A personable Hugh Jackman, shaking hands with fans and flashing that silver screen smile of his, knew how to win over the home crowd attending a charity screening of his new family film "Real Steel" at Turkey Creek on Monday night.
Stepping up to the podium and with an orange foam rubber finger on one hand and a Vols cheerleader shaker in the other, he raised both to the sky and yelled, "Go Vols!"
To which the audience broke out into a gleeful roar and then gave him the ultimate 21st century compliment: They raised their cellphone video cameras into the air to capture the moment.
The 42-year-old father of two had done his research on Knoxville. Although he was here to draw attention to Variety — The Children's Charity of East Tennessee, Jackman knew of the University of Tennessee's football team this season, referencing its 3-1 record to date and how this is a "rebuilding" year.
Nonetheless, he was at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 and IMAX at Turkey Creek to thank his fans, who paid $50 a ticket to see him briefly. Through ticket sales and corporate donations for the night, the charity raised $450,000, with proceeds going to helping disabled children, providing kids with visits to the zoo, sponsoring programs that encourage reading and providing grants for causes to aid local children.
Jackman kept the event festive. He autographed one fan's forehead and also pledged $50,000 of his own money to get more contributions.
"I went to a school called 'Knox,' " Jackman said during a sit-down interview at the event. "When my son found out I was going to an event in Knoxville, he said he wanted to go because he thinks this is where I went to school. I have to say, he is a little jealous that I am here."
Jackman spent just a few hours in town, but the area made an impression.
"I am surprised by how green it is," he said. "It's not what I expected, and I don't know why. If I don't come back home with a few real estate agent's cards in my pocket, I think I'll be in trouble with my son."
For almost a decade now, the Knoxville-based Regal, the largest movie theater company in the country, has coordinated the annual Variety events. Regal's pull within the movie industry has allowed Variety to bring in stars such as Will Ferrell, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Jackman has had a longtime bond with Variety, an international philanthropic organization. One of the first awards he ever received in his career came from a Variety chapter. Since then, Jackman has been devoted to helping out when called upon by the group.
"Real Steel" was a perfect opportunity for him to be in Knoxville. A rare family film for him to do, Jackman plays a washed-up ex-boxer who bonds with his son to build a fighting robot. The DreamWorks movie also stars Evangeline Lilly ("Lost") as Jackman's wife.
Jackman admits his resume is a bit thin when it comes to family fare.
"I'm glad I could make a movie my kids can see," he said with a laugh. "They've never seen any of my movies."
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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