He’s a triple threat: a star who can sing, dance and wield a weapon. At 6’2″, all scruff and biceps, Hugh Jackman looms large in the epic Australia, which he says kept him “dirty 95 percent of the time” and left people stammering, “Oh … my … God,” according to costar Nicole Kidman, who adds, “Women’s jaws drop when Hugh walks into a room.” Jackman’s wife of 12 years, Deborra-Lee Furness, calls his perfect form “the Body of Doom—but I like what’s inside”: a romantic who sings ballads at home and makes pancakes for Oscar, 8, and Ava, 3. A hard body with a soft center—2008’s Sexiest Man Alive sat down with PEOPLE’s Elizabeth Leonard and Julie Jordan to reveal most of his secrets.
You turned 40 Oct. 12 and now you’re the Sexiest Man Alive. What was your wife’s response?
God bless her, she said, “I could’ve told them that years ago!” And then she said, “Obviously, Brad wasn’t available this year.” And I said, “That was a joke, right?”
Your marriage is a success story.
In my early 20s, I didn’t have a regular girlfriend. I was single and really happy about it. And then when I was 26, I met Deb on [the Australian TV show] Correlli. She was my leading lady. It was just undeniable. I started planning to propose to her at about three months. We are happy. Deb and my kids have been the best things that have ever happened to me, without a doubt.
How do you keep the passion alive?
It’s easy with my wife. She loves the idea of me coming home in costume because it makes her feel like she’s having an affair in a good way. When we met, I was cast as a prisoner with tattoos and she’d say, “Don’t take your tattoos off tonight!” and I’d be like, “All right!” But what works best with her is the stockbroker look. She also says, “Do your sexy dance for me,” [an ’80s-like, hip-swiveling number] and that works for me.
How does your wife feel about you kissing all your leading ladies?
Generally okay. The first thing I always do in a movie is go to dinner with my leading lady and my wife. When they meet Deb they like her more than me anyway. I remember working with Meg Ryan on Kate & Leopold and it was our wedding anniversary. Deb and I planned on going to the Rainbow Room but I had to work. So Meg took Deb out for our anniversary instead.
What are three rumors you’ve heard about yourself that aren’t true?
Gay, gay and gay…. When I played [flamboyant Australian entertainer] Peter Allen [on Broadway in The Boy from Oz], Deb saw the show about 50 times. She said the most infuriating times would be in the bathroom because all she’d hear is, “Is he or isn’t he gay?”… “I don’t know, he’s married.”… “Oh, who cares? I’m sure he’s gay.”… And she used to call out from the stall, “He’s not gay! I’m telling you he’s not!” And there would be silence until someone said, “I think that’s his wife!”
Are you self-conscious about any body part?
When I was younger, I had chicken legs. My nickname was Sticks.
What part do people like best?
My smile. Lately my pecs. I’m being honest!
What do you wear to bed?
I didn’t wear anything until my daughter was born and we had a night nanny because I was working. I walked out stark naked, and she was reading a book. Now I like boxer briefs.
What’s your worst habit?
I’m a kicker in bed. My wife says every 17 seconds I kick. Also I tap things five times. I’m a little OCD.
How do you calm yourself?
I meditate twice a day for 30 minutes. That always grounds me. The kids are quiet then. Often they’ll sit at my feet and draw.
What makes you happiest?
Being with my family, definitely, without a doubt.
Jackman talks about the care and feeding of the Sexiest Man Alive
WHAT’S YOUR WORKOUT?
In Australia I usually run to the gym, which takes about 15 minutes, work out for 45 minutes and run back home. At the gym I mix it up, I do rowing, bike, treadmill and free weights. The basic theory is you’ve got to be sweating.
HOW DO YOU EAT?
My diet has really changed. There’s really no sugar. I eat every three hours, that’s the key. You’ve got to have something in your stomach before you train, so sometimes I wake up at 5 a.m., have a bit of cereal and then work out. Generally I have a protein shake straight afterwards and then starting at about 11 o’clock (and again at 2, 5 and 8) I’ll have a meal which will have no carbohydrates. Veggies or salad and fish or chicken. For Wolverine I add more food—in [X-Men] I’m probably 10 lbs. heavier.
BUT YOU CAN’T EAT LIKE THAT ALL THE TIME. WHAT ARE YOUR INDULGENCES?
Dark chocolate. Beer. Red wine. Coffee—a double espresso. I’m mad about food. I’ll go out once a week and have a great meal and not worry about it.
ANY PRODUCTS YOU SWEAR BY?
Lancer Rx “Repair,” moisturizer which I use once a day in the morning. An Australian hair product called Easy Rider. It’s good.
HAVE YOU EVER WAXED?
Never. Luckily I’m not inflicted with unwanted hair, which is miraculous, because my dad is kind of like Robin Williams. But I shaved all over for The Fountain. It feels fantastic in the shower and then about 10 days later it’s excruciating. The scratching and the itch.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THE SCRUFF ON YOUR FACE?
Every photographer wants me with stubble, so I’ve kind of given in. I just use a clipper. It takes about 30 seconds every couple of days.
HOW MANY SHIRT BUTTONS DO YOU LEAVE UNBUTTONED?
Two. Three’s too Bee Gees.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE WEARING?
I’m pretty much in shorts and a T-shirt in Australia, but I do love dressing up in a hand-tailored suit. It feels so good.
WHAT KIND OF JEWELRY DO YOU WEAR?
I’m on my fourth wedding ring because I’ve lost three. This one is gold and says “Always, Throughout all time, Amore.” Both Deb and I believe you come together for a reason, to be stronger as a team.
WHAT’S THE BAND ON YOUR OTHER HAND?
It was given to me by my business partner John Palermo when we started a production company. It’s silver and in Sanskrit is written the basic principles of our company.
DO YOU WEAR COLOGNE?
Bulgari, sometimes. There’s another called Timbuktu that’s made in France.
WHAT SHOES DO YOU WEAR?
I love John Varvatos’ shoes. I have all different types.
WHAT DO YOU DRIVE?
A silver Mercedes. It’s rented. I’m not really a car guy.
WHAT ARE YOU READING?
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey D. Sachs.
WHAT’S ON YOUR iPOD?
Every type of music from the Police to Rufus Wainwright. Quite a lot of classical. When I work out, I play heavy metal.
How the sexiness began
“Martine Craswell, in kindergarten. My dad said, ‘Oh, I always knew you were romantic because you were running in a race and Martine fell over and you stopped and went back and picked her up.’ Chivalry was there.”
“With Sarah Dowsett when I was 9. I was going from a coed school to a boys’ school and I thought, ‘If I don’t kiss a girl before I go to this school, I won’t get to kiss a girl.’ And my friend goes, ‘Sarah Dowsett kisses. I kissed her once.’ So I said to Sarah, ‘I want you to know that I love you.’ And she said, ‘I love you too.’ And I said, ‘Do you want to go down to the bush and kiss?’ She said yes. It was just [he purses his lips]. I remember thinking, ‘What is this all about?’ Then, when I had my first tongue kiss, I thought, ‘What the hell is this?'”
FIRST LEARNED ABOUT SEX
“When I was 9, Scott Whitehead, who lived down the road, had an older brother who had Penthouse magazines. I was kind of shocked.”