AP Entertainment Writer from Scream TV
By DOUGLAS J. ROWE
July 23, 2001
He’s been called a consummate chameleon.
And because he’s so protean, Hugo Weaving may be one of the most low-profile actors to get steady _ and sometimes high-profile _ work.
He was the villain in 1999’s "The Matrix," the voice of the dog Rex in the animated "Babe" movies and a drag queen in 1994’s "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."
These days, he’s further displaying his range as a private detective turned wannabe writer in the little Australian art-house film "Russian Doll," and he’s filming the "Matrix" sequels. Later this year, he’ll be seen as the elf Lord Elrond in a movie adaptation of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
"I do like to do different work and different roles and different characters," he says.
But the 41-year-old actor has avoided big-budget American films more for personal reasons than for professional ones.
" I moved around the world a lot as a kid and so deciding to live in Sydney was important. Went to drama school there. Working in theater there. Working in low-budget films, because most of the films made in Sydney are low-budget. And then having a family," says Weaving, who with Katrina _ his partner of 17 years _ has two children: Harry, 12, and Holly, 8.
"There are other considerations in my life now _ things that are more important to me rather than trying to be famous or trying to get big in Hollywood."
Weaving’s dad worked as a seismologist for an oil company, which required him and the family to live "one year here, two years there." Weaving was born in Nigeria, and his family left there before he was 1. They resided in England, Australia, back in England, South Africa, back in England again and, finally, when he was 16, in Sydney, Australia.
Weaving thought the peripatetic existence was great. His older brother and younger sister continue to move around a lot, but he satisfies his wanderlust mainly through travelling to movie locations.
He says "Russian Doll" constituted a typical, close-to-home project for him.
"It’s the sort of film in terms of its budget and size _ it’s probably a little smaller actually _ that I’ve been involved in ever since I left drama school," says the 1981 graduate of Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts.
His unlucky-at-love character, Harvey, is coaxed by best friend Ethan, who’s married with children, into entering a loveless, sexless marriage with Ethan’s Russian mistress _ which Ethan thinks will serve as a perfect cover for his continued cheating.
Weaving, who co-produced the film, developed a rather textured backstory for his character, who talks to his therapist in various scenes.
"I needed to understand psychologically," he says.
For Agent Smith in "The Matrix," however, he doesn’t require a deep psychological understanding of the character.
"I think the approach needs to be varied in order to make those characters varied as well. We’re all different people and we all have different backgrounds and we all have different modus operandi," he says.
"I think the way that you develop a character is as important as what the content of that character is."
Weaving trained for four months to do the martial arts moves in the "Matrix" sequels.
"I’m very fit, and I’m not injured yet," he says, recalling that he was on crutches awhile the first time around.
He’s looking forward to playing Smith again in the two sequels, which are being shot at the same time.
"I don’t think you can play a villain and not have fun. Otherwise, it’s going to be a disaster," he says.
But Weaving recalls his initial reluctance over the original film. Since it was a big studio picture, science fiction and was going to be shot in Los Angeles, "I thought, oh, dear, it wasn’t really my cup of tea."
He was won over, though, after he saw Andy and Larry Wachowski’s feature debut, "Bound," met them and found they were funny, then read their script and saw that Smith "was written with a sense of humor."
As for "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," scheduled for release in five months, he says he couldn’t resist "the idea of playing an elf."
"I mean, pointy ears and a wig," he jokes. "You can’t pass that sort of thing up."