The Sun Herald
June 6 2001
Mr Average . . .Hugo Weaving reckons he’s just lucky to have a job.
He’s a worldwide star but Hugo Weaving still can’t believe the price tags of Hollywood films. Give him a home movie any time.
At the end of each day’s filming on a movie he made a few months ago ( Russian Doll), actor Hugo Weaving would squeeze into a battered old car along with eight others, all sitting on each other’s laps, to be dropped home. Some nights, he’d catch the bus.
This week, in another movie (Matrix Reloaded ), on another continent, he had a stand-up row with an assistant director who was insisting that a chauffeur pick him up to drive the two minutes from his trailer to the set. Weaving wanted to walk; the lackey had never heard of anything so ridiculous.
Back at the first film, the dressing-rooms, green room, make-up area, rehearsal room and offices were all based at the director’s modest home. Weaving would arrive each day to start work and greet a whole load of bleary-eyed people waiting for the shower. The producer’s mum did the catering.
On his current film, he lives in luxury in a huge three-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, is whisked to another rather large trailer each morning and rarely has to make a decision for himself.
The critical difference? The first film was made in Australia with a budget of $700,000, which ran out before the ending could be shot, necessitating a last-minute scramble for extra funds. The movie he’s now making is the second and third instalments of the United States blockbuster The Matrix, with a price tag of $600million.
Weaving could be forgiven, these days, for turning down the low-budget, high-stress projects in his homeland in favour of accepting roles in the dozens of splashy overseas movies he’s now routinely offered. That he’s never seriously considered that option says as much about him, his value system and maybe even his short-sighted stupidity in a society obsessed with Hollywood success, as it does about the industry itself.
To some, he’s the solid Aussie actor with the receding hairline who’s never quite become the big star. To others, he’s the easy-going, family-oriented guy who’s too busy concentrating on challenging himself to bother about the tinsel and trappings.
To himself, he’s just an average bloke who’s bloody lucky to have a job where he can enjoy such huge contrasts in work, and then immensely enjoyable lazy periods of doing nothing but hang out with his kids at home.
"It’s hard to believe it’s all the same industry at times," Weaving says in wonderment.
"The differences in budget at times is crazy. Today was my first day working on Matrix and just being on set, it’s outrageous the amount of money, people and time being spent on it. The scale is just immense, absolutely immense.
"What they spend on a day’s catering is about the same as the entire budget for most Australian movies. But there’s something about low-budget film-making that I love."
Ask him which he prefers, and he doesn’t hesitate. Not for a split second. "I must say, from an acting point of view, I prefer working hard and working every day and shooting something over a couple months. That’s my ideal, I suppose. But it is pretty interesting working on something as big as Matrix."
The downside is always there, too, however. Tonight he’s sitting in his apartment speaking to me at 11.30pm, US west coast time. It’s not unusual. Every evening, he waits by the phone way past midnight to talk to his wife Katrina and kids Harry, 12, and Holly, 8, when they arrive home from school.
Working away, he misses them horribly. So far, he’s been in the US for seven months, mostly just undergoing kung fu and fighting training in readiness for the movie action, and is now counting the days – 25 – until he arrives back in Sydney for the rest of the filming: until October 2002.
Contrast that, too, with that Australian film, the gentle romantic comedy Russian Doll , (released June14) which had a shooting schedule of just four weeks. Both, of course, have their place in the panoply of film, and also in Weaving’s career. While in The Matrix his chief Agent character is somewhat limited in his range of emotions, in Russian Doll he’s the classic romantic hero, a private eye who catches his own girlfriend at it, and then ends up enmeshed in the sticky sexual shenanigans of his best friend.
"I wanted to show Hugo as he really is," says Russian Doll director-writer Stavros Kazantzidis, best known for Love And Other Catastrophes.
"He’s a very warm-hearted, sensitive man, but he often plays darker or aggressive characters. This character is the closest to him he’s ever played. In Matrix he’s playing a robot."
Nigerian-born Weaving, 41, who arrived in Australia with his family in 1976, isn’t known for making comfy career decisions. He won his first major AFI Award playing a blind photographer – of all things – in Proof, and his turn as the outrageous drag queen in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert catapulted him to international prominence. Then, a few months ago, there was The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and his role in the incredibly ambitious The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, filmed in the jungles of French Guiana.
Even the director, Rolf deHeer, admits the whole process was a nightmare of both physical conditions – think, thick jungle and tiny parasites that crawl under your clothes – and trying to create something from a complex co-production mix of Australian, American, French, Dutch, Spanish and Belgian cast and crew. But, he said, Weaving seemed to thrive on the challenge.
"There was no time for rehearsal and little time to talk to him on the film," says Bad Boy Bubby ‘s deHeer. "Yet he lobbed into the country, had to come straight out into the jungle, wear only bare feet as the story decreed, and then had to deal with the last-minute decision by Richard Dreyfuss to do his role with a Spanish accent.
"But Hugo just said, ‘OK, if that’s what’s happening, that’s what’s happening’, and just did it. These days he’s enough of a star to get particular about things, but he doesn’t. He makes the most of everything."
Weaving’s also become well known on projects as someone who’s generous around everyone else on set, helping actors to rise to the occasion when others might feel their floundering would only showcase their own talents, and lending a hand to crews, too.
On Russian Doll, for instance, after a 5am start, he stayed with the director and producer until 1am, helping them rewrite and rehearse a problematic scene, whereupon he left cheerily for three hours’ sleep before his next turn on set.
Gale Edwards, who directed him in the recent Sydney Theatre Company production of The White Devil, considers he worked his butt off for her, at the same time galvanising the other actors to also give of their best.
"He’s a leader, he has a great range and is a star in all senses of the world," she said.
" He will be snapped up by Hollywood, as Geoffrey Rush has been, but he’ll still keep coming back here to do good work here, too. He has so much natural charisma, he’s sexy and blokey and he can do the spunky leading man stuff. On the exterior he’s casually charming, but inside he’s passionate about his work. That combination is irresistible. A lot of people are in love with Hugo."
Weaving is, however, blissfully unaware of their affection as he sits in his hushed apartment on the other side of the world, nursing an injured finger from that day’s fight scene, and missing his family and friends and home desperately.
"I would never have done this if the production wasn’t moving to Sydney," he ponders. "I think over the past couple of years I’ve been away a lot more than usual. That’s something I don’t want to continue too long. I don’t want to be living like this. I value my life with Katrina and my children a lot more than I value the film industry."
Other actors might kill for a role in The Matrix; Weaving is just dying for his homecoming. Hollywood may beckon but, even if it does mean an after-work car crush or bus, it will just have to wait its turn.