The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
March 11, 2004
Hugo Weaving tells MICHAEL BODEY why his latest film took so long to screen
It’s an actor’s worst nightmare. The film that takes an interminable time to release. The longer the wait, the bigger the stench.
So it was for Rolf De Heer’s latest, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories.
Since he filmed it in French Guyana late in 1999, the Adelaide director has released, to some acclaim, two other films: The Tracker and Alexandra’s Project.
During this wait, one of the stars of The Old Man, Hugo Weaving, has worked on The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the final two Matrix films and a few Australian projects.
Says Weaving of the delay: "It is a shame because normally you think if something’s taken five years to come out it’s an absolute dog, but I think this film’s great."
So it is. De Heer’s adaptation of Luis Sepulveda’s novel is a lush, romantic story not quite in sync with most of de Heer’s abrasive Australian work, from Bad Boy Bubby to Alexandra’s Project.
Richard Dreyfuss stars as Antonio Bolivar, a 60-year-old living deep in the Amazonian jungle who is drawn into a foolish expedition to slay a rampant jaguar. The hunt draws more from Antonio than he could ever imagine.
"It’s a beautiful story, a love story with this woman (Josefina, played by Cathy Tyson) and a hymn to the environment,” says Weaving, who plays The Dentist, a charismatic lothario who gains just as much pleasure from extracting teeth from natives as he does encouraging Antonio’s romance.
Therein lies the problem behind the film’s delayed release. De Heer wanted a meditative, engaging love story. His producer wanted a Hemingway-esque hunting adventure.
"Basically there was a conflict between Rolf as a co-producer and the French producer, over who was in control of the final material and what goes out and how it goes out,” says Weaving. "Rolf’s used to doing that himself."
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories screened at the Adelaide Film Festival last year, where it won the audience prize. That reaction to the film surprised the director, Weaving says.
"He was quite surprised and chuffed and excited about seeing the film again, seeing the response and talking about it because the whole project had been a loathsome thing for him, it was on his back and he just wanted to get rid of it.”
It wasn’t loathsome for Weaving. De Heer rang to tell him of a possible project filmed in French Guyana with Dreyfuss and Timothy Spall. "I was in LA reading scripts and having a bad time, so I said ‘Yeah, I’d love to do it’,” says Weaving. Within four months, he was in the jungle of the French province.
"I think Rolf found it difficult because he was working with a much bigger budget and crew and he enjoyed the company but it was a very slow moving crew, whether that was their pace or the heat, he found that frustrating, ” says Weaving. "But it was lovely material and exquisite locations, so there was a lot of positive memories.’