After 21 years of marriage, Hugh Jackman can still remember the day he met his wife Deborra-lee Furness like it was yesterday.
At the time, The Greatest Showman star, 49, was in his early 20s and had just booked his first acting gig on the Australian TV series Correlli, which Furness, 13 years his senior (she’s now 62), was starring in.
“My first job out of drama school — it was a massive break for me. I was really scared,” Jackman tells PEOPLE editor-in-chief Jess Cagle in the latest edition of The Jess Cagle Interview (streaming now on People TV).
“Deb, she was a big star. I get picked up, and Deb is in the front seat of the car. I’ll never forget. She took off her seatbelt and she turned around and put out her hand and took off her sunglasses and said, ‘Hi, I’m Deborra-lee Furness, nice to meet you.’ I remember thinking, ‘I like this girl.'”
It took another six weeks before the Logan star worked up the courage to ask her out. “Deb and I were already best friends, and I realized, I’ve got a crush on my leading lady. This is the thing you do not do. It’s unprofessional and embarrassing.”
First, Jackman tried ignore his crush. “I didn’t talk to Deb for a week,” he says. “Then I was like, ‘This is not a good plan.’ “
Eventually, he decided to invite her over for dinner with some friends. “I invited 20 people [over for dinner]. She came over and I said, ‘Deb, give me a hand with the dessert.’ My dad was a great cook, and he taught me how to make crêpes suzette. It’s a good hour to make crêpes suzette.
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“She said, ‘I noticed you haven’t talked to me in like a week, what’s going on?’ I said, ‘I got a crush on you. I’ll get over it, I’m sorry.’ She goes, ‘Oh? Because I’ve got a crush on you too.’ I never in a million years thought she reciprocated.”
The duo tried to keep the relationship a secret, which lasted “for about three weeks” before they realized “everybody knew the entire time” anyway.
Despite their age difference, Jackman says, “I’m literally the adult in the relationship. She’s just like a little kid. I’m the [one saying], ‘Babe, this is not a legal parking spot.’ ‘Oh, come on, Mr. Goody- Goody.’ “
The couple married in 1996, and due to Furness’s age, they started trying to have children right away. “We struggled, a couple miscarriages, IVF — it’s not easy, particularly on Deb,” Jackman says.
The couple, who were always open to adoption, decided to expand their family with Oscar, now 17, and Ava, now 12. “Our motivation behind adopting was, ‘Where is the need?’ ” Jackman explains. “The biggest need is in mixed-race kids. I want to tell my kids that … it doesn’t matter what sexual [orientation] you are, it doesn’t matter what job you do, it doesn’t matter whether your hair is straight or curly, if you’re tall or short, man or woman, what race you are. What defines you as a human being is underneath all that.”
The Greatest Showman is now playing in theaters.