Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Hugh Jackman (@TheHughJackman), an Academy Award®-nominated, Golden Globe- and Tony Award-winning performer, who has made an impression on audiences of all ages with his multi-hyphenate career persona, as successful onstage in front of live crowds as he is on film.
I’ve wanted to have Hugh on the show for nearly a decade, and—even with my sky-high hopes—he absolutely over-delivered. In our conversation, we dig into lessons learned, routines, favorite books, exercises, intuition, meditation, and much, much more. Hugh was very gracious with his time, and this is one of the longest interviews he has ever done.
Trust me—Hugh delivers the goods, and we had a blast. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Tim Ferriss: Hugh, welcome to the show.
Hugh Jackman: Tim. Great to be here, man. I’m very excited.
Tim Ferriss: I am so thrilled that we’re able to connect on the podcast. I’ve wanted to do this for so long.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I have so many different questions I’ve wanted to explore with you. I thought we would start—this might be a strange place to start, but I’ll start there nonetheless—and that is, in the course of doing homework for this conversation, I found an anecdote that you, in the mornings, sometimes read a book with your wife—or read to each other. Is that something you still do? How did that start?
Hugh Jackman: Every day. I nicked the idea from Patrick Stewart. I was on set with Patrick Stewart—for those who don’t know him, is a great actor who played Professor X in the X-Men series, Star Trek, lots of stuff. And he said to me that when he was about 60, he realized that he was never going to read all the books that he wanted to read in his life. He did the calculation. He decided that no matter what time his call was—let’s say he’s picked up at five—whatever time he would have woken up, he wakes up 30 minutes earlier, gets a cup of tea, and goes back to bed, and he reads. He said, “I don’t read the paper because it makes me angry. I don’t read my emails because it usually makes me anxious, gets my mind going.”
He said… What’s the other thing he doesn’t read? He doesn’t do emails… Oh, scripts. Work. He said that makes him anxious. He said, “I read a book, the kind of book that you pick up when you go on vacation, the I’ve got nothing to do book.” He’s been doing that for years. He said, “The reason I do it first thing in the morning is the day just gets away from you. You think, ‘Oh, I’ll read later in the evening,’ but you don’t.” He says on weekends, he spends an hour. So for Christmas this year, I gave Deb a couple of books, which I’d got off your podcast—the Esther Perel, Seth Godin one about their five books you must read.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, the books they’ve loved.
Hugh Jackman: We’ve now read all of them. And we met Esther, and I signed up for Seth Godin’s marketing kind of workshop thing that unfortunately got canceled. Anyway, so we wake up whatever time we’ve got to get up, I go down, I make a cup of coffee for me, a cup of tea for Deb. We come back up, I have a cold shower first—another thing I learned from you, from your 4-Hour Body book when I was getting ready for Wolverine, the old cold bath. So I have a cold shower every morning.
And then we go back and we read. And we read for at least 30 minutes, and then we meditate together. And that way—it’s become our favorite time of the day as a couple. And we know that, no matter what happens in the day, which invariably gets away from you, you’ve had that quality time together. And so that’s just been a godsend. It’s been an absolute blessing.
Tim Ferriss: I love that because if I’m looking at, for instance, my own experience with my girlfriend, who I’m very close to and we live together, it’s so easy to say, “We’re going to find the quality time at dinner, after dinner, at this point in the afternoon.” And then the day gets away with you. So you’re front-loading it, in a way, so that it doesn’t get lost.
And do you read the same book at the same time? Do you read out loud to each other?
Hugh Jackman: We read out loud to each other. So we split it up. We do half/half, and we read out loud to each other. It’s interesting. If you’ve got something on your mind, you know, often it stirs during the night and it could be—I’m not just talking negative stuff, it could be ideas. I find the evening, when your subconscious is probably brewing at its highest level, lots of ideas or anxieties come to the surface. So I find the first thing in the morning—you know, we’ll be five minutes into reading; right now we’re reading David Brooks’ The Second Mountain, that book—and we might just stop and say, “Hey, I’m worried about this.” Could be something about the kids or stuff, or, “Stuff’s on my mind.” And then we’ll just end up talking about that, you know? But often just the reading itself sparks things in us, gives us ideas, things to talk about, come together with. But we read the same book out aloud to each other.
Tim Ferriss: And—I’m going to come back to the meditation because you mentioned it—but since we’re on the topic of books, what books, if any come to mind—and I know you read a lot—have you gifted the most to other people?
Hugh Jackman: I learnt this from a great mate of mine, Billy Shore, who’s often known as Saint Billy—runs No Kid Hungry/Share Our Strength. You know that organization?
Tim Ferriss: I do. Mm-hm.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah, they’re incredible. So he came over to my place one day, and he gave me two books that I now gift very regularly. One is E.B. White’s Here is New York. The other one is David Foster Wallace’s speech, This Is Water, his commencement speech. I’ve heard you talk about the David Foster Wallace one, so I know you know that. And he said… I said, “Oh, I haven’t read either of these.” And he said, “Man, I learned a long time ago, it’s really nice to give books, but it can be a burden to give a big book because people will feel, ‘Oh, I’m going to see him in a month. Oh, shit. And I’m having dinner with him next week and shit, I need the book!'”
But the David Foster Wallace is a 15-minute book. And the E.B. White book, Here is New York— New York had a program post-World War II where they would invite the greatest writers in the world to come to New York and just… They’d pay them for three months just to write essays about New York. So that was his, and it’s amazing to read. A 1949 account of New York and how much of the spirit still resonates now. So that’s a little book that to anyone who lives in New York or likes New York I give.
And in terms of fiction—and this completely breaks that rule, Tim, because this is a long book, but I was gifted it actually by Gary Hart, Senator Gary Hart, who I played in a movie—The Overstory by Richard Powers. I’m not sure if you’ve read that, but that’s the most transformative bit of fiction I have read in a long time.
Tim Ferriss: I need to read it. It’s been recommended so many times. It’s sitting on my Kindle, and I started reading it, and I remember I read for about a half-hour, and it said—whatever it said—”.001 percent complete.” And I went, “Oh my God, how big is this book?”
Hugh Jackman: It’s big. And stick with it. Yeah, it really changed my—
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no, and I was just going to say, for those who don’t know the book, could you give it just a quick description?
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. Richard Powers I believe had won the Pulitzer. I think it did. It’s a piece of fiction interweaving about eight storylines of humans. But what you realize—the misdirection of the book is—by the end, you realize the book is completely about trees. We might relegate trees or nature to some five or 10 percent of our awareness, you know? We’re very, very focused on human existence.
Oh, sorry. That’s the phone.
Tim Ferriss: No problem.
Hugh Jackman: Keep going. And this book, what it does is draws you in, in these incredible human stories, in these very varied characters, and their varying degrees of interaction with nature in various different forms. But by the end, you realize the book actually—the main character of the book—is trees, is nature. And it completely reverses the way you look at the world when you walk outside. Now, I promise you, after you read that book, Tim, you will sit in your backyard, and you’ll notice things you have never noticed before.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I’m in. All right. My complacency has been called. I will read The Overstory.
Hugh Jackman: Stick with it. Stick with it. It works on you in the way nature does. It’s patient and it’s in no rush. It’s slow and it’s steady and it’s true.
Tim Ferriss: I think the word “true” maybe is a segue to meditation. I know you’ve meditated for decades now, and you and Deb meditate in the mornings. And I say that as a segue because, at least for me, meditation has been a tool that provides… helps to provide clarity in some respects. Could you describe your meditation practice and what you feel are the main benefits that are derived from that practice?
Hugh Jackman: Sure. I was introduced to meditation when I was at drama school. And it was a form of Transcendental Meditation. There’s lots of different types of meditation. Just very briefly, it involves the use of a mantra, which you are given, which you repeatedly sound. And the very basic concept is that we… the nature of our minds is to always be working, always be thinking. And the trick to life is not letting that mind be your master but to let it be your servant, then it’s an incredible thing. Once it’s running the show, you know, it’s very easy to get off track. So during this period of meditation, you are given a mantra, which was described to me as… The mind is often called the monkey mind in Eastern philosophies. So monkey, you know, is very energetic and, if not given something to do, will be mischievous.
So the mantra is like basically saying to the monkey mind, “I need you to climb to the top of that telegraph pole. And when you get to the top, I need you to climb back down. And when you get to the bottom, I need you to climb back up. And when you get to the top, I need you to climb back down.” So it’s just giving this activity, so the mantra or this word that is silently repeated ends up fading away. And the best way I can describe it is the effect that it has on me. I mean, sometimes I fall asleep, by the way, which is totally fine and clearly what my body needed.
But when you first pour a glass of water, it’s cloudy. And then, in a period of time, that all settles, and you see crystal clear through the glass, through the water. That’s what meditation does for me. It’s got that feeling where things drop down. I have a feeling of coming home, the feeling of experiencing my true self and not just being caught up in the monkey mind or being reactive to life. And it gives me a finer energy. I don’t always get out of meditation, like, ready to, you know, do a one-hour Peloton class, but I always come out with a finer energy. My intention feels clearer. My listening is more purposeful, and things feel easier and more connected.
Tim Ferriss: Do you meditate, then, twice a day in these, what I guess one might consider the traditional TM format? If you meditate in the afternoons or later in the day, how do you time that for yourself?
Hugh Jackman: So I always did it twice a day for years. So I started, yeah, when I was 23. I’m 51 now. So I did it very regularly, twice a day. And then about three or four years ago, I kind of let go of the duty element there was—and I can be guilty of this—”This is good for you. You should be doing this. Don’t fall off that wagon.” You know. “It’s a slippery slope!” And once I let go of that, I just had to kind of experiment with myself. I was like, “OK, why don’t you meditate when you really want to meditate?” That has turned into a practice where it’s every morning, for sure. And then definitely when I’m working, if I’m on a movie set or I’m working in theater, there will always be a second one. But sometimes I’ll let the afternoon one go. And when I say afternoon—I can’t sit down; I get restless legs syndrome, so after about four or five o’clock, it’s uncomfortable for me to sit for 20 minutes. I will do it around lunchtime or just after lunch.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to use this as a path to talking about self-care and, maybe to sex up the expression a little bit, the building and recharging of your energetic reservoir. And here’s why I’m using such fancy wording, but I think it’s appropriate: We have a few mutual friends and one saw you perform onstage in, I believe it was, New York. And what he said to me—this is someone, Peter, who can work easily 12, 14 hours a day if he wants to for seven days a week, nonstop, for years at a time. And he said that he could not conceive of doing what you do even twice a week and let alone the maximum number of times you might do it in a given week. I don’t know what that number is. You could speak to it.
But could you describe your emotional energy practices and replenishing approach when it comes to, let’s just say, stage performances and stage work? Because it’s really hard for me to even wrap my head around how you have that much energy output repeatedly in a given week.
Hugh Jackman: You see, I find this hard to believe, man, because I sit here, and I hear you and Peter talking about the 100-mile swim that you did or some of the crazy stuff that sounds to me like, “Wow, I didn’t even know the human body could do that, let alone the amount of training it goes for,” that kind of pushing through, that energy that pushes through pain. Or if you see that documentary Kim Swims— when I watch her, I just go, “Wow.” That’s amazing to me because I know in my heart that I was born to be on the stage, right?
It’s taken me a long time to feel the same feeling on a sound stage, acting. One of my favorite movies of all time and definitely my favorite quote from a movie of all time is from Chariots of Fire, which I loved as a kid. And Eric Liddell, who’s the religious runner who decides not to run on the Sabbath during the Olympics—you’ve seen the movie, right?
Tim Ferriss: I have.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. So there’s this great scene. He’s meant to be going off after the Olympics to do missionary work in China, handing out Bibles or something, and his sister’s talking to him, and he goes… She’s like, “You’ve got to throw away this silly running thing. We have really important work, God’s work, to do. Why are you doing this and spending time on this?” You know, basically, kind of accusing him of not following God’s will. And he just says—he looks at her and he says, “But I feel his pleasure when I run.” And I’ve always—somehow that line, it always makes me tear up just saying it. That’s what I feel onstage. There’s a kind of natural energy.
And what I keep saying to my kids actually: Don’t settle. Find that thing that resonates with you in that way, where you feel some kind of the pleasure of the universe, of consciousness. Like, there’s some joy where you feel you can do it longer. And in that way, it’s not such a Herculean effort.
Although I’m going to tell you in a second, I have a bunch of sort of rituals and things that I do to make sure that I can be at my best. But there is a natural energy that I understand people going, “I don’t know how you do that,” but maybe that’s in the same way I don’t know how you train for ultra marathons, for example.
So in terms of self-care, on Broadway I have a bunch of rules, or when I was doing my tour: I certainly don’t drink alcohol before, and I really limit it after. It’s really important for me to wake up feeling in a good frame of mind rather than that feeling of catch-up—you know that feeling if you wake up and you go, “I just want to go back to bed,” then that’s a really difficult place to be in if you’ve got to perform that evening. ‘Cause then an anxiety comes in that you’re going to be withdrawing on reserves that are not replenishable.
I don’t go out after any show. And I would love you to come and see—I’m doing The Music Man—come; but I never go out. That’s a blanket rule. I don’t go out with anybody, partly because the party I’ve just had onstage is better than anything I can imagine anywhere else.
And the other thing is I think it’s really important for me to get quiet, to allow what has happened the energy of what has happened. Because there is a lot of energy. I think I’m the only actor I know who I can be asleep within 45 minutes after getting off stage. There’s something very calming. It’s like, you’ve had your greatest workout, you have a bath—that feeling after the bath, after a great workout in the evening, where you just can sit and be at peace with yourself, that I love. So I limit the amount of coffee I have, just because you’re battling dehydration with stage work all the time. I always… I know what my routine is before I go onstage, and I’m religious about it. And that’s more about quieting my mind. I don’t ever want my monkey mind saying, “Ohp [interjection]—you didn’t do your warm up today,” or, “You only half did it,” or this or that. “You haven’t stretched. You haven’t done that. You didn’t really eat very well today.” You know. My mind can easily pick up on that, the perfectionist side of me.
I always take a minute before I go onstage, literally before, to pause and just connect with the senses. So even if I’m not in the opening of a show, I will stand in the wings. I, first of all, like to just listen to that titter of excitement as people come into the theater because I love the theater myself, and I remember that. It reminds me of how privileged I am and how much I owe every single audience member at every single show. They’re not coming in to see my fourth show of the week. They’re coming to see the show for the first and probably only time in their lives. Who knows what they’ve sacrificed to get there? So I really take that minute.
And then I fall still and remind myself that this is all in service of something. I say a little—I say, “Om paramatmane namah,” which means, “I dedicate this show, or whatever it is, to the service of The Absolute”—there is something beyond the show, some reason we’re doing this. Same for your show. You know. There’s got to be a reason beyond just what the immediate thing is there, and that just connects me to that.
I’m pretty quiet during the day when I do a show. And the other thing I really try to do is read and listen to other stuff. I had a great acting teacher, Lisle Jones, who said to me, he goes, “You can’t call yourself a real actor unless you expose yourself to ballet and classical music and David Attenborough.” Like, you should be so inquisitive and curious and find inspiration from surprising places. It could be a walk in the woods, but that stuff feeds you so that in the act of performing, which is very much giving out, you have enough energy there and stores, I suppose. They’d be the main things.
Tim Ferriss: I’m so pleased we finally made time to get on the podcast. This is just fantastic.
Hugh Jackman: Me too, man. I was saying before we got on—and I’m going to say it now—I was a little nervous. And I was asking myself… I went for a bike ride this morning, and I wasn’t nervous like heart-pounding, like “Oh, I’m about to go on a talk show, and I’ve got to perform”—not that kind of nervous. But I think because this is the only thing I can think of, only bit of media, really, that I actually consume that I’m now participating in. And I thought to myself, “Why do I consume it?” And the reason that I listen in is that I have learned, apart from people in my inner circle, I’ve learned more from your show in the last two years than anywhere else. Countless examples: Seth Godin, Esther Perel, Sam Harris. You know? I do his Waking Up app quite regularly.
So there’s so many things that I’ve learned. And I always feel like I’m going to get some wisdom that will help me in life or the people I love. And I think the nervousness came from… A bit of a habitual thought pattern with me is like, “Oh, well, you’re not that good.” Like, “You don’t know that much, man.” You know. “You’ve done all right, but you’re not the person that people are going to listen to on Tim Ferriss!” Again, you know, those doubts that clearly have fueled me in my life. And I mention that—A—to compliment you on what you’ve created, but—B—just to be completely open and honest that I have those doubts, you know? That I’m not good enough, which have driven me. Yeah, sorry if I’m going off piste here.
Tim Ferriss: No, you’re not going off piste. There’s no such thing in these conversations, and I really appreciate the kind words. It means a lot to me that you listen to the show. I also want to say that for those people who might wonder what you are like in person, that there’s always a risk in meeting your heroes, meeting the people you might be inclined to put on a pedestal. And as far as I’m concerned, you are in person with your friends, with your family, with your fans, everything that someone would hope you to be. So I just want you to know that, at least for me, you are one of the most reassuring of high-profile celebrities in that sense because it is easy to kind of fall for a facade. And you’ve been very inspiring to me in person.
And I’ll just give a few examples, or I’ll talk about a pattern that I’ve observed, which is that you are polite to everyone. I mean, I’ve seen you… You shake hands with everyone you meet, whether it’s the janitor up to a prime minister. You extend the same courtesy to everyone, and I think that’s a rarity. So thank you for being you.
And I’d like to ask about, in a sense, how you were shaped, and I’d love to ask about your dad if that’s possible? And I have a specific example that jumps to mind, and this is from a piece some time ago in Good Housekeeping—so I want to give credit where credit is due—but the quote here—and feel free to correct it—this is from you: “I remember at one point being in a fellowship and everyone used to wear the fish symbol. That said you were a Christian. So I asked my father, ‘Dad, why don’t you wear that at work?’ And he said, ‘Your religion should be in your actions.’ He set a great, great example.” Could you speak to what impact your father or family had on you in terms of lessons learned?
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that story. That actually came to mind a couple of days ago. My dad… You know when people talk about their “Oh, my father always told me this.” There weren’t many times that dad would come up with a sentence, but there’s a few I remember: “You cannot overinvest in education.” That’s one he would say to us. He says, “If you are ever in doubt of what to do, go and learn more,” is what he would say. Your actions… That one, it was… I actually now remember it. It was… I was very… We grew up very religious. My father was converted by Billy Graham, and my mother and father, I think, went to the Billy Graham Crusade. And my father was not religious at all and became a born-again Christian. My mother did not. That was one of the things, actually, I think, that brought the end of their marriage. They sort of went down different paths.
But my dad was not a Bible basher. He rarely talked about it. And I remember saying, “Dad…” Because I was really… About 13, 14, I was really in school—uh, church groups, Fellowship groups, and I got one of those stickers that you put on the back of the car, and I said, “Dad, we should put that—” like, “We’re meant to do that. We’re meant to spread the word and do this.” And when he said that to me, I was disappointed. I thought he was copping out. But only later did I realize that when he said, “People should know you’re a Christian through your actions,” is so much more powerful. If someone eventually comes up to you and says, you know, “There’s something about you, man. I don’t know what it is, but I’d love to know where I can get it.” You know? Then there’s an opening. But someone… People have noticed how you act is far stronger than what you say. And we all know that.
Another thing… Education… There was one other thing that came to mind. It’ll come back. I can’t remember. But my mum… And I often speak a little more about my dad in interviews because my mum left when I was eight. So I was brought up from that moment on primarily by my dad. And so I got a lot of those lessons as I was growing into a man with him being around. But my mum, I always remember her saying—she says it to this day: “Everyone needs to feel appreciated. It doesn’t matter what they do, it doesn’t matter who they are, that’s a need in everybody.” And I sort of have extrapolated that out to being “People need to be seen.”
I’ve learned a lot of that from Brené Brown. They need to be seen for who they are and appreciated for what they give. And I’ve seen my mother in particular and my father do that, and that’s something we were all taught. So it has become a natural thing. And it really pleases me, I see that in my kids, too, now, that they’ve picked up on that. And it’s a little… really doesn’t take a lot. But it’s that outward-facing understanding where people are coming from, walking in their shoes to a certain degree. And no one, to be honest, there’s no better example of that in my life than my wife Deb. She’s… Because you could argue that’s the way I was brought up. It’s kind of like manners. That’s the way I was taught to be. I couldn’t go to someone else’s house—and to this day, I always offer to clean up. Even if I’m going to someone’s dinner party, they always say, “No.” I always… If there’s a bowl of chips on the table, I won’t pick one up until I’ve offered them to everyone around me, even if it’s not my house. All that’s stuff that I learned.
But my wife acts purely from instinct, from heart. She cannot walk past someone homeless in the street. And, you know, I’ll stop quite often, but sometimes I’ll go, “Oh, I’m just too busy. I can’t deal with this right now.” She will never do that. It’s like an instinct, an impulse. That kind of… That’s where I think manners or any way you’re brought up somehow goes to another level of truly connecting. That’s what I’ve learned from her. So there’ve been three big influences.
Tim Ferriss: And Deb is of course an amazing, amazing woman in her own right. And if she would like, I can certainly link to some of her works in the show notes as well because I do think that the sort of dynamic duo of the two of you is a very important combination for making—
Hugh Jackman: Yeah, you’ve had dinner with us, and I can’t tell you how many people invite us for dinner, and they’ll be saying, “Listen, if Hugh’s busy, that’s fine.” Because Deb does light up a room.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to ask about journalism, or communications. This is maybe going to seem strange—
Hugh Jackman: I just remembered what it was about my dad.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, fire away. Let’s go there.
Hugh Jackman: A stickler on ethics. If you get two invitations, if you get an invitation to go, uh, to—I don’t know—go across the road to your mate’s place for dinner, and then an hour later you get an invitation from the queen of England to go to the Buckingham Palace, you stick by your first one. He was just a stickler on ethics. You keep your word, even if it does not benefit you. You always keep your word. That was a big one. My dad was always big on ethics.
And the other beautiful one… I remember when my… because his relationship didn’t work out, and it was a big source of pain for him. He shared with me it was a real feeling of failure for him around his marriage. And when things started to take off for me with X-Men, he very rarely offered advice at all, about parenting, nothing. Even when I asked him for advice. At one point, I had an opportunity to be in a TV show. I got cast in a TV show, and the same time I got a spot at a very revered acting school in Australia, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
And over the weekend, I had to choose: do I go on Neighbours, which Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie—you know, all these people, that was the breeding ground—or do I go and study for three years? I asked my dad on the Friday. I said, “Dad, I don’t know what to do, and I need your help.” And I was 22 at the time. And he said, “I can’t answer that for you.” And I was really like, “Come on, Dad, please.” Anyway, by the Sunday, it was clear to me. I wanted… You know, obviously, his lesson about education had sunk in, and so I went, “No, I need to go and study because I want to feel that not only do I belong on a, you know, a TV series set, but I can also audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company in England.” And I didn’t feel I had that before I studied. So I went off and studied.
And when I told dad the decision—I remember—he sighed. He goes, “Oh, thank goodness.” I said, “You knew?” And he goes, “Of course I knew.” I said, “Couldn’t you have just saved me this grief the last few days and told me?” And he goes, “No,” he says, “You’re a man. You have to make those decisions on your own.” Now, as a father—I have a 20-year-old. I don’t know if I’d be able to hold my tongue if I could see it so clearly—go right, don’t go left—to be able to hold back. That was another great bit of advice.
I’ve gone off. And what were we talking about before?
Tim Ferriss: Let’s see, what were we talking about? Well, I was going to bring up journalism and communications, but I might go… We can go somewhere else. That was one topic sort of on the list, but we can go in any direction that we like.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah, man. Do you want me to talk about that?
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s… I’ll tie it in in the sense it’s a curiosity for me as to how you came to be so well-spoken. There are many performers I’ve met, many people who are excellent onstage, on camera, who nonetheless in person or in interview, otherwise, are not as facile with words as you are. And I noticed in doing homework—and I don’t know if this is a factor—but that you were initially, well, I should say, at the University of Technology in Sydney, studying communications in hopes of becoming a journalist. Is that true?
Hugh Jackman: True. Yeah. I—
Tim Ferriss: And so I’d love to hear you speak to why that’s the case and perhaps just try to paint a picture of how you came to use words in the way that you do.
Hugh Jackman: Thank you, man. I haven’t had that compliment before. I’ll take it.
Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome. I’ve interviewed 400-plus people, and I can tell you.
Hugh Jackman: My wife says I can be a little too verbose sometimes. She’ll be like, “All right, got it. Got the point. Wrap it up.” So if I look back, I was always in the debate team, loved debate. My brother is probably the most successful barrister in Australia, certainly in his field of law, an incredible debater. My other brother, like… So we used to get into it at home. And certainly with my oldest brother, who was a Rhodes scholar, you had to be on your game, or he would literally eviscerate you in one line. So I probably learned first there.
Kind of reminds me of Jordan saying, “I really learned how to play basketball from trying to beat my brother growing up,” you know. And then I was in the debate teams and all of that. And we always had family dinner every night, Sunday lunch as a family, there was always conversations. So, in a way, that was always encouraged. And in my family, I’m certainly… I don’t stand out as a speaker. But if I think about it now, that was really something that was always prized. And so I came out of high school with pretty good scores, and I was accepted into a degree, a dual degree in economics and law, interestingly. My brother was a lawyer, or going into law at that time. My father was an accountant his whole life for Price Waterhouse. And I was good at maths, and I really was interested in people and good at speaking. So law and economics. And I went off and I had a gap year. Halfway through the gap year, I was like, “Actually, now that I think on it, I don’t think that’s for me.” And I didn’t really… I just knew I was very much a people person and interested in that.
And this communications course was new at the time in Australia, and I went and studied there without really knowing anything about it, to be honest. But I knew media was a big part of it. And gradually as I went along, my love, particularly for radio, more than writing, blossomed. And so I did graduate with a journalism major, that degree. But honestly, the biggest thing that happened for me at college was that I did a play in my last semester, which I didn’t mean to do. I was doing… I had to fill a minor elective, and my friend said, “You got to join the theater class because it’s the easiest thing possible. You turn out for four hours a week. There’s no exam, there’s no play, and you pass.” So I was like, “Great, done.” So he decided for the first time in the course’s history to do a play, and I begged to get out of it, and by ballot, I got the lead role. There was no auditions.
And only when I graduated, as I was graduating, I realized: I’ve just spent 90 percent of my time doing that play and loving it. And I said, “There’s something wrong here. Like, I’m doing investigative journalism. Surely, I should be really more passionate about that? Maybe something’s off.” We went, actually toured the play to another university that was half theater and half communications. And I remember viscerally walking into the place where we were staying—we were staying at a student house, about eight people in this house; the smell of weed was just suffocating as I walked in—but what I remember was, the moment I walked into that house and I met those people, I had this feeling all over my body that I’d made a mistake, that I should have been here; I should’ve been doing this course. I knew then.
And it was deeply frustrating to me to be three weeks away from graduation thinking, “Oops. I think I turned right and I was meant to turn left.” And so, yes, officially I graduated as a journalism major, but I never studied it; I went straight to go and study acting after that. So that was my Sliding Doors moment, I guess. But it has… Funnily enough, I do get a lot of journalists—and I don’t consider you a journalist. Do you describe yourself as a journalist, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: No. I think that would insult any actual full-time journalists. I would say professional—
Hugh Jackman: I don’t know. I’ve got a lot more understanding of the world around me from your podcasts than almost everything I read. So, no.
Tim Ferriss: I appreciate that. I write “author”—
Hugh Jackman: Oh, by the way, Ken Burns. Thank you for putting me on to Ken Burns.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, amazing. Yeah.
Hugh Jackman: During this whole quarantine, I’ve watched all Civil War, I watched the whole of Vietnam, and my son and I are about to get into Baseball. I mean, how I could go 51 years without really seeing everything Ken Burns has done is a crime. But anyway, thanks for that. But anyway, journalism—
Tim Ferriss: He’s a special man.
Hugh Jackman: And that podcast you did with him is incredible.
So, but anyway, it was—yeah, journalism has come in handy for me because I talk to a lot of journalists, and I instinctively have an empathy for them. I think most people in my side of the game fear—not fear them—don’t like them, like, distrust them, see them as a battle, and I don’t feel that. I know the pressures they’re under, how little they’re getting paid, and that often they’re being asked—told—to ask questions of me that they don’t want to ask, but they’re told if you don’t come back to the newsroom without a quote about whether he’s going to have another child or blah-blah-blah, you know, don’t come back. So I can see that when I’m listening to them, I just have an empathy and a real appreciation for what they do. Because when faced with the “All right, you graduated, go be a journalist,” I was like, “I don’t think I can cut it. I don’t think I can do it. It’s a really, really hard job.” So it has come in handy.
Tim Ferriss: At the end of drama school, did you make a contract with yourself—
Hugh Jackman: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: —about pursuing acting, and could you speak to that please?
Hugh Jackman: So I grad… Damn, your research is good. So I had worked I don’t know how many jobs. I graduated drama school at 26. So: gas station attendant, I dressed up in a koala suit for the National Parks and Wildlife Foundation, I worked—
Tim Ferriss: That’s a tall koala.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah, totally. And yes, I’ve been punched in the kidneys by 14-year-olds, you know, that whole thing. And yes, I told them to fuck off, all of that, you know. Restaurants. The thing that I learned from working in all those jobs, that if you start a business—it could be a pizzeria, it could be a bar, restaurant, anything—you have to give it seven days a week for five years. And after five years you may be able to pull back a little bit, and you may be able to be in a position where you built the brand to a certain point. You may be able to hire a manager, you may be able to hire staff to make things a little easier. But no one really goes into owning their own business thinking, “Oh, this is going to be the easy life.” They do it because there’s something they want to create, and they don’t want to be told what to do, and they go out and make it happen.
And it dawned on me really only in the last semester of drama school, that that’s what I’m doing. I’m going out there. There’s no… No one’s employing me in their company to be an actor and then sending me out. I have to go and rehire every time I go for a job, and my brand is my name, so I have to build that up. And so I thought, “OK, what have I learned from all these jobs? I’ve got to give it seven days a week.” So I vowed to never wait for the phone to ring. I was going to write letters, I was going to start… Me and Simon Lyndon, my fellow mate who I graduated with, we were going to start a theater company. Which he did, by the way. I ended up getting a job straight out of drama school, got lucky. But the Tamarama Rock Surfers, which is, you know, in Bondi, in Australia, still going today after 25 years.
But my feeling was you have to drive, you have to work. You cannot be a victim, you cannot wait for the phone to ring. You have to go out and generate and get your brand out there and get going. So I figured five years was the time. Because… I was 26, so, five years, I’m like 31. We all hear stories of people staying too long at the party. I mean, if you go to L.A., there’s just so many people who stay a good 10 years too long at the acting party. You know. And they’re like, “I met a guy at my gym, and he’s introduced me. He’s the guy who parks the car around the corner of his place. He knows someone who’s a friend of the casting agent. And he’s put in a word, and I think I’m going to get a… .” You know, that story comes out, and this feeling of it’s going to happen next week. I figured 31. OK, 31, if it’s not happening, be stoic—by the way, thanks for Ryan Holiday and the Stoicism, all that stuff, love—be stoic, be hopeful, but work your ass off. But know when it’s time to leave the party. So after five years, at 31, I’d done X-Men; it was all sort of happening for me. It didn’t happen immediately in terms of what most people think of as success. But certainly after that first five years, I did actually mentally say to myself, “All right, another five years and we’ll see how it goes.”
I don’t like the word career, particularly when I began, and I’d say to actors, I said, “I’d be wary of the word career.” I said, “It’s not a right that you’re going to act. 98 percent of actors are unemployed. It’s a privilege when you get a job. And don’t expect there will always be one around the corner. Work your ass off, as though this is the last one, and you have to be at your best to get there because that’s kind of what it takes.” So, I’ll admit, I don’t redo the contract anymore.
Tim Ferriss: What were some of the best decisions that you made in the first few years of working hard, pounding the pavement as an aspiring-slash-working actor?
Hugh Jackman: Well, definitely going to drama school. And that was before… That was a huge turning point. I had a big… I just had also this attitude you got to say yes to everything when you graduate. Just say yes, go for everything. When my agent called me and said, “They’re looking for someone to play Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, in the musical.” I was like, “Well, I’m a theater actor. I’m not a singer.” She said, “Yeah, I just think you should go for it.” And me saying yes to that audition and going, getting singing lessons was a huge turning point. I mean, now I’ve done a bunch of musicals, and I’ve learned a lot over those years, but I did not think I could ever do that. So that was a big one. And doing Beauty and the Beast, and in my contract—I think I must be the only actor in history—in my contract it said, “Must get a singing lesson once a week paid for by the company.” So I was a professional on paper, professional musical theater actor, and I had to go and get singing lessons. Which I loved, man. Because I was singing eight times a week in a show, getting a singing lesson every week. That’s really where I learned how to sing. So that year was amazing for me.
But I had a… This was more of a turning point. After… I remember when I was doing Beauty and the Beast, I started getting well known for that. And I remember seeing something like… They had a list of people: “What are they doing for Christmas” kind of thing. And they had, “Hugh Jackman, comma, singer.” And it was up at the theater. Someone put it up in the theater. And I just remember going, “Uh oh, I’m being labeled as a singer.” I said, “I’m an actor. Like, this is a problem. This is going to affect me.” And it did become a problem. I couldn’t get an audition for film because there was—I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Australia—a kind of snobbishness about musical theater. Then you weren’t an actor; you were a performer, stagehand, jazz hands, and that’s not acting. So anyone in musical theater can’t act. I couldn’t get an audition. Drove me crazy.
So I made a choice then to only do—to get out, basically. I’m going to get out of theater, musical theater. And I’m just going to concentrate on acting until I’ve established that. Then maybe I can go back to it.
And just as I decided that, my agent Raymond said, “Sir Trevor Nunn is coming to do Sunset Boulevard in Melbourne.” And I said, “I really want to meet Sir Trevor Nunn.” He was a huge hero of mine through drama school—the Royal Shakespeare Company, everything—like, huge. I really wanted to meet him. That’s really who I wanted to work for. But it was a musical, and this was another 12 months. And I thought, “Now it’s going to be back-to-back musicals. I’m going to be even more entrenched down this path that, you know, is a one-way street.” I actually, and I think back, is a pretty arrogant thing.
I rang the casting director myself, and I said, “I need you to do me a favor.” And I had met her, I knew her. I said, “I really want to meet Trevor, and I want to audition for him, but I don’t want to do the job.” And he said, “What?” She said, “What? What do you mean?” And I said, “I really want to meet him, but I made this decision. I’ve got to go into acting. But can you just do me a favor? I just want to meet him, and I want him to see me act.”
So I went in. The audition was the most incredible hour I’ve ever spent. I learned so much. One hour on an audition. He taught me so much about acting. He heard me sing, and then he came and worked with me for 40 minutes. And I remember about halfway through that going, “OK, if he gives me the part, I’m going to do it. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a musical or not. I’ve got to work with this guy. I feel it in my gut. I’ve got so much to learn from him.”
And that was a massive turning point. I got the part. I learned an incredible amount from him. He then went on to cast me in Oklahoma! in London. And really, working with him gave me the confidence to be able to take on the world stage. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to do that before him.
But I suppose the lesson of that or the turning point of that was when you have that gut feeling, go with it. And I haven’t always done that, by the way. And you’re going to learn… Actually, not long after that…
So, after I did Sunset Boulevard, I doubled down on my commitment to not doing musicals, right? Or after Oklahoma. I’ve now done three musicals. And I still couldn’t get an audition for a film. And I got an offer to do The Boy from Oz, which I went on to do here on Broadway about 15 years ago. And when I heard the pitch for that show, I had that same feeling in my gut: “Oh, my God, this is going to be amazing. You’ve got to do it.” But my head was saying, “You’ve done three musicals. Stop. When are you going to stop? You’ve got to stop. You made a commitment.” So I turned it down.
And when I went to see that show two years later—by the way, I still hadn’t got a film audition pretty much—when I went to go and see that show, I was actually sick to my stomach because it was everything I knew it was going to be when they pitched it to me. And there I was, making some strategic plan in my head, and it was wrong. And from that moment on, I have always followed my gut on stuff, even if it doesn’t make sense.
Tim Ferriss: I have so many questions about this. I love where we’re going. And I was going to ask you about intuition. But first I have to ask just a brass-tacks question, which is, the casting director who did this favor for you, why do you think they did that? Because that seems to me to not be a small ask.
Hugh Jackman: It’s not.
Tim Ferriss: Why did they feel compelled to do that? What persuaded them?
Hugh Jackman: Hm. It’s a small industry in Australia. And I’d just come out, and I’d got quite a lot of recognition, I think, for that first musical. And I think she was thinking, “I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, because I think I’ll see him again in something,” you know what I mean? And I really pitched to her the reason I got into acting was I’d seen those, you know, tapes from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barton tapes, and I’d watched so much about Trevor Nunn, and to me, that was my dream, was to one day be at the Royal Shakespeare Company and working for Trevor Nunn. Like, that was my dream.
So I think I pitched it very passionately. I owned up to the arrogance. I said, “I know this is a really unfair thing to do.” And I, to this day, don’t know if she told him that or if they knew. Maybe that’s why Trevor… As I was telling that story I thought, “Is that why Trevor spent an hour with me? Maybe he was like, ‘I’m going to convince this guy to do it.'” I’m not sure. But anyway… Yeah, it’s a really good question as to why. It was a kindness. But I remember her doing it through gritted teeth. I remember her going, “Mm. Right.”
Tim Ferriss: Right, guy. OK. This is not the easiest ask she’s ever received. But nonetheless it happened.
And in a few of the instances you’ve mentioned, you have—and not all—but you’ve honed it, it seems, over time, listened to this gut feeling, this intuition, this, I would say, sensitivity that you seem to have, even when you’ve had huge sunk cost. Right? So you’ve invested years into education, pointing you in one direction, and then, at the 11th hour you go, “Hmm. OK. Well, I turned right. I should turn left.” And you turn left. And then you have these examples that you’ve given. How do you relate to intuition or that gut feeling now? Is there a certain way you think about it or have become more attuned to feeling it? And I’m asking, in part, because I’ve spent a lot of my life trapped in my… the front of my brain and hyper-analyzing things. And it has often been a disservice because it’s overpowered feelings, intuition, on deals, partnerships, friends, or foes that I should have listened to, right? So I’d just be curious to know how you have developed a relationship with listening to that.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. I’ve never been asked this question. I think this is probably the most vexing, most important, vital thing to work out in your life, certainly in my life. And I think about it a lot. To answer the question What do I do now?, I just… I think I need to take you back.
I’ve never really said this before publicly, this particular thing I’m going to say. But as I told you, I was brought up in a very religious household. So a lot of the messages I was getting and instructions for life came through the examples of Jesus and through all these characters and the parables in the Bible. And I carried them very close to my heart. I can remember praying nightly, for I don’t know how long, to God. I used to… I remember just saying, “I don’t care, God, what it is you want me to do. If you want me to collect trash, I’ll collect trash. If you want me to… I do not care. But please make it clear to me what you want me to do. Please make that clear.”
I had much more fear of being on the wrong path than I had fear of failing at a path, if that makes sense.
Tim Ferriss: That makes perfect sense.
Hugh Jackman: That whatever that decision was, whatever that moment of clarity becomes, whatever gets you to that feeling of Eric Liddell on Chariots of Fire, “I feel His pleasure when I run,” for me, that was always, and I carry it today. Even though my feelings about religion are different than what they were when I was younger, the essence is the same, that there is some calling. As Joseph Campbell would talk about, “Follow your bliss.” There is some calling that is beyond the conscious brain’s strategizing of how to be happy and successful or meaningful in life. There’s something elemental and instinctual. And honing that, the people I admire the most really hone that ability in big decisions in their life and in… to small, day-to-day decisions. So now, I still, like you, battle with that because I can be dominated by my mind, my brain, pros and cons, think this through.
And I have been working with a life coach, Lauren Zander, now for four years, and this is one of the biggest things we focus on, really understanding what it is you’re here for, what it is you want to do, having those priorities very clearly set out so that those turning points in your life become clear.
Just to add to that, when you get married or when you make a commitment, a lifelong commitment to someone, and you have kids, then the first question Deb and I will always ask is, “Is this good or bad for our family.” So if it’s bad, we won’t do it. And if it’s good, we will. So that’s a very simple thing, but that’s my number one priority.
And I just remembered the thing about my dad. I don’t think I said it. When I got famous and things were going really well for me, he turned me aside and he said, “Don’t forget to always check that everything’s OK with Deb at every point.” And I was like, “Oh, OK. That’s great advice.”
So anyway, I got off piste. But the decision making, I still ask for that every day. You know, I do a—and I should have mentioned this upfront in terms of that first question you asked me, in terms of performing and the things you do, you know, daily—I do a daily design every day. I create as if in the past tense of what the day had been.
Dreams can be crazy. It can be wild. And then at the end of the day, I score it out of 10. I keep myself accountable to what I was trying to manifest or make happen. And one thing I… a consistent theme in that is that I listen to the messages, that they come in crazy ways. They come in strange but clear, concise ways.
OK. So I’ve just come full circle. Let me give you an example. I’m going to go back again. I… In terms of knowing to get into acting, right, following those examples, I went and studied—sorry, auditioned—for an acting school. And I got in. I got in on the reserve list, so I didn’t get it on the first time round. This was a one-year course I did before my three-year one. I just snuck in, and I was so excited. After graduating as a journalist, “OK, I’m going to go to acting school for one year.”
And then I got a letter in the mail a week later saying, “Congratulations, you’re in. Please make sure you come with the three-and-a-half thousand dollars tuition fee. And it had never dawned on me that it was going to cost anything because when I was young in Australia, secondary education was free. Like, all university was free. So I was like, “Uh, oh,” and then I thought, “I’ve got to go and ask my dad, and I’ve just graduated from college.” And I thought, “I can’t do that.” I literally ripped up the letter. I screwed it up, put it in the bin. And I’m not joking—this is to me one of those signs, crazy signs, that are just like a wallop in the face—I got a check the next day from my grandmother’s will—she had died three months before—for three-and-a-half thousand dollars, the exact dollar amount.
Tim Ferriss: That’s wild.
Hugh Jackman: And it’s just… Yeah, I mean, that’s an obvious example. That’s when the universe is going, “All right, you’re an idiot. I’ve given you a lot of signs. You went off and did that play, you walked into that house, you got that sign, you knew this is where you were meant to be. This is it. And maybe… And so it’s time to move on. And you’re about to throw it up because the three-and-a-half thousand dollars, and that path you’re meant to go down, you’re going to kind of falter at the first hurdle.” And then the wallop comes in my face. And so I’ve had really clear moments of that.
But I ask every single day, Tim. Not ask, I manifest every single day that I will hear those messages. And they’re not just about me; they’re about my kids, they’re about my wife, they’re about my friends, they’re about purpose, they’re about meaning, they’re about life, I mean, confidence, all of that stuff—that the direction I’m meant to go will become clear to me, 100 percent clear in my gut.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned something earlier—
Hugh Jackman: Remember, when you said about—
Tim Ferriss: Go ahead.
Hugh Jackman: Remember I said about being verbose? Feel free to cut up, edit away.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no, I wouldn’t say verbose. This is definitely suitable for long-form.
The question of intuition. So one of the fine-tuning questions I have, which is based on something you said earlier, which is, even if it sometimes doesn’t make sense, what I’ve noticed in my own experience is that oftentimes, in retrospect, the most important times to listen to intuition, which you could think of any number of ways, right? You can think of it as a few million years of preverbal evolution giving you a signal. You can think of it in a multitude of ways. But oftentimes the most important examples of me listening to intuition have been when it has seemingly made no sense, right? Where it hasn’t been obvious. Are there any examples that come to mind for you where you’re like, “It just didn’t seem to make sense. I couldn’t connect the dots at the time, but I just felt, I knew I had to do X.” Are there any examples like that, that come to mind? And if not, that’s OK as well.
Hugh Jackman: You know, when I perform onstage, there, uh… I ad-lib quite a lot. I go off-script, I go do things, I pull people out of the audience, I do stuff like that. I learned that from doing The Boy from Oz, where the character did that 10 minutes a night. And this is not a big life-changing moment, but first thing that came to mind was just last year I was onstage, and I never plan. People always think I’ve either planted someone in the audience because of what comes out—they’ll either be funny or something will happen—or I’ve at least spent the first half of the show scouting the audience and scanning to see who I’m going to pick. But I don’t. I use that as an example of just trusting that in front of 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden, I’m just going to go with my gut on who to pick. And that something… And there’s a reason for that. And I promise you, nine times out of 10, something happens that is just crazy. And maybe it’s because of that intention to be open and just to meet the situation as it arises.
But I remember being in Sydney, and in the middle of the show, I’d spotted this kid, and I went… I was going on singing a song. I stopped the song. Something in my head said, “You gotta grab that kid.” So I said… I went up, and the kid was dressed in The Greatest Showman outfit. That’s probably what attracted my attention, which is not uncommon, to be honest, but I went and grabbed him, and he came up onstage, and he started getting teary. And I was worried that actually I’d got a, like, 11-year-old kid up onstage and it had been overwhelming for him. And so I just sort of brought it down, and then he shared his story that he had just… this was his first outing after recovering from brain surgery and that The Greatest Showman was the thing he listened to every single day, the being here.
Cut a long story short, I looked out, myself included…
His father had also died. His father was a famous guitarist—I didn’t know any of this—in Australia, in a famous band. He had died two years before. So the day he got his diagnosis. And by the way, not all this came out onstage. I found a lot of this out afterwards.
But something in this kid made the entire audience melt and cry. The kid ended up staying onstage with us for the entire evening. His dream was to one day perform. He grabbed his guitar, I got his guitar up. He sang in front of 20,000 people. He got a standing ovation, tears are streaming down my face. Everyone… He then went backstage. He joined us for the rest of our time in Sydney. He came backstage with his mum.
And this was… You know, when you’re doing a show with 100 people in an arena and your brain goes, “Go over to that kid.” My head was screaming, “Don’t listen to that. You’re halfway through a number. You’re two hours into the show. People have already been here for blah, blah, blah.” Like, this is the, you know… And going with that, that moment was one of the most transformative in the entire thing, and I have no idea why it came to me, and I have no idea why I stopped. But I’m really grateful I did.
Tim Ferriss: It seems to me, from the outside looking in at least, that you’ve cultivated the ability to surrender in specific circumstances like that if that makes any sense at all. And that seems to be a huge strength.
I want to come back to something you said about—
Hugh Jackman: I’ve had to work on that, by the way. I really have. Because I can be a bit of a control—
Tim Ferriss: How have you worked on it?
Hugh Jackman: With Lauren Zander, my coach. She is always joking, and she goes, “Oh, hello, Perfect Tommy.” She’s like, “She’s got,”—”You got this alter ego, perfect Tommy, in there.” She gets it from Buckaroo Banzai. I don’t know if you ever saw that ’80s movie.
Tim Ferriss: I do! Yeah, I know the movie.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. So, and Perfect Tommy, she goes, “You’re Perfect Tommy.” So, you know, sometimes, even when you gave me that compliment at the beginning, when you’re saying, you know, “You seem to be…” you know, “You’re always kind to everyone,” I’m like, “Is that the real me? Or is that just Perfect Tommy?” you know? But she’s really made me work on that and to trust myself. Do the work that you need to do; don’t do an ounce more than you need to do. And I was more prone to be an over-worker, an over-worrier, and miss some of the fun of my life because of it. And I’ve really worked hard on doing that on film—of letting go—onstage—of not letting my own expectations get in the way.
Tim Ferriss: And if we come back to the design of the day—if I’m remembering the phrasing you used—is that a paragraph that you write down in a journal or type out in the morning, which, if I’m getting this right, is, “Today I did X. Today I felt this.” It’s past tense for the day to come?
Hugh Jackman: It’s happened. So it’s… Yes. It’s past tense. It’s already happened. There’s no, “I really hope… I think that… I’m going to try… I will… ” Like, “Today, my son and I had the best hour together laughing and talking, and we connected on some of the most elemental things in ways we’ve never connected.” That kind of thing it will have. And I do that every morning on a text, which I send to her, because she says, you know, “We all need to be accountable to someone.” I’m looking at them now. I don’t want to say that one about my kids. OK: “Our relationship goes to new levels of honesty and intimacy.” So that’s, you know, just… just that kind of thing that Deb and I can, who… It’s the best, really the most successful part of my life is my family life. But why not go for more? There’s new levels. There’s other things. There must be things that I’m keeping it hidden or I’m ashamed of that I should share, you know?
I write that every day, and then either that night or if I’m too tired, in the morning. I read it again and go, “Oh, wow. Shit. That was a four out of 10. That day did not turn out at all like that.” Then it’s got to do with belief, really.
I’m new to this, man. My wife’s always been into manifestation, and I was like, “I don’t know if that’s the way to live life.” Like, you know, “Isn’t more to be open, like, in presence and dealing in that stoic way, deal with what’s coming. Can we really manifest it?”
But I’ll give you a really great example. So… of that manifesting. The Greatest Showman—and I have not told this story—I was on the fence about it for a long time. The studio were on the fence; I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it. We… I wasn’t… I just wasn’t sure if our script was in the right place, and I had lots of reasons for that. And so Lauren, my life coach, who I found through Dr. Mark Hyman and has changed my life, she all texts me saying, “I need to slap you.” And then I’m like, “OK.” So I ring her up and she goes, “All right.”
For example, sometimes she’ll ring me up and say, “You know, I think in general you’re a good listener, but sometimes I think you’re better at looking like a good listener than you really are a good listener.” And I was like, “Oh, all right. Challenge accepted. Slap taken.”
But in this case, she said to me, “I think you’re preparing to choke. I think you are laying the safety net for The Greatest Showman to be… to not work, and you’re thinking up all the reasons outside of yourself why it won’t work, and you have 24 hours to either decide to get on or get off. But if you’re on, you need to be a hundred percent in.” And I was like, “She’s right.”
Wasn’t “preparing for a choke.” What was the word? It’s like… Maybe “preparing for a choke.” But I clearly… It’s easier to do that in life: “Well, you know, I’m going to give it a go. I’ll give it my best. You know, look, I’m not sure. Musicals are really hard; original musicals, impossible. You know, the studio want to spend this amount of money on this writer that we wanted; we got this writer. But you know, we’re going to give it our best.” Like you’re right there, in your language, pretty much going to fail. And you’re preparing yourself for the failure, and you don’t want to fall too far, so you’ve got the safety net so that when it fails, you go, “Yeah, well, you know, if the studio had spent a bit more money on the writer or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, X, Y, Z.”
So I hung up the phone, slap taken, a little stunned, and I just sat down for about an hour and I imagined what that movie was going to be in the tent, and I imagined the effect it would have and why we were doing it, and then I wrote all that down. And then I wrote that down every day to the day we finished principal photography. And then I had to recommit again, when we’re in the editing process.
And I just… Let me be clear—our director, by the way, Michael Gracey, I have such high regard for him because from the moment we started—and eight years he was working on that film—everything that’s happened with that film, he used to say, “This is what’s going to happen. This is going to be a movie that’s going to be around forever. This is going to be one of the legacies of your career, Hugh.” Blah, blah, blah. He would say all these things.
And I used to say to him, I said, “Mike, this is your first film. Tone it down a little bit, dude. Like, why don’t we just say, ‘We make a great film.’ Does it have to be one of the most successful films?” He would literally say, “This is the most successful musical of all time.” And he would never deviate from that ever.
So I’m not saying I was the only person manifesting, but I do think there was a big turning point. And when Lauren slapped me around, that changed my intention to that project completely. And I don’t think that ensures you against failure. That quote of “Don’t insure yourself for failure,” you know what I mean? Don’t just… Don’t have that safety net out all the time. I really learned that from Lauren. And that’s probably one of the best career examples I can give of that daily design.
Tim Ferriss: What strikes me about that is, number one, the consistency, the daily practice. The second is the accountability, like you said, texting Lauren, which is something that I now want to do, even with a friend. I mean, people listening could, for instance, just find an accountability partner where you text each other in the morning and then at five o’clock p.m. or six o’clock p.m. each evening, you check in and you have to score off against that accountability partner. Just seems like such a wonderful practice.
And I’d like to talk about practices. And I just have a few more questions for you. And I’ll pull from a quote first, and you can tell me if this is accurate or not. This is from an interview in Oprah magazine, but it relates to meditation, and I’m going to use this as a segue, but I love the analogy that you use, which is, “Everyone takes a shower every day, and we don’t complain about it. We do it out of discipline. There will always be an excuse not to meditate. In the Hindu tradition, there’s something called A-HAM-kar-a,” if I’m saying that correctly, “where the ego says—”
Hugh Jackman: A-ham-KAR-a.
Tim Ferriss: A-ham-KAR-a, there we go. “The ego says, ‘You don’t need to meditate. You don’t need to meditate, man. You’re really busy. What about the kids?’ But do I say ‘I can’t shower today because I have to make time for the kids?’ No.”
And one of the, I’m sure, many elements that seems to be a discipline for you is your physical practice, exercise, and you’ve transformed yourself multiple times, certainly. And I’ve seen you work out. It’s enough to make me want to retire my sneakers. It’s just outrageous, the intensity involved. And I’d be curious to know if there are any particular exercises or types of exercise that you have found to be particularly good bang for the bucks. If you had to just take the desert island test and you could only take a handful of exercises or X, Y, and Z with you, does anything come to mind?
Hugh Jackman: Rowing machine. Definitely.
Tim Ferriss: Rowing machine.
Hugh Jackman: A rower. There’s a reason the rower’s usually empty at the gym—because it’s difficult. And a lot of people want to say it and feel they’ve worked out, and they want to get a sweat, but they don’t necessarily… And I learned a lot of this from your book, you know—and I worked at a gym, by the way—The 4-Hour Body. I worked at a gym for three years, so I saw a lot of people coming in five days a week and not really changing anything about them.
And the rowing machine—I think if you add in some chest work, some pushups, that’s everything you need to keep fit, healthy, strong.
And I’ve learned a lot of that. I work with Beth Lewis, the trainer, who… You can look her up. She does a lot of free classes right now, I think, during COVID. I found her through Peter. Do you know Beth? Have you met Beth?
Tim Ferriss: I know of Beth. Haven’t spent much time with her.
Hugh Jackman: She was a powerlifter and a dancer. So she… It really is great for me because, I mean, in the past, even with someone like Wolverine, I have to prepare to look physically a way, but I can’t get injured. So I can’t prepare as a bodybuilder. I have to be able to prepare as a really jacked, ripped athlete-slash-dancer, because fighting is dance. It is more relaxation in a fight scene than there is strength, which is probably the case for, if you think about all the great athletes you see, there’s relaxation, and then movement has moved in sports.
That’s why you see every sprinter poking their tongue out now and dancing around with joy before they run the hundred meters. You know, that sense of having the right level of relaxation. I think that they call it the 85 percent rule. If you tell most A-… If you tell most, sort of, A-type athletes to run at their 85 percent capacity, they will run faster than if you tell them to run 100 because it’s more about relaxation and form and optimizing the muscles in the right way.
So Beth has really taught me that. But the rowing machine, man, you can’t go wrong. And if you… Forget time, just do the seven-minute thing. And I had to do this for a film. The movie Australia, Baz wanted me to be big, and so I was big. And then about a month before, he said, “Ah [frustration], I’m doing a lot of research about these jackaroos or cowboys.” And he goes, “They’re lean. They’re all lean, lean, lean.” And I’m like, “Dude, you asked me to get big. I’ve been getting big.” And he goes, “I need you lean.”
So I went into my trainer and he goes—who was a rower—and he said, “You want to get lean? Row.” So apart—as well as the ice baths that I learned from your book, which I used all through the Wolverines, particularly the later Wolverines when you see me in better shape, that’s a great way to lose fat. But seven-minute row, four times a week, and the goal is 2,000 meters. And when you try it, at some point, you’re going to hate me for it, but still. That’s the quickest, best way.
Tim Ferriss: That’s excellent advice. Yeah, the rower hits your entire, almost your entire posterior chain, and then you do some pushups, and you’re in good shape. And like—
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. It’s such a good building exercise for deadlifts and all these core movements, compound movements, getting your scapula—everything sort of in the right place—and your breathing and relaxing your neck, you know, at the same time as doing it. Yeah, I would say the rower.
Tim Ferriss: And I love the 85 percent, run at 85 percent effort example that you gave. I find so much truth in that statement. I haven’t ever thought of it, but you could apply that to sitting down and writing. You could apply it to almost anything where being overtense is not your friend, and it’s not going to help you.
Hugh Jackman: And that’s my… Like, everyone’s got different things. If I was coaching me, myself, like if I was the coach and Hugh Jackman was on my team, I wouldn’t put more pressure on him, push him more. I wouldn’t yell at him, scream. I’ve got that motivation. If anything, I have had to work from building up insecurity. So: I’m not good enough. I need to work extra hard. If I do everything perfectly and I work my ass off, then I’ll be OK—that kind of thing, which in the end does certainly limit your ability to enjoy life or enjoy the row or the show or anything like that. But it doesn’t get the best out of you. It really doesn’t. So I mentally, quite often during the day, just, before I do an activity, imagine that it’s done. That feeling I have when it’s done and gone well. And I go into it with that.
Tim Ferriss: I love that.
Hugh Jackman: It’s that Viktor Frankl quote: “Live life as though it’s the second time around but you got it wrong the first time.” It’s a good one. And that’s what works for me.
Or even if you practice—simple thing—just sit down, and as you’re breathing in, imagine that you’re breathing out because a lot of us, me included, and I got this from my singing teacher. I breathe in with a, “All right, I gotta sing this big note. All right, let’s hope it goes well.” You know, and all of a sudden I’m tense, and my breathing has gone up. My larynx goes up, and I’ve… I’m going to have to work my ass off to get that note out, right? Whereas the great singers, the ones that make you melt when you listen to them sing, when they’re breathing in, preparing, it’s like they’re breathing out. They’re relaxed as they breathe in. And then they’re already prepared.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I love that.
Hugh Jackman: So there’s some of the little things I use. And I suspect you’re a little similar to me, Tim. Right? The 85… You work better with the 85 percent rule?
Tim Ferriss: I do. I definitely do. I mean, if I think about the times when I’ve performed best, it’s never when I’m whipping myself extra fast and extra hard with a cat o’ nine tails because I don’t need that.
Hugh Jackman: No. I don’t like going to an opening night. Like, do you? Opening night, you feel everyone like, “This is opening night. It’s going to be the best!” And I just want to go, “Hey, chill out everyone.” I prefer to go to Wednesday matinee six weeks into the run. That’s when you’re going to see the best show.
Tim Ferriss: Totally.
Hugh Jackman: So the trick is how can you get there?
And by the way, do you know the 85 percent rule? Do you know where that came from?
Tim Ferriss: I do not.
Hugh Jackman: It came from a guy studying Carl Lewis, the sprinter.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, sure.
Hugh Jackman: He couldn’t understand why a guy who was routinely coming last or second-last after 40 meters, which traditionally in sprinting was meant to be where you won—you won in the first 40 from the start—how someone like that would always win by 10 yards at the end. And somebody was saying, “Well, he’s just a slow starter, but he’s got a long stride,” duh-duh-duh.
And then someone… This guy was studying it for a year, a sprint coach. And someone gave him, finally, one of those head-on shots—you know, they invented at the Olympics, that head-on shot where you watch them come down?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Hugh Jackman: And he watched it over and over again. And he said, what he realized Carl Lewis did at the 50-meter mark, 60-meter mark, was that he did nothing. His breathing was exactly the same. His form is exactly the same as had been between meters 25 and 50. Whereas everyone else starts to push to the end, trying—”Gonna try a little extra harder!”—and he said their face would scrunch up, their jaw would tighten, their fists would start to clench. Whereas Carl Lewis stayed exactly the same and then [whooshing sound] he would just breeze past them. So that’s where he invented the 85 percent rule.
Tim Ferriss: I love it. I love it. I need more of that in my life, to be honest. I think that’s something that I need to cultivate. And just a few short questions left to you. I really appreciate all the time. And this one is something I think is near and dear to your heart, and it’s puzzles and games.
So you… You… Some people know this, but not everybody realizes that you’re a connoisseur of puzzles and games, and I’m wondering for someone who has been perhaps a little too serious, taking themselves and their work a little too seriously, and they need or want to explore puzzles or games, are there any that you might, any approaches or specific games or puzzles you might recommend people start with?
Hugh Jackman: Start with a thousand-piece, right? Anything less than that, it’s probably going to be… Like, a thousand-piece is good. You know, and that’ll take you a few weeks probably, but it’s just enough of a challenge. Don’t pick up the black and white photo, right, on the front cover to start with. Have some color, make it a little easier.
I love the company Wentworth. There’s a few other puzzle companies, but Wentworth, when you put it—it’s got, like, there’s some technology—when you put the piece in, it’s like squeezing a pimple. It goes, oh… It’s, like, the best. Like you know. Like, there’s some puzzles that are made a bit cheaply, and you’re like, “I think that fits. I’m not sure.” This has got something about it. Click technology or something. And you go, “Ah!” So yeah, clearly I’m into it. And, um…
Tim Ferriss: Oh, man, that’s amazing.
Hugh Jackman: See, that… After a show—you said what do I like doing after a show? Like, if I could have my way, I’d eat something, and I’d just spend an hour doing a puzzle. I actually have to set my alarm to make myself go to bed because I can stay up till four o’clock in the morning doing puzzles. And for someone with restless legs syndrome, by the way, it doesn’t come up at all when I’m doing a puzzle. But start with a Wentworth one-thousand-piece.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have—two things—do you have any recommendations on subject matter for the image? And then, number two, what do you get from assembling puzzles? What is it that makes it so addictive to you and so mesmerizing?
Hugh Jackman: I like to do puzzles of places that I’ve been or live in. Like so… Or now you can send in a photograph. And I did this one at Christmas, so I did this for Deb for Valentine’s Day—I sent in a photo of the two of us. It’s a shot she loves, and we were on a vacation to a place we always go to.
So as I’m going through it, it’s reminding me of where I’ve been, of that feeling in that moment. And because you look at a scene, or the ones of New York, you are looking at this scene for about a month, and you’re focusing in minute details of this building and that building or that tree, this tree. When you go back to that place, you go out into that world, your appreciation of the world is so much greater.
I guess—I’m not an artist—but how artists must feel when they’re trying to solve color, that when they watch a sunset, they’re appreciating it in a way far more than most, just ‘cause they spend all that time immersed in different colors and combinations and composition.
Why is it so addictive? I don’t know. Like, the reason I got into it… I got into it at a point—my father had just had an operation or something, and I thought, “I’ve got to find something for the two of us to do together.” And he had no interest. Like, we were at 30 minutes in, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m out.” And I had not done a puzzle since I was like eight years of age, and now I’m addicted to them. So it stuck for me.
I think it’s probably another form of meditation in a way. My mind, it stops my mind going. There is a weird sense of accomplishment, even in every piece. “Oh, I’ve got that piece!” It’s detail. It’s your zoning in on this image for a month and looking at it and looking at the detail. It’s just deeply satisfying to my mind, my being. I just feel very relaxed when I do it. I feel guilty when I do it because it’s a very solitary thing, and I try and get the kids involved, you know, really to offset the guilt, but they’re not into it really. So, you know? Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So it sounds like to me I need to take a picture of a beautiful outdoor space, have it made into a puzzle, read The Overstory, and work on—
Hugh Jackman: Yes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: —for a day. That sounds like it would—
Hugh Jackman: Where do you sit and have coffee? Do you sit down in the backyard there? Where are you?
Tim Ferriss: I sit outside. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of trees nearby.
Hugh Jackman: Take a photo of that, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s great.
Hugh Jackman: You send it off to, I think it’s, oh, I’ll send it to you. I can’t remember the name of it off by heart. I put it on my website once. MyJigsawPuzzle or something. Anyway.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll put it in the show notes once you send it to me, too.
Hugh Jackman: Yeah. And then when you go out for that coffee, it will always be different to you. You’ll notice things that you have never noticed before.
Tim Ferriss: And that is, I think that’s a big part of the art of living, it seems to me. And it is becoming sensitive to noticing the little things because, you know, the little things and—
Hugh Jackman: I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. And I love it that you use that phrase, “the art of living.”
Tim Ferriss: —in isolation or together.
Hugh Jackman: It is an art. I mean, I used to think it was an Australia thing—like, I think it was an Australian thing—like, come on, all the Americans always have, you know, therapists, psychiatrists, and come on, you know, silly, but it’s a little arrogant to think you’ve got it all sorted out. Why wouldn’t you want the help? Like Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time, and he has a full-time coach. Right? So—
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Hugh Jackman: —why… Pavarotti. I have a singer… Pavarotti had a singing teacher to the end of his life. Why wouldn’t we invest that in the art of living? And so certainly with me with Lauren Zander that’s changed my life in the last four years, big time.
Tim Ferriss: Hugh, I so enjoy our conversations, and this has been so much fun, and I just really applaud you for dedicating yourself to the art of living and continual improvement and also sharing your gifts with the world. I think that, I mean, you really are—and I hope this doesn’t come off as trite sounding—but you really are what a diehard fan would hope you to be. And I don’t mean that in a superficial way, but the kindness that they see, the compassion that they see, that is not an illusion. And I feel that’s important to underscore because I do think it’s rare. I do think it’s rare. And I recognize that that’s not just how you popped out of the womb. That’s required deliberate thought and practice and awareness. So I really appreciate that. I appreciate you.
Hugh Jackman: Thank you, man.
Tim Ferriss: And thank you so much for taking the time to spend some time today.
Hugh Jackman: Honestly, it was my pleasure, really, and keep up the great work, and good luck with the puzzle, man.
Tim Ferriss: You too. You too.
Hugh Jackman: I’m telling you, man. I know… I think I know enough about you, your girlfriend is going to rue the day I ever mentioned it.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll have to make sure I have a backup puzzle for Valentine’s Day.
Hugh Jackman: That’s a great way in.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll offset the risk. And to everybody listening, you can find show notes on everything we discussed, and there’ll be lots, lots of goodies at tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, thanks for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.