Hugo Weaving Interview - The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Part One - The voice, the suit and PowerAde
Bad guys. Even though you hate them, the really good ones are still quite cool. There probably hasn’t been as cool a villain as Agent Smith since Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Sure, there was Hannibal Lector, but he couldn’t do Kung Fu.
Hugo Weaving is back as Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded. Since Neo eliminated Smith from the program at the end of the first film, he is no longer working with the matrix. Now Smith is a free agent, but he has more support than ever. He’s cloned himself hundreds of times, and Neo has to face all the Smiths in an extended fight scene nicknamed The Burly Brawl.
When my caller ID showed The Four Seasons Hotel, I knew that was Weaving. I had been instructed to wait until six for an interview, and at 6:03, the phone rang.
There wasn’t even publicist to introduce him, just the Aussie accent going, “Hi, it’s Hugo Weaving.” That instantly made me feel this was a personal phone call, though he’d surely been talking to other journalists the rest of the day. But we started with a chat and proceeded to go inside The Matrix Reloaded.
What do you usually do when you’re in L.A.? I’ve got some friends here, so I see them in the evenings and usually during the day, if I’m here, when I’ve been here before, I’ve been here working with The Matrix, so I’ve been training. The last couple of times I’ve stayed in L.A., I’ve been training every day. But if I’m here, I usually come here usually to do with work. So, if I’ve got a free day, I’ll maybe go and see my agent and have a chat to him. Otherwise, I’ll hang out with friends.
Have you seen the Agent Smith PowerAde commercial? No, I haven’t. But I did read them. I had a look at them.
You had approval? No. They showed what they were going to do. They wanted me to do them, but I didn’t really want to go there. I haven’t seen them yet.
How do you feel about your character hawking athletic drinks? Well, we’ll have a look and see. Joel hasn’t gone crazy with the marketing, so I think that’s probably fine, and the ad seemed to be pretty well written to me.
Is it constricting to fight in the suit? No. I had a number of different suits. I had one for standing around looking good. And I have a fight suit and I have a harness suit. And the fight suit has slightly longer sleeves so when you’ve got your fists up, the cuff of your sleeve doesn’t come right up towards your elbows. Every little last thing was thought of. I had a number of different suits. They must have made hundreds of suits because there were hundreds of mes. I think I had personally at least about six or seven different suits.
How did you develop the voice of Agent Smith? It kind of developed over a period of time. The first I ever heard about Larry and Andy, what they were looking for, I heard that many of the other actors that they had seen had been quite robotic in their takes on the character. When I first read it, I thought he was very funny and I didn’t want him to sound like a robot. But I wanted him to sound inhumanly human, I always said like a news reader. So, he speaks in a way as if he’s a human being, but he’s saying everything slightly strangely. It’s not really conversational.
Part Two - Wirework and The Burly Brawl
Philosophically, if Smith is no longer part of program, what does his presence mean? Well, he’s not part of the program because he’s been compelled by a force to remain- - I mean, he has been upgraded. He should return to the mainframe. He should be superceded, but as the oracle says, there are a number of programs that don’t want to go. So, they hide out in the matrix and there’s a compulsion that he has. If Neo is there, he must necessarily be there. I think every force has its oppositional force and that’s exactly what Smith is to Neo. Neo can’t be without Smith and Smith can’t be without Neo.
How many wires would be attached to you? It depends on what you’re doing. Sometimes, for instance, there’s something called a [SOUNDS LIKE: Chow Guan] and that’s just one wire pulling you backwards.
There’s a particular move where you’re just pulled backwards and land on your back. When Keanu and I were doing a part of the subway fight on the first film, [there] was the central piece of wirework we did in that scene. We used the bullet time cameras on that and we had I think four wires on each of us because we needed to be held in the air, suspended in the air, and yet sort of moving through the air quite slowly towards each other. And we needed to have a couple of directional people holding us and pulling us in different ways and steadying us. Plus, we had other wires as well, so I think we had four wires on each of us.
What were your responsibilities shooting the Burly Brawl? Again, it depends on the shot. At the beginning of the fight, you see I think eight or nine Smiths. They were myself and eight stuntmen. Then there were a couple more stuntmen added. Eventually, there were 13 of us altogether. The first section of the brawl is with myself and a number of stuntmen. With each shot, I would tend to take the central position, the central Smith. Wherever your eye was drawn in the frame, that would be me, and the stunties would take the other positions. There are some shots though where we did what you’d call multi-pass and I would just move into a number of different positions. They’d lock the camera off and putting all that stuff together, you’d have a number of different mes. But that’s a very time consuming thing to do. Once you get about halfway through the piece, once there are up to 50 Smiths, there is an increased CG element. Then when Smiths are being flung around through the air, there is a section of it where it’s almost totally CG.
How do you feel about being digitally replicated? When I read it, I thought it was a funny scene and it was amusing to do. It’s certainly pretty extraordinary to see it. It was amusing, but then again, it’s kind of me to an extent but it’s not really. It’s actually Smith and I’ve never really viewed Smith as being me, so.
Part Three - Training and Lord of the Rings
Since Smith is the biggest, baddest program, did you have to train harder to be stronger and faster than the heroes? Well, we all trained together. We trained from day one until we started shooting and then we kept on training anyway. We all trained on the things we had to do. I think the person who trained the hardest was definitely Keanu and I don't think anyone would disagree with that. You can see the results of that. His Kung Fu is really quite extraordinary, and he did have to work harder actually because he’s in every fight, whereas I’m not and Laurence isn’t and nor is Carrie-Anne. So, we would all do general training together and then when it became closer to working on a particular scene, whoever was in that fight would work on it.
How would you hold your own in a real fight? It would depend on my need, I think. Probably pretty badly. It’s Hong Kong movie Kung Fu and I think it’s almost totally useless if you actually want to use it. It looks good and you take time to make it look good, but in a real fight, there ain’t no time and you’ve got to use your wits. If someone were threatening the life of my child, then I’d be a good fighter. If somebody just wanted to steal my wallet, well, maybe I wouldn’t worry about it so much.
How has it been to be part of two trilogies, with Lord of the Rings as well? Well, quite different. They’re very different films and I view them as very different roles, different films entirely. Yes, they’re trilogies. I guess initially when I did the first Matrix, it was just a single film. Once we started shooting it, talking to Larry and Andy, they were talking about the ideas that they had initially conceived of it as a larger film or as perhaps a trilogy anyway. When the Lord of the Rings came about, I knew it was a trilogy but I initially wasn’t involved in the second film. Then one of the storylines in the film kind of grew, so I became part of the second film as well as the first and the third. So, I ended up being in six films rather than just three or four.
Will you be going back for reshoots on Return of the King? Yes, absolutely. The original shoot took quite a while, although not so much for me really because, I mean, Elrond’s really a cameo I think. But I did go back for reshoots for the first film and for The Two Towers and for about four weeks I will go back to Wellington to do some reshoots on Return of the King. They’ve just started them so I’ll be going back in about four weeks. The scenes I’m doing, I think they involve myself and Viggo and myself and Liv Tyler.