February 13, 2014
Hugo Weaving and David Wenham are both well known for starring in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy(2001-2003) as Elrond and Faramir respectively. Now, they have embarked on a very different project, The Turning, helmed by producer Robert Connolly.
Based on the best-selling collection of interlinking short stories by Tim Winton, this ambitious film sees a whole host of Australian talent come together to make 17 individual short films concerning ‘turning points,’ in the lives of a group reoccurring characters.
For the first time, Wenham takes the director’s chair for one chapter titled “Commission,” and stars Hugo Weaving. The plot concerns Victor (Josh McConville) who travels out to the Bush to find his father, Bob (Hugo Weaving) and inform him that Carol, Vic’s mother and Bob’s wife, is dying. Finding Bob living in a ramshackle hut, Vic rekindles the bond between father and son and tries to come to terms with why his father abandoned him and his mother.
Playing as part of the Berlin Special Gala, we caught up with Weaving and Wenham in Berlin to discuss the project.
Film3Sixty: This film feels like a showcase of who’s who in Australian cinema, would you agree?
Hugo Weaving: There are a lot of people that you might know of, but I don’t think that it was ever Robert’s (Connolly) intention. I don’t think it was ever his aim was pull-together the top Australian actors and directors together, it was more Robert thinking about who inspires him creatively and who would respond to this wonderful book by Tim Winton. He has gathered a lot of people who don’t necessarily work in film. Certainly not as directors, there are a couple of choreographers, visual artists, actors and a theatre director. It is quite an unusual project. It could have been much, much more obvious, starry and showy cross-section of the Australian film industry, but actually I think that it is much more of an idiosyncratic project.
F3S: Did you know the book before you came to the project?
HW: Yeah, the first time that we (David Wenham) worked together it was on an adaptation of a Tim Winton book, that was adapted for the stage called That Eye, The Sky. We are both very familiar with his work, and Tim is really the reason why we were all drawn to it. The Turning is very popular in Australia.
F3S: Were you at all intimated by the scope of the project?
David Wenham: Being responsible for just one eighteenth of the book. I am speaking on Robert’s behalf here, but he actually didn’t know how the film would look as a whole. It is a very ambitious project that empowers 18 different directors to interpret a story in whatever way they wanted, there were nothing dictatorial from Robert, meaning that we could be as open ended, as we wanted to be. How those 18 disparate project projects would come together if they would come together was another concern. The films were shot over a period of 18months, and none of the directors had any interaction with each other, so when it came to the premiere in Melbourne last year, all the other directors were as interested as everybody else as to how this would unite. What is incredible is that, even thought they are all very different, what unites them is greater than what divides them, and I believe that this is a testament to the initial source material. People, regardless of where they came from, and their disciplines were affected by Tim’s book in ways that were similar, meaning that the whole project was united.
F3S: David, How was the shift from acting to directing?
DW: It was a very natural for me. It didn’t happen overnight, I had wanted to direct for a number of years. Robert and I had talked about it for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect introduction. This was a manageable project, it runs for about 12mins, and I learned so much in the period that we made the movie. I absolutely adored the process, it fired me creatively, and subsequently I have written a feature that I hope to direct this year. It has come just at the right time, and I am glad that I didn’t do it earlier in my career. I think that actors, especially those who have been doing it for some time, come to directing with a slight advantage that directors don’t have that being that actors have worked with a lot of directors and can draw on that knowledge. A director, if they are lucky, makes a film every 2-5 years, and rarely has the opportunity to work with other directors, so they only have their sync in the vision. We are very fortunate in a way in that we have seen a lot of different forms of creation through lots of different prisms of lots of different talented people.
F3S: Did you draw on any other sources, other that Winton’s book, for inspiration?
DW: I had a little scrapbook, which I used to collate ideas. One of the biggest influences though was Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971), which helped in terms of the simplicity of the piece. One scene that I drew upon involves a man that sits down on a log, rolls a cigarette, and begins to tell a story. In terms of the cinematography it is very simple, only 2 shots, one wide shot and then a two-shot that tracks in. It concentrates solely on the performance, and it allows the actor (Ben Johnson) to own the screen and tell the story, incidentally that actor won an academy award for that performance. There are no gimmicky tricks, it is simple, good story telling. That was the key when it came to making my movie. I didn’t want it to be gimmicky, or tricky, especially in the use of camera. I didn’t want an artificial light either, and all the light sources are natural, like a campfire.
Did you find doing just one short, within the larger body of the anthology limiting at all?
HW: With this one you are shooting for a shorter period of time, and it is possible to watch them as a stand-alone piece. I don’t think that they are as interesting on their own, and they’re more interesting together in how they reference each other. So with the character that I play, Bob Lang, although he is essentially in this one, “Commission,” he is outlined and mentioned in many of the pages of Winton’s novel. This means that over the story you get a strong sense of the character. From that perspective, it then becomes similar to a feature. Short films can be wonderful, but they demand you to be incredibly economical in a very hard way. It is like haikus, they can be great, but they are all very similar because of their structure.
F3S: Several different actors play your character, Bob Lang, were you ever preoccupied with the thoughts of how other actors would be playing the character?
HW: I did think about it, but I didn’t really have time to be overly concerned. I did wonder how many Bob’s there were and who would be playing him. I never had any contact with the other actors who were also playing Bob. This was the same for everyone involved in the project. We were all working purely on our own, so when it came to the screening at the Melbourne Film Festival we were all looking at the film for the first time.
You have both worked together before, both in theatre and in film. Was it a fairly natural process collaborating again?
HW: It felt really easy. I was excited that David wanted me to work on it as it was his first piece of direction. The actually filming of it was lovely. It was completely unadorned; we were out in this beautiful part of the world, all under one roof. It was a bit of a backwater where we filmed, so there was a lot of camaraderie.
DW: Directing ticks a few more boxes for me. It afforded me the opening to play in areas where I hadn’t been able to before. I love the visual arts, so to be able to paint something, as opposed to being a picture in the frame was wonderful. I love working in the editing suite, and actually constructing the film. Directing allows you more options and to work in many different areas. It is a much wider focus than you get being an actor…
HW: One of the frustrating aspects of being an actor is that you can feel that your creativity can be limited. You want to work beyond the boundaries of what normally you have to do.
DW: As a director you get to put on the captains hat and be in control. Ultimately though it is about being able to tell a story the way that you would like to do it. As an actor, you get to play with your character, but that is about it.
The Turning screened as part of the Berlinale Special.