3RD UPDATE: Hugh Jackman just emailed me this statement via his production company: “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! 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.”

2ND UPDATE: Hugh Jackman will host the 81st Academy Awards® telecast, the show’s producer Laurence Mark and executive producer Bill Condon announced today in Beverly Hills.  “We kept saying how we were looking for Cary Grant or Clark Gable. And then we realized that Hugh Jackman had hosted the Tony’s so successfully,” Mark told me exclusively today. This will be Jackman’s first time center stage at the Oscar show, although he has previously been a presenter. “Hugh Jackman is a consummate entertainer and an internationally renowned movie star,” said Mark and Condon in an earlier joint statement.  “He also has style, elegance and a sense of occasion.  Hugh is the ideal choice to host a celebration of the year’s movies – and to have fun doing it.”

EXCLUSIVE: TOLDJA!reported yesterday that the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had chosen someone “way outside the box” to host the 81st Oscars on February 22nd. Today, I’ve learned that the person is not just outside the box but outside this country. The Academy Awards is going international with its emcee choice — Australian actor Hugh Jackman, star of X-Men and its two sequels, Australia, and the upcoming Wolverine, as well as People Magazine’s 2008 “Sexiest Man Alive”. But, and it’s a BIG but, while the 40-year-old Sydney-born thesp of English parentage has received the AMPAS offer and is very interested, I’m told that he’s not yet fully committed. Because there’s still a lot of negotiating ahead between his showbiz representatives and AMPAS. I’ve learned that the people around Jackman want to know exactly what would be expected of him, especially when it comes to opening the Oscar broadcast. One segment of the show which reps for Jackman are objecting to specifically is the joke-telling monologue. “I don’t want that for him,” an insider told me. “He is an actor with big movies behind him and one coming this summer. He didn’t work the last 20 years to suddenly be a stand-up comedian.”

In recent years of Oscar telecasts, even going back decades, the ceremony has been emceed by mostly TV or movie comedians — whether Will Rogers and George Jessel in the 1930s, Bob Hope off and on for the next three decades, Johnny Carson in the 1980s, even David Letterman in 1995. In the 1990s and 2000s, there’s been a mix of film funnypeople like Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Steve Martin as well as stand-up comedians and TV personalities like Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart. But now that producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon plan to get rid of the joke-telling portion of the show this year (as I reported Thursday and thought a smart move: these one-liners are usually understood only by the movie industry and so inside that TV viewers are left bewildered), it opened up the possibility of an actor hosting. “If this is a different version of the Oscars than in previous years, then Hugh would be great. But I have no interest in him being Billy Crystal.” a Jackman insider told me.

Only a few thesps have hosted the show by themselves, including first AMPAS president and one of the founders Douglas Fairbanks, then Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery, and Jack Lemmon, when the Oscars consisted of an awards banquet, then a radio show, and ultimately a globally broadcast TV spectacle. As far as I can tell, all of the lone emcees have been Americans. Jackman’s selection is the motion picture industry’s recognition that, more now than ever before, the success of a movie depends equally if not more so on its international box office than its North American grosses.

As to why Jackman might have been selected over other actors, he’s a proven commodity at hosting awards shows. He brilliantly emceed the televised ceremony for the Tony Awards in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and won an Emmy for the latter. As to whether Jackman would be asked to show off his musical talent at the Academy Awards isn’t clear. But he did win Broadway’s 2004 Tony Award as Best Actor In A Musical for his portrayal of Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. The hiring of Mark and Condon, respectively Dreamgirls‘ producer and director, to co-produce this 81st Academy Awards would seem to indicate the pair might choose to make the most of Jackman’s multi-talents. As for the actor, he’d probably love the exposure because his own movie production company, Seed Productions, is behind not only for the recent X-Man: The Last Stand (2006) but also the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine spin-off for 2009. It also could conceivably help the worldwide box office and DVD sales of his current pic Australia, whose domestic grosses have been disappointing, as well as his other film credits The Prestige, Flushed Away, The Fountain, Happy Feet, Van Helsing, Kate & Leopold and Swordfish.

News of Jackman’s selection as the next Oscar host — no matter if he turns it down, which I do believe is doubtful —  is sure to be cheered in his home country of Australia, where moviegoing is a widespread passion. The choice is also a repudiation of recent hosts like Jon Stewart (twice) who though a household name in this country was barely known to anyone outside the United States. Last year, his emceeing resulted in the worst-rated Oscars since Nielsen started tracking them in 1974. Only 32 million people watched the writers strike-threatened 80th Academy Awards. And the 56 metered markets averaged a 10.7 rating among adults aged 18-49 — smaller than the 39.9 million drawn by 2007’s Ellen DeGeneres, or the 55 million who tuned in for Billy Crystal back in 1998.

But, really, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences only has itself to blame. AMPAS was trying to pander to young audiences. But after last year’s kudosfest, several Hollywood power players lobbied AMPAS to do everything it could to change the awards show from top to bottom. What can’t be helped is that recent nominations have been dominated by the small independent movies at the expense of the popular studio movies. As a result, last year’s crowd-pleasers like 2007’s Transformers, The Simpsons Movie, Knocked Up, Harry Potter, The Bourne Supremacy, Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 were barely given much air time.

I’m told the Jackman announcement could come as soon as Tuesday but more likely after the holidays if all the i’s are dotted and t’s get crossed in time. Jackman was one of the presenters at the 2002 Academy Awards, but said he’d think twice about doing it again because “getting up there in a suit and talking for a little bit is kind of bizarre.” Also, he’s supposed to be very near-sighted with extremely blurry vision when he isn’t wearing contacts, so, reportedly, when he hosted the Tonys and even Saturday Night Live, Jackman memorized almost everything he had to say so he wouldn’t have to struggle to read. And then there’s just the terror of appearing live before Hollywood and the world. But Jackman once said about his own courage, “I’ve always felt that if you back down from a fear, the ghost of that fear never goes away. It diminishes people. So I’ve always said ‘yes’ to the thing I’m most scared about.”