The pair announced Friday in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE that they "have decided to separate to pursue our individual growth"
The pair, who announced their separation in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE on Friday, got married in April 1996, less than a year after meeting on the set of the Australian TV show Correlli. They later welcomed two children together: son Oscar, now 23, and daughter Ava, now 18.
Hugh, 54, told PEOPLE for a Jan. 1, 2018, cover story about the moment he met Deborra-lee, 67, his "leading lady" on the show whom he developed "a crush" on almost immediately.
As the actor recounted, "I get picked up, and Deb is in the front seat of the car. I'll never forget. She took off her seatbelt and she turned around and put out her hand and took off her sunglasses and said, 'Hi, I'm Deborra-lee Furness, nice to meet you." I remember thinking, 'I like this girl.' "
When he finally got the courage to tell her about his feelings a few weeks into shooting, "I said, 'I got a crush on you. I'll get over it, I'm sorry,' " Hugh went on. "She goes, 'Oh? Because I've got a crush on you too.' I never in a million years thought she reciprocated."
Sparks flew between the costars and Hugh told PEOPLE in his 2008 Sexiest Man Alive cover story, "It was just undeniable. I started planning to propose to her at about three months."
"We are happy. Deb and my kids have been the best things that have ever happened to me, without a doubt," he added at the time, revealing that his wife's response to finding out his SMA title was, "I could've told them that years ago!"
Read on for more about what the pair have said about one another over the years before announcing their separation, following 27 years of marriage.
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In March 2020, Hugh told PEOPLE that he was more in love with his wife than ever, noting that he and Deborra-lee "always make time for each other."
"We're always learning and humans change so you have to, even though we've been together 25 years, you gotta reset all the time," he continued. "I'm always reeling in how funny she is and how amazing she is and how smart she is. The longer it goes on the better it gets."
Ahead of the couple's 23rd anniversary, the Greatest Showman actor discussed what makes his and Deborra-lee's marriage work during an interview with PEOPLE.
"Without a doubt, [intimacy] is the most important thing," he explained. "People talk about intimacy and assume that means in the bedroom. Of course it is that, but really, intimacy is being able to share everything together — good, bad, fears, successes."
Added Hugh, "Deb and I had that from the beginning. We've always been completely ourselves with each other."
The pair, who were always open to adoption, decided to expand their family with Oscar and Ava. “Our motivation behind adopting was, ‘Where is the need?’ ” Hugh told PEOPLE for his 2018 cover story. “The biggest need is in mixed-race kids."
"I want to tell my kids that … it doesn’t matter what sexual [orientation] you are, it doesn’t matter what job you do, it doesn’t matter whether your hair is straight or curly, if you’re tall or short, man or woman, what race you are. What defines you as a human being is underneath all that," he added.
Deborra-lee told PEOPLE in 2020 that she and Hugh embraced their children's "cultural differences," which she believes "will play out generation after generation."
"We completely embrace the ancestors and the extended family; they're family to us. And it's in there, even though it's generational. It may be subtle, but it's in there," she added.
Over the years, Hugh and Deborra-lee have stepped out for multiple glamorous occasions together including the 2023 Met Gala this past May.
"Happy birthday to my extraordinary wife. This is the 28th time I've celebrated this day with you," Hugh wrote in the caption to his November 2022 post, which showed him and Deborra-lee dressed up for a date along the water.
"You've taught me many things, including how to celebrate. Celebrate life, family, friendship and love. Your light and joy lights up all around you!" he added, concluding, "The kids are I bask in that glow every day and today we pray you feel all the love reflected back at you. x I love you."
She also joked that while she didn't do the "tap dancing," she could likely pull off the role herself — but only if she really had to. "You'd have to push me onto the stage," Deborra-lee quipped.
This past April, Hugh shared a photo of himself and Deborra-lee on Instagram in honor of their 27th wedding anniversary, and wrote that his wife's "courage and loyalty is an incredible gift to me."
"Your laughter, your spirit, generosity, humor, cheekiness, courage and loyalty is an incredible gift to me," he added in the caption. "I love you with all my heart."
In their statement to PEOPLE on Friday announcing their amicable split, Hugh and Deborra-lee said, "We have been blessed to share almost three decades together as husband and wife in a wonderful, loving marriage. Our journey now is shifting and we have decided to separate to pursue our individual growth."
"Our family has been and always will be our highest priority. We undertake this next chapter with gratitude, love, and kindness. We greatly appreciate your understanding in respecting our privacy as our family navigates this transition in all of our lives," they added, concluding, "This is the sole statement either of us will make."
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