December 13, 2018
Hugo Weaving on drag, Christmas dinner and turning Marvel down
Hi Hugo. This is the second-last ever issue of Short List. As a prolific actor, do you have any tips on getting jobs?
Oh God. I’ve always hoped that the job will come from the work you’ve done. So, do a good job and you might get another one. Although I’m sure it’s not as simple as that.
Do you find yourself turning down roles nowadays?
I do, yeah. The Marvel one [Avengers: Infinity War] was a case in point. There’s a lot of rubbish out there, roles that aren’t life-affirming and don’t make you think, or make you wonder, or give you a challenge as an actor. And if it isn’t doing any of those things, I’m not really interested in.
Why did you turn down Avengers: Infinity War?
It’s a long story, but essentially they were telling my agent one thing and telling me another. The Marvel franchise has been hugely successful for them, but personally as an actor, even though I enjoyed playing Red Skull [in Captain America: The First Avenger], I wasn’t looking to go back. They make it hard for actors, because they make you feel like you have to come and do it. But they weren’t really making me want to do it. I didn’t think it was an interesting advance for the or the character, so I said no.
Come on, then. What’s so good about playing bad guys?
I don’t think I’ve played too many classic villains. You know, twiddling-my-moustache-and-having-a-good-time types. There are very few times I’ve played that guy. Red Skull was one of them. He’s just a bad guy. He’s so hideous – this is someone who thinks Adolf Hitler is a complete pussy. But then, with someone like Agent Smith [in the Matrix], he’s the antagonist, but there are complex things in him. He’s at war with himself, which is interesting.
Your Mortal Engines villain seems like he’d fit in well in modern politics.
History is cyclical, so all of these characters come around again and again. There’s a line in the film: “We will separate your children from you”, and people have asked if that was inserted because of Trump. And while that may have been a line to reflect things that are going on today, Trump won’t be the first or the last leader to say that. All of these things come round again. There are times where nation states and city states pull up the drawbridge and wave the flag and rattle the sabre, which is sort of what’s happening in the world now. In that way Mortal Engines does reflect the real world. If you’re a Londoner, you don’t ever leave London. So in the world outside of you, everyone is the enemy or to be feared.
So it’s a heightened version of the real-world xenophobia we see nowadays?
Yeah, that’s right. It’s the idea that we’re OK, and everyone else is scary and wrong. That form of nationalism which is alive and very well at the moment, and growing, is very much part of Mortal Engines.
What has playing bad men taught you about how blokes deal with their emotions?
They deal with them pretty poorly, I think. One of the great things I did, as an actor and as a man, was Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. I’d always been fairly open and confident in my sexuality, but doing that film was really eye-opening for me. The experience was enormous fun, as men are so straightjacketed. There’s so much pressure on us to be masculine and strong, and to not have problems and not whinge. The men who are held up by society are men who are capable and wise and handsome and dashing. We all need people to look up to, but a real man is someone who can go, “Well, I’m going to take a risk, I’m going to open myself up and reveal my feelings.” So, somehow, putting on a frock was very liberating for me in that way.
Finally, the important question. As a British-Australian, what do you eat on Christmas Day?
Definitely not a classic Christmas dinner. We tend to have fresh prawns and aioli, and a beautiful salad, new potatoes and a fabulous risotto-wrapped-in-pastry dish. But we’ll always have elements of Chrismtas, too – it might be mince pies, or Christmas pudding. We’ll certainly be Christmassy in some respect, but the sun is shining and we’ll be at the beach on Boxing Day. There’s snow in the shop windows, but that’s as close as you’ll get.
Mortal Engines is at cinemas from 14 December.