July 10, 1993
As an actor Hugo Weaving is a dominating presence; off stage he is more vulnerable. Muriel Reddy reports.
HUGO Weaving, the highly lauded theatre, television and film actor, was standing on a chair in the middle of a stage during a performance of ‘Ring Round the Moon‘ in Adelaide four years ago. Playing two roles was demanding, requiring him to run off stage as one character and return as another, but there was the added complication of constant script changes right up to opening night.
As he perched himself on the chair to deliver a speech before a packed theatre, he suddenly "dried". "In the end, the only thing I could say was, ‘Oh shit. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, I have completely forgotten my lines’," he recalls. The admission earned him a thunderous round of applause.
In his work, Weaving is a commanding presence. He is probably best remembered as Douglas Jardine, the English cricket captain he portrayed in the television series, ‘Bodyline‘, or, more recently, as Martin, the blind photographer in ‘Proof‘, the film that earned him an AFI award for best actor. In person, Weaving is more of a curiosity.
He is thoughtful, shy, intensely private and still intrigued by the level of interest directed at him. "I feel kind of extremely insecure and shy and small, and then very kind of confident, no problems and fun-loving," he admits. "But I don’t know that everyone is not like that.
If acting is a rehearsal for life, it is also a means of self- expression for Weaving. Through his characters, he can bring to life characteristics or attributes that may be dormant in his personality.
He explains: "Whatever the character is, somehow it is an expression of me. Somehow it is a way of sorting out where I am and then, of course, you have the character and it is a way of exploring other people’s feelings…"
He is in Melbourne to play Benedict in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘ for the Melbourne Theatre Company. It is a character he has taken to with gusto. "Aside from the fact that Benedict is self- deluding, he is very rough and ready and quick-witted and has a good spirit. That is a quality that I really like and admire and would like to have myself.
"But I’m able to portray that on stage and that’s the joy in acting for me. That is something I might be at parties or something but generally in day-to-day life, I am not necessarily like that.
He lives quietly in Sydney with his partner Katrina and their two children, Harry and Holly. "Harry, Holly and Hugo," he chimes self- deprecatingly. He claims the family’s apparent preference for names beginning with the letter H was not by design. When he is not working, he finds it relaxing to play Lego with his four-year-old son or to go to the cinema.
CURIOUSLY for an actor with his track record, Weaving has not been busy professionally this year. But he is not disturbed that his career seems to have stalled a bit after the success of ‘Proof‘.
"I guess when I left NIDA and got a terrific agent and I was getting a lot of offers, particularly in Sydney where I got a couple of years’ contract with the STC (Sydney Theatre Company), I thought at that stage that maybe in five or six years I’d be doing lots of movies.
"But realistically there aren’t a lot of films around in this country. I guess I’ve just become more philosophical about the whole thing and to me, fame and fortune isn’t as important as it used to be.
"…I don’t feel like I’m slipping downhill or anything but I just feel more relaxed and more grounded in myself about who I am, where I am going and where my career is, and (am content to) just let things take their time and see what happens.
"People say, ‘did you get a lot of offers from overseas after ‘Proof‘?’ I never expected to get offers from overseas for any work I’ve done. I’ve never thought, you know, ‘oh, this will get me in’. I actually don’t want to go to the States and I’m not interested in working in Hollywood. I really want to work here …
"I always associate the States with ancient Rome or something; like it’s actually falling to pieces. I think this is a much more exciting and youthful country to be in, particularly at the moment."
Choosing to work in Australia’s small film industry carries its own dilemma, particularly for an actor not accustomed to banging his own drum and selling himself. Weaving is, after all, a man who has enormous difficulties with a task as apparently simple as being a presenter at an awards ceremony. "I find that really daunting," he says.
That sharp focus on Weaving as Weaving _ as opposed to Weaving role playing _ is one of the reasons he has shied away from marriage to Katrina, his partner of 11 years. "I know that sounds stupid because of being on stage," he concedes. "… But I have much more insecurities about who I am than I do about the characters I play, or my abilities to perform. I have doubts about me."
Perhaps it is this inner vulnerability that gives such strength to his performances. He is, however, a harsh critic of his own work. He is proud of his performance in ‘Proof‘ but says that most of his film work has been "absolutely appalling".
"I think I am harsh on my work," he says. "But I think that’s a good thing. I think there is a lot of rubbish being made and I’ve been in a lot of it."
Weaving says he would like to become involved in directing and writing in the future. His motivation is to have more control over the end product. He explains: "As an actor, you might get a script and think, ‘yeah, this looks really exciting; it has great possibilities. I really like the character. I love the script as a whole. Yes, I’ll do it if it’s offered to me.
"And then, of course, you want to know who the director is and what they have done before. They may be a first-time director and that is fine… You may or you may not know the producer. Often I have started a film and realised a couple of weeks into it that the producer is making a completely different film from the director who, in turn, is making a completely different film from the one I thought was being made.
He believes he will always want to act, that it will be a life-time vocation. "Getting out on stage makes me feel enormously powerful," he says. "Powerful is not the word. Just fulfilled, I think. And excited."