SITTING across from a bushy-bearded Hugo Weaving – the Sydney actor best known for his (clean-shaven) roles in the Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies – the first thing that crosses your mind is that he’d have been perfect for the title role in the film he’s back home to talk about.
The Wolfman is more of an update than a remake of the 1941 schlock-horror flick about a 19th-century Welshman who gets bitten by a mysterious creature and then turns into a werewolf every full moon.
As the dashing nobleman Lawrence Talbot in the new version, Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro gets the Thriller -video treatment, with Weaving playing Aberline, the Scotland Yard veteran investigating a spate of grisly, seemingly inexplicable attacks, including the life-changing bite suffered by Talbot.
”My character’s very much the sort of experienced detective who’s very circumspect about the idea of werewolves in the first place,” Weaving says, grinning genially through his face foliage. ”He’s the voice of reason, really.
”It was a lot of fun to do. I thought the three or four scenes that weren’t to do with running around chasing werewolves were very well written.
”Did you ever see Sleepy Hollow ? It’s the same writer.”
That would be Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriting talent perhaps best known for the ingenious and brilliantly bleak 1995 hit Se7en .
”I think he kind of understands the [horror-thriller] genre really well,” Weaving says.
”It’s not all about exposing the gore or the blood – but it’s enjoying it when you do. And really, it’s about the tension and the build-up and what’s not said rather than what is said and what’s not revealed rather than what is revealed.”
The writing certainly elevates The Wolfman above films such as 2004’s execrable Van Helsing – the last major one to take on the werewolf theme – but a tremendous cast doesn’t hurt, either. Starring alongside del Toro and Weaving are Anthony Hopkins as Talbot’s eccentric father and The Young Victoria’s Emily Blunt as del Toro’s damsel in understandably deep distress (see box below).
As one of the film’s producers, del Toro had been developing The Wolfman with music-video director genius turned feature filmmaker Mark Romanek for some years before Romanek left the project, citing that old chestnut, ”creative differences”. Rumour has it he wanted a bigger budget but Weaving can’t confirm Romanek’s reasons for leaving. ”When I came on board he was no longer on the scene – but the fact that Anthony and Benicio and Emily were still there indicated to me that whatever the reason for that change, [it] didn’t faze … well, it might have fazed them but they remained on board.
”Normally, two weeks out from a shoot, the director to leave, I would be concerned about it. But they’d been on board for a while and they were still there, so I thought it was probably fine.”
Romanek’s replacement, Joe Johnston, already had plenty of experience with rampaging beasts as the director of Jurassic Park III and Jumanji and the man responsible for transforming del Toro was the king of werewolf make-up artists, Rick Baker ( An American Werewolf in London , the aforementioned Thriller clip). But how was it for this accomplished, credible cast to keep a straight face with guys running around …
”Dressed as werewolves?” Weaving asks, smiling. ”Look, you laugh and then you get on with it.
”But I think that’s the difficult thing about this particular genre – you really have to remind yourself about actually what you’re dealing with. Yes, on the surface it’s a werewolf and that’s preposterous – it’s a man who’s changed into a wolf and that kind of runs counter to everything you might believe in and therefore it’s hard to suspend your disbelief.
”But what you’re really talking about is to what extent these desires and feelings that we have can be civilised. If you can continually remind yourself that actually you’re exploring the animal instincts inside of us, that we are all actually animals and we do have those instincts and we do have feelings that we try to keep in check … that’s kind of what makes a film like this serious or interesting.”
Not to mention the fact that the 1941 original, Weaving believes, hasn’t dated particularly well and is very much ripe for a remake.
”I think it probably should be remade. Looking at that old version now, it seems like such a funny old piece, really.
”I suppose it’s a long enough time ago to not feel like you’re invading the same territory. It feels like you can reinvent it.”
Director Joe Johnston Stars Benicio del Toro , Anthony Hopkins , Hugo Weaving Rated MA. Opens February 11.