Deborra-Lee Furness can still recall that first smitten-at-first-sight encounter with Hugh Jackman.
“We just had this amazing connection,” Furness said in 2020 on Anh’s Brush With Fame about her husband of what was then 24 years. “And I feel blessed that I experienced that I feel like I met my soulmate, whatever that is.”
And for the nearly three decades before to their surprise split announcement Sept. 15, Jackman made sure that he continued to define “soulmate” for his partner, amiably subscribing to the “happy wife, happy life” motto that’s so popular to repeat but proves rather difficult for a lot of celebrities to implement.
But the Tony winner didn’t mind putting in the work, considering that’s how they got together—and stayed together—in the first place.
They met in 1995 on the set of the Australian TV series Correlli, a 10-episode drama in which Jackman played a prisoner who suffered a trauma during his transport to jail, and Furness was the prison psychologist trying to help him recover his memory.
“My first job out of drama school—it was a massive break for me. I was really scared,” Jackman told Jess Cagle on People TV in 2017. “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.’”
Jackman has gushed about how everyone on set had a crush on Deb, but he was the lucky bloke who got to take her out.
“I knew very early. I knew before Deb knew, even when she tried to break up with me, I knew,” the Bad Education star shared in 2018 on the podcast Aussies in Hollywood, hosted by Jenny Cooney, a personal friend of the couple. “I managed to talk her out of it, thank God. I’m a very indecisive person, you know this about me, Deb really knows this about me. I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life anything has felt that clear to me.”
But with her, “I just knew 100 percent…I even knew when she was trying to work out reasons to break up with me…That is grace, as far as I’m concerned.”
Furness explained that, at the time, she simply wasn’t looking to get involved with anyone—especially an actor 13 years her junior. (She had actually been living in Los Angeles for some time when, after a visit with a fortune teller who predicted “everything comes into place” if she returned to Australia, she decided to go back home. “What have I got to lose?” she remembered thinking.)
“I had just made my New Year’s resolution,” the Sydney native also recalled to Cooney on Aussies in Hollywood. “I said, ‘I am not dating any actors, and definitely not under 30.’ Meet my husband.”
That being said, Jackman, 54, told Cagle that he’s “literally the adult in the relationship,” while his wife is “just like a little kid. I’m the [one saying], ‘Babe, this is not a legal parking spot.’ ‘Oh, come on, Mr. Goody- Goody.’”
Furness also broke her rule about not dating co-stars, at least during filming, but she had this persistent 26-year-old falling in love with her and they did have an “instant connection”…
Jackman said that he was having the “best experience” working with Furness even before they started dating.
“This was before we were romantically involved or had any idea that Deborra was interested,” he told Cooney. “There was a chemistry. And every time we had a scene together, it was unbelievable… Professionally, I’ve never had anything quite like that again.” Furness assured that the feeling was mutual. Though at first her thought was, “‘Who is this guy? Jack Hughman? I’ve never heard of him.’ And then when we get on the set it was like, you know, you’re playing tennis.”
Back and forth, easy, etc.
He tried to ignore his feelings at first, and even spent a week avoiding any off-camera conversation, but that wasn’t sustainable.
“Deb and I were already best friends, and I realized, I’ve got a crush on my leading lady,” he told Cagle. “This is the thing you do not do. It’s unprofessional and embarrassing.”
But then he came up with a pretty slick move: host a group dinner at his place.
“I invited 20 people,” Jackman recalled. “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.”
Furness was the first to ask what his deal was, why he hadn’t talked to her for a week.
“I said, ‘I got a crush on you. I’ll get over it, I’m sorry,’” Jackman shared. “She goes, ‘Oh? Because I’ve got a crush on you too.’ I never in a million years thought she reciprocated.”
Their romance became the worst-kept secret on set and, 11 months later, they wed on April 11, 1996.
Furness was 40 when they got married and they started trying for a family right away, but there were some years of frustration ahead before they had kids.
“We struggled, a couple miscarriages, IVF—it’s not easy, particularly on Deb,” Jackman recalled to Cagle.
So, they opted for adoption, bringing home son Oscar in 2000 and daughter Ava in 2005. Both kids are biracial—a quality Jackman and Furness purposely sought out when they started the process.
“Oscar is a bit of everything—African-American, Caucasian, Hawaiian and Cherokee,” he told New Idea in 2007. “We specifically requested a bi-racial child because there was more of a need. People will wait 18 months to adopt a little blonde girl; meanwhile, bi-racial children are turned away. The same was true for Ava, she’s half Mexican, half German.”
Jackman reiterated as much to Cagle years later, saying, “Our motivation behind adopting was, ‘Where is the need?’ 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.”
Absolutely true, but it’s funny how questions about one’s sexual orientation continue to titillate in some circles.
“It’s, to me, not the most interesting thing about a person, anyway,” Jackman said on Australia’s 60 Minutes in 2013, addressing the strangely persistent rumor that he’s gay. “I do get frustrated for Deb, cause I see Deb go, ‘Ah, this is just crazy!’”
Furness added, “If he was gay, fine, he would say he’s gay. It’s annoying because it’s not true.”
Yet to this day, the combination of being handsome and nice and knowing how to sing and dance still apparently throws some people for a loop.
“He’s been gay so many years,” Furness said with a laugh on the Sept. 29, 2020, episode of Anh’s Brush With Fame. “I was gay, too. You know when I did Shame? I was gay. They were shocked when I got married.” (In the 1988 film, she played a lawyer who, while on a motorcycle trip through the Australian outback, meets a teenage rape victim and encourages her to press charges against her attacker, leading to major issue’s with the perpetrator’s wealthy, connected family.)
Chalk it up to a system that, when it can’t find anything to harp on, will make something up in the meantime.
“It just amazes me that these magazines continue to get away with it,” Furness marveled to Not an Overnight Success host Gus Worland in April 2022. “What they’re selling is schadenfreude. They are selling misery. People must be wanting to buy that other people are miserable because it makes them feel better about themselves.”
She dismissed the lies as “boring” at this point.
But while life has largely been pretty damn sweet for the Jackman-Furness family, they’ve had their tough times, such as their fertility struggles early on and Jackman’s handful of experiences with skin cancer, which have made him an enthusiastic advocate of sunscreen and getting regular checkups. (She also initially advised him to turn down the role of Wolverine in X-Men, but she’s since forgiven herself for being wrong that one time.)
“When you find a partner in crime that you share, and you grow together—and life is tough as we know it, it’s not all good—and when you have someone there that is so supportive…you can really stand buck naked. You have to,” Furness explained to Ahn Do. “When you’ve got kids and life and whatever, you stand there buck naked, authentic, warts and all, this is who it is, and you’re loved, there’s nothing better.”
Jackman too has appreciated traveling through life with a true partner by his side, someone to share all the highs and lows with.
In fact, he told Ellen DeGeneres in 2016, with his 20th wedding anniversary coming up, that he was grateful that he met Furness when he was just starting out, before he was famous.
“Because,” he said, “everything that’s happened in my career and on-screen, off-screen, we’ve always done it together.”
(Originally published Oct. 12, 2020, at 4 a.m. PT)
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