LOS ANGELES — He sings, dances, acts on stage and screen, and he's the "Sexiest Man Alive." Hugh Jackman does everything but standup comedy _ and that's why the first-time Oscars host fulfills the academy's promise to shake up the show in a way that's as tough to predict as the winners.
Jackman was announced Friday as the host of the 81st Academy Awards, a marked departure from the academy's standard of big-name comedians. Jon Stewart, who hosted in 2008 and 2006, and Ellen DeGeneres, the 2007 host, were the latest in a line of funny emcees since 1990. Billy Crystal did it eight times, Whoopi Goldberg took on four, Steve Martin did it twice and David Letterman and Chris Rock each had a shot.
As the parade of A-list comedians continued, ratings were in steady decline. But with new producers, a new director, new set designer and even a new music director, the academy has been hinting for months at an all-new look and feel for this year's Oscars telecast on Feb. 22.
Having Jackman host certainly fits with that theme.
Producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon called the Australian actor "a consummate entertainer and an internationally renowned movie star."
"He also has style, elegance and a sense of occasion," Mark and Condon said in a joint statement. "Hugh is the ideal choice to host a celebration of the year's movies _ and to have fun doing it."
Indeed, Jackman can be a mutant superhero (Wolverine from the "X-Men" movie franchise), a flirtatious singing barker (Billy Bigelow in Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical "Carousel"), a determined magician ("The Prestige") and a dancing penguin ("Happy Feet").
The 40-year-old actor plays a roughhewn cattle driver opposite Nicole Kidman's English aristocrat in the new Baz Luhrmann romantic adventure "Australia." Jackman was abroad promoting the film Friday when his Oscar role was announced.
"Thirty years ago when I was in Sydney watching Johnny Carson host the Oscars with my family, I never imagined that I'd one day have the chance to be up on that stage myself," he said in a statement. "I am very grateful to the Academy for giving me this opportunity. And, excited to be working with Larry and Bill on what I know will be a fun and memorable celebration."
Having an entertainer such as Jackman host the show necessitates a change in the well-established standard of opening the show with a jokes, said Steve Pond, author of the 2005 book "The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards."
"The tricky part is that while he's charming, he's not the kind of guy to go out there and deliver a comic monologue at the top of the show," Pond said. "He's more comfortable with a song and dance, but is a song and dance at the top of the Oscars what people want to see? It'll be tricky adopting what he does best to what works at the Oscars."
But with ratings dropping for all awards shows, it's worth shaking things up to generate interest _ and the Academy Awards telecast, which posted its lowest ratings ever in February, isn't the only one trying something new.
The Emmys added a category _ best reality-show host _ and divvied the show's hosting duties among the five nominees. The results were disastrous: Critics panned the format and the show was one of the least-watched Emmys ever.
The Grammy Awards spiced up its nominations earlier this month by trading its typical staid press conference for a glitzy, live concert special. Ratings-wise, the hourlong show came in fourth among prime-time contenders, behind such dramas as NBC's "Life" and ABC's "Private Practice."
Bringing in Jackman to host the Academy Awards is "a stretch for the Oscars, but at this stage, it's worth taking the risk," Pond said. "He certainly has what it takes to do the gig if some changes are made in what that gig requires."
Jackman also has award-winning hosting experience: He won an Emmy in 2005 for hosting the 58th annual Tony Awards in 2004, when he also took a best-actor Tony for his performance in the musical "The Boy From Oz." Jackman has never been an Oscar nominee, but was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in 2001's romantic film "Kate & Leopold." He also served as a past presenter on the Oscar show.
Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, have their own Oscar at home _ their 8-year-old son, Oscar Maximillian. The couple also have a 3-year-old daughter Ava.