July 25, 2012
Before he was Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy and Elrond in “The Lord of the Rings” saga — even before his timid, cross-dressing Tick in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” — Hugo Weaving knew who he wanted to be.
He was 18 years old, a drama student in Australia, when a production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” blew him away. He was particularly taken with Astrov, the hard-drinking doctor stuck in a provincial Russian backwater, who makes a final, futile lunge at love.
“I loved the fact that he’s a champion of the environment but was also an alcoholic,” says the tall, lean 52-year-old. “There’s a certain sad, male nobility about him. I knew I wanted to play that role one day.”
Well, Weaving’s playing it now — opposite a luminous Cate Blanchett, his “Lord of the Rings” mate — in the Sydney Theatre Company’s much- praised production, running through Saturday at the Lincoln Center Festival. Here’s what Hugh Jackman’s former upper-classmate had to say about blockbusters, “The Hobbit”— and why Australian actors seem to be everywhere.
Chekhov seems so un-Australian — so melancholy.
I would say the same thing about American Chekhov! A lot of the translations we’re used to seem to emphasize that melancholic side of his work, that sort of elegiac and slightly romanticized notion of what Russia was in that period. Not that I speak Russian, but this particular adaptation by Andrew Upton is much more brutal, more basic.
You’ve been quoted as saying you’re tired of blockbusters — yet you’ve made so many.
I probably said that on a number of occasions. I suppose my preference is to work on small-budget films like “Last Ride,” which recently came out here — it’s more intimate. “The Matrix” was a real treat, actually. Lana and Andy [Wachowski, the directors] — or Larry and Andy, as they were then — were delightful people, and I clicked with them straight away. By the time we did the second and third films, it was quite grueling for them. But it was fun to do.
What can you tell us about “The Hobbit”? And are they releasing it in three parts?
Cate and I both went back there to film last year, before we took “Uncle Vanya” to Washington, DC. I went back for some post-production this year, and they were still on the same sets. All the guys playing the dwarves were still spending three or four hours in makeup every morning. I was staggered at the scale of the enterprise. It’s a law unto itself, working with Peter Jackson. Someone described it as the most expensive home movie ever made . . . Peter’s a very particular, idiosyncratic, warm man who likes to work in his own way, and you just muddle along. One part will be released at the end of this year, and the second will come out at the end of next year.
This is a prequel to “Lord of the Rings,” right?
Yeah. “The Hobbit” takes place some 50 years before, but in the lifespan of an elf, that’s nothing. Elrond is about 3,500 years old!
For a country with a relatively small population, Australia seems to have exported more than its fair share of actors.
It’s a fairly small industry over there, and Australians like to travel, anyway. That’s part of what it is growing up there: You finish school, and you want to travel. I know there are a lot of Australians in Los Angeles. I live in Sydney.
Is it true you’re an epileptic?
Yes, but it’s been about 18 years since I had a seizure. I was really lucky. I probably had one major seizure a year. Every now and then I’d fall down and wake up to someone saying, “Are you OK?,” but it never affected any jobs I was doing. It started at 13, and I figured if I grew into it, I could grow out of it. I don’t drive as a result, because I couldn’t get my license. Now I could, but I can’t be bothered. It’s easier to walk. At least, that’s my excuse, anyway.