The Sunday Age
June 24, 2001
For Hugo Weaving, there is a high price for an increasing international profile. ”I’m never going to be away this long again," says the Australian actor, who spent eight months on the west coast of America, filming The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix III.
”It’s just too long. I really enjoy travelling with my work. But I really get very torn between my desire to be a good father and to see my children and to be with my partner, and my desire to invest in my work the best that I can."
In recent years, he has journeyed from filming Stavros Kazantzidis’ Russian Doll in Sydney to Latin America for Rolf de Heer’s The Man Who Read Love Stories to New Zealand for Lord of the Rings.
He regards himself as fortunate in being able to work on some high-profile films outside Australia ”and then go back and do the things I really want to do".
Among them, Russian Doll. ”I think it’s a really lovely little film," Weaving says. He plays Harvey, a bumbling Woody Allenish private eye who is persuaded to marry Russian Jewish Katia (Natalia Novikova) to enable her to remain in Sydney so that his best friend can continue an extramarital affair with her.
Weaving also starred in Kazantzidis’ True Love and Chaos (1997). The two men have been friends since then-film student Kazantzidis approached him to appear in his second-year film project. ”We went on to do his third-year film as well," says Weaving. ”I became very good friends with Stavros. I’ve been in almost everything he’s been involved with."
Set in Bondi, among the Sydney Russian community, Russian Doll has enjoyed mixed reviews. But Weaving remains convinced of its charm. But he plays down his role as co-producer as "a title, honestly, not much more than that".
He says Kazantzidis is, however, an exceptional producer, whose talents were apparent in director and former partner Emma-Kate Croghan’s Strange Planet in 1999. ”I’m not sure how much of the writing he did," he says. "But also with (her) Love and Other Catastrophes, he had a major input into that as well.
”He and Emma-Kate Croghan were living together and he was trying to get a film off the ground himself and ended up co-writing and producing and was there every day on set with Love and Other Catastrophes. So he certainly had more input in that one than anyone would know."
Russian Doll was created by Kazantzidis with co-producer Allanah Zitserman, herself a Russian Jew, and in part reflects their own relationship.
He says Harvey was written with him in mind and he sees himself in the character, though ”I’m not quite that bumbling".
Weaving was born in Nigeria, where his father worked as a seismologist; the family moved to Australia when he was a baby.
He began his schooling in Melbourne, soon moved to Sydney, then Johannesburg, back to England, the family returning to Australia when he was 16.
”The difference between my childhood and the childhood of my kids," he says, ”is that when I was a child the constant was my family, even though we were moving everywhere. So family became a very, very important stabilising factor in my life. I feel the importance of family and when I am away from my immediate family I get distressed."
His partner Katrina and children Harry, 12, and Holly, eight, will see a leaner, fitter Weaving when he returns to Sydney soon to continue filming the Matrix films, in which he plays Agent Smith.
He says rigorous training for the role in the martial art of kung fu has ensured he is sharper than ever. ”I am very fit and very healthy. Stronger than I have been since I was in drama school, and more flexible. So that’s a positive thing for someone who’s just turned 40. The body was starting to fall to pieces. So I feel good about that."
He had no prior experience of kung fu. ”I was absolutely hopeless at it and I know very little about it," Weaving says. ”I really just try to make it look as good as possible, which is the idea of it. It’s a film and you try and pretend you know what you’re doing."
The combat, however, has not been feigned. ”The fights are quite percussive on the body and it does take its toll. People get injured but nothing so serious during the shooting of it, which is good.
”We are mindful of the fact that we have to keep going over a year. This present one (fight) will take four weeks to shoot. We’re fighting every day."
Weaving insists that despite a leading role in The Matrix and a smaller cameo role in Lord of the Rings, he remains committed to his work in Australia.
”I think we do make good films," he says. ”In fact, we make some fantastic films … so the work that I do in Australia I feel is really more valid than the work I could do anywhere else. So as an actor I’m very fulfilled by what I do in Australia and I would be very, very happy to work in Australia for the rest of my life and never work anywhere else.
”The problem comes when that work isn’t seen and then your profile drops. People think, ‘what’s Hugo Weaving been doing for the last 10 years?’ And then you don’t get the work. That’s the game you have to play."