I thought I would end up broaching The Matrix or Lord of the Rings at some point in my interview with Hugo Weaving (I actually wanted to know his thoughts on the reception of the final two Matrix films), but it turns out they never came up. And that’s because Weaving was such an affable, good interview that the subject didn’t really stray from The Wolfman, where he plays Inspector Abberline (yes, the Scotland Yard guy who chased Jack the Ripper), who has been tasked to the case of figuring out who has been ripping up people on the moors.
What was great about Weaving is that he’s so thoughtful about the entire process. He has stuff to say. And some of it is mind-bendingly spoilery. The final two questions of this interview stray not only into massive, huge spoiler territory, but Weaving and I essentially spitball the sequel to The Wolfman. So you’ve been well warned.
Read my interview with Joe Johnston here.
Read my review of the movie here.
In this film you’re playing a real person, but a highly fictionalized version of him. For you as an actor are you just going off with him as a new character or are you going back at all to the real guy?
He’s based on the real guy for one reason and one reason only, and that’s so that at one point in the film he can say ‘Jack the Ripper.’ And that’s it. It fills the viewer’s head with so many images; there’s been so much written about the Ripper murders, endless fascination that continues and will continue forever, since we’ll never know who did it. And that’s why, just as when we go out on the moors and we’re at Blackmoor you get very strong echoes of Hound of the Baskervilles, right from the word go. And there’s a lot this has in common with Hound of the Baskervilles; when you’re in gaslit London streets you’re thinking of Jekyll & Hyde. Bringing a real historical figure into this film is important from that perspective.
From an actor’s point of view I deal with the material that’s in front of me. But at the same time this is a real person, so let’s find out about the real person. Is there anything about the real person that’s going to be pertinent or useful for me? So you do your homework. And really most of it was read and thrown away. The muttonchops came from a sketch -a very good sketch, actually – which I saw of Abberline, and he was sporting the muttonchops, which were slightly out of date at the time. There were certain things I took as a cue. He came from a particular part of England, so I thought maybe there would be a touch of that in his accent. Just little details like that.
He has this character arc that is so sudden. One minute he doesn’t believe in werewolves – the next minute he’s kind of got to.
As an actor you’re not getting the middle part of that arc.
It’s difficult in a way, but at that stage the film projects into a long action sequence. Abberline has no time to think, the audience has no time to think – you’re just running. It’s structurally quite clever; he doesn’t get a chance to think about it, and by the time he’s thinking about the first thing he says is ‘Don’t suppose we have any silver bullets?’ He’s thinking it’s a werewolf so maybe those villagers were right, let’s get some silver bullets in.
In a way you’re in danger of destroying a reality and a character, but on the other hand the actor and the character just has to go with what’s in front of them. That’s when you jettison everything and go with the flow. The film takes it from there.
This film famously had some ups and downs before production. How does that impact you as an actor?
It was interesting. I had heard some things about the film, but not much. The first thing I really heard about it was that Mark Romanek was no longer on board, it was two weeks away and was I interested in being in it? So I thought I better have a look at the script! I read the script and thought it was a really, really terrific piece of writing, really, really evocative. Well-drawn. I knew that Benny and Tony Hopkins were still on board. My first question was, ‘Is everyone still in place?’ Well, yes they are, and I thought if they were all in place and this is still the material they’re obviously not unhappy with it, or at least they knew more about it at this stage. It was a pretty instinctive decision, really, but because they were all on board I thought it must still be sailing in the right direction.
When I got to London Joe [Johnston] had only been on it a couple of weeks himself, and he struck me as remarkably cool and calm and collected while all the other departments were running around like headless chickens. He and Shelly Johnson the DP set the tone as calm.
That’s very surprising.
I was amazed, actually. There were still things bubbling away, but I was amazed at how the production settled down. The material – it’s all on the page. It wasn’t too much of a mind stretch for me in that way.
Does that make it more malleable, having a director who came on late? Does it mean things are more open for you to play with, creatively?
What I was interested in making sure of was that the script and the writing was going to remain as it was. That was the thing that would have concerned me. But Joe was very clear that he loved the script and that was the film he wanted to make. I think Tony and Benicio and Emily were all keen to do the same. In terms of things being up in the air, I think we just shot the film. And then went back – there were certain scenes they wanted to beef up, mostly stuff to do with the werewolf and the love story.
Benicio was so excited to be made up. I’m assuming most of the times you’re opposite the werewolf it’s Benicio in the make-up?
There weren’t that many times that I was opposite the werewolf, and sometimes it was a stunt guy, for the scenes with fighting.
When it was Benicio what is the dynamic like? That’s a weird moment.
Yeah, it’s Benny but it doesn’t look like him. I got used to that. I got so used to seeing Terence Stamp on Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Terry to me looks like he had long hair and lipstick. I looked equally stupid, I’m sure. But I always got a shock at the end of the day when Terry would come out of the make-up truck and he’d have short hair and he was a bloke. I got used to that. But Benicio I saw more out of make-up. Most of the scenes we had together he was not in his full make-up.
In the press conference you said that you approached it as you’re not at odds with Lawrence Talbot but that you’re on the same side, since you’re both fighting the monster. Was that something you and Benicio talked about?
Not really. A couple of questions have gone in the same direction, and it’s interesting that this is how we see Abberline [as the antagonist] and since Benicio’s dilemma has become our dilemma in a way, Abberline is chasing down the man we want to rescue. I hadn’t thought of that, actually, because I was thinking about it from Abberline’s perspective, not from a viewer’s perspective. But his dilemma can only end in one way, actually, and he has to die. Anything else – in that genre – you wouldn’t want it.
And here come the spoilers. Beware! Beware! Beware!
In the press conference someone asked if you would come back for the sequel you said it would depend on the script and all that. But even when you were on set, having Abberline bitten, even if there’s no plan for the sequel it’s obviously setting something up –
Oh yeah. We joked about it on set. ‘Who’s going to get bit now?’ And actually the ending of the film, there were a number of different ideas mooted. There were different endings played with. I think Abberline was always going to get… actually, I’m trying to think if it was in the first script. But there were things: Does Benicio die? Does Emily die as well? They were mostly with Emily’s character: does she get bit? Does she die and Lawrence jumps off a cliff, he kills himself? I thought that was kind of an interesting ending.
What’s interesting about having Abberline bitten at the end is that the whole movie is about controlling your bestial, rougher nature. Abberline, as the defender of civilization, now has to deal with manifestation of everything he’s been fighting.
I agree. That’s a really fascinating [idea]. For that character – the man of the law – to be confronted with that, what does he do? The thing with the genre is that either he has to let the wolf out or he has to kill himself. I suppose. But if he does that you only have one full moon and not much of a movie! But that’s the interesting thing about the movie, anyway – the psychological stuff the character goes through. How do you stop these things from coming? Well, you can’t, so what steps do you take? Obviously Sir John decides I’m going to lock myself away most full moons, but every now and again I’m going to let it out.