By Hillary Latos • Photography by Russell James.
An accomplished actress, activist artist and humanitarian, Deborra-Lee Furness is not a force to be reckoned with. Candid, impassioned and determined once she puts her mind to something there’s no stopping her, as Resident Magazine chats with Deborra-Lee about her family life with Hugh Jackman and her philanthropic endeavours and projects.
RM: You are being honoured at the UN Women For Peace Association’s upcoming Luncheon and Awards Ceremony. Tell me about your role with that and your goals with Hopeland.
DLF: My journey started in Australia when I was looking to adopt children there and I realized what a difficult process it was that can take up to ten years. I ended up adopting two children from America. I went to the media to advocate the difficulties that people incur with adoption which got the attention of the prime minister. Through this journey I uncovered an anti adoption system within the bureaucracy in Australia based on what had happened in the 60s and 70s which was portrayed in the movie Philomena. From the 1950s-70s women having babies out of wedlock was frowned upon and their babies were taken from them for adoption. And now these are the very women who are working within the system to shut down adoption. I was told they regard adoption as barbaric because of their own myopic suffering. I feel that this is so wrong.
In the movie Lion it took this woman 16 years to go through the system to adopt. There was also a recent case of a guy was finally legally adopted at 45 by the family he was living with his whole life, he had his own family already yet he said this changed his world. It’s huge. Eventually the child ages out and that’s what the system aims to do because they didn’t want adoption to happen.
This is the legislation that we just changed. These kids couldn’t be adopted because they are waiting for mum to stop taking drugs and for dad to come out of jail so they stayed within the foster care system with new damage and new placements all the time. Foster parents would nurture them back to health because these kids had been mentally and physically abused and then the Department would come and get the kids to return them back home. I’ve had foster mums tell me they can’t do this anymore and return them to their broken homes. Some of these kids have had 6-8 foster placements. There are 40,000 kids permanently removed from their families because they were so dysfunctional and they weren’t allowed to be adopted.
Can you imagine what that is like? To constantly be the new kid in the family and never feel a sense of belonging- this induces drugs, prostitution, suicide. So the biggest thing that Hopeland wants to provide is pre and post adoption support to educate families. Some of these kids are dysfunctional because they have been abused like an alley cat.
They need to be given the tools to nurture a child back to health. They need as much education as possible which is starting to happen. We put this back on the political agenda, it wasn’t talked about in Parliament, now it’s on the agenda, they are talking about the methodology and the Prime Minister is trying to change the system.
So we started National Adoption week which morphed into Adopt Change and went through several prime ministers and the last one took on the issue to change legislation and make it easier for kids to become adopted. That was Australia and now I’m bringing this campaign to America. When I was traveling with President Clinton for the Clinton Global Initiative I spoke at the Global Citizen Festival with Hopeland and announced the Declaration of Dependence, as kids are depending on us and their caretakers.
As an ambassador for World Vision, I am traveling the world to Cambodia seeing orphans in impoverished situations. Why does UNICEF say there are 157 million orphans, it’s about mental health, the lack of female empowerment, maternal health, lack of education, contraception. A number of these orphans also have living parents some may be suffering mental health. Many of these kids are relinquished because of poverty, and the parents think if they relinquish their children they will be fed, but it’s false, they become damaged. We’re working with JK Rowling about shutting orphanages down, and finding a solution such as individual families to nurture the children. There’s a science behind it, children are not mentally or physically developing in orphanages and they lack self esteem.
Hopeland has a synergy with the UN Women for Peace Association because female empowerment and ending violence towards women works because these women have to be educated and healthy- mentally and physically to care for their children. A child’s health begins in the womb, they feel every stress of their birth mother even when she is emotionally and physically damaged. Hopeland is an awareness campaign that encompasses everyone working in this arena and we show the community what is happening in the world. We are not a service provider. We speak to the community and tell the world this is unacceptable. What do we do? Let’s create systems that serve families and children.
RM: So you have been quoted that you don’t want Hugh Jackman starring with Angelina Jolie, though she is a big advocate for adopting refugee children.
DLF: Oh my God, that was said so tongue and cheek and off the cuff at some interview. And I was actually trying to giving her a compliment saying you’re gorgeous. It was a joke I said at a function in Sydney, but name me one woman that would want their husband starring with Angelina. But I do respect everything she does and her work with refugees.
RM: What inspired you to devote your time to charity work?
DLF: My mother just passed four months ago, she was my life. Just before she passed she got the order from Australia for all of her charity work and it was instilled in me that this is what we do in life, you go into service for others. She did a lot of cancer foundation work. I was so close to my mother and this was probably the hardest thing I’ve been through.
RM: Would you ever consider a job in politics?
DLF: No I would be terrible in politics because I believe everyone. I think to be a politician you have to be diplomatic and have patience while I just say what I mean. I chose a very politically savvy person to be on my board and she would just sit there and jab me every time I would say something I had to stop. I’m not strategic, I’m more passionate and politicians don’t listen to emotion they listen to data. They won’t sit there and hear my sob story about an orphan in Cambodia who won’t have a life. That’s why with Hopeland we hope to collect real data for the scenario for these kids.
RM: What projects are you working on now?
DLF: I just finished an Australian TV series which was fun because I haven’t been acting in a while since I have two children and that takes a lot of creativity. After my loss, I’m in the Jewish religion which means I need to shut down for a year so I haven’t been as proactive with all of my projects and have been staying still so I’ve been painting. I’ve tapped back into my creative side and writing scripts with friends and when I grow up I’m going to direct a movie. That’s the plan, it’s life, it sort of evolves and changes.
RM: You recently celebrated your twentieth wedding anniversary with Hugh Jackman, what is the secret?
DLF: The key to a successful relationship is very simple, you just pick the right one and it only gets better. Sometimes I feel like it was just yesterday, like we are newlyweds. He makes me laugh more than anyone, he’s up there with Melissa McCarthy. And my husband always says ‘Don’t argue with her, she’s always right.’
RM: Was love at first sight?
DLF: When I first met Hugh I had so much work I could hardly breathe. It was so organic and obvious about two weeks after working with him. But we had such a connection but started as friends first.
RM: Do you feel like this connection goes beyond this realm like a past life connection?
DLF: Maybe. Yeah, I do feel like he is my soulmate.
RM: So I read that you are a Sagittarius and Hugh is a Libra.
DLF: Yes and it’s supposed to be a great match. My sister is Sagittarian and my husband is a Libra, my best friend is a Sagittarius and her husband is a Libra. He is very balanced which is good. He’s smart but also very straightforward and honest too. He would probably think about something before saying it. Whereas I just say the truth, I am a terrible bullshitter and am very straightforward and impulsive and I hate injustice. If someone has passion for something I look at this and not how many degrees that person has or experience. I believe in astrology.
RM: I do to. There are definitely signs I don’t like.
DLF: I think I know which ones you are going to say. Scorpio women have a sting, I had two Scorpio boyfriends, they are sexy. My daughter is a Cancer. Gender is important. Capricorn men- they think too much it’s boring. Pisces men are too wishy washy. So many times I can just tell what sign they are from their characteristics.
RM: Do you like living in LA? I feel like it’s a bit like Logan’s Run.
DLF: I know it’s like Logan’s Run especially for actresses. God bless Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon.
RM: Do you travel a lot together as a family?
DLF: We are traveling constantly. My kids love to travel and grew up traveling the world and if Hugh is working on location we go to visit him. We’re World Vision ambassadors so we’ve been to Cambodia. They have seen dire scenarios and extreme poverty. My 16 year old wants to go to Morocco and build houses for the poor, because he’s aware of things from our travels and at such a young age he feels a responsibility and wants to do something.
RM: What are some of your favorite places in New York? What you guys like to do as a family?
DLF: I came here I was ten years old and started my love affair with the city. I love that New York has so many doors and behind those doors you can’t imagine what you will find. Hugh and I love to explore discover new areas like Chinatown or the Lower East Side. I love the diversity and the fact that there are so many artists here, my son is an artist. You can do everything as a kid here you have all of these museums at your doorstep- the Met, The New Museum. There’s so much stimulation and not enough time. That’s the other side of New York. Everyone is so driven and always achieving something. I want my achievements to be having a hot chocolate with my kids. We think because we are manifesting productivity that it’s achieving but it’s not necessarily so.
Now I’m doing things that make me happy, and being in the moment, and when you are fully present in the moment that is true happiness to me. Happiness is success. Not how much money you have at the end of the day or how many followers. I just saw on Twitter today Hitler had millions of followers, Jesus had twelve…
Deborra Lee Furness will be honoured at the UN Women for Peace Association’s Luncheon on March 10, 2017 for her continuing work with Hopeland. The UNWFPA Luncheon and Awards Ceremony, held annually in New York City at the United Nations, celebrates those who work towards ending violence against women and children. Previous honorees include Trudie Styler, Paul Bettany, and Robert Kraft.