I grew up the youngest of five, so when it came to clothes and shoes it was basically a hand-me-down situation. My dad saw no value in clothing whatsoever. I remember him one time extolling the virtues of the drip-dry shirt that he didn’t have to iron. I did once ask him for a pair of Adidas trainers and he just looked at me like I was on another planet. Like, “That’s never going to happen. The Dunlop Volleys that your brother wore, they now fit you and that’s what you’re getting.”
What I really wanted growing up was a pair of RM Williams boots. It’s an iconic old brand in Australia. Jackeroos on cattle stations would wear a pair of them out riding a horse and they’d also wear the boots when they were taking a girl out to a 21st-birthday party. But these boots were out of my league when I was younger. I’m not proud to say it, but I had a little rule with my friends who had more clothes than me – not that I told them about it – which was that I would just take things that I didn’t think they were wearing. If they didn’t ask for it back in three weeks, then clearly it didn’t mean that much to them and I was really relieving them of the burden. So my first pair of RM Williams boots was stolen from my best mate and I don’t think he realised for about six months until he saw me wearing them.
Shoes and boots are really important to me when I’m creating a character. I don’t think I’ve told anyone this before, but when I’m working on a play or film I rent a little room and I just walk around the perimeter of it while I’m thinking about the character, building the backstory. That’s when I try on lots of different pairs of boots and shoes, because how you walk, the way you feel in your shoes says a lot about how you are travelling in life. And all of a sudden I will go, “This is it.” It’s amazing to me how that can affect things. I remember in the movie Logan, I had to play Wolverine getting older, getting weary, so I had eight different rocks of different sizes that I’d tape to the heel of the boots to make sure I’d limp. I was really worried about forgetting the limp in the middle of a big scene or action sequence. That was a trick I learnt from Jim Broadbent, about how to age a character. I actually had a bruise for about three months on the heel because I didn’t realise how much it would imprint over time.
I’ve done a lot of musicals and the footwear I’ve worn has mostly been handmade for me. I’m a little fuzzy over whether the cowboy boots I wore in Oklahoma! at the National Theatre back in 1998 were made for me or not. I do remember a lot of talk back then about how I had high arches, how I needed insoles because dancing in cowboy boots may look cool but the reality is you can get injured really quick. When I did a musical on Broadway called The Boy from Oz, I had to jump from the piano to the ground every night. Even though I had proper dance shoes, by the end of the run I had stress fractures throughout both my feet and I was icing before, at the interval and after the show. Dancing can be really, really tough, whatever you have on your feet – but I’d have to say dancing in boots is not advisable.
So far I’ve only had one real boot-related fashion disaster. The first movie I did was an Australian production, Paperback Hero. The premiere was in Sydney and the producer said, “Man, you need an outfit, you should go to this place.” I went there and the guy in the store said, “This is all the rage. It’s all over the catwalks in Europe.” “All the rage” turned out to be what they call a three-quarter suit, so it was just below the knee like elongated shorts, with boots and no socks. When they saw it, all my mates from Australia were actually angry with me. They pulled me aside: “What the F are you doing, this is ridiculous. You’ve let yourself and us down, you’ve let all of Australia down, this is your first movie.” And the other sign that it was a really bad idea was when the leading lady and I (she was the star, not me) arrived at the cinema and got out of the car. At first the cameras were taking photos of our faces and then I just remember seeing all of them just shifting down to my feet, and all at once there were 50 cameras taking photos of my bare shins and boots. I was like, “This is a mistake... of colossal proportions.”
My wife still wants me to be more daring with my footwear, like wearing Moroccan slippers with curled-up points, but I can’t do it. That was the last time I went that bold publicly.
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