The normally publicity-shy Hugo Weaving is currently promoting his latest blockbuster, a remake of the 1941 horror classic The Wolfman, co-starring Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro, and I spoke with Hugo Weaving in Sydney earlier today.
Hugo Weaving, your working life seems to be spent moving between the big budget, big blockbusters, big everything and small, somewhat humble Australian films that get great reviews and struggle at the box office. What’s the contrast like for you, because there must be such a contrast between working for months on a big film like The Wolfman, the big names, then coming back home to a tight little shoot with a small crew and tiny budget like The Last Ride?
HUGO WEAVING, ACTOR: Well it’s wonderful in one way. It means, like, I get to experience a massive diversity of work and I get to travel, and so all those things are beneficial. But there’s another side to it. I kind of – the things I put so much energy and love and – into, as you say, the small budget Australian films, they’re often the ones that do disappear without a trace. And so there’s a side to that which is constantly, I kind of think, "Oh, get yourself up to try and, you know, do the next one and hope that maybe it sort of transforms into people going to see it."
KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve essentially shunned the Hollywood life. You loathe the celebrity and the red carpet. You once described Los Angeles as a series of Parramatta Roads, which having lived there, I agree with. Has that cost you anything in career terms, do you think?
HUGO WEAVING: Oh, possibly, but, look, I always sort of believe that you compete against yourself in a way and you kind of do what’s right for you and I try not to compare myself to other people and try and sort of think well, what do I want to do and where do I want to go, what direction do I want to go in? And what sort of balance – where do I want my energy to be in my life? And so, look, maybe if I’d moved to Hollywood and lived over there, well, I would certainly have a different career, I suppose. But actually, you know, a number of – I’ve only worked in LA for a couple of weeks in my career. And so most of those …
KERRY O’BRIEN: That’s a pretty staggering thing to contemplate, actually, given what you’ve been in.
HUGO WEAVING: Most of those films have been shot either in Sydney or New Zealand. This is the big budget ones – or in Berlin or London. So I haven’t really had to sort of go there in that way.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Play the game. Hollywood has always had its stars. It’s always had the glitter. But the cult of celebrity has never been as pervasive as it is today. Why do you think that is? And what does it cost the industry? What has it done to the industry in terms of the quality of the film-making?
HUGO WEAVING: Look, it’s massively pervasive, isn’t it, and it’s celebrity right across the board, not just in the film industry. You know, if you’re famous, you’re famous and that’s enough. And I’ve always felt from an actor’s point of view, one of the things you want to try and maintain as an actor is your ability to transform in some way into – to sort of get inside the skin of another human being and to understand and empathise with them and so the viewer can then empathise with that character, not with you. And so for me the whole cult of celebrity, the whole push to promote film through actors is actually one that damages the ability of the actor to successfully create a character. And so I’ve always felt that I’m trying to – yes, I’m trying to promote the films I’m involved in, but at the same time I don’t really want people to be listening and celebrating me because I’m not really interested in that.
KERRY O’BRIEN: And have you seen where you feel that has damaged or diminished an otherwise potentially very good actor?
HUGO WEAVING: I think it damages all actors in some way. I think it’s a really, really difficult thing to come to terms with. And I’ve seen in myself. I think, "Oh, you know, these things that you kind of fight against because you want to focus on something else." And there’s something very seductive about being feted and, you know, flown around the world first class and put up in wonderful hotels and taken to great parties and meeting all these, you know, wonderful people and being told you’re great and patted on the back.
KERRY O’BRIEN: It could hollow out very quickly.
HUGO WEAVING: Well, yeah, but for a young actor that’s potentially a – but for anyone, actually, it’s minefield. And it might be an older actor and suddenly think well, finally I’ve made it, you know, and suddenly after all that hard work this is who I really am or that’s my just reward. But of course it’s an illusion and it is a way of promoting the film and making the money. So it’s one you’ve gotta keep on your toes with all the time, I think.
KERRY O’BRIEN: If anyone has ever said a bad word about you, it certainly hasn’t appeared in print. Apparently you’re a dream to work, you leave your ego at the door, you’re very sensitive, you’re the best character actor in the world.
HUGO WEAVING: Oh! Who said that?
KERRY O’BRIEN: There’s no role you can’t do and you’re a model family man. Tell me about your dark side.
HUGO WEAVING: Oh. Um, no. (Laughs).
KERRY O’BRIEN: (Laughs).
HUGO WEAVING: Well, I don’t know. We’ve all got hideous demons, haven’t we, really, you know? I think that’s one of things actually that’s interesting about – to get off me and talk about the film – but it’s actually one of the interesting things about Wolfman is it is about that very thing, those animal instincts or that dark side of the human nature that we try and suppress and civilise and to what extent that kind of comes up and bubbles up from time to time and when we least want it to happen. So of course that happens to all of us, including myself.
KERRY O’BRIEN: How much of a reach is it for you to play the computer-generated villain in Matrix or the hated cricketer Jardine in Bodyline, the heroin addict who destroys relationships in Little Fish, or the destructive revolutionary in V for Vendetta or the desolate criminal in Last Ride?
HUGO WEAVING: Well they’re all a stretch, and actually some of the ones that are the biggest stretch are the most scary, but ultimately the most fulfilling because I sort of think, "Well, I don’t know anything about that world or that person or that thing, or, you know, I’m gonna have to sort of really dig deep within myself but also go out of myself and try to understand that from someone else’s perspective."
KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve described the work of an actor at its best as noble. How is it noble?
HUGO WEAVING: It was to do with the whole sense of celebrity and I was thinking well, what is it about? Why am I an actor and what it is about acting that I love? And what is it that I am doing? And what is it that we do? Why do we do what we do? Is it just about self-aggrandisement? Is it about just dressing up and having fun? Is there something else going on here? And I think at its best what actors do and what story tellers do and filmmakers do and what great theatre does is it kind of illuminates who we are as human beings. And so in that way, as a doctor can heal someone’s body, maybe an actor, you know, can help to heal our understanding or our psyches or the way in which we see ourselves. And so I suppose …
KERRY O’BRIEN: Well I think you can call that noble (inaudible).
HUGO WEAVING: I’m not saying I’m a noble person, but at times when the industry’s so kinda crazy and it is – it seems to be about celebrity, those are the times when I just kind of refocus: why do I do this and what do I learn from it and what do I get out of it and what do we get out of that whole process?
KERRY O’BRIEN: Hugo Weaving, thanks very much for talking with us.
HUGO WEAVING: Thankyou, Kerry. Thankyou.
KERRY O’BRIEN: A man with his feet very much on the ground.