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‘We all need a village’: Hugh Jackman talks therapy after childhood trauma and his latest film

Hugh Jackman reconciled with his UK-based mother years ago, and he regularly shares photos of them on social media.

Hugh Jackman reconciled with his UK-based mother years ago, and he regularly shares photos of them on social media. Photo: Getty

Australian actor and Broadway star Hugh Jackman has revealed he underwent therapy to help him deal with childhood trauma, after his mother abandoned the family when he was eight years old.

With a reputation for being the nicest man in Hollywood, the New York-based Jackman, 58, told Who magazine the therapy sessions are “really helpful”.

“I just started it recently. It’s helped me a lot,” he said.

“We all need a village. You need a friend you can unload everything (on) – having someone really smart, who’s a little a bit removed from your world can be really helpful.”

Jackman, who is married to Australian actor Deborra-Lee Furness (they have two children Oscar, 22 and Ava, 17), said it has helped him to relate to the people he loves in his life.

The revelation comes as he says the subject matter of his latest film, The Son – for which he has received a Golden Globe best actor nomination – caused him “anxiety”.

“I would be one of the least [likely] people I know who I’d describe as a hot mess, but I certainly was during this,” he told the BBC.

Jackman suffered sleepless nights while playing the role of Peter, a workaholic with a new partner, young baby, an ex-wife (Laura Dern) and their teenage son, who is clinically depressed.

The BBC reported Jackman continues to consult a therapist who helped him through filming.

Producers for The Son – co-written and directed by Florian Zeller, who directed The Father, which earned its star Sir Anthony Hopkins his second Oscar for playing an old man living with dementia – also employed psychiatrists on set in case members of the cast and crew needed to talk about the upsetting material.

“This was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing on a film, and people used it and it was necessary,” Jackman said.

Heartbreaking  ‘telegram from England’

Award-winning Jackman, whose career includes X-Men and Wolverine franchises, to singing and dancing in Broadway musicals and films including The Greatest Showman, Les Miserables and The Boy from Oz, first spoke about his childhood on CBS’s 60 Minutes a decade ago.

As the youngest of five children – he had two sisters and two brothers – Jackman recalled the last time he saw his mother, Grace McNeil, as a child at age eight in their Sydney home.

“I can remember the morning she left. It’s weird the things you pick up. I remember her being in a towel around her head and saying goodbye. Must have been the way she said goodbye,” he said.

“As I went off to school, when I came back, there was no one there in the house.

“The next day there was a telegram from England. Mum was there. And then that was it.

“I don’t think she thought for a second it would be forever. I think she thought it was, ‘I just need to get away, and I’ll come back’. Dad used to pray every night that Mum would come back.”

His father, Chris, an accountant, was left to raise the young family, with sisters Zoe and Sonia moving to the UK to live with their mother after the divorce. Brothers Ian and Ralph stayed in Sydney with their father.

Although those years were traumatic for Jackman and his family, he told London’s Sun newspaper as he grew older he “gained an understanding” of why his mother left.

“As I grew older I gained an understanding of why Mum did leave … and we have definitely made our peace, which is important.

“I was always quite connected with my mum. I have a good relationship with her.”

His father ‘a rock’

Jackman’s father died last year while he was filming The Son inside a COVID-19 bubble in New York in September.

During the earlier 60 Minutes interview, he spoke about the profound impact his father had on his life.

“My father is a rock. My father is my rock. It’s where I learned everything about loyalty, dependability, being there day in, day out, no matter what … It’s always about the family,” he said.

In a Variety cover story in October, Jackman recounts pulling director Zeller aside to tell him about his dad’s death.

“My father never missed a day of work,” he said, explaining why he resisted taking time off to grieve.

“I could feel him. I knew if he could talk to me, he’d be like, ‘You got to go to work! What are you talking about?’”

‘I was feeling pretty bad’

Opening up on filming The Son in New York, Jackman said: “Thank God I was playing a part where I was meant to look like s—, because I was feeling pretty bad. I was worried.”

“I would try meditating, which I’ve done for 25 years. I asked myself to be as open as I could. I had to be very kind to myself through the process.”

The film’s most wrenching scenes depict Nicholas (played by Zen McGrath) on the verge of harming others or himself.

“The subject matter was really hard,” Jackman said.

“I had to play this part. As a son, as a father, I found it to be devastating, truthful. It felt like a compulsion that I long for as an actor.

“Just the vulnerability of being a parent: That love might not be enough; that you make mistakes that really impact them negatively; that my upbringing, which was hard and had traumas, may be informing me.”

When he took his family to a private screening recently, “it [was] even more emotional” for him.

“The movie itself did change me as a parent.

“I’m more vulnerable in front of my kids emotionally. I’m more verbal about stuff I’m going through, even if it’s stuff to do with them.”

The Son premieres nationally in cinemas on February 9

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