The Age 10
Hugo Weaving likes a challenge, but his role in ‘The Bite‘ tested his resolve, writes Wendy Tuohy.
HUGO WEAVING hesitated before he made the leap from all-dancing drag queen to all-Aussie bloke for his latest TV role, in the ABC-BBC thriller, The Bite.
The actor has galloped through roles as potentially challenging as a blind photographer (in the movie Proof), closet-homosexual private schoolboy (in the recent ABC series Naked) and drag-queen dad (Priscilla) but initially thought boofhead bloke could be beyond him.
”I read the script and thought this guy was very different to the way I saw myself, he was a very generous, very warm, very Australian bloke and in that sense it was something quite different for me. Also, he seemed older.
”I said ‘why are you interested in me?’ It didn’t seem like I should be doing it."
His character, Jack Shannon, is a dare-devil sea diver who borders on reckless. He comes across as naive – occasionally even stupid. Shannon gives up diving to take his wife and step-daughter to Burma, seeking a cheaper and more exotic place than Melbourne for her to start a business making and exporting jewellery. The couple get involved in a drug plot, the likes of which recently landed several Australians in Asian jails.
The macho role certainly contrasts the gentility of Weaving’s last ABC series part, as a migrant doctor and attentive father in Bordertown. But it would not appear too much to ask of this actor, who presents in a Darlinghurst cafe as a tall, broad-shouldered type with a lionine beard and mane and an enormous grin.
What eventually drew Weaving to the part in The Bite was the relationship between Jack Shannon and his English wife, Ellie. The relationship is strong before their move to Burma, but cracks develop as their (mainly self-inflicted) problems increase.
”The main thing for me is the two characters and their relationship, they have a very real dynamic between them and the relationship has a very strong human interest aspect – which is ultimately what the drama’s about."
WEAVING says he would rather continue to live in Australia and work in Australian film, theatre and television than move to Los Angeles and have a crack at Hollywood. He went to LA after he was flown to Rio for the premiere of Priscilla and says the whole experience was weird.
”I did go over there and it was kind of strange, I felt really funny about it. I went to see some agents and I was kind of light-hearted about it, but I found it so soulless and plastic.
”For me, at first glance, it’s not really a place I’d like to be. New York would be a different country (from LA), really exciting, and feels less threatening than LA. I found LA awful, hideous."
Weaving says he does not go to see much of Hollywood’s product, but “if I do go to see Hollywood films I find I don’t believe they illuminate humanity very much. I think they add to the great weight of rubbish."
He says the standard of our film and quality television drama, is improving.
”Oscar nominations are all well and good, but what’s more important is that Australians are starting to watch more (of their own) film and TV and not deride it as a joke."
He is also a vehement defender of the ABC and its drama work and says that, although not all ABC drama works, it is still the best Australian TV product.
”The ABC is producing a lot of high-quality TV, there is a lot of slagging off of the ABC going on in the press down there (in Melbourne) but I don’t understand it, because I think the ABC consistently produces high quality – sometimes it doesn’t work, but it’s still of much higher quality than most of the commercial stuff."
He says Australian-English co-productions like The Bite are great exercises in cultural exchange, even if the perception of the great Aussie bloke in the minds of English writers is not always spot on. Our average fellow is a beer swilling, stubbie tossing, barbie yob in the opening shots.
Even Weaving – the reluctant bloke – found himself pitching in and adjusting the words the writers had put in their mouths.
The Bite screens on the ABC on Wednesday 17 April and Thursday 18 April at 8.30pm.