Hugh Jackman May Work Sexiest Man Title Into Oscar Act

As the host of the Academy Awards, "you have to be self-deprecating," he tells PEOPLE

Photo: Jon Furniss/WireImage

While the likes of Brad, Angelina, Kate and Mickey party-hopped through awards season, racking up accolades and air kisses on the road to Sunday’s Academy Awards, Hugh Jackman‘s pre-Oscar dance card hasn’t been quite as glam.

Tapped to be the show’s 81st host and the second Aussie to do the honors (who can forget Paul Hogan’s turn as co-host in 1987), Jackman has been hunkered down brainstorming material with a team of comedy writers and cramming back-to-back song and dance rehearsals.

“It’s been hilarious,” says the 40-year-old actor, who just last month wrapped X-Men Origins: Wolverine. “I don’t know if the other billion people who watch it will find it funny but I’m finding it hysterical right now. I’m having the time of my life.”

Jackman talks to PEOPLE’s Elizabeth Leonard about being “dumbstruck” when he got the Academy’s call, Oscar drinking games Aussie-style, and what else we can expect from the Sexiest Man Alive on Hollywood’s big night.

Will you work your Sexiest Man title into the show?
Trust me, I’m trying! It’s just too good to let go. Comedy writers love it. They think it’s the best bit of fodder they could ever have. I think it’s one of the first rules of being a host – you have to be self-deprecating and what better way to make fun of yourself than through that?

How did you hear you’d gotten the host job?
I was in London at the Claridges Hotel and I woke up to a phone call around midnight. I was dead asleep and I thought it was my wake-up call … I was just dumbstruck. When it finally sunk in I was just quiet. Then Deb (wife Deborra-Lee Furness) actually was just coming to bed and I said, ‘Oh baby, you’re about to get in bed with the host of the 81st Academy Awards!’ and she started jumping up and down on the bed!

What do your kids (Oscar, 8, and Ava, 3) think?
Oscar was quite funny and he said, ‘Okay, so Oscar’s dad is hosting the Oscars!’ When I leave for rehearsal, Ava says, ‘Good luck hosting the Oscars, daddddy! Good Luck!’ She’s been saying that every day. She thinks it’s my day job right now. She thinks I’m hosting them every day.

Did you watch the Oscars growing up in Australia?
My dad was about strict bedtimes but he let us stay up to watch. Then at drama school, our biggest party of the year was on Oscar night and there were drinks involved. It’s a very common drinking game in Australia: Whenever anyone thanks or mentions God or their parents, you have to “skull” (Translation: chug a drink).

Who is your favorite host?
Billy Crystal and I really like Steve Martin too. What I loved about Billy is the showman aspect. He’s a true entertainer. Comedy is his main weapon but he would do the satires, songs, the videos and anything at his disposal to entertain and kind of send a message to everyone that this was going to be a fun celebration. If you break it down that’s the host s job – to set the tone. I’ll probably use everything at my disposal to do the same thing hopefully. I’ve gone back and watched all eight of Billy’s [shows].

Anything new we can expect this year?

I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a different [stage] configuration this year. The new configuration is really conducive to intimacy in that nightclub kind of way. We’ll be able to see each other. We’ll be able to chat. They’ll be able to heckle me and I’ll be able to hear them. Somehow I love that. I’m the kind of guy on stage that when things go wrong, I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ This will be great fun! Maybe it’s just that there’s an element of, ‘Hey it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity’ and literally it may well be.

What does it mean to you that Heath Ledger’s family will be at the Oscars on Sunday?
His death was a great loss in every way, not just as an Australian and as a friend of mine but for the acting community. If there’s one thing the acting community does well it’s appreciate its own and recognize them. It’s very sad and tragic but it’s also poignant that he’s nominated and could well win. I would be surprised if he didn’t – and deservedly so. I’m thrilled his family will there because I think it will be really important for them to see the effect he had on the community and the great respect there was for him.

What do you say to those who want you to re-enact your shower scene from Australia onstage?
It’s definitely a possibility. I don’t think people understand how hot it gets up there. So I might as well. It’s going to be 3 hours, at least, so I want to be comfortable!

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