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In person : what women want

Fantasy film Kate & Leopold's Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman debate the art of seduction.

Guys, listen up. If you want to win your lady's love, butter her toast for her in the morning. Little things like that are the most romantic gestures, according to Meg Ryan who has made a career out of portraying lovelorn women, the latest being in Kate & Leopold. On the other hand, Australian actor Hugh Jackman, who co-stars with Ryan, says men should really listen more to what women want.

In Kate & Leopold, Ryan plays a disillusioned New York marketing executive who seems to date only schmucks and losers. She fantasizes about perfect love, and finally thinks she has found her man in the form of dashing Leopold (Jackman), a duke transported from 1876 Brooklyn to the present through a time warp. Leopold, a forward thinker in his own day, fits into the 21st century surprisingly well after some trouble with toasters and telephones, and soon sweeps Kate off her feet.

"It seems to be so difficult for men to give romantic gestures nowadays," said the perky 40-year-old Ryan during a visit to Japan. "But to be fair, some women find it equally hard to receive such gestures from men." Her view was echoed by Jackman, 33. "Social politics have changed. If you open a door for a woman, you can be slapped. It's gotten to the point where men don't know what to do to make a woman happy ... which is our prime motivation in life."

Kate & Leopold examines many of these issues. "Romance nowadays is considered to be not cool. People are afraid to say what they feel. The world is full of rejections and letdowns," said Jackman, quickly adding he's no expert because he only had one real long romance—with his wife.

Ryan certainly identifies with her character. "I think a lot of women do. She is totally out of whack, she has a broken heart she has not dealt with, and she is pouring all her energy into her work." Originally planning to be a journalist, Ryan turned to acting to pay for her tuition and did some TV work before making her film debut in Rich and Famous in 1981. It wasn't until 1989 that she really achieved international stardom by faking an orgasm in a restaurant, in the now-classic scene with Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. Ever since, she has been content to play the same sort of character in most of her films—a woman, unsure of what she wants in a romance but certain that Mr Right is out there somewhere. Movies like French Kiss, Sleepless in Seattle, City of Angels and You've Got Mail have honed that persona to great effect, especially in Japan, where women adore her. The Japanese entertainment media fawn over her fashions and winsome manner.

Although she has done non-romantic films, such as The Doors, When a Man Loves a Woman and Courage Under Fire, Ryan always returns to the romantic genre. "I'm compulsively drawn to it. But I wouldn't do these kinds of movies if they weren't fun," she said. "It's an optimistic genre, almost like a fairy tale. Everyone is entitled to idealize love."

Japanese women certainly idolized Jackman while he was here. He might not be as well-known as Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman or Mel Gibson, but his time can't be far off after a banner two years that have included X-Men, Someone Like You and Swordfish. Australian actors are in great demand in Hollywood nowadays, if you add Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Toni Collette, Naomi Watts and Guy Pearce to the mix. Why the sudden Aussie surge? "I get asked this question a lot and I have given 15 different answers," Jackman said. "We get good stage training and it's a lot easier for Aussies to go to America now. Contrary to the stereotypical image, we're pretty hardworking. Of course, we play hard, too. It's our adventurous spirit."

Ryan and Jackman agreed that Kate & Leopold came along at an opportune time for New York. "The sense of community is even better now," said Ryan, who lives there, while Jackman described the film as "a love letter to New York" during a time of grieving. "It celebrates the history of the city. So much of it is just as it was in 1876; you only have to cover up the graffiti."

Of the Sept 11 attacks, Jackman expressed anger at the level of barbarity but also sounded a note of caution. "The events of that day are a reminder that too many gaps are appearing between cultures," he said.