Ava is clinging to her father; she wants more tickling, and Jackman complies. He's an easy mark that way, even mid-interview. "Very hard thing to organize, with 11 40-year-old guys with their lives and wives and families and jobs. It was sort of unbelievable that we were actually there. It took me a while to get my fitness on the drinking front. There were some very fit boys on that front."
Owing to Australia's other leading men, Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, we've come to expect a certain bad-boy mystique from Aussie actors: a penchant for fistfights, busted-up marriages, arrest records, crazy-wild binges. Jackman is the antithesis to all that. If it's perhaps too facile to see, in his devotion to family, the glint of the motherless boy who wanted only normalcy in life, it's also impossible to ignore. He at least hews to that conventional notion of normalcy: the doting father and husband, the man for the job. "I think he's from another planet," says John Palermo, Jackman's longtime friend and production partner. "You can compare him, professionally, to Kelly and Astaire and McQueen, but he doesn't have the temper or drama their lives had. He's a happily married actor who spends honest time with his children." Ask Jackman about the biggest risk he has ever taken, and the answer comes instantaneously: "Marriage, the whole family life. It's not so much a risk as a surrender, kind of like, okay, I'm jumping into the rapids."
He met Deb, an actress and director eight years his senior, on the set of Correlli, an Australian TV series they both appeared in; they were married in 1996 and, after she suffered two miscarriages, adopted their son Oscar in 2000 and Ava in 2005. Talking about them is when Jackman seems most genuinely enthusiastic; the movies are nice and all, and the karaoke with Keith Urban on Sting's yacht, that's cool, but this is when he leans in hard, this is when his eyes focus. "What you learn being married to someone is better than any classroom or anything you can study, or any job," he says. "If I didn't have Deb, I don't know if I would've kept acting. With the risks, having someone's unconditional love means you can really fall on your ass and be completely loved, even if the rest of the world chucks tomatoes at you.
"And the same with kids," he says. "Everything is exposed with kids. There's no artifice, because they see you for exactly what you are. You can't pretend. Actors can fool people about the kind of person they are. You can wear whatever mask you want to put on. But it doesn't work with kids, you know? If your career is more important than them, you're going to have hell. You see things get out of whack, out of balance, because they just mirror it back to you. To feel at the end of the day that you haven't done everything you could for your kids – none of it's worth it.
"It's going to sound like I'm coming back to my work now," he says, "but when the head of the studio saw Australia, he said, 'Mate, when your grandkids ask your kids what you did, this is the movie they'll put in.' But, see? Everything is related to the kids now. Frightening how in love with them you are. It's hard to go away, hard to do things like this. You have those little flashes of them jumping into a road and you stop breathing."
But that, Jackman knows, is the risk you take. You have a go, mate. Then you throw everything you've got into it, do whatever it takes to push through to the end. Even if it means getting punched in the nuts every now and again.