November 25, 2018
Andrew Luri had never heard of Hugo Weaving when he was cast opposite the Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit star in a new Australian film.
But the first-time actor, who was driving a garbage truck in Melbourne when he auditioned for the drama Hearts and Bones, quickly realised his co-star must be well-known.
“I saw him on an ad on buses,” he says.
Director Ben Lawrence wanted a Sudanese-Australian to play a refugee who is drawn back into the past by a photo taken by a troubled war photographer, played by Weaving.
The son of Ray Lawrence, who directed Lantana and Jindabyne, calls the film “an uplifting story of hope, friendship and homecoming”.
How well it works depends on 57-year-old Luri, who migrated from South Sudan on a humanitarian visa 15 years ago.
“It was so, so dangerous,” he says of his former country during a break in filming at St Barnabas Anglican Church in inner Sydney. “All of our lives were just war from one generation to the other.
“You think that death maybe is the best option. If death is something you could buy from the supermarket, you would just buy it and drink it.”
Luri quickly bonded with Weaving during the shoot. “He’s a very wonderful person,” he says. “I told him, ‘I’m learning from you every day’. He said, ‘No, we’re learning from each other’.”
Weaving says his co-star brings incredible life experience to the role.
“He fled South Sudan for Kenya during the war between the south and the north then fled again during the civil war into Egypt as an older man with his own family,” he says.
He has been impressed by the first-timer’s acting.
“It’s very beautiful to work with someone who’s a non-actor, who you can see shifting and growing and changing,” he says. “It’s a character but all of the experience that Andrew has had is [feeding into the] story.”
For Luri, playing a character with a similar background to his own has been life-changing.
“I feel like I’m the one who has written it,” he says. “It says the truth of what we’re going through.”
While discovering Sydney is much-friendlier for Sudanese-Australians during the shoot, Luri is troubled by how politicians and the media have portrayed the younger members of the Victorian community as violent criminals.
“It is not a good thing,” he says. “The police were actually targeting them before any crime … They consider every black person is a thief and evil.
“But we all not all thieves. We work harder than any other community.”
Lack of work and other opportunities is what gets young Sudanese men in trouble, he says.
“Youth are like camels. If you have camels in your house, you have to give work for the camel to do [or] they kill your children.”
Luri says life is not great for many in his community.
“Sometimes there is no happiness for us here,” he says. “We feel lonely all the time. [In South Sudan] we have extended families, not just your wife and children; we want to be around other families as well.
“But for my wife, the only remaining person is her sister. And me too, my sister. I don’t have anyone else on earth.”