WHEN Hugo Weaving sat down to watch Wake in Fright at this year’s Sydney Film Festival he was struck by the power of film to shine a light on the dark side of a culture.
Weaving’s latest film Last Ride is not such a grueling tour de force as that 1971 cult classic, but he believes it is an equally honest portrayal of the underside of Australian life.
Weaving plays misfit Kev who takes his ten-year-old son Chook (Tom Russell) into the heart of the outback and on a journey into his own heart of darkness. Kev is on the run after committing a violent crime and as the two progress on their compelling road trip Chook must make an existential choice that will have telling consequences.
“They are marginalised characters in the fringe world between the suburbs and the country,” Weaving says.
“You are exploring social, political and economic factors even though it is not the focus of the film. But there are elements of contemporary Australia that are reflected in this piece.
“When you look back on a film like Last Ride in 20 years you will be able to read a great deal about our society.’
“That’s why it was great for me to revisit Wake in Fright at the Sydney Film Festival. It was a real shock to audiences in 1971.The reaction back then was: ‘We aren’t like that at as a country at all.’ But it is a fantastic look into a very particular time in our nation’s history. Films have a real ability to help us see who we are and who we were.”
Last Ride director Glendyn Ivin had a role that instantly appealed to father-of-two Weaving.
Kev is a wandering misfit you might find on the run in an outback mining town – the type that inhabits the shadows and that a culture fixated on “winners” would rather pretend didn’t exist. Weaving met the likes of Kev when he was making The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert back in 1991
“I met a few people like that in Coober Pedy when we were going through with Priscilla. That place was attracting a lot of guys like that who were often on the run from the law and hiding out,” he says
“We met some really extraordinary characters. They were trying to eke out a living mining opals but they were very marginalised.
“The character of Kev appealed to me because he is both repellant and ultimately tragic. He is marginalised in an extreme situation and he is also a sole parent who is trying to do the right thing by his son but he doesn’t have the ability to look after him. So you kind of feel for him really, but if you met him you’d probably run a mile.’
“When I read the script [by Mac Gudgeon] I was immediately on the run with these two characters,” Weaving adds.
“But you don’t know why. You are reading it and asking yourself questions a lot like: Where are they going? Why are they arguing? What is going on in their head? When you are asking questions a lot and just getting enough information to propel you forward then the script becomes a compelling thing to read. With a good director you should have something compelling to watch.”
The script is based on the novel Last Ride by Denise Young, set in Broken Hill. Ivin elected to shoot film in South Australia with the backdrop of the Flinders Rangers and Lake Eyre and it proved a masterstroke. The cinematography of Greig Fraser is exquisite and captures perfectly the isolation of the father and son against an unforgiving, yet beautiful, landscape. Weaving has appeared in movies with young actors before but not in a part where he was so closely involved. He enjoyed working with Tom Russell, whose performance as Chook is convincing enough to suggest a talent with a big future.
“It was a real intimate relationship over six weeks and Tommy was really great for me,” Weaving enthuses.
“I am really fond of him and we got on really well. He is a young man who is very comfortable in his own shoes. He is a very natural, intuitive young actor. It was a learning experience for him but also for everyone on set to watch him just be.
“Glendyn found some locations in South Australian that he really loved and South Australian Film Corp and the South Australian Film Festival were very accommodating.
“In the end it was a great move. I had been through the Flinders Ranges once before and it is exquisite country.
“To be there with a small group of people whose work I respect immensely was a real joy.”
Weaving, well known for his roles in international blockbusters such The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, has always been drawn to independent Australian films that explore the culture. Highly regarded for his work in Australian films such as Little Fish, Reckless Kelly and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he says Last Ride was a welcome opportunity to return to local themes.
“I am not nationalistic about Australia but I live here and this is the country I love,’’ Weaving says.
“I am interested in what this culture is and I am interested in the physical landscape. As an actor, I am also interested in the people who live here and in the differences in the lives we all lead.
“There are wonderful stories that are going to be thrown up by writers and film makers in this country and as an actor I have always been drawn to certain films for those reasons.’’
Weaving’s next offering couldn’t be more of a backflip, although you get the sense that he had a lot of fun making it.
“The Wolfman will be out in November and that will be completely different,” he grins.
“It has a massive budget, it is set in gas lit Victorian London and on the moors with werewolves. It should be quite a riot.”