackman’s work will get to see a far more raw and emotional side to the actor we have not yet seen. Getting to those places, the actor recalls, was a challenge in itself. “I find it a bit uncomfortable to watch some of those scenes in this movie because I think with Darren’s help we achieved an atmosphere on set that was very private. I had never had an opportunity to play a scene like that which required that rawness. Emotionally it can get very draining, but if there’s a way you can open yourself up emotionally with using that as little as possible that’s a good thing. I did have a genuinely wonderful relationship with Rachel as an actress, and also with Darren. He created an atmosphere that I felt very at home or held or trusted, but I’m also slightly reluctant to give you details of how I do it. In a few years or in a year I’ll tell you how, but I’d hate people who read this to go: oh, he’s thinking about his wife, about death, or his kid.”

Though Jackman does admit those thoughts are not far from his mind playing emotional scenes in a film such as this. “I mean I think anyone who has loved or has a kid or wife or whatever, you feel you’ll do anything, if you could. You know, there are stories all the time of people jumping in front of buses, lifting cars, so human possibilities are immense. But of course as an actor you put yourself in that situation, but it’s a funny mix of techniques I suppose.”

Jackman has evolved in more ways than one since doing press for the little known Australian film The Erskineville Kings. Back then, there was little hint of what was to come, no Broadway, X-men or Hollywood fame. The first clue in his mind that his career would do so well was as he headed off to do Oklahoma in London. “I think when I went to the National Theatre I dreamed about that, going to London and being onstage, and when I finished that I was kind of like what next? Either I didn’t have the guts or I just hadn’t really thought about beyond that that much. I mean every time I went to Hollywood I would go for a period of time but I wasn’t going to just stay there no matter what. I mean here’s the difference between the character I play in The Fountain and me, in that it wasn’t that important for me to slog my guts out and go through a lot of hardship; I wouldn’t flog a dead horse, shall we say, so I had no idea it was going to end this way. My wife said it early on that she knew.”

And Jackman’s career is going from strength to strength. He will soon start shooting Baz Luhrmann’ s untitled Australian period epic on location in Western Australia. “I’m so excited by it and working with Nicole and Baz is going to be amazing. The head of Fox said to me, Hugh, I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I know you well and he said, this is your Casablanca, this is a role of a lifetime. And it is a wonderful role. “We start in February working doing horse riding and all that sort of stuff, and I think it’s mid-March when we shoot.” Then there’s the much hyped Wolverine, confirming a start date in ’08. “The script is done and better than the other three. It’s a prequel, which deals with his origins, so we’ve just got to find a director now.”