Oprah: But even then, you didn't know for certain that acting was for you?
Hugh: No. At the end of drama school, I made a contract with myself: I'd try acting for five years. I was 26. I had already spent eight years working in restaurants and gas stations. So I had seen enough small businesses to understand that that's what acting is: a small business. You have to put everything into it before you can really say you've had a go.
Oprah: How did The Boy from Oz come to you?
Hugh: I'd been offered the part in Australia six years earlier. I decided not to take it because I'd done two other musicals, and I felt like I was getting typecast. That's a tough road to get out of. Musical theater is looked down on by people in every other form of entertainment.
Hugh: Yes. A lot of directors don't respect musical theater actors. And I wasn't much of a singer, anyway.
Oprah: But you obviously could sing.
Hugh: Kind of. My first audition was for Beauty and the Beast. The casting director said, "Why did you sing that song?" I said I'd learned it at drama school. He said, "Never sing that again. It doesn't suit your voice. Go get some lessons and come back in a month." Luckily, I'd read for the part before I sang. I could tell they thought I was good. So when I came back, I got the musical. I may be the only actor in history to have a contract with this clause: "Must take singing lessons every week." I was suddenly doing eight shows a week and taking lessons for an entire year. Who wouldn't get better if you worked that hard?
Oprah: Did you love it?
Hugh: I loved the acting, not the singing. I still feel a slight sigh of relief when a song is over and I haven't stuffed it.
Oprah: There's another shocker!
Hugh: So when I was first offered The Boy from Oz, I turned it down. I said to my wife, "Deb, this sounds like a great idea. But I want to do movies." So I went off and did movies. The show was a big hit in Australia, and I went to see it. That's when I turned to Deb and said, "I made a big mistake. I should've done the show." Later, when my agent rang me and said, "There's something for The Boy from Oz on Broadway," I said, "I'm doing it." I didn't care what part. It was the first time in my career that I'd felt such passion and conviction. Later that translated into moments of full freedom and the feeling of being at home onstage. I was like, "Aaaaaah." Now that I'm blessed with a choice, my litmus test is conviction. The payoff for me and everyone around me is so great. I'm not saying everything I do will be successful. But I can live with a failure if it is born of conviction.
Oprah: That's how I feel. I interview only people I really want to talk with. That's why I'm here with you.
Hugh: Thank you.
Oprah: I read that you've been studying at the School of Practical Philosophy since 1991.
Hugh: Yes. The school began in London in 1938 with a group of men and women who saw the world heading for disaster—World War II. They were asking, "How do we share this planet? What is natural law for humans?" Capitalism is a wonderful idea, but it isn't a cure-all. So this nondenominational group of people wanted to get together, find the truth, then apply it. Now the school is all over the world.