When Hugo Weaving gets into a performance in an intense, low-budget drama he seeks to reveal the very soul of his character. The Wolfman was not one of those films.
As Scotland Yard’s Francis Aberline, Weaving is on the hunt for the mysterious beast that is chewing up people silly enough to wander across the pictureque English moors late at night. The gig offered him a chance to work with Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Anthony Sher, and to meet Anthony Hopkins, one of his idols.
"The decision was much more prosaic than one of illuminating the human condition," he says with a light laugh. "And the reality, of course, is that I’m stuck in London for four months, which is a fantastic city to be stuck in.
"A role like this enables me, in one way, to not take myself seriously, and that’s always good. In another way, to just deal with the size and the largesse and the scale of the piece and to be up to that is a challenge. It’s more brainless working on something like Wolfman in one way, but on the other hand it requires a different level of confidence. It requires something different. I’m not quite sure what it is."
"Absolutely," Weaving shoots back. "You think being in a film about werewolves is like the last thing I’d do. It’s a preposterous notion. But then you think, `why are these myths so pervasive?
Why are we so interested in the whole idea of transformation and shape-shifting?’ It is very much to do with questions like: `what are these animal instincts inside us? To what extent are we really civilised?’ So these myths are based on really fascinating and intelligent ideas, and there’s always something to underpin it, otherwise those stories wouldn’t be told again and again through the centuries. (As an actor) those are the things you key into. Then you try and enjoy yourself within that genre."
Having long proven himself as one of Australia’s premiere character actors in films such as Proof, Little Fish, Last Ride and (of course) Priscilla and on stage, Weaving has also carved out a sizable niche as a support player in blockbuster franchises. He was the ever-present Agent Smith in the Matrix films, Elrond in The Lord of the Rings and is the voice of bad-robot Megatron in the Transformers films. He has no idea why he has such strong Hollywood credentials.
"I don’t have a very strong perception of what their perception of me is," he says. "The strange thing is, of course, it’s so diametrically opposed to the world of the very low-budget Australian film, so they’re pretty interesting shifts from one world to the other. I suppose they see the Lord of the Rings they see the Matrix they see V for Vendetta and stylistically maybe it’s all in a similar territory. But I don’t know."
In Last Ride Weaving put in his best performances since 1991’s Proof. It was painful to see such a good film die at the box office, he says.
"I was quite shocked when I went down to Melbourne a couple of months after it had come out and I was working in the theatre (doing God of Carnage) and no-one at all said anything to me about it. Then I realised no-one had seen it (pause) and these were people in the profession. Literally, no-one said anything to me about it and my impression is that it just wasn’t seen by anybody at all. It’s a real shame, it is. I just hope I get to work with (director) Glendyn Ivin again. It was a great experience and I absolutely loved making it.’
At the other end of the scale is The Tender Hook, the Australian period film in which Weaving played a gangster in 1920s Sydney. At a cost of $7 million, the critically drubbed film took about $60,000 at the box office. "There was a problem with the storytelling," Weaving says candidly. "In terms of clarilty, the director probably knew exactly what he was doing but it wasn’t necessarily explicit to the viewer."
Weaving believes the bounty of quality Australian films in 2009 was to local cinema what 1939 was to Hollywood. Yet, he says, too many good films still went under the radar.
"Across the board Australian films need to have a lot more money spent on selling them," he says. "Much, much more. If the government could do anything to help Australian film it would actually be at that end. It would absolutely be to do with setting up a fund for promotion and distribution."
And just how deeply immersed in the Transformers universe is Weaving? This becomes clear when asked about the next installment.
"Oh no!" he barks with a laugh. "They’re not making Transformers III, are they?" Given that Transformers II made $800 million, they’re probably going to have to. Is he in? "Look, I don’t know. (Director) Michael Bay talks to me on the phone. I’ve never met him. We were doing the voice for the second one and I still hadn’t seen the first one. I still didn’t really know who the characters were and I didn’t know what anything was. It’s a voice job, for sure, and people assume I’ve spent my life working on it, but I really know so little about it!"
So, what do you think of Hugo? Do you have a favourite Hugo film? What did you think of him in Priscilla and Proof? And did you get to see Last Ride? If so, did you like it?
Your valued thoughts are hereby sought.