November 14, 2003
Australian actor Hugo Weaving talks to MUMTAJ BEGUM about the peculiar choices he’s made in recent years and where they’ve taken him.
HUGO Weaving is not conventionally handsome and it has also been proven that he does not make a pretty woman (as seen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Yet it is hard to take one’s eyes off the actor when watching him on screen. Maybe it has something to do with the projects he picks, or the fact that he is a darn good actor.
While he has been building a well-rounded resume as one of Australia’s most acclaimed actors for the past two decades, the world finally took notice of his talent when he embodied the notorious Agent Smith in The Matrix in 1999.
Joel Silver, The Matrix producer, reveals, “We agreed to cast that part in Sydney but we didn’t know who it would be. We cast Hugo in the first picture and I look at Revolutions now, and I don’t know who could have played that part. I mean, he’s fantastic. It’s just a miracle we were able to find him.”
Two years after The Matrix the audience worldwide would see him again in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as Elrond, which means by the end of this year he would have appeared in two mega-budget trilogies in just four years. Most impressive for an actor who has only tackled indie films back home in Australia.
“LOTR came because Barrie Osborne who produced the first Matrix went on to produce LOTR. He rang me one day and said ‘You want to play this Elf?’ I said sure,” recalls Weaving with a smile at a recent press meet in Sydney, Australia, for The Matrix Revolutions.
Right now, the sharply dressed Weaving is reflecting on the experiences working on both The Matrix and LOTR trilogies.
“I’ve never been involved in a project of this scale before. Other than being trilogies, working on the two movies have been very different experiences really. LOTR, because it was shot in New Zealand with Peter Jackson with a large New Zealand crew, had a different energy to it. It was more like this fantastic Kiwi family where everyone was jumping in and working their butts off and I would go back every year to do re-shoots and meet up with everyone. The Matrix was more of a block – two years non-stop shooting but different energy. But I love both.
“For this particular project, it required me to enjoy myself with the material. It wasn’t hard. The character was amusing to me. I enjoyed him in all honesty.”
Hugo Weaving made Agent Smith one of the most memorable villains in cinema history.
He isn’t the only one to share this sentiment – Smith is definitely one of the most memorable villains to surface from recent cinema history. Weaving recalls fondly how some fans, in jest, recoiled in fear and started screaming when they saw him at a Sydney theatre the night before. “I didn’t do anything.”
When Weaving was offered the role for The Matrix, he only sort of realised that there would be a second and third film if the first one turned out to be successful.
“About a year and a half after the first film came out, Larry rang and said, ‘Are you on board for the next two?’ and I said I’d like to read the script. They said, ‘You can’t because we haven’t written it. But we need to know if you’re going to be involved otherwise we’d write a different script.”
Although it wasn’t norm for Weaving to accept a role without reading a script, he did just that in this case since the directors promised to develop the Smith character in an interesting way, and because of the project and its directors.
Funnily, Weaving had an idea for the films too.
“I was begging to have a female agent. I thought it’d be great to have a catfight between that agent and Carrie-Anne’s character. But Larry said, ‘No, no, no. This is the masculine energy. You can’t have a female agent. It’s not possible.’”
While some of his previous roles are colourful – a blind photographer (Proof), a drag queen (Priscilla) and a suspected murderer (The Interview) – Weaving admits playing Smith was a huge departure for him. But the role was something he totally embraced; Weaving understood that the character needed to be a villain and a funny one too. Thanks to Weaving, Smith’s sly humour comes off brilliantly in all three movies.
“When I met Larry and Andy, I realised they really loved writing that role. After a while, I realised they put a lot of themselves in Smith because they are really funny guys. We all enjoyed the character enormously and it was easy to do really because of that.”
And who can forget the way Smith talks?
“The voice was always the idea of a newsreader. I wanted him to be human but speaking in a way that wasn’t conversational. I was watching the news in the States one day and I thought, ‘That’s sort of it.’ Someone who’s speaking in our language but the delivery is just unreal.”
It must have been difficult when there are just so many of oneself on the set. In the scenes dubbed as Super Brawl in Reloaded and Super Burly Brawl in Revolutions, we see hundreds of Smiths after one Smith begins to make a copy of a copy of a copy.
“It was pretty odd seeing hundreds and hundreds of dummies of me lying around,” agrees Weaving. “And I sort of got used to it except one morning I walked onto the set and I looked down, and there was a bucket on the set. And in the bucket was my head,” Weaving breaks into a smile. “Yeah it was pretty bizarre. But when I look at Smith, he feels like some bizarre cartoon character so I can distance myself a little. But yeah, it’s odd, very odd.”
In person, Weaving is a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t take his persona as a movie star too seriously. And he likes to laugh – the sort of laughter that lights up one’s whole face – apparent from the laugh lines on his face. The actor has always made unpredictable choices and at the moment, he’s involved in a theatre production and has an indie film, Peaches, slated for release soon.
He was born in Nigeria on April 4, 1960; his family moved to England before finally setting down in Australia when he was a teenager. There he attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art and went on to make his film debut in The City’s Edge in 1983. In his career as an actor, he’s received three Best Actor Australian Film Institute Awards. When not acting on screen or on stage, Weaving is kept busy as father to two children and husband to Katrina Greenwood.
Ever grounded, 43-year-old Weaving finds himself at a strange crossroads at the end of the journey with The Matrix.
“It’s been a bizarre trip for me, this one, because I never really saw myself working on an action film or a film of this scale. When it presented itself and I met Larry and Andy and we got along well, I thought I can’t say no to this. This is a great character and it was a decision I made and I’m glad I made it. But I can’t see myself doing this sort of thing again.”
Then he adds, “But who knows.”