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'The Prestige'   (Hugh Jackman) 'The Prestige' (Hugh Jackman)

'Chasing The Illusion'

Hugh Jackman may well be Hollywood's busiest actor at this moment in time. Going from one project to the next, with four films alone opening over the next month; including the animated 'Happy Feet' and 'Flushed Away,' plus 'The Fountain' and his latest, 'The Prestige,' the man is now even shooting his first film as a producer, 'The Tourist.'

'The Prestige' is a period thriller from Batman director Christopher Nolan, in which Jackman plays an obsessive magician endeavoring to discover the secrets of fellow illusionist Christian Bale - after the latter devises a seemingly impossible new trick.

So, how do you balance all this work with your marriage and children? "One of the things about having a production company is to facilitate that balance. I'm shooting a film now - and I only work about three weeks on 'The Tourist' - so I can now control where we shoot, when we shoot and what we shoot ... and that's something that is important to us. I'm very lucky, as you know. I've got a wife who, so far, has been happy to travel with me."

Why 'The Prestige'? "I was pretty much into it when I also heard Chris Nolan was directing it - who was certainly on my radar of the top 5-10 directors to work with," Jackman explains. "Then I read the script, just loved it and I was kind of shocked at how amazingly close the original script I read was to the film that ended up being made."

How deep did your personal research go for this film? "I met a lot of magicians, saw a lot of acts and I read a lot. I was actually reading about Houdini, just coincidentally, when the script came. I was interested in that era, which is such a fascinating time, where magic was believed. In America, at that time, spiritualism was a greater religion than Christianity, so magicians who could do sances and things were beyond just tricksters. They were, somehow, medians with the other world and they held this fascination for adults."

Please tell us more about your character in the film "My character is a very good magician, but Christian's is a great one. My character elevates himself as a magician by his natural ability on stage, and I've had a lot of experience on stage, so that's something that comes easily to me. The character at the beginning of the film is fairly optimistic, enjoys his life and is excited by the possibilities. There's a tragedy that happens early on in his personal life, and then somehow, he's fueled by this ambition and the anger over what happened. And it turns him into being much darker, more intense and, ultimately, very dangerous person. I wouldn't say that's me, but I think the transformation was a lot of fun for me to play. In terms of the character at the beginning of the film, I think it's fairly similar to me."

While The Prestige allows Jackman to bring out his darker side, the antithesis can be said of 'Flushed Away,' in which he plays a snooty rat inadvertently sent to the sewers of London where he discovers that there's more to life than class and social mores where he meets a tough sewer rat, played by Kate Winslet. His attraction to this Aardman animated comedy was also instantaneous. "I was in drama school in Perth, Western Australia, during 1994, turned on my TV, and saw the last seven minutes of The Wrong Trousers. My brother and I were laughing so hard that we thought, 'We've got to find this.' So, we tracked it down, got a video and used to give it as our standard present to anyone. I thought we'd discovered them, but I think they'd won an Academy Award at that point. But I was in Perth when I got a call from that group ... so I was totally in. I think it's fair to say it was selfish reasons first, and then I thought of my son afterwards," Jackman smiles.

And for 'Happy Feet'? "Nicole [Kidman] and I worked for a couple of days together as we play mum and dad of the lead character and that was fantastic."

And you two are both working together again soon? "Yes, I hope it'll turn out to be the next Australian epic," he smiles. "It's a combination of 'Out of Africa,' 'Gone with the Wind,' and 'Lawrence of Arabia.' That kind of world, a romantic adventure epic with me and Nicole."

Then, says Jackman, he goes from romanticism to Wolverine, with his X-Men prequel. "We've now signed off on the script and if you know about the history of 'X-Men' movies, that's a revolution for us. We're a year away from shooting the film and we have the script which, by the way, is unbelievable. It's a David Benioff script who's probably the hottest writer going around town, and he was beating down our door to write this movie. So, we have this fantastic script and hopefully I might be able to tell you who the director is sometime soon!"

Finally, how's the shooting goine for 'The Tourist'? "Thursday was our first day and it was a great thrill. It's a suspense thriller written by Patrick Marber, and it's very smart and sexy."

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