When father of two Hugh Jackman was invited to take part in the family-friendly film Real Steel, he sought expert advice about whether to accept – from his own 11-year-old-son, Oscar.
“It is not a story I am particularly proud of. I’d had the script for three or four days and hadn’t read it,” he explains.
“My agent rang and said ‘Shawn Levy (the film’s director) is in town, you are going to meet him tomorrow morning’ and I was ‘Yeah, no problem’.
“So it was eight o’clock and I was about to read Tintin to my boy and I was ‘Hey Oscar, how about I read you some of this script? You’re going to love it’. And he is like ‘Uh. All right’.
“He always draws when I read to him. After about 10 pages I was really getting into it and I looked up and he was ‘go on, go on, go on’. He made me read it to him every night for the next 10 nights.
“So, bad fathering, good outcome.”
The movie combines the metal-bashing thrills of Transformers with the appeal of a video game.
In a not-so-distant future, human boxers have been replaced with robots who can be even more violent than their predecessors (in the underground boxing world the fighters’ heads can often be taken as trophies) while humans stand safely ringside controlling them.
Hugh plays a debt-ridden ex-boxer, Charlie, on the fringes of the sport who is given a chance to join the big leagues when he is forced to look after the son he abandoned as a baby and the boy salvages a sparring ‘bot that hits a winning streak.
The legendary Sugar Ray Leonard acted as a consultant so the boxing scenes would look authentic, and Hugh actually got the chance to train with him.
“He was very kind to me. However, there was a moment when the behind the scenes cameras turned on. Out of the corner of his eye I could see he saw it. He was just doing little punches to my stomach then, man, he started whaling on me – I really felt that.”
Ironically Hugh’s own father was a championship boxer but he had told his son little about his days in the ring when he was growing up.
“Me and my brother Ralph, who is 18 months older than me, we fought from the moment I was born so he wouldn’t allow us to watch wrestling, boxing, he never talked about it, he thought we would glorify it and bash each other up even more. Only now does he talk about it.”
Hugh and his siblings were raised by their father after their parents split up.
It is the opposite of the situation in the film, where Charlie has walked out on his responsibilities and, at one stage, effectively sells his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), to the boy’s aunt who wants to adopt him.
Hugh, 42, says that he still draws on his own upbringing when parenting his children, Oscar, and six-year-old Ava.
‘My kids would tell you I’m a bit strict. I’m not nearly as strict as my father but my wife (Debra Lee Furness) is very ‘whatever goes’. I’m definitely bad cop.”
“I’m big on respect and the better part of manners. I don’t worry about elbows on the table like my dad used to worry, but in terms of being respectful, saying thank you and appreciating other people.
“I’m aware that because of my job sometimes the children get a free pass. People will allow them to do things because they see them with me that they wouldn’t allow other kids to do. Because of that I feel I have to doubly be strict.
“We live in a building that has a doorman. If my kids don’t say hello and thank you for opening the door I make them walk up the stairs, nine flights. I gave them one month, from when they were five. I said:‘For one month I’m going to remind you and after that month if you don’t say it, we’re walking up the steps’.
‘‘I’ve probably walked up the steps 50 times with my son but it’s worked.
“My father was strict. He was never a yeller, anything like that but very firm with boundaries.”
Comparisons between Real Steel and underdog boxing movies like Rocky are inevitable, given that it features a washed up scrapper being given a chance to fight the undisputed champion for publicity purposes.
Hugh is not unhappy with that, given his affection for Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning franchise.
“My favourite boxing movies are When We Were Kings. Then Rocky.
“To this day I listen to the Rocky theme when I’m in the gym and I need to get to the next level. It’s corny but it works.”