Transcript of Monday 25th August 2003
Australian actor Hugo Weaving shares his special moments working on the adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce – marking the 10th Anniversary collector’s edition being released next week.
Simon Marnie filled in for Sally Loane this morning and got to ask Hugo about Priscilla and his roles in Matrix and Lord of the Rings.
Might I say ‘hello’ in pidgin Nigerian?
You might but I wouldn’t understand you. I left before I was one.
You butterfly: you went all over the place – London, South Africa, Melbourne, Sydney. Then you went to the place that was my main opponent and probably rubbed my face in the dirt.
You’re talking about Knox. I managed to get out of football actually. I’d been a big rugby player in England and then I came out here and I discovered drama at school and opted out of the rugby because Knox was very…I mean…we used to practice war cries in the corridors. But I’d grown up by that stage.
I was grown up enough at that stage to think that I wanted to kill you.
Ah well, you probably could.
How did you go from the North Shore to the wonderful world of NIDA?
Um, I think that I, er…I just came in to town. Sydney was where we wanted to go on Friday, Saturday nights and it seemed like such a long way away. We’d get the train ride into town and we’d hang around wondering round, not knowing what to do. Sydney was where I wanted to be and Nida was the premiere drama school at that time, so that’s where I wanted to go.
Nowadays people do coaching and all sorts of courses to get in, Was it a bit of a fluke for you?
A bit of a fluke [laughs]. I don’t know, look, I was just confident and I wanted to go there and I didn’t think I wouldn’t not go there. I suppose I just went along to the audition and had a good time, came back for another one and got in.
Was it 1981 that you went to NIDA?
Yeah, that’s right. Maybe actually…No, I left in ’81.
You could then embrace the 80s?
[laughs] I could indeed.
So what you really want is the Fame stage show with Irene Cara sitting ontop of a taxi singing ‘I wanna live forever’!
What from the 1980s would you like to see back?
I think I’d love to see Ian Dury. I did see him in Adelaide years and years ago and he was just the most amazing performer. He was an amazing man, I think. I loved his stuff. But unfortunately, he’s not ~ he’s dead.
What would you like to lock away in the closet and throw away the key?
I think you mentioned Charlene earlier and I remember Al Clark [the Priscilla Producer] being utterly thrilled ‘cos he just couldn’t contain himself whenever he heard the lyrics.
What was it like doing Priscilla?
I remember Priscilla as being…we just laughed every single day. I can’t remember not laughing and Stephan’s [Elliot, the director] completely mad. I’d done a couple of films with him before. We shot in 6 weeks but we travelled from Sydney to Alice Springs during the shoot so there was a lot of travelling time.
It was just completely insane: we were in drag, the material we were doing was funny anyway and we were all away from home going utterly mad. It was one of those experiences where everyone on that shoot from the gaffer to the actors to the producers had one of the most extraordinary experiences of their lives. I remember thinking this was one experience that will probably never be topped. I’d bump in to people working on the shoot months afterwards who were wandering around the streets depressed ‘cos it had finished.
It was very difficult ~ there were floods and the usual problems you get on set. It was extraordinary fun and it was the people involved in it who made it.
What was Terrence Stamp like? Were you intimidated at all working with someone like that?
He’s a great 60s icon and he hated Sydney in the 60s and didn’t want to come back. He was scared of playing a drag queen, had two left feet and couldn’t dance at all but luckily he was persuaded by his friends to come back. It was wonderful to meet him and work with him.
I never felt intimidated and Stephan refuses to let anyone intimidate him. There was such an exuberant atmosphere on set and you couldn’t take anything seriously at all. Nothing.
Which is more enjoyable, stage or film?
I think it depends. Both. I love both. It depends on the people you’re working with and the material. If the script excites and inspires you, you want to get up everyday and work on it. If the people are also inspiring, then it’s a joy. That can happen on stage or film.
[clip of Priscilla: Tick in macho Western outfit, talking awkwardly to his son] It took me back. It’s funny, ‘cos it’s 10 years ago but it feels like 20. We were just about to do a massive climb up to the top of King’s Canyon. When we got to the top it was getting dark and they realised we couldn’t get down so they had to get all these choppers. I remember Guy Pearce, Terrence Stamp and myself hopping in this chopper in full drag with our feathers and there were these blue, white and orange feathers flying around the inside of the cabin.
What did the pilot make of all this? Had he been warned that he was picking up drag queens?
The whole thing with the premise of the film was that the more you got in to the centre of the country, the more people were repelled by us being in drag. Actually, the opposite was the case – ‘yeah, we’ve been there, done that, seen everything’.
You were saying that it feels like it was 20 years ago. You seem always to be one of the few actors always in work. I mean, Lord of the Rings: is that over for you now?
[darkly] Never say Lord of the Rings is over [laughs]. Yeah, I think it is: we did some reshoots a little while ago so the shooting is pretty much complete and I did some ADR a few weeks ago, so that’s pretty much it. And the Matrix films, that’s over.
How do you balance those roles?
Um…I dunno really. To me, they were departures ‘cos I love working here and working in lower budget films. It was exciting, it was a big change of pace for me and then of course, when you’ve done one, the second is easier as the character’s already developed.
You get to see the size of it. There were thousands of people. You’d bump into someone in the corridor: ‘I’ve bee working on your face for 2 years and I’m sick of you. Hi, I’m John’. There were thousands. I think that’s why I like working on low budget films ‘cos you see people and you do get to know them a lot better and tend to take on more yourself, more responsibility.
And yet with all the allure of the overseas parts, you’re still out seeing plays in Sydney and still very much living a Sydney lifestyle.
Yeah, Yeah. Particularly this year. I realised I really haven’t seen …my theatre going has dropped off a bit. I need to whip myself to get out. When you’ve got kids, you tend to pick them up at school, get home, they’re doing homework, you’re getting the meal ready for them and then you sort of fall asleep in front of the TV. So I had to, um, get myself out and about, otherwise life can get too dreary.
What’s it like as a father watching a film that you’re in with your kids: ‘look, Dad, that’s you’?
I tend to run away [laughs]. Actually, I haven’t done that for a while. When they were a little smaller, when Priscilla came out, Harry was 5, they’d both been on set – I think Holly was in a pram – but he had very strong memories of it and it was fun. His school friends, the music was very popular at that time with school kids. I remember going to the school disco and they were playing all the music from Priscilla – it was huge. So, um, I was a big hero, a big drag hero at school.